This evening I see the play “Wittenberg”. It is a play about a young physician whose problem patient is Martin Luther.  Apparently Herr Luther had bad bowels. In the play the doctor acts as an ersatz analyst to the young clergyman. I am curious to see if the play implies Martin Luther goes on to infamy because of the doctor’s treatments as helpful or inimical. [1]

Martin Luther was a fascinating fellow. Like a lot of shrinks I find it fun to psychoanalyze figures from history and wonder what would have happened if so-and-so had had a good therapist and how different would the world have been for it. Herr Luther had a lot of Daddy issues and anxieties about needing certainty in life.  Marty had appalling traits to be sure [2] but you’ve got to admire a fellow who stands up to authority with conviction and shakes up the status quo. He was one of history’s best back-talkers and he would not shut up, even when told to do so. He wrote better and more often than his opponents. He simply out-wrote them.  The power of the pen is also something I admire.

I am sure to enjoy the show but I have to be mindful this is a play, not history. It worries me dramatic history will be misinterpreted by the audience as fact. After a production of “Richard III” or “A Man for All Seasons” I sense most folks do tend to think Richard P. and Thomas M. “were really like that”.  Martin L. has so much whitewash and mud slung at him over the centuries it is hard to get to how he really was.  Some pooh-pooh my worry comparing it to “The Roadrunner Effect”. [3] I don’t think it is quite the same

Nevertheless I think it will be a jolly time at the theatre. I sense the neurotic Martin with his writer’s block (and constipation to match) will be greatly assisted, mentally and bodily, by the good doctor, which will lead to evacuation and 95 theses nailed on the Church door bulletin board. It is a sobering thought: we would still be all Catholics if Luther hadn’t gone over to a morning cup of Joe.


[1] Apparently the medieval doctor gives Martin coffee, which does the trick in so many ways. I’ve often thought coffee as a Lutheran sacrament.

[2] His hatred of the Jews is notorious. Even the Lutheran scholars and theologians do not try to whitewash his wicked polemics.

[3] This is named after the removal of old-time Saturday morning cartoons from television on the grounds young children may ‘try this at home” viz. the stupid things Coyote tried out on the Roadrunner. The opponents of the process argued as kids we were not idiots we could tell right from wrong and we wouldn’t try dumb stunts purchased from ACME – and neither would today’s kids.