Today marks the anniversary of Luther’s bold stand at the Diet of Worms, where he famously stood before his critics and refused to retract his teachings which had already sparked such controversy in the Church.
For those of you who are wondering, Worms is a city in Germany, and a “Diet” is basically a council, an official gathering of some kind. So, although a diet of worms might be an intriguing way to lose weight, the Diet of Worms was an imperial council that met in the city of Worms in 1521. (And if you want to sound all germanic and cool to your friends, you pronounce it like Deet of Verms.)
Here are a few highlights from Luther’s speech that day. You can read the whole thing here.
MOSTSERENE EMPEROR, AND YOU ILLUSTRIOUS PRINCES AND GRACIOUS LORDS:—I this day appear before you in all humility, according to your command, and I implore your majesty and your august highnesses, by the mercies of God, to listen with favor to the defense of a cause which I am well assured is just and right. I ask pardon, if by reason of my ignorance, I am wanting in the manners that befit a court; for I have not been brought up in king’s palaces, but in the seclusion of a cloister….
Yet, as I am a mere man, and not God, I will defend myself after the example of Jesus Christ, who said: “If I have spoken evil, bear witness against me” (John xviii:23). How much more should I, who am but dust and ashes, and so prone to error, desire that every one should bring forward what he can against my doctrine.
Therefore, most serene emperor, and you illustrious princes, and all, whether high or low, who hear me, I implore you by the mercies of God to prove to me by the writings of the prophets and apostles that I am in error. As soon as I shall be convinced, I will instantly retract all my errors, and will myself be the first to seize my writings, and commit them to the flames.
Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require of me a simple, clear and direct answer, I will give one, and it is this: I can not submit my faith either to the pope or to the council, because it is as clear as noonday that they have fallen into error and even into glaring inconsistency with themselves. If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it can not be right for a Christian to speak against his country. I stand here and can say no more. God help me. Amen.
There is some question as to whether this famous last line was part of Luther’s original speech or if it was added later to give the speech a little more flair. Either way, it’s a pretty impressive speech and has shaped the Protestant imagination for centuries.