The monastic priest Martin Luther challenges the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church and leads a successful religious revolution in Germany.
Martin Luther (Niall MacGinnis) has been in an Augustinian monastery two years and is ordained a priest. He fails doing his first mass and confesses to the Prior (Fred Johnson) that he is a sinner. Martin says he cannot love a judging God. He is assigned to study and visit Pope Julius II. Martin walks from Germany to Rome and sees the tombs of Peter and Paul. He returns to the monastery in 1511. He preaches about David’s Psalms. The Prior tells him that Latin is good enough.
Luther goes to Wittenberg University, where Duke Frederick (David Horne) appoints him to be a teacher, Biblical scholar, and parish priest. Luther earns his doctorate in theology. Vicar von Staupitz (John Ruddock) reveres holy relics; but Luther is not impressed by relics and indulgences, which he believes are corrupt. Luther believes he found the truth in faith (Romans 1:17). He says, “The just shall live by faith alone.”
In 1517 Pope Leo X (Philip Leaver) offers more indulgences to pay for his lavish expenses on St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome. Leo sells a German archbishopric for 10,000 ducats, and they agree to split the indulgence contributions. Tetzel (Alexander Gauge) sells indulgences to people. Luther learns of it and is disgusted. Spalatin (Pierre Lefevre) warns him about debating. Luther writes down his ideas and tacks his 95 theses to a church door at Wittenberg. They are translated from Latin into German and are read by many. Indulgences are criticized, and Tetzel complains and wants to burn Luther as a heretic. Pope Leo learns that indulgences have fallen drastically.
Luther travels to Leipzig with the humanistic scholar Melanchthon (Guy Verney) and Carlstadt (Alastair Hunter). Luther agrees with John Hus that the Pope is not necessary to salvation. He says he listens to his conscience in regard to faith. Vicar von Staupitz orders Luther to stop attacking Rome, and he releases him from his vow of obedience. Luther publishes his ideas on freedom.
In 1520 Pope Leo condemns the writing of Luther and after sixty days excommunicates him. Luther restrains the violence of his followers. Duke Frederick refuses to turn Luther over to the Pope, but at the Diet of Worms the emperor Charles V (Hans Lefebre) has him interrogated to retract his writings. Luther refuses unless he is persuaded, saying “Here I stand; I can do no other.” Charles gives Luther 21 days and then condemns him as an outlaw. Frederick has Luther protected by armed men. In exile Luther completes his translation of the New Testament.
Carlstadt tells Melanchthon they need reforms. Carlstadt gives a sermon, and people destroy images. Luther returns and expels Carlstadt from Wittenberg. Luther preaches against destroying and pleads for love. Monks and nuns leave the monasteries and convents. Luther marries the nun Katharine (Annette Carell).
At Augsburg in 1530 Melanchthon argues that the differences with Rome could be resolved. He meets with Dr. Eck (Heinz Piper) and asks permission for priests and nuns to marry. The German princes sign a declaration, but Melanchthon fears it will divide the empire. Emperor Charles asks them to yield for the sake of unity, but the princes assert their freedom. Luther prays in a church, and people sing.
This biographical drama of the famous religious reformer depicts the corruption of the Church under the papal authority and shows how an audacious monk brought about many reforms and the beginning of Protestant Christianity.