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What was the Diet of Worms?

Diet of Worms audio

Throughout the Middle Ages in the Holy Roman Empire, a “diet” was an assembly of governmental and/or religious leaders called together to settle a political or religious matter. The Diet of Worms was held in 1521 in Worms (pronounced “Vermz”), Germany, to discuss the teachings of Martin Luther. In 1517, Martin Luther had posted the 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This was essentially the start of the Protestant Reformation. Between the posting of the 95 Theses and the Diet of Worms, four years later, the Protestant Reformation became a significant movement.

In 1520, Pope Leo X issued a papal bull against Martin Luther, declaring him to be a heretic. As a result, Emperor Charles V called the Diet of Worms as a court of inquisition and ordered Luther to appear and either affirm or renounce his teachings. Johann Eck, who was representing the Emperor, asked Martin Luther if he was ready to recant his heresies. After a one-day recess, Martin Luther responded, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”

As a result of Luther’s refusal to recant, the Diet of Worms issued the Edict of Worms that labeled Luther a heretic and banned the reading of his writings. The edict made Luther an outlaw, and the understanding of the Diet of Worms was that Luther would soon be arrested, punished, and likely executed. However, before he could be arrested, Luther was spirited away by Prince Frederick III of Saxony and hidden in Wartburg Castle. There Luther continued his writing and began his translation of the Bible into German.

In the time Martin Luther was secluded in the castle at Wartburg, the Lutheran Church became increasingly popular in Germany. So, even when Luther left the safety of the castle, the Edict of Worms was never enforced against him, and he was never arrested. Luther’s declaration that he would not recant unless he was “convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures” is a good summary of what the Protestant Reformation was all about and serves as a good example of the place the Bible should occupy in our lives.

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This page last updated: September 25, 2023