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LUTHER: In Real Time

Today is the opening day of the audio theater Luther: In Real Time that I have been commissioned to write by Ligonier Ministries. I have written an episode every week for the six months leading up to Luther's cosmic stand before the emperor at the Diet of Worms, April 18, 1521. Please listen and share with everybody! 

It has been a delightful process working with such great folks, especially with Producer/Director Barry Cooper. You can listen wherever you listen to your podcasts. For more information visit

I thought you might like to see an early version of the script for episode 1 of the series. So, here it is:

LUTHER—In Real Time Podcast: Episode 1--Damnable Heresy

SFX: fist hammering on wooden door; indistinct shouting

It’s October 10, 1520. At the behest of Pope Leo X, his agents pound on the wicket door in the gate of the Augustinian Priory in Wittenberg.

SFX: latch turning and door creaking open

The agents thrust an official legal document from the Holy See in Rome into the hands of Martin Luther.

The Pope’s leaden seal was attached to the document with a coarse hemp rope; Luther weighed it pensively in his hand, turning it over; Apostles Peter and Paul on one side, and Pastor Pastorum Leo X—Shepherd of Shepherds—on the reverse side.

He’d seen it pressed in wax before this—a decade before, while on pilgrimage in Rome.

Cloaked in his black Augustinian cowl, Luther had travelled from Erfurt, Germany over the Alps to the Eternal City in Rome—walking all 639 miles on foot.

Bone-weary in Rome, Luther had dutifully crawled up the Scala Sancta, all twenty-eight cold, marble steps on his knees.

SFX: Pater noster murmuring crowd

The Sacred Stairs were papal-certified to be the very ones Jesus ascended to face his trial before Pontus Pilate, the same twenty-eight steps Christ had then DEscended when condemned and led out to his flogging and crucifixion.

SFX: indulgence hawker inflection, words indistinct.

When Luther finally reached the top, a Dominican friar thrust a wooden coin box toward him, shaking it impatiently.

SFX: coins ringing in a wooden box

Luther dropped a florin into the slot in the money coffer. In a careless monotone, the friar hastily promised him forgiveness of his sins…

SFX: Friar muttering absolution in Latin “Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat… Deinde, ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

…handing him a papal letter of indulgence: the promise that his pilgrimage, the scaling of the marble steps on his knees, had somehow lessened the time he would have to spend in purgatory, paying for his sins.

LUTHER: “But what if it is not so?”

Luther trembled as he turned the document over in his hand.

LUTHER: “What—if—it-is-not-so?”

As time passed, Luther’s doubts about indulgences only deepened.

Watching notorious indulgence peddler Johann Tetzel parading outside the Elster Gate of Wittenberg as if he were a prince or a pope, troubled Luther. Hawking forgiveness of sins for a quarter florin? It had to stop.

TETZEL: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!”

Seeing Tetzel fleece Germany’s working poor with promises that HIS indulgence, bearing the papal seal, was their passport to paradise, enraged Luther. Later, he would comment:

LUTHER: “I find nothing that promotes work better than angry fervor. For when I wish to compose, write, pray and preach well, I must be angry. It refreshes my entire system, my mind is sharpened, and all unpleasant thoughts and depression fade away.”

LUTHER: “If you want to change the world, take up your pen and write.”

So Luther did.

He took up his goosequill and, one by one, he compiled a list of 95 reasons why his beloved Church must stop exploiting God’s people by selling them forgiveness.

LUTHER: “…if the Pope knew the exactions of the indulgence-preachers he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter’s should burn to ashes than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.” 

When the ink was dry, Luther, strode through the archway from the courtyard of his home at Wittenberg’s Augustinian monastery, the black folds of his Augustinian habit billowing behind him.

He turned left onto the cobblestones of the Collegienstrasse, past the Stadtkirche, the Town Church where he preached to the peasants, and across the market square. 

SFX: donkey braying, cartwheels clattering.

Side-stepping the filth oozing between the cobblestones, Martin walked past the studio workshop of Lucas Cranach the famous Renaissance painter.

Some of his students fell into step behind him, eager to see what their favorite professor was up to. A block and a half farther on, Luther halted before the door of the Castle Church, took out his 95 Theses…

SFX: hammering and church bell tolling ominously, background street noises

…and posted them on the Duke’s church door. It was October 31, 1517, All Hallow’s Eve.

For 16th Century scholars, nailing a document to the church door was not uncommon – it was a way to invite debate.

But some close to Luther were afraid. His outspoken criticism of indulgences also reflected negatively on the practice of venerating religious relics as a way of gaining God’s favor.

The church Luther had chosen belonged to Duke Frederick The Wise. An avid collector of relics.

The Duke had commissioned Lucas Cranach to illustrate a catalogue of his relics, which in 1517 included more than 5,000 bits and pieces of the saints. By 1520, it numbered 20,000.

A piece of straw from the manger, a tooth from St. Jerome, four hairs from the head of Jesus’ mother, a hair from Jesus’ beard, and, his most prized relic, a thorn certified by the Pope to have pierced the Savior’s brow.

SFX: mealtime table sounds: wooden utensils, indistinct voices, laughter—under narration: 

LUTHER: “What lies there are about relics!” 

SFX: beer stein clonking on wooden table

LUTHER: “One claims to have a feather from the wing of the angel Gabriel, and the Bishop of Mainz has a flame from Moses’ burning bush. And how does it happen that eighteen apostles are buried in Germany when Christ had only twelve?”

SFX: young men laughing hilariously, back slapping 

Luther’s friends feared that if he lost the Duke’s support, he might lose everything—including his life.

But Luther was resolved.

LUTHER: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that really matter.” 

Over the next three years, the developing fracture between Luther and Rome became a chasm.

In the years since posting his 95 Theses, his pen had not been idle. With that pen, Luther had started a fire that had spread to the highest levels of power in the European world; to kings and queens, to knights and bishops, even to popes and emperors.

SFX: fist pounding persistently on wooden door

And so. On this day, October 10th, 1520, Luther’s hammering on the door of the Castle Church had come back to haunt him. Now agents of the Pope were hammering on HIS door.

SFX: Papers being turned over in the hand.

Luther looks at the opening lines of the document. It is an official legal document from the Pope himself, entitled Exsurge Domine, “Arise, O Lord…”

LUTHER: “Condemn—reprobate—heretical”

The most powerful single individual in the European world, Pope Leo X, is declaring Martin Luther a damnable and pernicious heretic.

LUTHER: “—scandalous—offensive to pious ears – excommunicate --”

Without a complete recantation, Luther will be excommunicated, cut off from the Church, his body and soul condemned to the fires of hell.

SFX: incoherent angry shouting, sounds of burning under the narration

The agents of the Pope had wasted no time. They were already hurling Luther’s books into the flames. How long before they would do the same to Luther himself?

SFX: the fires reach a crescendo, then sudden silence.

There is no way of escape.

Luther has sixty days to recant.

The clock is ticking.

Douglas Bond is author of thirty-one books, including his latest release The Hobgoblins, a novel on John Bunyan, The Resistance set in enemy occupied Normandy, and many others. He is two-time Grace Award book finalist; he directs the Oxford Creative Wraditing Master Class, is an award-winning teacher, podcaster, speaker at conferences, and leader of Church history tours in Europe. He is currently reading Luther In Love aloud on his podcast. Visit his website


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