Larger font
Smaller font
  • Results
  • Related
  • Featured
No results found for: "".
  • Weighted Relevancy
  • Content Sequence
  • Relevancy
  • Earliest First
  • Latest First
    Larger font
    Smaller font

    Chapter 8

    Entry into Worms—Death-Song—Charles’s Council—Capito and the Temporizers—Luther’s numerous Visiters—Citation—Hutten to Luther—Luther proceeds to the Diet—Saying of Freundsberg—Imposing Assembly—The Chancellor’s Speech—Luther’s Reply—His Discretion—Saying of Charles V—Alarm—Triumph—Luther’s Firmness—Violence of the Spaniards—Advice—Luther’s Struggles and Prayer—Strength of the Reformation—His Vow to the Scriptures—The Court of the Diet—Luther’s Speech—Three Classes of Writings—He requires Proof of his Errors—Serious Warnings—He repeats his Speech in Latin—Here I stand; I can say no more—The Weakness of God stronger that Man—A new Attempt—Victory

    At length, on the morning of the 16th of April, Luther discovered the walls of the ancient city. All were expecting him. One absorbing thought prevailed in Worms. Some young nobles, Bernard of Hirschfeldt, Albert of Lindenau, with six knights and other gentlemen in the train of the princes, to the number of a hundred (if we may believe Pallavicini), unable to restrain their impatience, rode out on horseback to meet him, and surrounded him, to form an escort at the moment of his entrance. He drew near. Before him pranced the imperial herald, in full costume. Luther came next in his modest car. Jonas followed him on horseback, and the cavaliers were on both sides of him. A great crowd was waiting for him at the gates. It was near midday when he passed those walls, from which so many persons had predicted he would never come forth alive. Every one was at table; but as soon as the watchman on the tower of the cathedral sounded his trumpet, all ran into the streets to see the monk. Luther was now in Worms.HRSCV2 238.3

    Two thousand persons accompanied him through the streets of the city. The citizens eagerly pressed forward to see him: every moment the crowd increasing. It was much greater than at the public entry of the emperor. On a sudden, says an historian, a man dressed in a singular costume, and bearing a large cross, such as is employed in funeral processions, made way through the crowd, advanced towards Luther, and then with a loud voice, and in that plaintive, measured tone in which mass is said for the repose of the soul, he sang these words, as if he were uttering them from the abode of the dead: Advenisti, O desiderabilis! Quem expectabamus in tenebris!HRSCV2 238.4

    Thus a requiem was Luther’s welcome to Worms. It was the court-fool of one of the dukes of Bavaria, who, if the story be true, gave Luther one of those warnings, replete at once with sagacity and irony, of which so many examples have been recorded of these personages. But the shouts of the multitude soon drowned the De Profundis of the cross-bearer. The procession made its way with difficulty through the crowd. At last, the herald of the empire stopped before the hotel of the knights of Rhodes. There resided the two councilors of the elector, Frederick of Thun and Philip of Feilitsch, as well as the marshal of the empire, Ulrich of Pappenheim. Luther alighted from his car, and said as he touched the ground: “God will be my defense.”—“I entered Worms in a covered wagon, and in my monk’s gown,” said he at a later period. “All the people came out into the streets to get a sight of Friar Martin.”HRSCV2 238.5

    The news of his arrival filled both the Elector of Saxony and Aleander with alarm.HRSCV2 238.6

    The young and graceful Archbishop Albert, who kept a middle position between the two parties, was confounded at such boldness. “If I had possessed no more courage than he,” said Luther, “it is true they would never have seen me at Worms.”HRSCV2 239.1

    Charles V immediately summoned his council. The emperor’s privy-councilors hastily repaired to the palace, for the alarm had reached them also. “Luther is come,” said Charles; “what must we do?”HRSCV2 239.2

    Modo, bishop of Palermo, and chancellor of Flanders, replied, if we may credit the testimony of Luther himself: “We have long consulted on this matter. Let your imperial majesty get rid of this man at once. Did not Sigismund cause John Huss to be burnt? We are not bound either to give or to observe the safe-conduct of a heretic.”—“No!” said Charles, “we must keep our promise.” They submitted, therefore, to the reformer’s appearance before the diet.HRSCV2 239.3

    While the councils of the great were thus agitated on account of Luther, there were many persons in Worms who were delighted at the opportunity of at length beholding this illustrious servant of God. Capito, chaplain and councillor to the Archbishop of Mentz, was the foremost among them. This remarkable man, who, shortly before, had preached the Gospel in Switzerland with great freedom, thought it becoming to the station he filled to act in a manner which led to his being accused of cowardice by the Evangelicals, and of dissimulation by the Romanists. Yet at Mentz he had proclaimed the doctrine of grace with much clearness. At the moment of his departure, he had succeeded in supplying his place by a young and zealous preacher named Hedio. The Word of God was not bound in that city, the ancient seat of the primacy of the German Church. The Gospel was listened to with eagerness; in vain did the monks endeavour to preach from the Holy Scriptures after their manner, and employ all the means in their power to check the impulse given to men’s minds: they could not succeed. But while proclaiming the new doctrine, Capito attempted to keep friends with those who persecuted it. He flattered himself, as others did who shared in his opinions, that he might in this way be of great service to the Church. To judge by their talk, if Luther was not burnt, if all the Lutherans were not excommunicated, it was owing to Capito’s influence with the Archbishop Albert. Cochloeus, dean of Frankfort, who reached Worms about the same time as Luther, immediately waited on Capito. The latter, who was, outwardly at least, on the very friendly terms with Aleander, presented Cochloeus to him, thus serving as a link between the two greatest enemies of the reformer. Capito no doubt thought he was advancing Christ’s cause by all these temporizing expedients, but we cannot find that they led to any good result. The event almost always baffles these calculations of human wisdom, and proves that a decided course, while it is the most frank, is also the wisest.HRSCV2 239.4

    Meantime, the crowd still continued round the hotel of Rhodes, where Luther had alighted. To some he was a prodigy of wisdom, to others a monster of iniquity. All the city longed to see him. They left him, however, the first hours after his arrival to recruit his strength, and to converse with his most intimate friends. But as soon as the evening came, counts, barons, knights, gentlemen, ecclesiastics, and citizens, flocked about him. All, even his greatest enemies, were struck with the boldness of his manner, the joy that seemed to animate him, the power of his language, and that imposing elevation and enthusiasm which gave this simple monk an irresistible authority. But while some ascribed this grandeur to something divine, the friends of the pope loudly exclaimed that he was possessed by a devil. Visiters rapidly succeeded each other, and this crowd of curious individuals kept Luther from his bed until a late hour of the night.HRSCV2 239.5

    On the next morning, Wednesday the 17th of April, the hereditary marshal of the empire, Ulrich of Pappenheim, cited him to appear at four in the afternoon before his imperial majesty and the states of the empire. Luther received this message with profound respect.HRSCV2 239.6

    Thus everything was arranged; he was about to stand for Jesus Christ before the most august assembly in the world. Encouragements were not wanting to him. The impetuous knight, Ulrich Hutten, was then in the castle of Ebernburg. Unable to visit Worms (for Leo X had called upon Charles V to send him bound hand and foot to Rome), he resolved at least to stretch out the hand of friendship to Luther; and on this very day (17th April) he wrote to him, adopting the language of a king of Israel: “The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee. Send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion. Grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfil all thy counsel. Dearly beloved Luther! my venerable father! fear not, and stand firm. The counsel of the wicked has beset you, and they have opened their mouths against you like roaring lions. But the Lord will arise against the unrighteous, and put them into confusion. Fight, therefore, valiantly in Christ’s cause. As for me, I too will combat boldly. Would to God that I were permitted to see how they frown. But the Lord will purge his vineyard, which the wild boar of the forest has laid waste… May Christ preserve you!” Bucer did what Hutten was unable to do; he came from Ebernburg to Worms, and did not leave his friend during the time of his sojourn in that city.HRSCV2 239.7

    Four o’clock arrived. The marshal of the empire appeared; Luther prepared to set out with him. He was agitated at the thought of the solemn congress before which he was about to appear. The herald walked first; after him the marshal of the empire; and the reformer came last. The crowd that filled the streets was still greater than on the preceding day. It was impossible to advance; in vain were orders given to make way; the crowd still kept increasing. At length the herald, seeing the difficulty of reaching the town-hall, ordered some private houses to be opened, and led Luther through the gardens and private passages to the place where the diet was sitting. The people who witnessed this, rushed into the houses after the monk of Wittenberg, ran to the windows that overlooked the gardens, and a great number climbed on the roofs. The tops of the houses and the pavements of the streets, above and below, all were covered with spectators.HRSCV2 240.1

    Having reached the town-hall at last, Luther and those who accompanied him were again prevented by the crowd from crossing the threshold. They cried, “Make way! make way!” but no one moved. Upon this the imperial soldiers by main force cleared a road, through which Luther passed. As the people rushed forward to enter with him, the soldiers kept them back with their halberds. Luther entered the interior of the hall; but even there, every corner was crowded. In the antechambers and embrasures of the windows there were more than five thousand spectators,—Germans, Italians, Spaniards, and others. Luther advanced with difficulty. At last, as he drew near the door which was about to admit him into the presence of his judges, he met a valiant knight, the celebrated George of Freundsberg, who, four years later, at the head of his German lansquenets, bent the knee with his soldiers on the field of Pavia, and then charging the left of the French army, drove it into the Ticino, and in a great measure decided the captivity of the King of France. The old general, seeing Luther pass, tapped him on the shoulder, and shaking his head, blanched in many battles, said kindly: “Poor monk! poor monk! thou art now going to make a nobler stand than I or any other captains have ever made in the bloodiest of our battles! But if thy cause is just, and thou art sure of it, go forward in God’s name, and fear nothing! God will not forsake thee!” A noble tribute of respect paid by the courage of the sword to the courage of the mind! He that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city, were the words of a king.HRSCV2 240.2

    At length the doors of the hall were opened. Luther went in, and with him entered many persons who formed no portion of the diet. Never had man appeared before so imposing an assembly. The Emperor Charles V, whose sovereignty extended over great part of the old and new world; his brother Archduke Ferdinand; six electors of the empire, most of whose descendants now wear the kingly crown; twenty-four dukes, the majority of whom were independent sovereigns over countries more or less extensive, and among whom were some whose names afterwards became formidable to the Reformation,—The Duke of Alva and his two sons; eight margraves; thirty archbishops, bishops, and abbots; seven ambassadors, including those from the kings of France and England; the deputies of ten free cities; a great number of princes, counts, and sovereign barons; the papal nuncios;—in all, two hundred and four persons: such was the imposing court before which appeared Martin Luther.HRSCV2 240.3

    This appearance was of itself a signal victory over the papacy. The pope had condemned the man, and he was now standing before a tribunal which, by this very act, set itself above the pope. The pope had laid him under an interdict, and cut him off from all human society; and yet he was summoned in respectful language, and received before the most august assembly in the world. The pope had condemned him to perpetual silence, and he was now about to speak before thousands of attentive hearers drawn together from the farthest parts of Christendom. An immense revolution had thus been effected by Luther’s instrumentality. Rome was already descending from her throne, and it was the voice of a monk that caused this humiliation.HRSCV2 240.4

    Some of the princes, when they saw the emotion of this son of the lowly miner of Mansfeldt in the presence of this assembly of kings, approached him kindly, and one of them said to him: “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul.” And another added: “When ye shall be brought before governors and kings for may sake, the spirit of your Father shall speak in you.” Thus was the reformer comforted with his Master’s words by the princes of this world.HRSCV2 240.5

    Meanwhile the guards made way for Luther. He advanced, and stood before the throne of Charles V. The sight of so august an assembly appeared for an instant to dazzle and intimidate him. All eyes were fixed on him. The confusion gradually subsided, and a deep silence followed. “Say nothing,” said the marshal of the empire to him, “before you are questioned.” Luther was left alone.HRSCV2 241.1

    After a moment of solemn silence, the chancellor of the Archbishop of Treves, John ab Eck, the friend of Aleander, and who must not be confounded with the theologian of the same name, rose and said with a loud and clear voice, first in Latin and then in German: “Martin Luther! his sacred and invincible imperial majesty has cited you before his throne, in accordance with the advice and counsel of the states of the holy Roman empire, to require you to answer two questions: First, Do you acknowledge these books to have been written by you?”—At the same time the imperial speaker pointed with his finger to about twenty volumes placed on a table in the middle of the hall, directly in front of Luther. “I do not know how they could have procured them,” said Luther, relating this circumstance. It was Aleander who had taken this trouble. “Secondly,” continued the chancellor, “Are you prepared to retract these books, and their contents, or do you persist in the opinions you have advanced in them?”HRSCV2 241.2

    Luther, having no mistrust, was about to answer the first of these questions affirmative, when his counsel, Jerome Schurff, hastily interrupting him, exclaimed aloud: “Let the titles of the books be read!”HRSCV2 241.3

    The chancellor approached the table and read the titles. There were among their number many devotional works, quite foreign to the controversy.HRSCV2 241.4

    Their enumeration being finished, Luther said first in Latin, and then in German:HRSCV2 241.5

    “Most gracious emperor! Gracious princes and lords!HRSCV2 241.6

    “His imperial majesty has asked me two questions.HRSCV2 241.7

    “As to the first, I acknowledge as mine the books that have just been named: I cannot deny them.HRSCV2 241.8

    “As to the second, seeing that it is a question which concerns faith and the salvation of souls, and in which the Word of God, the greatest and most precious treasure either in heaven or earth, is interested, I should act imprudently were I to reply without reflection. I might affirm less than the circumstance demands, or more than truth requires, and so sin against this saying of Christ:—Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. For this reason I entreat your imperial majesty, with all humility, to allow me time, that I may answer without offending against the Word of God.”HRSCV2 241.9

    This reply, far from giving grounds to suppose Luther felt any hesitation, was worthy of the reformer and of the assembly. It was right that he should appear calm and circumspect in so important a matter, and lay aside everything in this solemn moment that might cause a suspicion of passion or rashness. Besides, by taking reasonable time, he would give a stronger proof of the unalterable firmness of his resolution. In history we read of many men who by a hasty expression have brought great misfortunes upon themselves and upon the world. Luther restrained his own naturally impetuous disposition; he controlled his tongue, ever too ready to speak; he checked himself at a time when all the feelings by which he was animated were eager for utterance. This restraint, this calmness, so surprising in such a man, multiplied his strength a hundredfold, and put him in a position to reply, at a later period, with such wisdom, power, and dignity, as to deceive the expectations of his adversaries, and confound their malice and their pride.HRSCV2 241.10

    And yet, because he had spoken in a respectful manner, and in a low tone of voice, many thought that he hesitated, and even that he was dismayed. A ray of hope beamed on the minds of the partisans of Rome. Charles, impatient to know the man whose words had stirred the empire, had not taken his eyes off him. He turned to one of his courtiers, and said disdainfully, “Certainly this man will never make a heretic of me.” Then rising from his seat, the youthful emperor withdrew with his ministers into a council-room; the electors with the princes retired into another; and the deputies of the free cities into third. When the diet assembled again, it was agreed to comply with Luther’s request. This was a great miscalculation in men actuated by passion.HRSCV2 241.11

    “Martin Luther,” said the Chancellor of Treves, “his imperial majesty, of his natural goodness, is very willing to grant you another day, but under condition that you make your reply viva voce, and not in writing.”HRSCV2 241.12

    The imperial herald now stepped forward and conducted Luther back to his hotel. Menaces and shouts of joy were heard by turns on his passage. The most sinister rumors circulated among Luther’s friends. “The diet is dissatisfied,” said they; “the papal envoys have triumphed; the reformer will be sacrificed.” Men’s passions were inflamed. Many gentlemen hastened to Luther’s lodgings: “Doctor,” said they, with emotion, “what is this? It is said they are determined to burn you!”...” If they do so,” continued these knights, “it will cost them their lives!”—“And that certainly would have happened,” said Luther, as, twenty years after, he quoted these words at Eisleben.HRSCV2 241.13

    On the other hand, Luther’s enemies exulted. “He has asked for time,” said they; “he will retract. At a distance, his speech was arrogant; now his courage fails him He is conquered.”HRSCV2 242.1

    Perhaps Luther was the only man that felt tranquil at Worms. Shortly after his return from the diet, he wrote to Cuspianus, the imperial councillor: “I write to you from the midst of tumult (alluding probably to the noise made by the crowd in front of the hotel). I have just made my appearance before the emperor and his brother… I confessed myself the author of my books, and declared that I would reply tomorrow touching my retraction. With Christ’s help, I shall never retract one tittle of my works.”HRSCV2 242.2

    The emotion of the people and of the foreign soldiers increased every hour. While the opposing parties were proceeding calmly in the diet, they were breaking out into acts of violence in the streets. The insolence of the haughty and merciless Spanish soldiers offended the citizens. One of these myrmidons of Charles, finding in a bookseller’s shop the pope’s bull with a commentary written by Hutten, took the book and tore it in pieces, and then throwing the fragments on the ground, trampled them under foot. Others having discovered several copies of Luther’s writings on the Captivity of Babylon, took them away and destroyed them. The indignant people fell upon the soldiers and compelled them to take flight. At another time, a Spaniard on horseback pursued, sword in hand, through one of the principal streets of Worms, a German who fled before him, and the affrighted people dared not stop the furious man.HRSCV2 242.3

    Some politicians thought they had found means of saving Luther. “Retract your doctrinal errors,” said they; “but persist in all that you have said against the pope and his court, and you are safe.” Aleander shuddered with alarm at this counsel. But Luther, immovable in his resolution, declared that he had no great opinion of a political reform that was not based upon faith.HRSCV2 242.4

    Glapio, the Chancellor ab Eck, and Aleander, by Charles’s order, met early on the morning of the 18th to concert the measures to be taken with regard to Luther.HRSCV2 242.5

    For a moment Luther had felt dismay, when he was about to appear the preceding day before so august an assembly. His heart had been troubled in the presence of so many great princes, before whom nations humbly bent the knee. The reflection that he was about to refuse to submit to these men, whom God had invested with sovereign power, disturbed his soul; and he felt the necessity of looking for strength from on high. “The man who, when he is attacked by the enemy, protects himself with the shield of faith,” said he one day, “is like Perseus with the Gorgon’s head. Whoever looked at it, fell dead. In like manner should we present the Son of God to the snares of the devil.” On the morning of the 18th of April, he was not without his moments of trial, in which the face of God seemed hidden from him. His faith grew weak; his enemies multiplied before him; his imagination was overwhelmed at the sight His soul was as a ship tossed by a violent tempest, which reels and sinks to the bottom of the abyss, and then mounts up again to heaven. In this hour of bitter sorrow, in which he drinks the cup of Christ, and which was to him a little garden of Gethsemane, he falls to the earth, and utters these broken cries, which we cannot understand, unless we can figure to ourselves the depth of the anguish whence they ascend to God:—HRSCV2 242.6

    “O Almighty and Everlasting God! How terrible is this world! Behold, it openeth its mouth to swallow me up, and I have so little trust in Thee! How weak is the flesh, and Satan how strong! If it is only in the strength of this world that I must put my trust, all is over! My last hour is come, my condemnation has been pronounced! O God! O God! O God! do thou help me against all the wisdom of the world! Do this; thou shouldest do this thou alone for this is not my work, but Thine. I have nothing to do here, nothing to contend for with these great ones of the world! I should desire to see my days flow on peaceful and happy. But the cause is Thine and it is a righteous and eternal cause. O Lord! help me! Faithful and unchangeable God! In no man do I place my trust. It would be vain! All that is of man is uncertain; all that cometh of man fails O God! my God, hearest Thou me not? My God, art Thou dead? No! Thou canst not die! Thou hidest thyself only! Thou hast chosen me for this work. I know it well! Act, then, O God! stand at my side, for the sake of thy well-beloved Jesus Christ, who is my defense, my shield, and my strong tower.”HRSCV2 242.7

    After a moment of silent struggle, he thus continues:HRSCV2 243.1

    “Lord! where stayest Thou? O my God! where art Thou? Come! come! I am ready! I am ready to lay down my life for Thy truth patient as a lamb. For it is the cause of justice—it is thine! I will never separate myself from Thee, neither now nor through eternity! And though the world should be filled with devils,—though my body, which is still the work of Thy hands, should be slain, be stretched upon the pavement, be cut in pieces… reduced to ashes my soul is Thine! Yes! Thy Word is my assurance of it. My soul belongs to Thee! It shall abide for ever with Thee Amen! O God! help me! Amen!”HRSCV2 243.2

    This prayer explains Luther and the Reformation. History here raises the veil of the sanctuary, and discloses to our view the secret place whence strength and courage were imparted to this humble and despised man, who was the instrument of God to emancipate the soul and the thoughts of men, and to begin the new times. Luther and the Reformation are here brought before us. We discover their most secret springs. We see whence their power was derived. This out-pouring of a soul that offers itself up in the cause of truth is to be found in a collection of documents relative to Luther’s appearance at Worms, under Number XVI, in the midst of safe-conducts and other papers of a similar nature. One of his friends had not doubt overheard it, and has transmitted it to posterity. In our opinion, it is one of the most precious documents in all history.HRSCV2 243.3

    After he had thus prayed, Luther found that peace of mind without which man can effect nothing great. He then read the Word of God, looked over his writings, and sought to draw up his reply in a suitable form. The thought that he was about to bear testimony to Jesus Christ and his Word, in the presence of the emperor and of the empire, filled his heart with joy. As the hour for his appearance was not far off, he drew near the Holy Scriptures that lay open on the table, and with emotion placed his left hand on the sacred volume, and raising his right towards heaven, swore to remain faithful to the Gospel, and freely to confess his faith, even should he seal his testimony with his blood. After this he felt still more at peace.HRSCV2 243.4

    At four o’clock the herald appeared and conducted him to the place where the diet was sitting. The curiosity of the people had increased, for the answer was to be decisive. As the diet was occupied, Luther was compelled to wait in the court in the midst of an immense crowd, which swayed to and fro like the sea in a storm, and pressed the reformer with its waves. Two long hours elapsed, while the doctor stood in the multitude so eager to catch a glimpse of him. “I was not accustomed,” said he, “to those manners and to all this noise.” It would have been a sad preparation, indeed, for an ordinary man. But God was with Luther. His countenance was serene; his features tranquil; the Everlasting One had raised him on a rock. The night began to fall. Torches were lighted in the hall of the assembly. Their glimmering rays shone through the ancient windows into the court. Everything assumed a solemn aspect. At last the doctor was introduced. Many persons entered with him, for every one desired to hear his answer. Men’s minds were on the stretch; all impatiently awaited the decisive moment that was approaching. This time Luther was calm, free, and confident, without the least perceptible mark of embarrassment. His prayer had borne fruit. The princes having taken their seats, though not without some difficulty, for many of the places had been occupied, and the monk of Wittenberg finding himself again standing before Charles V, the chancellor of the Elector of Treves began by saying:HRSCV2 243.5

    “Martin Luther! yesterday you begged for a delay that has now expired. Assuredly it ought not to have been conceded, as every man, and especially you, who are so great and learned a doctor in the Holy Scriptures, should always be ready to answer any questions touching his faith… Now, therefore, reply to the question put by his majesty, who has behaved to you with so much mildness. Will you defend your books as a whole, or are you ready to disavow some of them?”HRSCV2 243.6

    After having said these words in Latin, the chancellor repeated them in German.HRSCV2 243.7

    “Upon this, Dr. Martin Luther,” says the Acts of Worms, “replied in the most submissive and humble manner. He did not bawl, or speak with violence; but with decency, mildness, suitability, and moderation, and yet with much joy and christian firmness.”HRSCV2 243.8

    “Most serene emperor! illustrious princes! gracious lords!” said Luther, turning his eyes on Charles and on the assembly, “I appear before you this day, in conformity with the order given me yesterday, and by God’s mercies I conjure your majesty and your august highness to listen graciously to the defense of a cause which I am assured is just and true. If, through ignorance, I should transgress the usages and proprieties of courts, I entreat you to pardon me; for I was not brought up on the palaces of kings, but in the seclusion of a convent.HRSCV2 243.9

    “Yesterday, two questions were put to me on behalf of his imperial majesty: the first, if I was the author of the books whose titles were enumerated; the second, if I would retract or defend the doctrine I had taught in them. To the first question I then made answer, and I persevere in that reply.HRSCV2 243.10

    “As for the second, I have written works on many different subjects. There are some in which I have treated of faith and good works, in a manner at once so pure, so simple, and so scriptural, that even my adversaries, far from finding anything to censure in them, allow that these works are useful, and worthy of being read by all pious men. The papal bull, however violent it may be, acknowledges this. If, therefore, I were to retract these, what should I do? Wretched man! Among all men, I alone should abandon truths that friends and enemies approve, and I should oppose what the whole world glories in confessingHRSCV2 244.1

    “Secondly, I have written books against the papacy, in which I have attacked those who, by their false doctrine, their evil lives, or their scandalous example, afflict the christian world, and destroy both body and soul. The complaints of all who fear God are confirmatory of this. Is it not evident that the human doctrines and laws of the popes entangle, torment, and vex the consciences of believers, while the crying and perpetual extortions of Rome swallow up the wealth and the riches of Christendom, and especially of this illustrious nation?HRSCV2 244.2

    “Were I to retract what I have said on this subject, what should I do but lend additional strength to this tyranny, and open the floodgates to a torrent of impiety? Overflowing with still greater fury than before, we should see these insolent men increase in number, behave more tyrannically, and domineer more and more. And not only the yoke that now weighs upon the christian people would be rendered heavier by my retraction, but it would become, so to speak, more legitimate, for by this very retraction it would have received the confirmation of your most serene majesty and of all the states of the holy empire. Gracious God! I should thus become a vile cloak to cover and conceal every kind of malice and tyranny!HRSCV2 244.3

    “Lastly, I have written books against individuals who desired to defend the Romish tyranny and to destroy the faith. I frankly confess that I may have attacked them with more acrimony than is becoming my ecclesiastical profession. I do not consider myself a saint; but I cannot disavow these writings, for by so doing I should sanction the impiety of my adversaries, and they would seize the opportunity of oppressing the people of God with still greater cruelty.HRSCV2 244.4

    “Yet I am but a mere man, and not God; I shall therefore defend myself as Christ did. If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil (John 18:23), said he. How much more should I, who am but dust and ashes, and who may so easily go astray, desire every man to state his objections to my doctrine!HRSCV2 244.5

    “For the reason, by the mercy of God, I conjure you, most serene emperor, and you, most illustrious princes, and all men of every degree, to prove from the writings of the prophets and apostles that I have erred. As soon as I am convinced of this, I will retract every error, and be the first to lay hold of my books and throw them into the fire.HRSCV2 244.6

    “What I have just said plainly shows, I hope, that I have carefully weighed and considered the dangers to which I expose myself; but, far from being dismayed, I rejoice to see that the Gospel is now, as in former times, a cause of trouble and dissension. This is the character—this is the destiny of the Word of God. I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword, said Jesus Christ (Math. x. 34). God is wonderful and terrible in his counsels; beware lest, by presuming to quench dissensions, you should persecute the holy Word of God, and draw down upon yourselves a frightful deluge of insurmountable dangers, of present disasters, and eternal desolation you should fear lest the reign of this young and noble prince, on whom (under God) we build such lofty expectations, not only should begin, but continue and close, under the most gloomy auspices. I might quote many examples from the oracles of God,” continued Luther, speaking with a noble courage in the presence of the greatest monarch of the world: “I might speak of the Pharaohs, the kings of Babylon, and those of Israel, whose labors never more effectually contributed to their own destruction than when they sought by counsels, to all appearance most wise, to strengthen their dominion. God removeth mountains, and they know it not; which overturneth them in his anger (Job 9:5).HRSCV2 244.7

    “If I say these things, it is not because I think that such great princes need my poor advice, but because I desire to render unto Germany what she has a right to expect from her children. Thus, commending myself to your august majesty and to your most serene highness, I humbly entreat you not to suffer the hatred of my enemies to pour out upon me an indignation that I have not merited.”HRSCV2 244.8

    Luther had pronounced these words in German with modesty, but with great warmth and firmness; he was ordered to repeat them in Latin. The emperor did not like the German tongue. The imposing assembly that surrounded the reformer, the noise, and his own emotion, had fatigued him. “I was in a great perspiration,” said he, “heated by the tumult, standing in the midst of the princes.” Frederick of Thun, privy councillor to the Elector of Saxony who was stationed by his master’s orders at the side of the reformer, to watch over him that no violence might be employed against him, seeing the condition of the poor monk, said: “If you cannot repeat what you have said, that will do, doctor.” But Luther, after a brief pause to take breath, began again, and repeated his speech in Latin with the same energy as at first.HRSCV2 244.9

    “This gave great pleasure to the Elector Frederick,” says the reformer.HRSCV2 245.1

    When he had ceased speaking, the Chancellor of Treves, the orator of the diet, said indignantly: “You have not answered the question put to you. You were not summoned hither to call in question the decisions of councils. you are required to give a clear and precise answer. Will you, or will you not, retract?” Upon this Luther replied without much hesitation: “Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require from me a clear, simple, and precise answer, I will give you one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the councils, because it is clear as the day that they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by the clearest reasoning,—unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted,—and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the Word of God, I cannot and I will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience.” And then, looking round on this assembly before which he stood, and which held his life in its hands, he said:HRSCV2 245.2

    “Here I Stand, I can do no other; May God Help Me? Amen!”HRSCV2 245.3

    Luther, constrained to obey his faith, led by his conscience to death, impelled by the noblest necessity, the slave of his belief, and under this slavery still supremely free, like the ship tossed by a violent tempest, and which, to save that which is more precious than itself, runs and is dashed upon the rocks, thus uttered these sublime words which still thrill our hearts at an interval of four centuries: thus spoke a monk before the emperor and the mighty ones of the nation; and this feeble and despised man, alone, but relying on the grace of the Most High, appeared greater and mightier than them all. His words contain a power against which all these mighty rulers can do nothing. This is the weakness of God, which is stronger than man. The empire and the Church on the one hand, this obscure man on the other, had met. God had brought together these kings and these prelates publicly to confound their wisdom. The battle is lost, and the consequences of this defeat of the great ones of the earth will be felt among every nation and in every age to the end of time.HRSCV2 245.4

    The assembly was thunderstruck. Many of the princes found it difficult to conceal their admiration. The emperor, recovering from his first impression, exclaimed: “This monk speaks with an intrepid heart and unshaken courage.” The Spaniards and Italians alone felt confounded, and soon began to ridicule a greatness of soul which they could not comprehend.HRSCV2 245.5

    “If you do not retract,” said the chancellor, as soon as the diet had recovered from the impression produced by Luther’s speech, “the emperor and the states of the empire will consult what course to adopt against an incorrigible heretic.” At these words Luther’s friends began to tremble; but the monk repeated: “May God be my helper; for I can retract nothing.”HRSCV2 245.6

    After this Luther withdrew, and the princes deliberated. Each one felt that this was a critical moment for Christendom. The yes or the no of this monk would decide, perhaps for ages, the repose of the Church and of the world. His adversaries had endeavoured to alarm him, and they had only exalted him before the nation; they had thought to give greater publicity to his defeat, and they had but increased the glory of his victory. The partisans of Rome could not make up their mind to submit to this humiliation. Luther was again called in, and the orator of the diet said to him:HRSCV2 245.7

    “Martin, you have not spoken with the modesty becoming your position. The distinction you have made between your books was futile; for if you retract those that contained your errors, the emperor would not allow the other to be burnt. It is extravagant in you to demand to be refuted by Scripture, when you are reviving heresies condemned by the general council of Constance. The emperor, therefore, calls upon you to declare simply, yes or no, whether you presume to maintain what you have advanced, or whether you will retract a portion?”—“I have no other reply to make than that which I have already made,” answered Luther, calmly. His meaning was understood. Firm as a rock, all the waves of human power dashed ineffectually against him. The strength of his words, his bold bearing, his piercing eyes, the unshaken firmness legible on the rough outlines of his truly German features, had produced the deepest impression on this illustrious assembly. There was no longer any hope. The Spaniards, the Belgians, and even the Romans were dumb. The monk had vanquished these great ones of the earth. He had said no to the Church and to the empire. Charles V arose, and all the assembly with him: “The diet will meet again tomorrow to hear the emperor’s opinion,” said the chancellor with a loud voice.HRSCV2 245.8

    Larger font
    Smaller font