The Diet of Worms, held in the spring of 1521, was thus in one sense little more than the backwash from a ship that had already set to sea. The Holy Roman emperor Charles V (who was also Charles I of Spain) had never been in Germany. He called the Diet, or meeting, in order to meet the German princes, whom he scarcely knew by name and desperately needed to court. But this friar by the name of Luther also needed to be addressed.
Luther left Wittenberg to attend the Diet convinced he would finally get the hearing he had requested in 1517. As he was ushered into the Diet, Luther was awed to see Emperor Charles V himself. He was surrounded by his advisers and representatives of Rome, Spanish troops decked out in their parade best, electors, bishops, territorial princes, and representatives of great cities. In the midst of this august assembly sat a table with a pile of books.
Luther was asked if he had written the books, and if there was a part of them he wished to recant. He was taken aback; this was not going to be a debate but a judicial hearing. Luther became confused, stumbled, and begged for another day: “This touches God and his Word. This affects the salvation of souls. … I beg you, give me time.”
He was given one day, and back in his quarters he wrote, “So long as Christ is merciful, I will not recant a single jot or tittle.”
The next day’s business at the Diet delayed Luther’s return until evening. Candlelight flickered off the crowd of dignitaries jammed into the great hall.
He was asked again, “Will you defend these books all together, or do you wish to recant some of what you have said?” Luther replied with a short speech, which he repeated in Latin.
There were three kinds of books in the stack, he declared. Some were about the Christian faith and good works, and these he certainly wouldn’t retract. Some attacked the papacy and to retract these would be to encourage tyranny. Finally, in some he attacked individuals (and, Luther admitted, perhaps too harshly), but still these couldn’t be retracted because these people defended papal tyranny.
Surely, the reply came, one individual could not call into doubt the tradition of the entire church! Then the examiner declared, “You must give a simple, clear, and proper answer. … Will you recant or not?”
Luther replied, “Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear, and distinct grounds of reasoning … then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience.”
Then he probably added, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.
Are you willing to die for what you believe in?
Are you willing to defend the truth at any cost?
What are some truths worth dying for?
What are some truths you are willing to risk it all for?