How Luther’s showdown at the ‘Diet of Worms’ shaped Christianity

How Luther's showdown at the 'Diet of Worms' shaped Christianity
The Wartburg Castle reflected in Martin Luther's portrait. Photo: DPA
Ever had a nerve-wracking job interview? How about being called in to see the headmaster? Take those feelings, multiply their intensity by one hundred and it might come close to that experienced by Martin Luther, this week almost 500 years ago.

Luther, a priest, monk and professor, had been summoned by the Holy Roman Emperor to appear at the Diet of Worms.

Diets, held across the Holy Roman Empire at various intervals, were the sprawling power's means of resolving interval disputes, as well as setting the agenda going forward.

Luther remains resolute in his teachings

Four years before, on October 31st, 1517, Luther had nailed the ‘95 Theses’ to the door of the University Church in Wittenberg, now in Saxony-Anhalt. These criticisms of Catholic dogma threw petrol onto the already burning flames of the Reformation, causing uproar across the Empire.

SEE ALSO: 12 surprising facts you didn't know about Martin Luther

Despite numerous demands for a retraction of his statements, as well as a series of debates with cardinals, Luther remained resolute in his teachings that were rapidly being taken up and reprinted by early presses. Thus, an edict was sent, demanding his appearance.

The Wittenburg Castle, today an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo: DPA

To the kind of welcome we would associate with a touring rock star, Luther arrived in Worms in on April 16th, 1521. The next day, he was brought before the Diet. Asked if he was ready to recant what were considered his heretical statements, he asked for a day to think and pray.

Refusing to recant

The next day, after hours of contemplation, Luther appeared at the Diet again. This time, he apologized if he had slandered anyone, but refused to recant his statements unless scripture could do so.

At this point, legend says he uttered the words, “Here I stand, I can do no other” to the Emperor, clergy and assembled nobles.

Luther left before a verdict was handed down, brandishing his letter of safe conduct. He would have to start planning for a life on the run – the signs didn't look good for his acquittal.

Indeed, the next month, another edict was issued calling for his capture and the banning of his works.

In the end, however, this was something he did not have to worry too much about. On the way back to Wittenberg, he was 'captured’ by troops loyal to his most powerful ally, the Elector of Saxony, and taken to Wartburg Castle.

A scene depicting Luther's refusal to revoke his teachings, today on display in Heylshof Park in Worms in Rhineland-Palitinate. Photo: DPA

Sparking a rebellion

Luther would spend just under a year at Wartburg, until the heat died down. Taking the name 'Junker Georg’, he spent his days translating the Bible into vernacular German and, if the legends are to be believed, struggling terribly with constipation.

SEE ALSO: How Luther gave Germans a language everyone could use

Despite the efforts of Church and Emperor, the Protestant genie was well and truly out of the bottle. Over the next few decades, Luther's teachings would stretch far beyond the Empire's borders. Within, it would help instigate the Peasants' War of 1525, and Anabaptist rebellion.

While the Protestant Reformation had been simmering away for decades, it was Luther's actions that would lead to the greatest change, and the rise of the Protestant churches we see today.

So, next time you're called into a very important meeting, or are pulled up for a minor infringement, take inspiration from Luther's actions at the Diet of Worms. A little calm under pressure, and asking for time to make an informed decision may just save you!


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