A Diet of Worms… (2) 500 years ago today (17th April 1521)

Luther arrived in Worms on the 16th of April. Sometime before lunch on the 17th of April (500 years ago today) Ulrich von Pappenheim came to Luther where he was staying and told him that his audience with the Emperor (including the electoral princes, electors and dukes) would be at four o’clock that afternoon. At the appropriate time, Luther was taken via side streets to avoid the growing crowd who wanted to see Luther. Once in the presence of the Emperor Luther was warned not to say anything unless he was asked. But the time came to respond when Johann Eck, the secretary of the Bishop of Trier, made this statement:

His imperial majesty has summoned you here, Martin Luther, for these two reasons: first, that you may here publicly acknowledge if the books published so far under your name are yours; then, whether you wish all these to be regarded as your work, or whether you wish to retract anything in them.

The books were read out and Luther responded:

Two questions have been put to me by his imperial majesty: First, whether I wish all the books bearing my name to be regarded as my own work; second, whether I intend to stand by them or, in fact, retract anything from those which have been published by me till now…First, I must indeed include the books just now named as among those written by me and I shall never deny any of them. As for the next question, whether I would likewise affirm everything or retract what is supposed to have been uttered beyond the testimony of Scripture…

Luther was evidently feeling the weight of the world, standing in front of the Emperor who could sign his death warrant. Yet I think, more than that, Luther felt the weight of getting the Scriptures right. Did he interpret the Scriptures faithfully in what he wrote? This is a question of faith and salvation! Being slaughtered by the Emperor—or being excommunicated or exiled by the Pope for that matter—was nowhere near as important as getting the Scriptures, and thus the gospel, right. As a result of this Luther requested, ‘I beseech your imperial majesty for time to think, in order to satisfactorily answer the question without violence to the divine Word and danger to my own soul.’

Through a pretentious grant of clemency Luther’s wish was satisfied. He was to return at the same hour the next day and declare his answers to the Diet ‘by word of mouth.’ Luther went back to his residence, was admonished not to fear and was encouraged—no doubt—by the shouting of a bystander who exclaimed, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you’.

(See LW 32:103-133)

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