Let There Be Light - Part V
In 1518, Luther was summoned by Pope Leo X to appear in Heidelberg, Germany, to defend his statements. Martin Luther debated a panel of distinguished Augustinian monks, who were considered to be theological masters of the church. The monks were no match for Luther. Months later, Cardinal Cajetan put Martin Luther on trial. Cajetan, also a distinguished scholar, was no more a match against Luther than the Augustinian monks. While the cardinal defended the Catholic Church’s use of indulgences, Luther set out his countering positions with great precision and was unfazed by feeble attempts at belittling his courage. Luther said he would not recant anything unless Scripture proved him wrong. “I deny that the pope is above Scripture. His Holiness abuses Scripture.”
Cardinal Cajetan lost his temper and began shouting at Luther, demanding Luther to leave and to never darken his holy door again unless he was willing to say, “I recant.”
In due time, a series of commissions was convened to examine Luther’s teachings. The first papal commission found them to be heretical, but the second merely stated that Luther’s writings were scandalous and offensive to pious ears. But, Pope Leo X had all he could take of Martin Luther. In 1520, he issued a “papal bull”—a public declaration that concluded Luther’s propositions as heresy. The papal bull not only obliged all Christians to acknowledge the pope’s authority and power to grant indulgences, but also threatened Luther with excommunication from the Catholic Church and gave him 120 days to recant in Rome. No sooner than Luther received the bull, he burned it—publicly!
When Pope Leo X received word of Luther’s active defiance, he issued a “Decet Romanum Pontificem,” in English meaning, “It Pleases the Roman Pontiff,” thus banishing Luther from the church. The issue was turned over to secular authorities, and Luther agreed to appear before the Diet of Worms.
As vast as the rift now appeared between Martin Luther and the church, there was still a chance for reprieve, and Luther was prepared to address the accusations against him. This was to be Luther’s defining moment.
After a long and difficult journey from Wittenberg, Luther arrived in Worms with great fanfare. Preceding his arrival, a crowd of 2,000 lined the streets to escort him into town. The citizens eagerly pressed forth to see this man, every moment the crowds increasing. The procession made its way with difficulty through the multitudes. A great number even climbed onto rooftops to catch a glimpse. The tops of houses and the pavements of the streets were littered with spectators. To some, he was a prodigy of wisdom; to others, a fool. Nonetheless, the entire city came to see him.
Luther advanced through the crowds with difficulty as he made his way into the town hall. Luther’s appearance before the Diet in itself was a great victory over the church and the papacy. The pope had condemned him to perpetual silence, yet, here he was, about to speak before thousands of attentive listeners.
Approaching the assembly, Luther was presented with a table littered with copies of his own writings. The panel of dignitaries demanded confirmation that he authored the various writings attributed to him and whether he espoused of its contents. Luther calmly stated, “The books are all mine, and I have written more.”
The Diet further noted that Luther’s writings contained the errors of previous reformers and that various councils had already condemned these heretics over past centuries. Luther was undeterred. He demanded that these men show him any Scripture that would refute his positions and writings. There was none.
“You have not answered the question put to you,” one of the dignitaries said. “You were not summoned hither to call in question the decisions of councils. You are required to give a clear and precise answer. Will you, or will you not retract?”
Luther responded, “Since then your serene majesty and your lordships request a simple reply, I will give it without horns and hoofs, and say: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture or by plain reason (for I believe in neither the pope nor in councils alone, for it is well-known, not only that they have erred, but also have contradicted themselves), I am mastered by the passages of Scripture which I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant, for it is neither safe nor honest to violate one’s conscience. I can do no other. Here I take my stand, God being my helper. Amen.”
The assembly, including the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, was thunderstruck. They witnessed firsthand Luther’s bold demeanor and unshaken courage. The monk, who so courageously nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church nearly four years prior, had braved his enemies amongst an assembly of men who thirsted for his blood. Dumbfounded but still seeking grounds to convict Luther, the Diet convened to deliberate. After several days of deliberation, the assembly was faced with coming to a decision on Luther’s fate.
Without validation, Charles V issued the “Edict of Worms,” placing Luther under imperial ban, banning his literature and officially declaring him a heretic to the entirety of the Holy Roman Empire. He was to be arrested on site. Furthermore, the assembly sanctioned his death with no legal consequences under the law. Essentially, the Roman Catholic Church was condoning the murder of Martin Luther.
The Edict of Worms further stated that it would be considered a crime for anyone within the empire to give Luther sanctuary.
But, Luther had already vanished.
His sentence came down several days after the Diet, so Luther, now a condemned and wanted man, had already taken shelter, thanks to Prince Frederick of Saxony, who whisked him into hiding at Wartburg Castle days before the edict was made public.
This article is an excerpt from the book, Light Of Liberty.
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