Duke George of Saxony

Luther Summoned to the Diet

Had vote been taken at the conclusion of the nuncio’s delivery, all, save one, would have undoubtedly given consent to Luther’s condemnation. However, the diet broke up as Aleander sat down; and thus the victory that seemed so certain eluded Rome’s grasp.

When the princes next assembled, the emotions that had been stirred to such a high pitch by the rhetoric of Aleander had to a great degree subsided, and the hard facts of Rome’s extortion alone remained deeply imprinted in the memories of the German princes. These abuses no eloquence of oratory could efface. The first person to address the assembly was Duke George. That fact that he was a known enemy of the Reformer and of the Reformed movement added weight to his words. “With noble firmness, Duke George of Saxony stood up in that princely assembly and specified with terrible exactness the deceptions and abominations of popery, and their dire results. In closing he said:

“These are some of the abuses that cry out against Rome. All shame has been put aside, and their only object is . . . money, money, money, . . . so that the preachers who should teach the truth, utter nothing but falsehoods, and are not only tolerated, but rewarded, because the greater their lies, the greater their gain. It is from this foul spring that such tainted waters flow. Debauchery stretches out the hand to avarice. . . . Alas, it is the scandal caused by the clergy that hurls so many poor souls into eternal condemnation. A general reform must be effected.’ ” D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation, book 7, chapter 4.

The Diet Calls for Luther

A committee was appointed by the diet to draw up a list of the oppressions under which the nation groaned. When it was completed, the document listed a hundred and one grievances. This list was presented to the emperor with the request that in fulfillment of the terms that he had signed at the time he was crowned, he move to effect the reformation of the enumerated abuses. Moreover, the princes demanded that Luther should be summoned to appear before them. It was unjust, they reasoned, to condemn him without knowing whether he was, in fact, the author of the books in question and without hearing what he had to say in defense of his opinions. Before the unified diet, the emperor gave way, though he covered his retreat by asserting that he had serious doubts that Luther actually authored the books.

Aleander was horrified at the emperor’s lack of resolution in dealing with the matter, but he strove in vain to stem the tide that was now moving in a direction that could only end in disaster for the papacy. He had but one hope left, and that was that Luther could be denied a safe-conduct; but ultimately even this proposal was denied him as well. On March 6, 1521, Luther was summoned to appear before the Diet in twenty-one days. Enclosed with the summons was a safe-conduct signed by the emperor and commanding all princes, lords, and magistrates, under pain of displeasure of the emperor and the Empire, to respect Luther’s safety.

A mightier hand than that of Charles was directing in the affairs of the empire. Instead of bearing his witness at the stake, Luther is to bear testimony on the loftiest stage that the world could provide. The kings, the lords of all Christendom must come to Worms and there patiently wait to listen while the miner’s son speaks to them.

Events had so transpired as to prepare Luther in a special way for this, the great crisis of his career. His study of Paul’s writings and the book of Revelation, when compared with history, convinced him that the Church of Rome, as it then existed, was the predicted “Apostasy” and that the dominion of the papacy was the reign of Antichrist. It was this that broke the spell of Rome, freeing him from the fear of her curse. The summons to the diet at Worms found him confident and secure in this knowledge.

On March 24, 1521, the imperial herald arrived at Wittenberg, placing in Luther’s hands the summons of the emperor to appear before the diet in Worms.

The news that Luther had been summoned to the diet spread rapidly throughout Germany. While the Germans were glad to see the cause of their country and their church taking on an importance that challenged examination and discussion by so august an assembly, they could not help but be filled with apprehension. They trembled when they considered the fate of the man who had become the ablest champion of both their political and religious rights. If Luther should be sacrificed to the hatred of the Church, who then would compensate for his loss to the movement which promised to free them from the tyranny of Rome?

On April 2, the arrangements for travel were completed and Luther, along with three of his more intimate friends, began the trip to Worms. Though Melanchthon begged to accompany them, Luther firmly declined, pointing out that should he himself be sacrificed to the malice of Rome, there was no one but Melanchthon capable of carrying on. The youth and professors from the university, as well as the towns people, thronged the streets of Wittenberg to witness his departure.

The procession was led by the imperial herald, wearing his insignia and displaying the imperial eagle, showing that the travelers journeyed under the guardianship of the emperor. For Luther’s convenience, the magistrates of Wittenberg, at their own cost, had provided a covered conveyance for his comfort in travel.

Everywhere they went, villagers poured out to catch a glimpse of the monk who dared to stand against Rome, Leipsic being one notable exception. The Roman party had dared to hope that Luther would not accept the invitation to appear. Once the news arrived that he had begun his journey, they did not despair by intrigues and menaces of making him turn back. All along the way both friends and enemies, failing to appreciate character of the man with whom they were dealing, endeavored in vain to turn him from his purpose of appearing before the diet. To their dismay, Luther kept his face steadfastly towards Worms.

Rome Fears Luther


Alarm was general in the camp of the pope’s friends. They feared that if Luther entered Worms, all might be lost. To carry him off by force, they could not; for he was traveling under the protection of the emperor. All that was left for them was deception. Glapio, confessor to Charles, and Paul of Amsdorff, the emperor’s chamberlain, decided on a plan which they immediately set out to implement. Finding their way to the castle of Ebernburg, they approached Francis of Sickingen, a knight who was friendly to the Reformed movement. Bucer, a youthful Dominican who had been converted to the evangelical doctrine, had taken refuge there. The knight, who did not understand much about religious matters, was easily deceived by the designs of his visitors. Bucer’s disposition to naturally avoid conflict also played into their hands.

The chamberlain and Charles’s confessor began their attack by making Sickingen and Bucer to understand that Luther was lost if he entered the city. They declared that the emperor was ready to send a few men to Ebernburg to confer with the doctor and indicated that both parties would place themselves under the protection of Sickingen. Further, they asserted that they agreed with Luther on all of the essential points and that it was only on some secondary points that there remained any disagreement. These, they said, they were willing for Bucer to mediate between them. The knight and Bucer were staggered at the apparent change in circumstances. Their two visitors continued by pointing out that the invitation to come to the castle must be presented by Sickingen and Bucer and that they must not allow the too credulous Luther to enter Worms. When his safe conduct expired in three days, who would be able to protect him there?

When Luther arrived at Oppenheim and saw a group of horsemen approaching him, he realized that his safe conduct was only good for three more days. He soon recognized Bucer, a man with whom he had held intimate conversations at Heidelberg. After the first exchange of friendship, Bucer told him that the attending troops were cavaliers belonging to Francis of Sickingen and that the knight had sent him to bring Luther’s party to the safety of his castle. There, he was told, the emperor’s confessor, who held almost unlimited influence with Charles, desired an interview with him in the hope of working out all differences amicably. Aleander, the papal legate in Worms, was not, however, to be trusted. As Bucer was pressing them, Luther’s friends did not know what to think; but Luther had no hesitation. “ ‘I shall continue my journey,’ he replied to Bucer; ‘and if the emperor’s confessor has anything to say to me, he will find me at Worms. I shall go whither I am summoned.’ ”  D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation, book 6, chap. 7

Word began to quietly circulate in Worms that the diet was not bound to honor the emperor’s safe-conduct. It was with great apprehension that Luther’s friends heard these whispers. One question came to the minds of all: Was the perfidy of Constance to be repeated in Worms? The elector, greatly alarmed, sent word to Luther by Spalatin, urging him not enter the city. This was perhaps the most difficult obstacle that Luther had yet been forced to deal with, coming as it did from a trusted friend. “Fixing his eyes on the messenger, Luther replied, ‘Go and tell your master that even should there be as many devils in Worms as tiles on the house tops, still I will enter it.’ ” Wylie, History of Protestantism, vol. 1, 333

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