Michael sadly turns away from the pleas of the Printer who is begging for him to leave him something to live on. Michael is torn, but reluctantly does what he feels he has to do for the church.
Michael Sattler was prior at St. Peter’s church, and collected taxes from the peasants in the area. This money was turned over to Eberhard Hoffman, who was the head of the Catholic Church in the region, and was partly used to fight the battle against the Turks who were waging war throughout Europe. Michael’s heart and beliefs are in great conflict as he watches the pain and suffering around him, but feels an obligation to the church. When a local Printer is put to death by Hoffman, it is the last straw for him, and he realizes he must seek the truth and the peace that is eluding him with the confines of the church walls.Margaretha was a nun whom Michael had known for quite some time. She spends much of her days feeding soup and gruel to the increasing numbers of hungry peasants who have nothing left after Michael collects his obligatory taxes, and tends to starving and dying children as well as adults. A torn Michael ends up leaving the church and asks Margaretha to go away with him so they will be free to follow their beliefs.
Michael hands over what he has collected in taxes, which isn’t much. Hoffman berates him for not collecting more, saying they need more gold to help fight the Turks. Michael says that, “Plague and famine have taken their toll. We are doing them little favor to save them from the Turk’s sword to crush them with our taxes.”Yet Michael is back out reluctantly collecting taxes from the starting peasants. When they have no money to give him, he sadly confiscates their livestock. Margaretha comforting a distraught woman whose baby has died from starvation. The next day when Michael pleads with to have a word with her, she is angry over the plight of the peasants and admonishes him for taking everything they have as she tries to prevent them from starving to death. He then gets an earful from her when she accuses him of being blind. When he asks her what can he do about the situation, she says that he could bring her a chicken for the gruel she serves. The sisters want taxes lowered so there will be less grumbling among the peasants. There is fear that there will be a full scale revolt.Michael is very torn over what to do as he knows deep down that she is right.His Grace is shows Michael a tract that the Printer is distributing -- it’s the work of Radicals near Zurich. It says, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” When His Grace discredits the tract and the Anabaptists, or Radicals, Michael stats that the tract is truth, not heresy. His Grace still claims it is dangerous. Michael is summoned by Margaretha in the middle of the night to come quickly. Hoffman’s henchmen taking the printing press out of the Printer’s home. They tie him to it and burn him alive. Michael arrives on the scene but he is too late to save the Printer who has been distributing the religious tracts. Michael confronts Hoffman who claims he is only doing what he had to do -- that he is doing Michael’s work for him by stopping the spread of heresy and treason.Michael’s pleas fall on deaf ears when he tells Hoffman that the Printer was not guilty of heresy -- that he was only telling the truth and trying to stay alive.
In the privacy of his room, Michael studies the tract, concentrating on the word “free.” “...and the truth shall set you free.”