Diet of Worms 1521 was an imperial diet (assembly) of the Holy Roman Empire called by Emperor Charles V. It was held at the Heylshof Garden in Worms, then an Imperial Free City of the Empire. An imperial diet was a formal deliberative assembly of the whole Empire. This one is most memorable for the Edict of Worms, which addressed Martin Luther and the effects of the Protestant Reformation. It was conducted from 28 January to 25 May 1521, with Emperor Charles V presiding. Other imperial diets took place at Worms in the years 829, 926, 1076, 1122, 1495, and 1545, but unless plainly qualified, the term “Diet of Worms” usually refers to the assembly of 1521.
In June 1520 Pope Leo X condemned 41 of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, but he also gave Luther time to recant. In response, Luther publicly burned the papal bull and refused to renounce his propositions. He was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church on January 3, 1521. While the emperor should then have arrested and executed Luther, the intervention of Luther’s prince, Elector Frederick III the Wise of Saxony, led to the decision that he would appear for a hearing at the Diet under the emperor’s safe-conduct.
Diet of Worms
When you hear the word ‘diet,’ you probably think of counting calories and restricting food intake. Understandably, you might be a little concerned to connect the word ‘diet’ to ‘worms.’ In the case of this lesson, though, an imperial diet has nothing to do with food; instead, it is basically a formal assembly or council meeting, kind of like a parliament. So we’re definitely not talking about eating worms!
Throughout the Middle Ages, the Holy Roman Empire frequently held diets in order to decide important political and religious questions. Remember, during this time politics and religion were very much intertwined. Imperial diets were held periodically in various cities. Heads of state, princes, royals, and church leaders typically participated.
The Diet of Worms of 1521 was an imperial diet (remember, an assembly meeting) of the Holy Roman Empire. It was convened to determine how authorities (both political and religious) should respond to Martin Luther’s teachings. The diet was held in Worms, Germany (pronounced ‘Vurmz’ and hence the name).
Holy Roman Emperor Charles V presided over the meeting. The diet issued the Edict of Worms, which basically forbade anyone to shelter Martin Luther or provide him with aid. The edict stated that Luther should be captured and punished as a heretic. The Diet of Worms in 1521 was a critical moment in the Protestant Reformation.
Diet of Worms Martin Luther/1521
On 17 April, the imperial marshal, Ulrich von Pappenheim, and the herald, Caspar Sturm, came for Luther. Pappenheim reminded Luther that he should speak only in answer to direct questions from the presiding officer, Johann Eck. Eck asked if a collection of books was Luther’s and if he was ready to revoke their heresies. Dr. Schurff said, “Please have the titles read.”
There were 25 of them, probably including The 95 Theses, Resolutions Concerning the 95 Theses, On the Papacy at Rome, Address to the Christian Nobility, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and On the Freedom of a Christian. Luther requested more time for a proper answer, so he was given until the next day at 4 p.m. On 18 April, Luther, saying that he had prayed for long hours and consulted with friends and mediators, presented himself before the Diet. When the counselor put the same questions to him, Luther first apologized that he lacked the etiquette of the court. Then he answered, “They are all mine, but as for the second question, they are not all of one sort.”
Luther went on to place the writings into three categories
- Works that were well received even by his enemies: those he would not reject.
- Books that attacked the abuses, lies, and desolation of the Christian world and the papacy: those, Luther believed, could not safely be rejected without encouraging abuses to continue. To retract them would be to open the door to further oppression. “If I now recant these, then, I would be doing nothing but strengthening tyranny”.
- Attacks on individuals: he apologized for the harsh tone of these writings but did not reject the substance of what he taught in them; if he could be shown by Scripture that his writings were in error, Luther continued, he would reject them. According to tradition, Luther is said to have declared, “Here I stand, I can do no other,” before concluding with “God help me. Amen.” However, there is no indication in the transcripts of the Diet or in eyewitness accounts that he ever said this, and most scholars now doubt these words were spoken.
According to Luther, Eck informed Luther that he was acting like a heretic
“‘Martin,’ said he, ‘there is no one of the heresies which have torn the bosom of the church, which has not derived its origin from the various interpretation of the Scripture. The Bible itself is the arsenal whence each innovator has drawn his deceptive arguments. It was with biblical texts that Pelagius and Arius maintained their doctrines. Arius, for instance, found the negation of the eternity of the Word an eternity which you admit, in this verse of the New Testament Joseph knew not his wife till she had brought forth her first-born son; and he said, in the same way, that you say, that this passage enchained him.
When the fathers of the council of Constance condemned this proposition of John Huss The church of Jesus Christ is only the community of the elect, they condemned an error; for the church, like a good mother, embraces within her arms all who bear the name of Christian, all who are called to enjoy the celestial beatitude.'”Private conferences were held to determine Luther’s fate, but he was not arrested at Worms. Through negotiations by his prince, Frederick III, Luther had been given a letter of safe conduct to and from the hearing. After his dismissal, he departed for his home in Wittenberg. However, fearing for Luther’s safety, Frederick III sent men to fake a highway attack and abduct Luther, hiding him away at Wartburg Castle.
Edict of Worms
The Edict of Worms was a decree issued on 25 May 1521 by Emperor Charles V, declaring
For this reason, we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favor the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said, Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work.
The Papal nuncio at the diet, Girolamo Aleandro, drew up and proposed the denunciations of Luther that were embodied in the Edict of Worms, promulgated on 26 May. The Edict declared Luther to be an obstinate heretic and banned the reading or possession of his writings.
It was the culmination of an ongoing struggle between Martin Luther and the Catholic Church over reform, especially concerning the practice of donations for indulgences. However, there were other deeper issues that revolved around both theological concerns:
- On a theological level, Luther had challenged the absolute authority of the Pope over the Church by maintaining that the doctrine of indulgences, as authorized and taught by the Pope, was wrong.
- Luther maintained that salvation was by faith alone (sola fide) without reference to good works, alms, penance, or the Church’s sacraments. Luther maintained that the sacraments were a “means of grace,” meaning that while grace was imparted through the Sacraments, the credit for the action belonged to God and not to the individual.
- He had also challenged the authority of the Church by maintaining that all doctrines and dogmata of the Church not found in Scripture should be discarded (sola scriptura).
To protect the authority of the Pope and the Church, as well as to maintain the doctrine of indulgences, ecclesiastical officials convinced Charles V that Luther was a threat and persuaded him to authorize his condemnation by the Holy Roman Empire. Luther escaped arrest and remained in seclusion at Wartburg castle for several months where he continued to write and translate the New Testament into German.