In April of 1520, Martin Luther stood before the princes of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor, Charles, a staunch believer of the Catholic faith. Luther was shown a pile of his books upon a table and asked to take back everything in them. He checked the list and said that the books were his, but as for taking back everything in them he would have to think it over. As a great favor he was given until the next day. On the morrow he spoke to the diet:
“Most supreme emperor and most noble lords, if I make any mistakes in your proper titles, please forgive me. I have lived in a monastery, not a court. As for my books, They are of three kinds. First, there is what I have said of the Christian belief and life. Even the bull against me admits that some of my teaching is harmless. If then I should take it all back I should be taking back what everyone accepts. Secondly, there is what I have said about all the money that goes out of Germany. If I should take that back and you German princes approved, poor Germany would get worse treatment. Thirdly, there is what I have said against people. I admit I have been too hot, but I am not being judged on my life but on my teaching. And now I would remind you of what happens when princes act like pharaoh and the King of Babylon. May the reign of prince Charles begin in the far of God.”
Examiner: “Brother Martin, you haven’t divided your works enough. You should have divided them into those that are bad and those that are worse. Of course there is some good in what you say. That makes it all the worse, because people will be deceived more easily. And who are you to think you know everything and all the teachers of the Church for so many centuries have been wrong? The faith was given by Christ, taught by the apostles, sealed by the blood of the martyrs, worked out by the doctors and councils and given to us by the pope and the emperor to be believed. Now do you or do you not take back your teaching? Give us an answer without horns.”
Luther: “Since Your Majesty and Your Lordships ask for a plain answer, I will give you one without horns or teeth. Unless I am shown by the Bible or reason- I do not trust in popes and councils since they have often made mistakes. Unless I am shown out of the Bible, I neither can nor will take back anything. My conscience is a captive to the Bible, and I cannot go against my conscience. God help me. Amen.”
Charles spoke the next day:
“The emperors before me were true sons of the Catholic Church, and I would rather lose all my lands and even my life than go against the Christian faith. A single monk here sets himself against what the Church has believed for a thousand years and more. And after his stiff-necked reply of yesterday, I am sorry I have toyed with him so long. He shall be allowed to go home in accord with the promise, but after that anyone who finds him is to turn him over to the officers.”
Luther had not waited to hear this. He had already left the night before.
(Image of Martin Luther from Pixabay)