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Book 7 - The Diet of Worms (1521, January to May)

A History of the Reformation in the 16th Century

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Book 7 – The Diet of Worms (1521, January to May)

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 7, Chapter 1

The rod of God was moving swiftly through Germany and its destiny was to triumph over all who stood in its way. There was no class that stood apart from the struggle of the Word moving in its affects and changing the course of history; princes, nobles, knights, citizens, clergy, laity, town and country were all part of the great struggle for or against reformation.

A Diet was about to take place before the emperor in order to establish the validity of Luther’s testimony to the Word of God and his written works. The Diet would have been held in Nuremberg, but the city was suffering from an acute case of the plague. As a result, Worms was chosen. Charles, not but 19, opened the Diet on January 28th, 1521. He demanded that Luther be present in order to face the charges set against him for heresy. A letter was sent to Wittenberg requesting Luther’s presence, but he was ill and Frederick counseled that he ought no to go. Luther desired it but was overruled. Frederick went to Worms without Luther. He did not believe the Diet would have favorable results and was resolved to see what he could do there for the sake of the Gospel.

Aleander consistently solicited various members of the legate at Worms to condemn Luther at the opportune time. He was attempting to undermine Luther’s position before Luther ever made it to the floor of the hall. Rome had condemned all the actions of Luther, the Reformation, and any who would side with the German Reformer.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 7, Chapter 2

The political ramifications of Europe were more important to Charles than simply operating a Diet to condemn a German monk. It was the inevitable conclusion that he would have to go to war with France, and as a result of the foreseen battleground (Italy) Charles would desire the Pope’s support and not his refusal to support him. This made ecclesiastical tensions around the Diet of Worms very important; not that Charles was necessarily interested in the monk, but decisions surrounding him as a heretic would gain Charles the upper hand in the Pope’s favor.

There was a ploy by the emperor’s consulate that desired to trap Luther in a compromise in order to win over him for political reasons. Melancthon saw this as secretly working in the dark, for darkness hides sinful actions, at least to the gaze of men. John Glapio took this scheme to task and possessed the full confidence of the emperor to make such a scheme successful.

Glapio spoke politically and cordially through a chancellor with the elector Frederick – he complemented Luther on his earlier writings, but disdained the Babylonian Captivity as being too heavy and forceful (he felt as though he was taking blows to the head while reading it.) Glapio wanted to meet with Luther to change his mind, and Frederick relayed that it would be impossible. In return Glapio simply wanted to keep the reformer silent, and tried politically to procure this.

Meanwhile, Aleander procured a hearing before the Diet on February 13 in order to plea his case before the emperor, in hopes of turning the princes to his agenda concerning the German monk and the papal bull.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 7, Chapter 3

Aleander stood before the Diet and princes upon the day of the hearing in order to condemn the German monk. He spoke for three hours and attempted to lay out the main doctrines of dispute and the Catholic truth. Luther’s works and the papal bull had been laid before him, and he began speaking once the level of noise died down in the hall.

First Aleander justified purgatory, and demonstrated Luther’s error on this. Secondly, he attempted to justify Rome and the tradition of the church. Then he attacked the moral character of the reformation and the morality of the people. He slandered them and boiled the emperor’s blood towards them. He made a lasting and deep impression of everyone in the hall. Why would Charles desire to side with a raving monk who is charged with heresy, when, all long, Luther was in error in comparison to the foundational doctrines of the mother church? The Diet seemed to be convinced that Aleander was correct, and that this pseudo victory was the standing ground of the formality of bringing this to Luther’s attention once Charles arranged to have him stand before the court. It was as though they decided his fate before he ever reached the Diet, and Aleander had enflamed their passion against Luther.

Though the Diet has sided with Aleander, and been convinced by his rhetoric, this would not be a decisive blow to the Reformation. Rather, it was a false assurance to the things which would ultimately take place when Luther would be summoned before them all to testify to his works, and to the papal bull.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 7, Chapter 4

Aleander was superficially successful: the princes were ready to sacrifice Luther for their cause. Upon this same note, Duke George, who was not favorable to Luther at all, gave a speech that caused the princes to be reminded about the grievances they had with Rome. The principle problem Duke George voiced was Rome’s hunger for money, when the preachers should be out caring for the people. Ultimately George made a list and handed this in order to have, on record, the problem that the princes saw Rome needed to correct, no matter how much they disagreed with a theological difference with Luther, and Duke George certainly disdained Luther.

The Diet appointed a committee in order to draw up all the grievances that George, and others, voiced during this particular hearing. They totaled one hundred and one. Charles was still as concerned as he was before about the need to reform the Catholic Church, however, not as Luther may have liked this to be done. Even if Luther stood condemned, and was executed by burning, Charles would still be under obligation to reform the abuses of the Catholic Church.

With all that Luther heard in receiving news of the affairs of the Diet thus far, he was not moved, but trusted in God and all that He would do for the cause of His Word. Spalatin provided Luther with a list of retractions the Diet would expect of him, and feared for Luther. Luther, however, knew he would not retract a single proposition. All his works uncovered the harlotry of Babylon and the recantation would simply become a cloak for covering up the evil that he had exposed.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 7, Chapter 5

Charles could not help but to summon Luther to the Diet. It was the only way that the turmoil surrounding the political and ecclesiastical issues at hand could be rectified. Charles promised Luther safe conduct, and he was directed to take his journey though Duke George’s territory as well as the Landgrave of Hesse. March 6, 1521 Luther was officially summoned by Charles to appear in order to stand trial for his works. Luther’s friends were doubtful as to whether Luther would actually make the journey and comply with the request.

While Charles was summoning Luther, Rome was attacking him again. On March 28th Rome restated the excommunication of Luther. They held a solemn assembly and a special service for this. At the end of the service, many in the crowd were agitated at the nonsense of the Roman pontiff and the ecclesiastical anathema he was placing on Luther. Some even forcibly caused derision. When Luther heard of this service, he immediately wrote against it although it would not be published for some time after. While the Pope was spewing forth ecclesiastical maledictions in his excommunication service, Luther demonstrated Scriptural accuracy and honor to the Word of God for its truth in his writings against it.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 7, Chapter 6

Though the stir of Rome against Luther was building in its fury, Luther was still composed and exemplifying courage. He did not desire prayer for himself, but rather for the Word of God to be victorious in its course throughout all of Christendom in its conversion of people from error to truth. Luther was even more resolved at this point in believing that the Pope has demonstrated to the world that he was not the vicar of Christ, but the antichrist of the devil. Knowing full well that he had set out on a right course, Luther was not afraid to speak the truth with valor.

Like Melancthon, another man would become the friend of Luther for life. His name was Bugenhagen, a priest from Pomerania. He had always attracted the youth of the town around him and studied the Holy Scriptures diligently in order to teach them, and the nobles of the town, the doctrines of the Bible. His conversion to Protestantism came about when he read The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. He came to Wittenberg and was heartily received by Luther. When Luther left for Worms, Bugenhagen was appointed to preach in the church from the Psalms, and a year later, he was placed at the head of the church here as pastor. Even Luther referred to him as The Pastor.
Ulrich of Hutten wrote to Charles V in order to persuade him that the Reformation taking place under Luther was exactly what Germany needed. He exhorted the emperor not to follow Rome, who was not really out after the interests of the empire, but out for its own interest. However, the emperor did not even read the letter. He was not a German and did not have the passion that Ulrich had for his home country.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 7, Chapter 7

On April 2 Luther left for the Diet by the summons of Charles V. He was concerned for the work of Reformation that would take place, and so pressed Melancthon to take up the torch of this work if he were to meet death. However, divine providence has given men to Luther that would continue the work with him for years to come: Melancthon, Amsdorff, Bugenhagen and Jonas (rector of the university at Erfurth, and one who accompanied Luther to worms).

Upon his journey he stopped in Erfurth and preached to the Augustinians as well as the towns people. He proclaimed that faith is the cause of the sinner’s justification, and Christ’s work the cause. Works are only the manifestation of the justified sinner. In continuing his journey to Worms, he also stopped at Gotha and preached another sermon of this likeness. He also traveled to Frankfort, where he wrote to Spalatin updating him on the journey, as well as visiting the school of William of Nesse. He traveled through Oppenheim where he only had three days left on his safe conduct allowance.
In Worms, Spalatin was nervous for Luther. Many people were saying that safe-conduct should not be honored to a heretic. Even while Luther was approaching Worms Spalatin sent a messenger to him that he should not come for fear of his life. However, Luther was resolved and sent the messenger back telling Spalatin that even if there were thousands of devils in Worms, he would still enter it for the glory of God’s Gospel. When the cause is good, how can a man turn back from that which God has appointed for him? Luther pressed on to the city without reservation.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 7, Chapter 8

On April 16th Luther arrived at Worms. Throngs of people surrounded him and an armed escort, lead by Bernard of Hirschfeldt and Albert of Lindenau, accompanied him into the city. Though the emperor had summoned him to trial, he was received in the city as a hero. Charles honored the safe-conduct and would not allow Luther’ demise, though many, like Modo, said that offering safe-conduct to a heretic is not lawful. However, in God’s providence, Charles kept his word.

Luther was summoned to the Diet. John Eck, not to be confused with the theologian Eck, asked Luther on behalf of Charles, two questions: if the works presented on the table were in fact his, and secondly, would he recant them? Luther acknowledged the first question after the titles of the works were read, but could not answer the second since the works were of various kinds and he could not overthrow accepted Christian truths by denying them. Instead he asked for some time in order to answer properly. He was granted one night. Though he was set against retracting anything that contradicted the Word of God, he desired some time to gather his thoughts to answer the questions.

Luther prayed through the night and asked the help of Christ in dealing with a steadfast answer. His prayer was answered, for as he was summoned again the next day, he addressed the court in both Latin and German and pronounced his steadfastness. He could not recant anything unless he was instructed differently by the Word of God. He could not recant of accepted truth, nor could he retract writings against the church lest he continue to help evil prosper against the people. It was there Luther stood, resolved upon the Word of God, bound by conscience to its truth against the Emperor and Rome.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 7, Chapter 9

After Luther’s stand at the Diet, he was led back to his hotel, wearied, but triumphant in battle. His friends surrounded him, and Duke Eric of Brunswick also called on him to encourage him. Frederick called Spalatin from Luther’s side, and the elector commented graciously on how well Luther had done at the Diet, and that in the future he would be well protected by him.

Aleander wasted no time in attempting to overthrow this “victory” of Luther by stirring up the princes and people. His violent propositions against Luther, though, were rejected by the Diet. The overwhelming majority throughout Worms were deeply impressed by the Reformer’s zeal and ardency, and violence would lead to political upheaval. Charles had a letter drawn up and read to the Diet the next day stating that Luther had been drawn away into folly, and that he had an impiety railing against Christendom that should not be tolerated. Those opposed to Luther said that his safe-conduct should be retracted. Yet, even though Charles did not agree with Luther, and deemed him heretical, he could not go back on his word and retract such an oath to give the monk safe passage.

The sword of the reformation, Phillip of Hesse, met Luther for the first time after that momentous day at the Diet. Hearing Luther’s speeches he desired to have a closer look at him and greeted him with kindness. If Luther was in the right, Phillip wanted to see his cause move forth for the glory of God. This first meeting was not the last, since here we had the Word of God stretching forth by Luther’s mouth, and the sword of the Reformation stretching forth by Phillip’s hand.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 7, Chapter 10

Mediation between Luther and the King was accomplished by Richard of Greiffenklau, archbishop of Treves, by the command of the King. Luther was summoned to meet with some of the princes and electors. They desired to exhort Luther to keep to the truth, not to despise him. They desired to see clearly the aim and path of the reformer, and Luther encouraged them to take the Word of God as their standard, not the dictates of men in any form. The archbishop returned to the Diet to report on whether such a meeting was helpful, but to the demise of Rome, Luther simply held his ground and relied on the Word of God.

Luther desired to debate – which was the reason he came to Worms, not to stand trial for Christian publications. Cochloeus gave Luther this option, and Luther had to make a decision as to whether he would now engage in public debate. Among those standing by when this offer was given was Vollrat of Watzdorf, a lord, pushed Cochloceus out of the room and answered for Luther. It seems Vollrat knew that Luther would simply be placing himself in extreme danger to again assemble before all the magistrates and princes for a public debate on something they already condemned him for.

Luther was given instruction by Charles’ chancellor to return home in the space of twenty-one days, and not to “disturb the public” on his way. Luther took this as a threat and thought his condemnation would come about while traveling back home. He was accompanied by throngs of people out of the city, and he prayed that God’s will be done no matter what that will may be, even at the hands of his adversaries.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 7, Chapter 11

Luther reached Frankfurt unharmed and praised God that he had made it out of Worms alive. He traveled to Freidberg after a short rest and time to write a letter to the emperor, and then wrote to the princes of the empire. He addressed another letter to Spalatin and instructed him to deliver his previous two letters. Later that day he reached Eisenach where he met with numerous friends. He preached there and addressed the town, against the edicts of Charles who desired him not to disturb any along the way.

While Luther was disturbing the public, Aleander took the opportunity to petition Charles and lay out an edict as to what should be done with Luther. His edict pleased Charles, and the next day he was given leave to read it before the Diet. His writings were deemed blasphemous, and Luther was to be seized by anyone, anywhere they may find him in order to be brought to justice. This edict was more powerful than the papal bull previously sentenced by Leo X since the emperor ratified it and the Diet had decreed its validity. They thought they had triumphed by this over the Reformer.

Luther left the town with Amsdorff and entered into the forests of Thuringia. Here masked bandits captured Luther and rode away with him placing a bag over his head. His traveling party was overwhelmed by a number of masked bandits, and they thought at this point that Luther had fallen into the hands of his enemies based on the edict that the Diet had placed on Luther’s head. Phillip of Hesse, Spalatin and Frederick had conspired that Luther would be in danger. In order to save him they captured him even without his consent and made him a prisoner of Wartburg castle, dressed him as a knight, and he was known, from that time forward for a time, as Knight George .

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