Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Brief History of Martin Luther, Part 10

The Diet of Worms:

The next important step in Luther’s life was the Diet of Worms. On January 28, 1521, Charles V opened his first Diet at Worms. Luther regarded it as a call from God and declared he would go even if he had to be carried there sick. He was aware of the fate that overtook Huss at Constance. He wrote to Spalatin, “You may expect everything from me except fear or recantation. I shall not flee, still less recant.”

His journey to Worms resembled a march of victory. People flocked to see the man who had dared to defy the Pope. Before he left Wittenberg, the Emperor had issued an edict forbidding the sale of his books. Friends tried to talk him out of going. He comforted his friends by reminding them, “Though Huss was burned, the truth was not burned and Christ still lives.” Luther wrote to Spalatin that he would go to Worms in spite of all the gates of hell and the evil spirits in the air. The next day, he sent him the famous words, “I shall go to Worms though there were as many devils there as tiles on the roofs.”

The day he arrived, Luther was led through side streets, avoiding the curious crowds, to the hall of the Diet. He was admitted at about 6 PM. There he stood: a poor monk of rustic manners amidst an assembly the likes of which he had never seen. The young Emperor, six Electors (including his own sovereign), the Pope’s legates, archbishops, bishops, dukes, princes, counts, deputies of the imperial cities, ambassadors of foreign courts and a countless other dignitaries; in short a fair representation of the highest powers in Church and State were there to see this intrepid man. Dr. Eck put two questions to him:
1. whether he was the author of a pile of books set before him on a bench, and
2. if he would retract them.

Luther acknowledged his authorship of the said books. As to the issue of a recantation of them, he humbly asked for some time to consider this, since it was a matter of salvation of the soul and the word of God. This he did, not due to a lack of courage, but from a sense of responsibility. The Emperor granted Luther one day.

On Thursday, April 18, Luther appeared before the Diet a second and final time. Eck again asked him if he would defend all the books he had written or recant some part. He replied that his books were of different sorts and it was only of the anti-popery books that he was being tried. Eck reproved him for evading the question and demanded an answer “without horns.” Luther replied with the sentence that marks an epoch in history: "Unless I am refuted and convicted by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments (since I believe neither the Pope nor the Councils alone; it being evident that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am conquered by the Holy Scriptures quoted by me, and my conscience is bound in the word of God: I can not and will not recant any thing, since it is unsafe and dangerous to do any thing against the conscience."

After this, Eck exchanged a few more words with Luther, who in the heat of the argument against the infallibility of councils, exclaimed, “Here I stand. God help me! Amen

Luther’s testimony at Worms was an event of historical importance for the whole world. He opened a debate – one that still continues – against the tyranny of authority over the supremacy of the word of God. For this, all Protestant Christians owe him a debt of gratitude. Had he recanted, we would all very likely still be buried in the death of papistical superstition and error.

With this accomplished, the negative part of Luther’s work was completed. The tyranny of popery had been broken and the way was opened for a reconstruction of the Church on the basis of the New Testament. Everything he later wrote against Rome was repetition.

When he returned to Wittenberg, he had a harder task to accomplish: to bring about a positive reformation of faith and discipline. In this work, Luther was as conservative as he had been radical against Rome.

But Luther’s greatest accomplishment for the Reformation was his German Bible. It was a huge help to the Reformation. Hans Lufft at Wittenberg sold 100,000 copies between 1534 and 1574. This was an enormous amount for that day and age. 


  1. Thanks for that well written summary of Luther's life. I cannot begin to fathom the struggle Luther had when opposing the teachings of the powerful Roman Catholic Church. One must obey the Word but it is another thing to obey and stand up for the Scriptures in the face of persecution!

  2. I enjoyed this little review. It's been a while since I took Church History and Reformation History.


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