Imagine that we are all transported back to the city of Worms in the year 1530. Here, you find yourself involved in the trial of the German monk, Martin Luther, who has given himself up to the authority of the Catholic Church to address the charges that he is a heretical revolutionary. The specific charges are as follows:
Count 1. Development and preaching of heretical (any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.) teachings.
Count 2. Inciting members of the Catholic Church to rebel against the authority and established doctrines of the universal Church.
Count 3. Willful denial of the authority of the Pope and the Catholic Church.
The roles of Martin Luther and John Calvin and their defense lawyers, and Pope Leo X and his defense team, will require some research and historical understanding. Some of the witnesses for the defense were long dead in 1520, but we are free to bring them back to life! There are nineteen roles for the simulation, but if the class is larger, we will add more defense lawyers, press, or other figures of that time such as German princes, rulers such as Henry VIII, or writers such as Erasmus.
The Prosecution – Accusing Martin Luther of these crimes
John Calvin, John Hus, and John Wycliffe (optional)
Seven cardinals who must decide the case – (Jury) Press
Two or more reporters who cover the case.
He is the defendant in the trial.
He will testify in his defense before the tribunal.
He must provide answers to the questions that are consistent with his theological views and specific aspects of his life.
The prosecution shall consist of four attorneys.
The prosecution will prepare its case to prove that Martin Luther is guilty under each of the three counts of the indictment listed above.
Each attorney for the prosecution will prepare a four-minute speech introducing and summarizing the prosecution’s case against Luther.
The prosecution will be allowed to ask four primary questions and four follow-up questions as part of its examination of Luther, plus three primary and follow-up questions of each of the other witnesses (time not to exceed five minutes).
The defense team shall consist of four attorneys.
The defense team will prepare its case to prove that Martin Luther and John Calvin are not guilty of any of the charges as outlined by the general indictment above.
Each attorney for the defense will prepare a four-minute speech, two introducing and two summarizing the defense team’s case for Luther’s acquittal on all three counts.
The defense will be allowed to ask four primary questions and four follow-up questions as part of its examination of Luther, plus three primary and follow-up questions of each of the other witnesses (time not to exceed five minutes).
In addition to Luther’s testimony, there will be other witnesses available for questioning; they will be witnesses for the prosecution and for the defense.
The prosecution witnesses will be Pope Leo X, Charles V (the Holy Roman Emperor), John Tetzel, and a German commoner.
The defense witnesses will be Martin Luther, John Calvin, a German commoner, and a German prince who supports Luther.
Each witness must be familiar with the issues that would have concerned her or his character and with the general ideas and issues of the Protestant Reformation.
Members of both the prosecution and the defense will question each witness.
The seven cardinals are the judges for this tribunal. All are members of the College of Cardinals. While they are devout Catholics, they are also aware that there have been many concerns about various doctrines and practices within the Church. They are to judge Luther’s case on the basis of the issues presented and decide whether or not he should be convicted of heresy and excommunicated. One of the seven will also act as the chief justice of the court and direct the trial.
The judges will preside over the trial, evaluate and rule on admissibility of evidence and arguments, maintain order in the court, and reach verdict and impose sentence.
Each judge shall read one of the verdicts for a specific charge.
The chief justice shall deliver the sentence agreed upon by the tribunal.
If the verdict is not unanimous, a majority and dissenting opinion will also be presented. The only sentence possible in the event of a guilty verdict will be Luther’s excommunication and the transfer of his case to civil authorities for a civil trial and a sentence to be administered thereafter (most likely a sentence to be burned at the stake).
Reporters will observe and report on pre-trial, trial, and post-trial events.
They may interview various members of the defense and prosecution teams and speculate as to strategy, tactics, and opinion through, for example, editorials or cartoons.
The Chief Justice reads the charges against Martin Luther and John Calvin.
Opening statement for the prosecution (8 minutes).
Opening statement for the defense (8 minutes).
Testimony of witnesses (prosecution and defense teams have five minutes for examination of each witness).
Closing statement for the prosecution (8 minutes).
Closing statement for the defense (8 minutes).
Judges deliberate and reach/read verdict and sentence.
Sources for students for role-play
Martin Luther, The Pope Excommunicates Martin Luther, Papal Encyclicals Online, http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Leo10/l10exdom.htm
Luther’s letter to Pope Leo X criticizing indulgencies, Project Wittenberg, http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/nine5-pope.txt
Indulgences, Medieval Sourcebook, Paul Halsall, Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/lutherltr-indulgences.html
Selected Works of Martin Luther, Project Wittenberg, http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/wittenberg-luther.html
Calvinism, Carl Johnson, Believe, http://mb-soft.com/believe/text/calvinis.htm
Pope Leo X, Portrait, http://faculty.cua.edu/Pennington/ChurchHistory220/Lecture13/LeoXRaphael.htm
Each student will write a report of the trial from the viewpoint of your specific person from the role-play. That is, the journalists would write an article for their newspaper; the cardinals would submit their ruling with the supporting reasons to the Church; the lawyers would write up their briefs to those they represented, and the various witnesses might write letters to friends giving their reactions to the issues in the trial and its outcome.