Luther was not prepared for this proceeding, and possibly the first sight of the august assembly made him nervous.
Continuing Luther Begins the Reformation in Germany,
with a selection from Life of Luther History of the Life, the Works and the Doctrines of Luther by Julius Koestlin published in 1883. This selection is presented in 9 installments, each one 5 minutes long.
Previously in Luther Begins the Reformation in Germany.
Place: Worms, Germany
On April 2d, the Tuesday after Easter, he set out on his way to Worms. His friend Amsdorf and the Pomeranian nobleman Peter Swaven, who was then studying at Wittenberg, accompanied him. He took with him also, according to the rules of the order, a brother of the order, John Pezensteiner. The Wittenberg magistracy provided carriages and horses.
The way led past Leipzig, through Thuringia from Naumburg to Eisenach, southward past Berka, Hersfeld, Gruenberg, Friedberg, Frankfort, and Oppenheim. The herald rode on before in his coat-of-arms, and announced the man whose word had everywhere so mightily stirred the minds of people, and for whose future behavior and fate friend and foe were alike anxious. Everywhere people collected to catch a glimpse of him. On April 6th he was very solemnly received at Erfurt. The large majority of the university there were by this time full of enthusiasm for his cause.
Meanwhile at Worms disquietude and suspense prevailed on both sides. Hutten[*] from the castle of Ebernburg sent threatening and angry letters to the papal legates, who became really anxious lest a blow might be struck from that quarter. Some anxious friends of Luther’s were afraid that, according to papal law, the safe-conduct would not be observed in the case of a condemned heretic. Spalatin himself sent from Worms a second warning to Luther after he had left Frankfort, intimating that he would suffer the fate of Huss.
[*] Ulrich von Hutten was a friend and supporter of Luther.
But Luther continued on his way. To Spalatin he replied, though Huss were burned, yet the truth was not burned; he would go to Worms though there were as many devils there as there were tiles on the roofs of the houses.
On April 16th, at ten o’clock in the morning, Luther entered Worms. He sat in an open carriage with his three companions from Wittenberg, clothed in his monk’s habit. He was accompanied by a large number of men on horseback, some of whom, like Jonas, had joined him earlier in his journey; others, like some gentlemen belonging to the Elector’s court, had ridden out from Worms to receive him. The imperial herald rode on before. The watchman blew a horn from the tower of the cathedral on seeing the procession approach the gate. Thousands streamed hither to see Luther. The gentlemen of the court escorted him into the house of the Knights of St. John, where he lodged with two counsellors of the Elector. As he stepped from his carriage he said, “God will be with me.” Aleander, writing to Rome, said that he looked around with the eyes of a demon. Crowds of distinguished men, ecclesiastics and laymen, who were anxious to know him personally, flocked daily to see him.
On the evening of the following day he had to appear before the diet, which was assembled in the Bishop’s palace, the residence of the Emperor, not far from where Luther was lodging. He was conducted thither by side streets, it being impossible to get through the crowds assembled in the main thoroughfare to see him. On his way into the hall where the diet was assembled, tradition tells us how the famous warrior, George von Frundsberg, clapped him on the shoulder and said: “My poor monk! my poor monk! thou art on thy way to make such a stand as I and many of my knights have never done in our toughest battles. If thou art sure of the justice of thy cause, then forward in the name of God, and be of good courage–God will not forsake thee.” The Elector had given Luther as his advocate the lawyer Jerome Schurf, his Wittenberg colleague and friend.
When at length, after waiting two hours, Luther was admitted to the diet, Eck, the official of the Archbishop of Treves, put to him simply, in the name of the Emperor, two questions, whether he acknowledged the books — pointing to them on a bench beside him — to be his own, and next, whether he would retract their contents or persist in them. Schurf here exclaimed, “Let the titles of the books be named.” Eck then read them out. Among them there were some merely edifying writings, such as A Commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, which had never been made the subject of complaint.
Luther was not prepared for this proceeding, and possibly the first sight of the august assembly made him nervous. He answered in a low voice, and as if frightened, that the books were his, but that since the question as to their contents concerned the highest of all things, the Word of God and the salvation of souls, he must beware of giving a rash answer, and must therefore humbly entreat further time for consideration. After a short deliberation the Emperor instructed Eck to reply that he would, out of his clemency, grant him a respite till the next day.
So Luther had again, on April 18th, a Thursday, to appear before the diet. Again he had to wait two hours till six o’clock. He stood there in the hall among the dense crowd, talking unconstrained and cheerfully with the ambassador of the diet, Peutinger, his patron at Augsburg. After he was called in, Eck began by reproaching him for having wanted time for consideration. He then put the second question to him in a form more befitting and more conformable with the wishes of the members of the diet: “Wilt thou defend all the books acknowledged by thee to be thine, or recant some part?” Luther now answered with firmness and modesty, in a well-considered speech. He divided his works into three classes. In some of them he had set forth simple evangelical truths, professed alike by friend and foe. Those he could on no account retract. In others he had attacked corrupt laws and doctrines of the papacy, which no one could deny had miserably vexed and martyred the consciences of Christians, and had tyrannically devoured the property of the German nation: if he were to retract these books, he would make himself a cloak for wickedness and tyranny.
Jean-M.-Vincent Audin begins here.
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