Diet of Worms

Diet of Worms
   Martin Luther's trial at a session of the Imperial Diet (council) of the Holy Roman Empire at Worms in 1521, and the diet's decision to condemn him, was a turning point in the historic split between the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformation movement.
   At that time, central Europe, and especially Germany, was divided into a large number of small countries. They were united in a loose confederacy termed the Holy Roman Empire, led by an emperor and held together in part by its allegiance to Roman Catholicism and to the the pope. Its highest legislative body, weak by any standard, was the Imperial Diet (Reichstag). The diet included the leaders of the various political entities in the empire, and it met at different places and times.
   Martin Luther's challenge to papal authority was gathering support just as the empire faced a severe military crisis. Turkish Islamic forces had marched out of Budapest and were heading for Vienna a short distance away. The Reformation was creating a division in the empire at the very point that all its strength was needed to resist the Muslim advance.
   The pope had excommunicated Luther for publicizing his Ninety-five Theses in 1517 and other declarations and pamphlets accusing the popes and church councils of error. Luther had won protection from various German princes, some who agreed with him ideologically and some who simply did not want money from their lands flowing to Rome.
   The pope pressured the emperor to outlaw Luther. In 1521, Luther was summoned to appear before the diet to defend himself. If the diet declared him an outlaw, he could be arrested and jailed. Precedents were not auspicious - Bohemian reformer John Hus, who had faced similar charges a century before, had been found guilty at the Council of Constance and burned at the stake. Unlike Hus, Luther had the backing of several powerful German princes, most importantly the Elector Frederick of Saxony; Luther also enjoyed much popular support in Germany, including Worms.
   At the diet, Luther defended his views vigorously, drawing upon biblical authority and reason. He is reported to have concluded, "Unless I am convinced by scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen." He is also quoted as having said, "Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise," but these words appear to be apocryphal.
   After the emperor and the diet found against him, Luther left Worms, making use of his temporary safe conduct. After 21 days, anyone could kill him as an outlaw without threat of reprisal from the authorities. On his way home, Luther was "kidnapped" and taken to the castle at Wartburg, where he remained for 11 months. The Diet of Worms marked a watershed, after which any compromise between Luther and the Catholic Church was all but impossible.
   Further reading:
   ■ David V N. Bagchi, Luther's Earliest Opponents: Catholic Controversialists 1518-1525 (Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Fortress, 1991)
   ■ Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation 1521-32 (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1990)
   ■ Gordon Rupp, Luther's Progress to the Diet of Worms (New York: Harper & Row, 1964).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

Look at other dictionaries:

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