‘Luther at the Diet of Worms,’ Anton von Werner, 1877, Public Domain
A post-Reformation Day reflection.
It was 498 years (and three days) ago, in October of 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany.
That event sparked the Protestant Reformation, as people throughout Saxony and the rest of Western Europe took a stand against the corruption and error of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. As for Luther, he quickly became a wanted man.
Just a few years later, after a series of debates and confrontations, Luther was issued a bull of excommunication by Pope Leo X. It was June of 1520. Luther was given 60 days to recant. Instead, he took a copy of the papal decree out into the center of Wittenberg and burned it as a public demonstration of his resolve.
When news reached Rome that he was unwilling to change his views, Luther was officially denounced by the Catholic church.
Shortly thereafter, the German Reformer was summoned to defend his views before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, who at that time was the most powerful ruler in Europe.
Because there was no separation of church and state, European governments were often directly involved in the punishment of heretics. Luther knew that if he was convicted of heresy, he would likely be sentenced to death just as John Huss had been a century earlier.
The imperial council, known as a Diet, met in the city of Worms.
Luther arrived on April 16, 1521 and appeared before the assembly the following day at 4:00 in the afternoon. A stack of his books was presented, and he was asked if he would recant the alleged heresies they contained.
Luther, knowing what was at stake and wanting to make sure he answered in a way that was both accurate and precise, asked for more time. He was given 24 hours.