Departure for the Diet of Worms—Luther’s Farewell—His Condemnation is posted up—Cavalcade near Erfurth—Meeting between Jonas and. Luther—Luther in his former Convent—Luther preaches at Erfurth—Incident—Faith and Works—Concourse of People and Luther’s Courage—Luther’s Letter to Spalatin—Stay at Frankfort—Fears at Worms—Plan of the Imperialists—Luther’s Firmness.
IT was now the 2nd of April, and Luther had to take leave of his friends. After apprizing Lange, by a note, that he would spend the Thursday or Friday following at Erfurth, he bade farewell to his colleagues. Turning to Melancthon, he said with an agitated voice, “My dear brother, if I do not return, and my enemies put me to death, continue to teach, and stand fast in the truth. Labour in my stead, since I shall no longer be able to labour for myself. If you survive, my death will be of little consequence.” Then, committing his soul to the hands of Him who is faithful, Luther got into the car and quitted Wittenberg. The town-council had provided him with a modest conveyance, covered with an awning, which the travellers could set up or remove at pleasure. The imperial herald, wearing his robe of office, and carrying the imperial eagle, rode on horseback in front, attended by his servant. Next came Luther, Schurff, Amsdorff, and Suaven, in the car. The friends of the Gospel and the citizens of Wittenberg were deeply agitated,—and, invoking God’s aid, burst into tears. Thus Luther began his journey.
He soon discovered that gloomy presentiments filled the hearts of all he met. At Leipzic no respect was shown him, and the magistrates merely presented him with the customary cup of wine. At Naumburg he met a priest, probably J. Langer, a man of stern zeal, who carefully preserved in his study a portrait of the famous Jerome Savonarola (who was burnt at Florence in 1498 by order of Pope Alexander VI.), as a martyr to freedom and morality, as well as a confessor of the evangelical truth. Having taken down the portrait of the Italian martyr, the priest approached Luther, and held it out to him in silence. The latter understood what this mute representation was intended to announce, but his intrepid soul remained firm. “It is Satan,” said he, “that would prevent, by these terrors, the confession of the truth in the assembly of princes, for he foresees the blow it would inflict upon his kingdom “Stand firm in the truth thou hast proclaimed,” said the priest solemnly, “and God will as firmly stand by thee!”
After passing the night at Naumburg, where he had been hospitably entertained by the burgomaster, Luther arrived the next evening at Weimar. He had hardly been a minute in the town, when he heard loud cries in every direction: it was the publication of his condemnation. “Look there!” said the herald. He turned His eyes, and with astonishment saw the imperial messengers going from street to street, everywhere posting up the emperor’s edict commanding his writings to be deposited with the magistrates. Luther doubted not that this unseasonable display of severity was intended to frighten him from undertaking the journey, so that he might be condemned as having refused to appear. “ “Well, doctor! will you proceed?” asked the imperial herald in alarm. “Yes!” replied Luther; “although interdicted in every city, I shall go on! I rely upon the emperor’s safe-conduct.”
At Weimar, Luther had an audience with Duke John, brother to the Elector of Saxony, who resided there. The prince invited him to preach, and the reformer consented. Words of life flowed from the doctor’s agitated heart. A Franciscan monk, who heard him, by name John Volt, the friend of Frederick Myconius, was then converted to the evangelical doctrine. He left his convent two years after, and somewhat later became professor of theology at Wittenberg. The duke furnished Luther with the money necessary for his journey.
From Weimar the reformer proceeded to Erfurth. This was the city of his youth. Here he hoped to meet his friend Lange, if, as he had written to him, he might enter the city without danger. When about three or four leagues from the city, near the village of Nora, he perceived a troop of horsemen approaching in the distance. Were they friends or enemies? In a short time Crotus, rector of the university, Eobanus Hesse, the friend of Melancthon, and whom Luther styled the prince of poets, Euricius Cordus, John Draco, and others, to the number of forty, all members of the senate, the university, or of the burghers, greeted him with acclamations. A multitude of the inhabitants of Erfurth thronged the road, and gave utterance to their joy. All were eager to see the man who had dared to declare war against the pope.
A man about twenty-eight years old, by name Justus Jonas, had outstripped the cavalcade. Jonas, after studying the law at Erfurth, had been appointed rector of that university in 1519. Receiving the light of the Gospel, which was shining forth in every direction, he had entertained the desire of becoming a theologian. “I think,” wrote Erasmus to him, “that God has elected you as an instrument to make known the glory of his son Jesus.” All his thoughts were turned towards Wittenberg and Luther. Some years before, when he was as yet a law-student, Jonas, who was a man of active and enterprising spirit, had set out on foot in company with a few friends, and had crossed forests infested with robbers, and cities devastated by the plague, in order to visit Erasmus, who was then at Brussels. Shall he now hesitate to confront other dangers by accompanying the reformer to Worms? He earnestly begged the favour to be granted him, and Luther consented. Thus met these two doctors, who were to labour together all their lives in the task of renovating the Church. Divine Providence gathered round Luther men who were destined to be the light of Germany: Melancthon, Amsdorff, Bugenhagen, and Jonas. On his return from Worms, Jonas was elected provost of the Church of Wittenberg, and doctor of divinity. “Jonas,” said Luther, “is a man whose life is worth purchasing at a large price, in order to retain him on earth.” No preacher ever surpassed him in his power of captivating his hearers.—Pomeranus is a critic,” said Melancthon; “I am a dialectician, Jonas is an orator. Words flow from his lips with admirable beauty, and his eloquence is full of energy. But Luther surpasses us all.” It appears that about this time a friend of Luther’s childhood, and also one of his brothers, increased the number of his escort.
The deputation from Erfurth had turned their horses’ heads. Luther’s carriage entered within the walls of the city, surrounded by horsemen and pedestrians. At the gate, in the public places, in the streets where the poor monk had so often begged his bread, the crowd of spectators was immense. Luther alighted at the convent of the Augustines, where the Gospel had first given consolation to his heart. Lange joyfully received him; Usingen, and some of the elder fathers, showed him much coldness. There was a great desire to hear him preach; the pulpit had been forbidden him, but the herald, sharing the enthusiasm of those about him, gave his consent.
On the Sunday after Easter the church of the Augustines of Erfurth was filled to overflowing. This friar, who had been accustomed in former times to unclose the doors and sweep out the church, went up into the pulpit, and opening the Bible, read these words:—Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side (John xx. 19, 20). “Philosophers, doctors, and writers,” said he, “have endeavoured to teach men the way to obtain everlasting life, and they have not succeeded. I will now tell it to you.”
This has been the great question in every age; accordingly Luther’s hearers redoubled their attention.
“There are two kinds of works,” continued the reformer: “works not of ourselves, and these are good; our own works, and they are of little worth. One man builds a church; another goes on a pilgrimage to St. Jago of Compostella or St. Peter’s; a third fasts, prays, takes the cowl, and goes barefoot; another does something else. All these works are nothingness and will come to nought; for our own works have no virtue in them. But I am now going to tell you what is the true work. God has raised one man from the dead, the Lord Jesus Christ, that He might destroy death, extirpate sin, and shut the gates of hell. This is the work of salvation. The devil thought he had the Lord in his power, when he saw Him hanging between two thieves, suffering the most disgraceful martyrdom, accursed of God and of men.....But the Godhead displayed its power, and destroyed death, sin, and hell......
“Christ has vanquished! this is the joyful news! and we are saved by his work, and not by our own. The pope says differently: but I affirm that the holy mother of God herself was saved, neither by her virginity, nor by her maternity, nor by her purity, nor by her works, but solely by the instrumentality of faith and the works of God.”
While Luther was speaking, a sudden noise was heard; one of the galleries cracked, and it was feared that it would break down under the pressure of the crowd. This incident occasioned a great disturbance in the congregation. Some ran out from their places; others stood motionless through fright. The preacher stopped a moment, and then stretching out his hand, exclaimed with a loud voice: “Fear nothing! there is no danger: it is thus the devil seeks to hinder me from proclaiming the Gospel, but he will not succeed.” At these words, those who were flying halted in astonishment and surprise; the assembly again became calm, and Luther, undisturbed by these efforts of the devil, continued thus: “You say a great deal about faith (you may perhaps reply to me): show us how we may obtain it. Well, I will teach you. Our Lord Jesus Christ said: Peace be unto you! behold my hands, that is to say, Behold, O man! it is I, I alone, who have taken away thy sin, and ransomed thee; and now thou hast peace, saith the Lord.
“I have not eaten of the fruit of the forbidden tree,” resumed Luther, “nor have you; but we have all partaken of the sin that Adam has transmitted to us, and have gone astray. In like manner, I have not suffered on the cross, neither have you; but Christ has suffered for us; we are justified by God’s work, and not by our own. I am (saith the Lord) thy righteousness and thy redemption.
“Let us believe in the Gospel and in the epistles of St. Paul, and not in the letters and decretals of the popes.”
After proclaiming faith as the cause of the sinner’s justification, Luther proclaims works as the consequence and manifestation of salvation.
“Since God has saved us,” continues he, “let us so order our works that they may be acceptable to him. Art thou rich? let thy goods administer to the necessities of the poor! Art thou poor? let thy services be acceptable to the rich! If thy labour is useful to thyself alone, the service that thou pretendest to render unto God is a lie.”
In the whole of this sermon there is not a word about himself; not a single allusion to the circumstances in which he is placed: nothing about Worms, or Charles, or the nuncios; he preaches Christ, and Christ only. At this moment, when the eyes of all the world are upon him, he has no thought of himself: this stamps him as a true servant of God.
Luther departed from Erfurth, and passed through Gotha, where he preached another sermon. Myconius adds, that as the people were leaving the church, the devil threw down from the pediment some stones that had not moved for two hundred years. The doctor slept at the convent of the Benedictines at Reinhardsbrunn, and from thence proceeded to Eisenach, where he felt indisposed. Amsdorff, Jonas, Schurif, and all his friends were alarmed. He was bled; they tended him with the most affectionate anxiety, and John Oswald, the schultheiss of the town, brought him a cordial. Luther having drunk a portion fell asleep, and, reinvigorated by this repose, he was enabled to continue his journey on the following morning.
His progress resembled that of a victorious general. The people gazed with emotion on this daring mass, who was going to lay his head at the feet of the emperor and the empire. An immense crowd flocked eagerly around him “Ah!” said some, “there are so many bishops and cardinals at Worms! They will burn you, and reduce your body to ashes, as they did with John Huss.” But nothing frightened the monk. “Though they should kindle a fire,” said he, “all the way from Worms to Wittenberg, the flames of which reached to heaven, I would walk through it in the name of the Lord,—I would appear before them,—I would enter the jaws of this Behemoth, and break his teeth, confessing the Lord Jesus Christ.”
One day, just as he had entered an inn, and the crowd was pressing around him as usual, an officer advanced and said: “Are you the man that has undertaken to reform the papacy? How can you hope to succeed?”—”Yes,” replied Luther, “I am the man. I trust in God Almighty, whose Word and commandment I have before me.” The officer was touched, and looking at him with a milder air, said: “My dear friend, what you say is a great matter. I am the servant of Charles, but your Master is greater than mine. He will aid and preserve you” Such was the impression produced by Luther. Even his enemies were struck at the sight of the multitudes that thronged around him; but they depicted his journey in far different colours. The doctor arrived at Frankfort on Sunday the 14th of April.
Already the news of Luther’s journey had reached Worms. The friends of the pope had thought that he would not obey the emperor’s summons. Albert, cardinal-archbishop of Mentz, would have given any thing to stop him on the road. New intrigues were put in motion to attain this result.
As soon as Luther arrived in Frankfort, he took some repose, and afterwards gave intelligence of his approach to Spalatin, who was then at Worms with the elector. This was the only letter he wrote during his journey. “I am coming,” said he, “although Satan endeavoured to stop me on the road by sickness. Since I left Eisenach I have been in a feeble state, and am still as I never was before. I learn that Charles has published an edict to frighten me. But Christ lives, and I shall enter Worms in despite of all the gates of hell, and of the powers of the air. Have the goodness, therefore, to prepare a lodging for me.”
The next day Luther went to visit the school of the learned William Nesse, a celebrated geographer of that period. “Apply to the study of the Bible, and to the investigation of truth,” said he to the pupils. And then, putting his right hand on one of the children, and his left upon another, he pronounced a benediction on the whole school.
If Luther blessed the young, he was also the hope of the aged. Catherine of Holzhausen, a widow far advanced in years, and who served God, approached him and said: “My parents told me that God would raise up a man who should oppose the papal vanities and preserve His Word. I hope thou art that man, and I pray for the grace and Holy Spirit of God upon thy work.”
These were far from being the general sentiments in Frankfort. John Cochlœus, dean of the church of Our Lady, was one of the most devoted partisans of the papacy. He could not repress his apprehensions when he saw Luther pass through Frankfort on his road to Worms. He thought that the Church had need of devoted champions. It is true no one had summoned him; but that mattered not. Luther had scarcely quitted the city, when Cochlœus followed him, ready (said he) to sacrifice his life in defence of the honour of the Church.
The alarm was universal in the camp of the pope’s friend. The heresiarch was arriving; every day and every hour brought him nearer to Worms. If he entered, all might perhaps be lost. Archbishop Albert, the confessor Glapio, and the politicians who surrounded the emperor, were confounded. How could they hinder this monk from coming? To carry him off by force was impossible, for he had Charles’s safe-conduct. Stratagem alone could stop him. These artful men immediately conceived the following plan. The emperor’s confessor and his head chamberlain, Paul of Armsdorff, hastily quitted Worms. They directed their course towards the castle of Eberuburg, about ten leagues from the city, the residence of Francis of Sickingen,—that knight who had offered an asylum to Luther. Bucer, a youthful Dominican, chaplain to the elector-palatine, and converted to the evangelical doctrine by the disputation at Heidelberg, had taken refuge in this “resting-place of the righteous. “The knight, who did not understand much about religions matters, was easily deceived, and the character of the palatine chaplain facilitated the confessor’s designs. In fact, Bucer was a man of pacific character. Making a distinction between fundamental and secondary points, he thought that the latter might be given up for the sake of unity and peace.
The chamberlain and Charles’s confessor began their attack. They gave Sickingen and Beer to understand, that Luther was lost if he entered Worms. They declared that the emperor was ready to send a few learned men to Ebernburg to confer with the doctor. “Both parties,” said they to the knight, “will place themselves under your protection.” “We agree with Luther on all essential points,” said they to Bucer; “it is now a question of merely secondary matters, and you shall mediate between us.” The knight and the doctor were staggered. The confessor and the chamberlain continued: “ Luther’s invitation must proceed from you,” said they to Sickingen, “and Bucer shall carry it to him.” Everything was arranged according to their wishes. Only let the too credulous Luther go to Ebernburg, his safe-conduct will soon have expired, and then who shall defend him?
Luther had arrived at Oppenheim. His safe-conduct was available for only three days more. He saw a troop of horsemen approaching him, and at their head soon recognised Bucer, with whom he had held such intimate conversations at Heidelberg. “These cavaliers belong to Francis of Siekingen,” said Bucer, after the first interchange of friendship; “he has sent me to conduct you to his castle. The emperor’s confessor desires to have an interview with you. His influence over Charles is unlimited; everything may yet be arranged. But beware of Aleander!” Jonas, Schurff, and Amsdorff knew not what to think. Bucer was pressing; but Luther felt no hesitation. “ I shall continue my journey,” replied he to Bucer; “ and if the emperor’s confessor has anything to say to me, he will find me at Worms. I go whither I am summoned.”
In the meanwhile, Spalatin himself began to be anxious and to fear. Surrounded at Worms by the enemies of the Reformation, he heard it said that the safe-conduct of a heretic ought not to be respected. He grew alarmed for his friend. At the moment when the latter was approaching the city, a messenger appeared before him, with this advice from the chaplain: “Do not enter Worms!” And this from his best friend—the elector’s confidant—from Spalatin himself! But Luther, undismayed, turned his eyes on the messenger, and replied: “Go and tell your master, that even should there be as many devils in Worms as tiles on the house-tops, still I would enter it!” Never, perhaps, has Luther been so sublime! The messenger returned to Worms with this astounding answer. “I was then undaunted,” said Luther, a few days before his death; “I feared nothing. God can indeed render a man intrepid at any time; but I know not whether I should now have so much liberty and joy.”—”When our cause is good,” adds his disciple Mathesius, “the heart expands, and gives courage and energy to evangelists as well as to soldiers.”
Entry into Worms—Death-Song—Charles’s Council—Capito and the Temporizers—Luther’s numerous Visitors—Citation—Hütten to Luther—Luther proceeds to the Diet—Saying of Freundsborg—Imposing Assembly—The Chancellor’s Speech—Luther’s Reply—His Discretion—Saying of Charles V.—Alarm—Triumph—Luther’s Firmness—Violence of the Spaniards—Advice—Luther’s Struggles and Prayer—Strength of the Reformation—His Vow to the Scriptures—The Court of the Diet—Luther’s Speech—Three Classes of Writings—He requires Proof of his Errors—Serious Warnings—He repeats his Speech in Latin—Here I stand; I can say no more—The Weakness of God stronger than Man—A new Attempt—Victory.
AT length, on the morning of the 16th of April, Luther discovered the walls of the ancient city. All were expecting him. One absorbing thought prevailed in Worms. Some young nobles, Bernard of Hirschfeldt, Albert of Lindenau, with six knights and other gentlemen in the train of the princes, to the number of a hundred (if we may believe Pallavicini), unable to restrain their impatience, rode out on horseback to meet him, and surrounded him, to form an escort at the moment of his entrance. He drew near. Before him pranced the imperial herald, in full costume. Luther came next in his modest car. Jonas followed him on horse back, and the cavaliers were on both sides of him. A great crowd was waiting for him at the gates. It was near midday when he passed those walls, from which so many persons had predicted he would never come forth alive. Every one was at table; but as soon as the watchman on the tower of the cathedral sounded his trumpet, all ran into the streets to see the monk. Luther was now in Worms.
Two thousand persons accompanied him through the streets of the city. The citizens eagerly pressed forward to see him: every moment the crowd was increasing. It was much greater than at the public entry of the emperor. On a sudden, says an historian, a man dressed in a singular costume, and bearing a large cross, such as is employed in funeral processions, made way through the crowd, advanced towards Luther, and then with a loud voice, and in that plaintive, measured tone in which mass is said for the repose of the soul, he sang these words, as if he were uttering them from the abode of the dead:—
Advenisti, O desiderabilis!
Quem expectabamus in tenebris!
Thus a requiem was Luther’s welcome to Worms. It was the court-fool of one of the dukes of Bavaria, who, if the story be true, gave Luther one of those warnings, replete at once with sagacity and irony, of which so many examples have been recorded of these personages. But the shouts of the multitude soon drowned the De Profundis of the cross-bearer. The procession made its way with difficulty through the crowd. At last, the herald of the empire stopped before the hotel of the knights of Rhodes. There resided the two councillors of the elector, Frederick of Thun and Philip of Feilitsch, as well as the marshal of the empire, Ulrich of Pappenheim. Luther alighted from his car, and said as he touched the ground: “God will be my defence.”—”I entered Worms in a covered waggon, and in my monk’s gown,” said he at a later period. “All the people came out into the streets to get a sight of Friar Martin.”
The news of his arrival filled both the Elector of Saxony and Aleander with alarm. The young and graceful Archbishop Albert, who kept a middle position between the two parties, was confounded at such boldness. “If I had possessed no more courage than he,’ said Luther, “it is true they would never have seen me at Worms.”
Charles V. immediately summoned his council. The emperor’s privy-councillors hastily repaired to the palace, for the alarm had reached them also. “Luther is come,” said Charles; “what must we do?”
Modo, bishop of Palermo, and chancellor of Flanders, replied, if we may credit the testimony of Luther himself: “We have long consulted on this matter. Let your imperial majesty get rid of this man at once. Did not Sigismund cause John Huss to be burnt? We are not bound either to give or to observe the safe-conduct of a heretic.” “No!” said Charles, “we must keep our promise.” They submitted, therefore, to the reformer’s appearance before the diet.
While the councils of the great were thus agitated on account of Luther, there were many persons in Worms who were delighted at the opportunity of at length beholding this illustrious servant of God. Capito, chaplain and councillor to the Archbishop of Mentz, was the foremost among them. This remarkable man, who, shortly before, had preached the Gospel in Switzerland with great freedom, thought it becoming to the station he filled to act in a manner which led to his being accused of cowardice by the Evangelicals, and of dissimulation by the Romanists. Yet at Mentz he had proclaimed the doctrine of grace with much clearness. At the moment of his departure, he had succeeded in supplying his place by a young and zealous preacher named Hedio. The Word of God was not bound in that city, the ancient seat of the primacy of the German Church. The Gospel was listened to with eagerness; in vain did the monks endeavour to preach from the Holy Scriptures after their manner, and employ all the means in their power to cheek the impulse given to men’s minds: they could not succeed. But while proclaiming the new doctrine, Capito attempted to keep friends with those who persecuted it. He flattered himself, as others did who shared in his opinions, that he might in this way be of great service to the Church. To judge by their talk, if Luther was not burnt, if all the Lutherans were not excommunicated, it was owing to Capito’s influence with the Archbishop Albert. Cochlœus, dean of Frankfort, who reached Worms about the same time as Luther, immediately waited on Capito. The latter, who was, outwardly at least, on very friendly terms with Aleander, presented Cochlœus to him, thus serving as a link between the two greatest enemies of the reformer. Capito no doubt thought he was advancing Christ’s cause by all these temporizing expedients, but we cannot find that they led to any good result. The event almost always baffles these calculations of human wisdom, and proves that a decided course, while it is the most frank, is also the wisest.
Meantime, the crowd still continued round the hotel of Rhodes, where Luther had alighted. To some he was a prodigy of wisdom, to others a monster of iniquity. All the city longed to see him. They left him, however, the first hours after his arrival to recruit his strength, and to converse with his most intimate friends. But as soon as the evening came, counts, barons, knights, gentlemen, ecclesiastics, and citizens, flocked about him. All, even his greatest enemies, were struck with the boldness of his manner, the joy that seemed to animate him, the power of his language, and that imposing elevation and enthusiasm which gave this simple monk an irresistible authority. But while some ascribed this grandeur to something divine, the friends of the pope loudly exclaimed that he was possessed by a devil. Visitors rapidly succeeded each other, and this crowd of curious individuals kept Luther from his bed until a late hour of the night.
On the next morning, Wednesday the 17th of April, the hereditary marshal of the empire, Ulrich of Pappenheim, cited him to appear at four in the afternoon before his imperial majesty and the states of the empire. Luther received this message with profound respect.
Thus everything was arranged; he was about to stand for Jesus Christ before the most august assembly in the world. Encouragements were not wanting to him. The impetuous knight, Ulrich Hütten, was then in the castle of Ebernburg. Unable to visit Worms (for Leo X. had called upon Charles V. to send him bound hand and foot to Rome he resolved at least to stretch out the hand of friendship to Luther; and on this very day (17th April) he wrote to him, adopting the language of a king of Israel: “The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee. Send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion. Grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfil all thy counsel. Dearly beloved Luther! my venerable father!…...fear not, and stand firm. The counsel of the wicked has beset you, and they have opened their mouths against you like roaring lions. But the Lord will arise against the unrighteous, and put them to confusion. Fight, therefore, valiantly in Christ’s cause. As for me, I too will combat boldly. Would to God that I were permitted to see how they frown. But the Lord will purge his vineyard, which the wild boar of the forest has laid waste May Christ preserve you! “Bucer did what Hütten was unable to do; he came from Ebernburg to Worms, and did not leave his friend during the time of his sojourn in that city.
Four o’clock arrived. The marshal of the empire appeared; Luther prepared to set out with him. He was agitated at the thought of the solemn congress before which he was about to appear. The herald walked first; after him the marshal of the empire; and the reformer came last. The crowd that filled the streets was still greater than on the preceding day. It was impossible to advance; in vain were orders given to make way; the crowd still kept increasing. At length the herald, seeing the difficulty of reaching the town-hall, ordered some private houses to be opened, and led Luther through the gardens and private passages to the place where the diet was sitting. The people who witnessed this, rushed into the houses after the monk of Wittenberg, ran to the windows that overlooked the gardens, and a great number climbed on the roofs. The tops of the houses and the pavements of the streets, above and below, all were covered with spectators.
Having reached the town-hall at last, Luther and those who accompanied him were again prevented by the crowd from crossing the threshold. They cried, “Make way! make way!” but no one moved. Upon this the imperial soldiers by main force cleared a road, through which Luther passed. As the people rushed forward to enter with him, the soldiers kept them back with their halberds. Luther entered the interior of the hall; but even there, every corner was crowded. In the antechambers and embrasures of the windows there were more than five thousand spectators,—Germans, Italians, Spaniards, and others. Luther advanced with difficulty. At last, as he drew near the door which was about to admit him into the presence of his judges, he met a valiant knight, the celebrated George of Freundsberg, who, four years later, at the head of his German lansquenets, bent the knee with his soldiers on the field of Pavia, and then charging the left of the French army, drove it into the Ticino, and in a great measure decided the captivity of the King of France. The old general, seeing Luther pass, tapped him on the shoulder, and shaking his head, blanched in many battles, said kindly: “Poor monk! poor monk! thou art now going to make a nobler stand than I or any other captains have ever made in the bloodiest of our battles! But if thy cause is just, and thou art sure of it, go forward in God’s name, and fear nothing! God will not forsake thee!” A noble tribute of respect paid by the courage of the sword to the courage of the mind! He that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city, were the words of a king.
At length the doors of the hall were opened. Luther went in, and with him entered many persons who formed no portion of the diet. Never had man appeared before so imposing an assembly. The Emperor Charles V., whose sovereignty extended over great part of the old and new world; his brother the Archduke Ferdinand; six electors of the empire, most of whose descendants now wear the kingly crown; twenty-four dukes, the majority of whom were in dependent sovereigns over countries more or less extensive, and among whom were some whose names afterwards became formidable to the Reformation,—the Duke of Alva and his two sons; eight margraves; thirty archbishops, bishops, and abbots; seven ambassadors, including those from the kings of France and England; the deputies of ten free cities; a great number of princes, counts, and sovereign barons; the papal nuncios;—in all, two hundred and four persons: such was the imposing court before which appeared Martin Luther.
This appearance was of itself a signal victory over the papacy. The pope had condemned the man, and he was now standing before a tribunal which, by this very act, set itself above the pope. The pope had laid him under an interdict, and cut him off from all human society; and yet he was summoned in respectful language, and received before the most august assembly in the world. The pope had condemned him to perpetual silence, and he was now about to speak before thousands of attentive hearers drawn together from the farthest parts of Christendom. An immense revolution had thus been effected by Luther’s instrumentality. Rome was already descending from her throne, and it was the voice of a monk that caused this humiliation.
Some of the princes, when they saw the emotion of this son of the lowly miner of Mansfeldt in the presence of this assembly of kings, approached him kindly, and one of them said to him: “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul.” And another added: “When ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, the spirit of your Father shall speak in you.” Thus was the reformer comforted with his Master’s words by the princes of this world.
Meanwhile the guards made way for Luther. He advanced, and stood before the throne of Charles V. The sight of so august an assembly appeared for an instant to dazzle and intimidate him. All eyes were fixed on him. The confusion gradually subsided, and a deep silence followed. “Say nothing,” said the marshal of the empire to him, “before you are questioned.” Luther was left alone.
After a moment of solemn silence, the chancellor of the Archbishop of Treves, John ab Eck, the friend of Aleander, and who must not be confounded with the theologian of the same name, rose and said with a loud and clear voice, first in Latin and then in German: “Martin Luther! his sacred and invincible imperial majesty has cited you before his throne, in accordance with the advice and counsel of the states of the holy Roman empire, to require you to answer two questions: First, Do you acknowledge these books to have been written by you?”—At the same time the imperial speaker pointed with his finger to about twenty volumes placed on a table in the middle of the hall, directly in front of Luther. “I do not know how they could have procured them,” said Luther, relating this circumstance. It was Aleander who had taken this trouble. “Secondly,”continued the chancellor, “Are you prepared to retract these books, and their contents, or do you persist in the opinions you have advanced in them?”
Luther, having no mistrust, was about to answer the first of these questions in the affirmative, when his counsel, Jerome Schurff, hastily interrupting him, exclaimed aloud: “Let the titles of the books be read!”
The chancellor approached the table and read the titles. There were among their number many devotional works, quite foreign to the controversy.
Their enumeration being finished, Luther said first in Latin, and then in German:
“Most gracious emperor! Gracious princes and lords!
“His imperial majesty has asked me two questions.
“As to the first, I acknowledge as mine the books that have just been named: I cannot deny them.
“As to the second, seeing that it is a question which concerns faith and the salvation of souls, and in which the Word of God, the greatest and most precious treasure either in heaven or earth, is interested, I should act imprudently were I to reply without reflection. I might affirm less than the circumstance demands, or more than truth requires, and so sin against this saying of Christ:—Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. For this reason I entreat your imperial majesty, with all humility, to allow me time, that I may answer without offending against the Word of God.”
This reply, far from giving grounds to suppose Luther felt any hesitation, was worthy of the reformer and of the assembly. It was right that he should appear calm and circumspect in so important a matter, and lay aside every-thing in this solemn moment that might cause a suspicion of passion or rashness. Besides, by taking reasonable time, he would give a stronger proof of the unalterable firmness of his resolution. In history we read of many men who by a hasty expression have brought great misfortunes upon themselves and upon the world. Luther restrained his own naturally impetuous disposition; he controlled his tongue, ever too ready to speak; he checked himself at a time when all the feelings by which he was animated were eager for utterance. This restraint, this calmness, so surprising in such a man, multiplied his strength a hundredfold, and put him in a position to reply, at a later period, with such wisdom, power, and dignity, as to deceive the expectations of his adversaries, and confound their malice and their pride.
And yet, because he had spoken in a respectful manner, and in a low tone of voice, many thought that he hesitated, and even that he was dismayed. A ray of hope beamed on the minds of the partisans of Rome. Charles, impatient to know the man whose words had stirred the empire, had not taken his eyes off him. He turned to one of his courtiers, and said disdainfully, certainly this man will never make a heretic of me.” Then rising from his seat, the youthful emperor withdrew with his ministers into a council-room; the electors with the princes retired into another; and the deputies of the free cities into a third. When the diet assembled again, it was agreed to comply with Luther’s request. This was a great miscalculation in men actuated by passion.
“Martin Luther,” said the Chancellor of Treves, “his imperial majesty, of his natural goodness, is very willing to grant you another day, but under condition that you make your reply viva voce, and not in writing.”
The imperial herald now stepped forward and conducted Luther back to his hotel. Menaces and shouts of joy were heard by turns on his passage. The most sinister rumours circulated among Luther’s friends. “The diet is dissatisfied,” said they; “the papal envoys have triumphed; the reformer will be sacrificed.” Men’s passions were inflamed. Many gentlemen hastened to Luther’s lodgings: “Doctor,” said they, with emotion, “what is this? It is said they are determined to burn you!”......”If they do so,” continued these knights, “it will cost them their lives!”—”And that certainly would have happened,” said Luther, as, twenty years after, he quoted these words at Eisleben.
On the other hand, Luther’s enemies exulted. “He has for time,” said they; “he will retract. At a distance, his speech was arrogant; now his courage fails him. He is conquered.”
Perhaps Luther was the only man that felt tranquil at Worms. Shortly after his return from the diet, he wrote to Cuspianus, the imperial councillor: “I write to you from the midst of the tumult (alluding probably to the noise made by the crowd in front of the hotel). I have just made my appearance before the emperor and his brother. I confessed myself the author of my books, and declared that I would reply to-morrow touching my retractation. With Christ’s help, I shall never retract one tittle of my works.”
The emotion of the people and of the foreign soldiers increased every hour. While the opposing parties were proceeding calmly in the diet, they were breaking out into acts of violence in the streets. The insolence of the haughty and merciless Spanish soldiers offended the citizens. One of these myrmidons of Charles, finding in a bookseller’s shop the pope’s bull with a commentary written by Hütten, took the book and tore it in pieces, and then throwing the fragments on the ground, trampled them under foot. Others having discovered several copies of Luther’s writing on the Captivity of Babylon, took them away and destroyed them. The indignant people fell upon the soldiers and compelled them to take to flight. At another time, a Spaniard on horse back pursued, sword in hand, through one of the principal streets of Worms, a German who fled before him, and the affrighted people dared not stop the furious man.
Some politicians thought they had found means of saving Luther. “Retract your doctrinal errors,” said they; “but persist in all that you have said against the pope and his court, and you are safe.” Aleander shuddered with alarm at this counsel. But Luther, immovable in his resolution, declared that he had no great opinion of a political reform that was not based upon faith.
Glapio, the Chancellor ab Eck, and Aleander, by Charles’s order, met early on the morning of the 18th to concert the measures to be taken with regard to Luther.
For a moment Luther had felt dismay, when he was about to appear the preceding day before so august an assembly. His heart had been troubled in the presence of so many great princes, before whom nations humbly bent the knee. The reflection that he was about to refuse to submit to these men, whom God had invested with sovereign power, disturbed his soul; and he felt the necessity of looking for strength from on high. “The man who, when he is attacked by the enemy, protects himself with the shield of faith,” said he one day, “is like Perseus with the Gorgon’s head. Whoever looked at it, fell dead. In like manner should we present the Son of God to the snares of the devil.” On the morning of the 18th of April, he was not without his moments of trial, in which the face of God seemed hidden from him. His faith grew weak; his enemies multiplied before him; his imagination was overwhelmed at the sight His soul was as a ship tossed by a violent tempest, which reels and sinks to the bottom of the abyss, and then mounts up again to heaven. In this hour of bitter sorrow, in which he drinks the cup of Christ, and which was to him a little garden of Gethsemane, he falls to the earth, and utters these broken cries, which we cannot understand, unless we can figure to ourselves the depth of the anguish whence they ascend to God:—
“O Almighty and Everlasting God! How terrible is this world! Behold, it openeth its mouth to swallow me up, and I have so little trust in Thee!…...How weak is the flesh, and Satan how strong! If it is only in the strength of this world that I must put my trust, all is over”…..My last hour is come, my condemnation has been pronounced…...O God! O God! O God! do thou help me against all the wisdom of the world! Do this; thou shouldest do this…..thou alone…...for this is not my work, but Thine….I have nothing to do here, nothing to contend for with these great ones of the world! I should desire to see my days flow on peaceful and happy. But the cause is Thine and it is a righteous and eternal cause. O Lord! help me! Faithful and unchangeable God! In no man do I place my trust. It would be vain! All that is of man is uncertain; all that cometh of man fails O God! my God, hearest Thou me not ‘? My God, art Thou dead! No! Thou canst not die! Thou hidest thyself only! Thou hast chosen me for this work. I know it well!…..Act, then, O God!…...stand at my side, for the sake of thy well-beloved Jesus Christ, who is my defence, my shield, and my strong tower.”
After a moment of silent struggle, he thus continues:
“Lord! where stayest Thou?…..O my God! where art Thou? Come! come! I am ready. I am ready to lay down my life for Thy truth…..patient as a lamb. For it is the cause of justice—it is thine…..I will never separate myself from Thee, neither now nor through eternity!…..And though the world should be filled with devils,—though my body, which is still the work of Thy hands, should be slain, be stretched upon the pavement, be cut in pieces…..reduced to ashes…..my soul is Thine! Yes! Thy Word is my assurance of it. My soul belongs to Thee! It shall abide for ever with Thee…..Amen!…..O God! help me…..Amen!”
This prayer explains Luther and the Reformation. History here raises the veil of the sanctuary, and discloses to our view the secret place whence strength and courage were imparted to this humble and despised man, who was the instrument of God to emancipate the soul and the thoughts of men, and to begin the new times. Luther and the Reformation are here brought before us. We discover their most secret springs. We see whence their power was derived. This out-pouring of a soul that offers itself up in the cause of truth is to be found in a collection of documents relative to Luther’s appearance at Worms, under Number XVI., in the midst of safe-conducts and other papers of a similar nature. One of his friends had no doubt overheard it, and has transmitted it to posterity. In our opinion, it is one of the most precious documents in all history.
After he had thus prayed, Luther found that peace of mind without which man can effect nothing great. He then read the Word of God, looked over his writings, and sought to draw up his reply in a suitable form. The thought that he was about to bear testimony to Jesus Christ and his Word, in the presence of the emperor and of the empire, filled his heart with joy. As the hour for his appearance was not far off, he drew near the Holy Scriptures that lay open on the table, and with emotion placed his left hand on the sacred volume, and raising his right towards heaven, swore to remain faithful to the Gospel, and freely to confess his faith, even should he seal his testimony with his blood. After this he felt still more at peace.
At four o’clock the herald appeared and conducted him to the place where the diet was sitting. The curiosity of the people had increased, for the answer was to be decisive. As the diet was occupied, Luther was compelled to wait in the court in the midst of an immense crowd, which swayed to and fro like the sea in a storm, and pressed the reformer with its waves. Two long hours elapsed, while the doctor stood in this multitude so eager to catch a glimpse of him. “I was not accustomed,” said he, “to those manners and to all this noise.” It would have been a sad preparation, indeed, for an ordinary man. But God was with Luther. His countenance was serene; his features tranquil; the Everlasting One had raised him on a rock. The night began to fall. Torches were lighted in the hail of the assembly. Their glimmering rays shone through the ancient windows into the court. Everything assumed a solemn aspect. At last the doctor was introduced. Many persons entered with him, for every one desired to hear his answer. Men’s minds were on the stretch; all impatiently awaited the decisive moment that was approaching. This time Luther was calm, free, and confident, without the least perceptible mark of embarrassment. His prayer had borne fruit. The princes having taken their seats, though not without some difficulty, for many of their places had been occupied, and the monk of Wittenberg finding himself again standing before Charles V., the chancellor of the Elector of Treves began by saying:
“Martin Luther! yesterday you begged for a delay that has now expired. Assuredly it ought not to have been conceded, as every man, and especially you, who are so great and learned a doctor in the holy Scriptures, should always be ready to answer any questions touching his faith......Now, therefore, reply to the question put by his majesty, who has behaved to you with so much mildness. Will you defend your books as a whole, or are you ready to disavow some of them?”
After having said these words in Latin, the chancellor repeated them in German.
Upon this, Dr Martin Luther,” say the Acts of Worms, replied in the most submissive and humble manner. He did not bawl, or speak with violence; but with decency, mildness, suitability, and moderation, and yet with much joy and christian firmness.”
“Most serene emperor! illustrious princes! gracious lords!” said Luther, turning his eyes on Charles and on the assembly, “I appear before you this day, in conformity with the order given me yesterday, and by God’s mercies I conjure your majesty and your august highnesses to listen graciously to the defence of a cause which I am assured is just and true. If, through ignorance, I should transgress the usages and proprieties of courts, I entreat you to pardon me; for I was not brought up in the palaces of kings, but in the seclusion of a convent.
“Yesterday, two questions were put to me on behalf of his imperial majesty: the first, if I was the author of the books whose titles were enumerated; the second, if I would retract or defend the doctrine I had taught in them. To the first question I then made answer, and I persevere in that reply.
“As for the second, I have written works on many different subjects. There are some in which I have treated of faith and good works, in a manner at once so pure, so simple, and so scriptural, that even my adversaries, far from finding anything to censure in them, allow that these works are useful, and worthy of being read by all pious men. The papal bull, however violent it may be, acknowledges this. If, therefore, I were to retract these, what should I do? Wretched man! Among all men, I alone should abandon truths that friends and enemies approve, and I should oppose what the whole world glories in confessing
“Secondly, I have written books against the papacy, in which I have attacked those who, by their false doctrine, their evil lives, or their scandalous example, afflict the christian world, and destroy both body and soul. The complaints of all who fear God are confirmatory of this. Is it not evident that the human doctrines and laws of the popes entangle, torment, and vex the consciences of believers, while the crying and perpetual extortions of Rome swallow up the wealth and the riches of Christendom, and especially of this illustrious nation?…..
“Were I to retract what I have said on this subject what should I do but lend additional strength to this tyranny, and open the floodgates to a torrent of impiety? Overflowing with still greater fury than before, we should see these insolent men increase in number, behave more tyrannically, and domineer more and more. And not only the yoke that now weighs upon the christian people would be rendered heavier by my retractation, but it would become, so to speak, more legitimate, for by this very retractation it would have received the confirmation of your most serene majesty and of all the states of the holy empire. Gracious God! I should thus become a vile cloak to cover and conceal every kind of malice and tyranny!
“Lastly, I have written books against individuals who desired to defend the Romish tyranny and to destroy the faith. I frankly confess that I may have attacked them with more acrimony than is becoming my ecclesiastical profession. I do not consider myself a saint; but I cannot disavow these writings, for by so doing I should sanction the impiety of my adversaries, and they would seize the opportunity of oppressing the people of God with still greater cruelty.
“Yet I am but a mere man, and not God; I shall therefore defend myself as Christ did. If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil (John xviii. 23), said he. How much more should I, who am but dust and ashes, and who may so easily go astray, desire every man to state his objections to my doctrine!
“For this reason, by the mercy of God, I conjure you, most serene emperor, and you, most illustrious princes, and all men of every degree, to prove from the writings of the prophets and apostles that I have erred. As soon as I am convinced of this, I will retract every error, and be the first to lay hold of my books and throw them into the fire.
“What I have just said plainly shows, I hope, that I have carefully weighed and considered the dangers to which I expose myself; but, far from being dismayed, I rejoice to see that the Gospel is now, as in former times, a cause of trouble and dissension. This is the character—thus is the destiny of the Word of God. I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword, said Jesus Christ (Math. x. 34). God is wonderful and terrible in his counsels; beware lest, by presuming to quench dissensions, you should persecute the holy Word of God, and draw down upon yourselves a frightful deluge of insurmountable dangers, of present disasters, and eternal desolation You should fear lest the reign of this young and noble prince, on whom (under God) we build such lofty expectations, not only should begin, but continue and close, under the most gloomy auspices. I might quote many examples from the oracles of God,” continued Luther, speaking with a noble courage in the presence of the greatest monarch of the world: “ I might speak of the Pharaohs, the kings of Babylon, and those of Israel, whose labours never more effectually contributed to their own destruction than when they sought by counsels, to all appearance most wise, to strengthen their dominion. God removeth mountains, and they know it not; which overturneth them in his anger (Job ix. 5).
“If I say these things, it is not because I think that such great princes need my poor advice, but because I desire to render unto Germany what she has a right to expect from her children. Thus, commending myself to your august majesty and to your most serene highnesses, I humbly entreat you not to suffer the hatred of my enemies to pour out upon me an indignation that I have not merited.”
Luther had pronounced these words in German with modesty, but with great warmth and firmness; he was ordered to repeat them in Latin. The emperor did not like the German tongue. The imposing assembly that surrounded the reformer, the noise, and his own emotion, had fatigued him. “I was in a great perspiration,” said he, “heated by the tumult, standing in the midst of the princes.” Frederick of Thun, privy councillor to the Elector of Saxony, who was stationed by his master’s orders at the side of the reformer, to watch over him that no violence might be employed against him, seeing the condition of the poor monk, said: “If you cannot repeat what you have said, that will do, doctor.” But Luther, after a brief pause to take breath, began again, and repeated his speech in Latin with the same energy as at first.
“This gave great pleasure to the Elector Frederick,” says the reformer.
When he had ceased speaking, the Chancellor of Treves, the orator of the diet, said indignantly: “You have not answered the question put to you. 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?” Upon this Luther replied without hesitation: “Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require from me a clear, simple, and precise answer, I will give you one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the councils, because it is clear as the day that they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by the clearest reasoning,—unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted,—and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the Word of God, I cannot and I will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience.” And then, looking round on this assembly before which he stood, and which held his life in its hands, he said: “HERE I STAND, I CAN DO NO OTHER; MAY GOD HELP ME! AMEN!”
Luther, constrained to obey his faith, led by his conscience to death, impelled by the noblest necessity, the slave of his belief, and under this slavery still supremely free, like the ship tossed by a violent tempest, and which, to save that which is more precious than itself, runs and is dashed upon the rocks, thus uttered these sublime words which still thrill our hearts at an interval of three centuries: thus spoke a monk before the emperor and the mighty ones of the nation; and this feeble and despised man, alone, but relying on the grace of the Most High, appeared greater and mightier than them all. His words contain a power against which all these mighty rulers can do nothing. This is the weakness of God, which is stronger than man. The empire and the Church on the one hand, this obscure man on the other, had met. God had brought together these kings and these prelates publicly to confound their wisdom. The battle is lost, and the consequences of this defeat of the great ones of the earth will be felt among every nation and in every age to the end of time.
The assembly was thunderstruck. Many of the princes found it difficult to conceal their admiration. The emperor, recovering from his first impression, exclaimed: “This monk speaks with an intrepid heart and unshaken courage.” The Spaniards and Italians alone felt confounded, and soon began to ridicule a greatness of soul which they could not comprehend.
If you do not retract,” said the chancellor, as soon as the diet had recovered from the impression produced by Luther’s speech, “the emperor and the states of the empire will consult what course to adopt against an incorrigible heretic.” At these words Luther’s friends began to tremble; but the monk repeated: “May God be my helper; for I can retract nothing.”
After this Luther withdrew, and the princes deliberated. Each one felt that this was a critical moment for Christendom. The yes or the no of this monk would decide, perhaps for ages, the repose of the Church and of the world. His adversaries had endeavoured to alarm him, and they had only exalted him before the nation; they had thought to give greater publicity to his defeat, and they had but increased the glory of his victory. The partisans of Rome could not make up their mind to submit to this humiliation. Luther was again called in, and the orator of the diet said to him: “Martin, you have not spoken with the modesty becoming your position. The distinction you have made between your books was futile; for if you retracted those that contained your errors, the emperor would not allow the others to be burnt. It is extravagant in you to demand to be refuted by Scripture, which you are reviving heresies condemned by the general council of Constance. The emperor, therefore, calls upon you to declare simply, yes or no, whether you presume to maintain what you have advanced, or whether you will retract a portion?”—”I have no other reply to make than that which I have already made,” answered Luther, calmly. His meaning was understood. Firm as a rock, all the waves of human power dashed ineffectually against him. The strength of his words, his bold bearing, his piercing eyes, the unshaken firmness legible on the rough outlines of his truly German features, had produced the deepest impression on this illustrious assembly. There was no longer any hope. The Spaniards, the Belgians, and even the Romans were dumb. The monk had vanquished these great ones of the earth. He had said no to the Church and to the empire. Charles V. arose, and all the assembly with him: “The diet will meet again to-morrow to hear the emperor’s opinion,” said the chancellor with a loud voice.