Luther, by refusing thus point-blank to retract, effectually destroyed whatever hopes of mediation or reconciliation had been entertained by the milder and more moderate adherents of the Church who still wished for reform.
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
In the third class of his books he had written against individuals who endeavored to shield that tyranny and to subvert godly doctrine. Against these he freely confessed that he had been more violent than was befitting. Yet even these writings it was impossible for him to retract without lending a hand to tyranny and godlessness. But in defense of his books he could only say in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ: “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?” If anyone could do so, let him produce his evidence and confute him from the sacred writings, the Old Testament and the Gospel, and he would be the first to throw his books into the fire. And now, as in the course of his speech he had sounded a new challenge to the papacy, so he concluded by an earnest warning to Emperor and empire, lest, by endeavoring to promote peace by a condemnation of the divine Word, they might rather bring a dreadful deluge of evils, and thus give an unhappy and inauspicious beginning to the reign of the noble young Emperor. He said not these things as if the great personages who heard him stood in any need of his admonitions, but because it was a duty that he owed to his native Germany, and he could not neglect to discharge it.
Luther, like Eck, spoke in Latin, and then, by desire, repeated his speech with equal firmness in German. Schurf, who was standing by his side, declared afterward with pride, “how Martin had made this answer with such bravery and modest candor, with eyes upraised to heaven, that he and everyone were astonished.”
The princes held a short consultation after this harangue. Then Eck, commissioned by the Emperor, sharply reproved him for having spoken impertinently and not really answered the question put to him. He rejected his demand that evidence from Scripture might be brought against him by declaring that his heresies had already been condemned by the Church, and in particular by the Council of Constance, and such judgments must suffice if anything were to be held settled in Christianity. He promised him, however, if he would retract the offensive articles, that his other writings should be fairly dealt with, and finally demanded a plain answer “without horns” to the question whether he intended to adhere to all he had written or would retract any part of it?
To this Luther replied he would give an answer “with neither horns nor teeth.” Unless he were refuted by proofs from Scripture, or by evident reason, his conscience bound him to adhere to the Word of God which he had quoted in his defense. Popes and councils, as was clear, had often erred and contradicted themselves. He could not, therefore, and he would not, retreat anything, for it was neither safe nor honest to act against one’s conscience.
Eck exchanged only a few more words with him in reply to his assertion that councils had erred. “You cannot prove that,” said Eck. “I will pledge myself to do it,” was Luther’s answer. Pressed and threatened by his enemy, he concluded with the famous words: “Here I stand, I can do no otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
The Emperor reluctantly broke up the diet at about eight o’clock in the evening. Darkness had meanwhile come on; the hall was lighted with torches, and the audience were in a state of general excitement and agitation. Luther was led out; whereupon an uproar arose among the Germans, who thought that he had been taken prisoner. As he stood among the heated crowd, Duke Erich of Brunswick sent him a silver tankard of Eimbeck beer, after having first drunk of it himself.
On reaching his lodging, “Luther,” to use the words of a Nuremberger present there, “stretched out his hands, and with a joyful countenance exclaimed, ‘I am through! I am through!'” Spalatin says: “He entered the lodging so courageous, comforted, and joyful in the Lord that he said before others and myself, ‘if he had a thousand heads, he would rather have them all cut off than make one recantation.'” He relates also how the elector Frederick, before his supper, sent for him from Luther’s dwelling, took him into his room and expressed to him his astonishment and delight at Luther’s speech. “How excellently did Father Martin speak both in Latin and German before the Emperor and the orders! He was bold enough, if not too much so.” The Emperor, on the contrary, had been so little impressed by Luther’s personality, and had understood so little of it, that he fancied the writings ascribed to him must have been written by someone else. Many of his Spaniards had pursued Luther, as he left the diet, with hisses and shouts of scorn.
Luther, by refusing thus point-blank to retract, effectually destroyed whatever hopes of mediation or reconciliation had been entertained by the milder and more moderate adherents of the Church who still wished for reform. Nor was any union possible with those who, while looking to a truly representative council as the best safeguard against the tyranny of a pope, were anxious also to obtain at such a council a secure and final settlement of all questions of Christian faith and morals. It was these very councils about which Eck purposely called on Luther for a declaration; and Luther’s words on this point might well have been considered by the Elector as “too bold.”
Luther remained faithful to himself. True it was that he had often formerly spoken of yielding in mere externals, and of the duty of living in love and harmony, and respecting the weaknesses of others; and his conduct during the elaboration of his own church system will show us how well he knew to accommodate himself to the time, and, where perfection was impossible, to be content with what was imperfect. But the question here was not about externals, or whether a given proceeding were judicious or not for the attainment of an object admittedly good. It was a question of confessing or denying the truth–the highest and holiest truths, as he expressed it–relating to God and the salvation of man. In this matter his conscience was bound.
Jean-M.-Vincent Audin begins here.
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