Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen

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The Trial of Martin Luther

"Here I stand.  I cannot do otherwise.  God help me.  Amen."  --Martin Luther  (1521).

In 1521, Martin Luther was put on trial for heresy. The pope, Leo X, was convinced that Martin Luther was an enemy of the church, and needed to be excommunicated. The main argument against Martin Luther was that his 95 thesis and teachings undermined the authority of the Church, which the Pope claimed was approved from God.

Throughout this packet, you will be provided with historical artifacts, biographies, and information about the trial, and the main people involved in it. You and a group of 3 peers will be assigned by the teacher to either defend, or to prosecute Martin Luther. In the end, two groups will present their arguments to the class and we will make a decision as to whether Martin Luther should be excommunicated or not.


2—Below Standard

3—At Standard

4—Exceeded Standard


Questions and answers have nothing to do with the assignment.

Questions and answers are loosely connected to the assignment. Intro and Conclusion are not long enough.

Questions and answers are connected to the assignment. Intro and Conclusion are appropriate in length and in content.

Questions and answers display a high level of understanding. Students create more than the required 3 questions.


The student’s group is chosen for a presentation of their debate to the class. See below for extra credit opportunities:

Extra Credit

+1 Students prepare for debate before hand by bringing in props or costumes or notecards.

+2 Students prepare for debate by bringing in two of the following: Props, costumes, notecards

+3 Students prepare for the debate by bringing in all of the following: Props, costumes, and notecards.

+4 The class determines that the student’s group won the trial.

All credit for historical context page to:

Linder, Douglas O. "Martin Luther's Hearings Before the Diet at Worms (1521): An Account." Martin Luther's Hearings Before the Diet at Worms (1521): An Account. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Aug. 2014.


An indulgence was a remission of temporal punishment after a confessor revealed sin, expressed contrition, and made the required contribution to the Church. In other words, if you wanted to be forgiven from a sin, you would tell the priest what you did, say you were worry, and then give the amount of money he told you it would take for the sin to be forgiven.

Martin Luther, in his studies of the Bible, became convinced that the Church did not have the authority to sell indulgences, because forgiveness could only come from God. When he started to teach and speak out against indulgences, Martin Luther was striking a blow against the main way the Church was raising money. Popular advertising campaigns like:

As soon as the coin in the coffer rings

The soul from purgatory springs”

were especially offensive to Luther. This is what led to Luther’s 95 thesis, which he posted on the doors of the local church in Wittenberg. Luther started to argue “If the pope does have the power to release anyone from purgatory, why in the name of love does he not abolish purgatory by letting everyone out?" Meanwhile, the Pope simply called Luther a “drunk German” who would “feel differently once he is sober.”

Papal infallibility

The other issue that Martin Luther decided was directly against the belief in Scriptures was that of Papal (Pope) Infallibility. It meant that no matter what he did, the Pope could not do anything wrong. These became the two main issues of the trial against Martin Luther.

Historical Context

Frederick the Wise

Cardinal Cajetan (seated) interviews Martin Luther (standing) about Luther’s views.
Frederick the Wise, the Elector for Germany in the Holy Roman Empire, found himself in the middle of an unwanted controversy.  From Pope Leo, Frederick had received a letter expressing concern that had provided support for Martin Luther, "a son of iniquity" who had been "hurling himself upon the Church of God." The Pope called upon Frederick to place Luther "in the hands of the Holy See lest future generations reproach you with having fostered the rise of a most pernicious heresy against the Church."  Feeling obligations to the Church but also somewhat sympathetic to Luther, whose attacks on Rome won substantial support in his home region, Frederick sought a compromise.  In negotiations with Cardinal Cajetan, the papal legate, Frederick prevailed in having Luther's hearing on the heresy charge moved to Augsburg, a city on German soil.

Cardinal Cajetan interviewed Luther three times from October 12-14, 1518.  Told that he must recant his views on indulgences and papal infallibility, Luther refuses.  On the issue of papal infallibility, Luther said, "I deny that he is above scripture."  The frustrated cardinal complained after the meeting to Luther's superior, John Staupitz, "His eyes are as deep as a lake, and there are amazing speculations in his head."  Luther remained in Augsburg for another week awaiting some sort of decision from the Church, but when rumors reach him of a plan to have him arrested, he fled on horseback at night.

Catejan pressured Frederick the Wise to have Luther either arrested and sent to Rome or banished from his territories, but Frederick balked.  Instead, he wrote to the emperor requesting that Luther's case either be dropped or sent to Germany for a hearing before judges.  On December 18, 1518, Frederick wrote a letter to Catejan informing him that he would only send Luther to Rome "after he has been convicted of heresy."  He urged that Luther be given an opportunity to debate his interpretation of Scripture and submit it to a university for decision.  "He should be shown in what respect he is a heretic and not condemned in advance," wrote Frederick.  Frederick's views no doubt reflected those of most Germans.  One writer of the period reported that he polled people in inns around the territory and found that three out of every four persons he talked to supported Luther.

Rome’s Response to Luther

Exsurge Domine (Condemning the Errors of Martin Luther)

Bull of Pope Leo X issued June 15, 1520

Arise, O Lord, and judge your own cause. Remember your reproaches to those who are filled with foolishness all through the day. Listen to our prayers, for foxes have arisen seeking to destroy the vineyard whose winepress you alone have trod. When you were about to ascend to your Father, you committed the care, rule, and administration of the vineyard, an image of the triumphant church, to Peter, as the head and your vicar and his successors. The wild boar from the forest seeks to destroy it and every wild beast feeds upon it.

We beseech you also, Paul, to arise. It was you that enlightened and illuminated the Church by your doctrine and by a martyrdom like Peter's. For now a new Porphyry rises who, as the old once wrongfully assailed the holy apostles, now assails the holy pontiffs, our predecessors.

Luther burning the Papal Bull outside Wittenberg
Rebuking them, in violation of your teaching, instead of imploring them, he is not ashamed to assail them, to tear at them, and when he despairs of his cause, to stoop to insults. He is like the heretics "whose last defense," as Jerome says, "is to start spewing out a serpent's venom with their tongue when they see that their causes are about to be condemned, and spring to insults when they see they are vanquished."

Therefore we can, without any further citation or delay, proceed against him to his condemnation and damnation as one whose faith is notoriously suspect and in fact a true heretic with the full severity of each and all of the above penalties and censures. Yet, with the advice of our brothers, imitating the mercy of almighty God who does not wish the death of a sinner but rather that he be converted and live, and forgetting all the injuries inflicted on us and the Apostolic See, we have decided to use all the compassion we are capable of. It is our hope, so far as in us lies, that he will experience a change of heart by taking the road of mildness we have proposed, return, and turn away from his errors. We will receive him kindly as the prodigal son returning to the embrace of the Church.

Therefore let Martin himself and all those adhering to him, and those who shelter and support him, through the merciful heart of our God and the sprinkling of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ by which and through whom the redemption of the human race and the upbuilding of holy mother Church was accomplished, know that from our heart we exhort and beseech that he cease to disturb the peace, unity, and truth of the Church for which the Savior prayed so earnestly to the Father. Let him abstain from his pernicious errors that he may come back to us. If they really will obey, and certify to us by legal documents that they have obeyed, they will find in us the affection of a father's love, the opening of the font of the effects of paternal charity, and opening of the font of mercy and clemency.

We enjoin, however, on Martin that in the meantime he cease from all preaching or the office of preacher.

Against the Execrable Bull of the Antichrist (excerpt)

Martin Luther's Reply to the Papal Bull of Leo X

Source: Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Hendrickson Classic, 1950)(pp. 153-155).

        I have heard that a bull against me has gone through the whole earth before it came to me, because being a daughter of darkness it feared the light of my face. For this reason and also because it condemns manifestly the Christian articles I had my doubts whether it really came from Rome and was not rather the progeny of that man of lies, dissimulation, errors, and heresy, that monster John Eck. The suspicion was further increased when it was said that Eck was the apostle of the bull. Indeed the sty1e and the spittle all point to Eck. True, it is not impossible that where Eck is the apostle there one should find the kingdom of Antichrist. Nevertheless in the meantime I will act as if I thought Leo not responsible, not that I may honor the Roman name, but because I do not consider myself worthy to suffer such high things for the truth of God. For who before God would be happier than Luther if he were condemned from so great and high a source for such manifest truth? But the cause seeks a worthier martyr. I with my sins merit other things. But whoever wrote this bull, he is Antichrist. I protest before God, our Lord Jesus, his sacred angels, and the whole world that with my whole heart I dissent from the damnation of this bull, that I curse and execrate it as sacrilege and blasphemy of Christ, God's Son and our Lord. This be my recantation, Oh bull, thou daughter of bulls.

Having given my testimony I proceed to take up the bull. Peter said that you should give a reason for the faith that is in you, but this bull condemns me from its own word without any proof from Scripture, whereas I back up all my assertions from the Bible. I ask thee, ignorant Antichrist, dost thou think that with thy naked words thou canst prevail against the armor of Scripture? Hast thou learned this from Cologne and Louvain? If this is all it takes, just to say, “I dissent, I deny," what foo1, what ass, what mole, what log could not condemn? Does not thy meretricious brow blush that with thine inane smoke thou withstandest the lightning of the divine Word? Why do we not believe the Turks? Why do we not admit the Jews? Why do we not honor the heretic if damning is all that it takes? But Luther, who is used to bellum, is not afraid of bullam . I can distinguish between inane paper and the omnipotent Word of God.

They show their ignorance and bad conscience by inventing the adverb "respectively.”   My articles are called "respectively some heretical, some erroneous, some scandalous," which is as much as to say, “We don't know which are which.” 0h meticulous ignorance! I wish to be instructed, not respectively, but absolutely and certainly. I demand that they show absolutely, not respectively, distinctly and not confusedly, certainly and not probably, clearly and not obscurely, point by point and not in a lump, just what is heretical. Let them show where I am a heretic, or dry up their spittle. They say that some articles are heretical, some erroneous, some scandalous, some offensive. The implication is that those which are heretical are not erroneous, those which are erroneous are not scandalous, and those which are scandalous are not offensive. What then is this, to say that something is not heretica1, not scandalous, not false, but yet is offensive? So then, you impious and insensate papists, write soberly if you want to write. Whether this bull is by Eck or by the pope, it is the sum of all impiety, blasphemy, ignorance, impudence, hypocrisy, lying – in a word, it is Satan and his Antichrist.

         If anyone despises my fraternal warning, I am free from his blood in the last judgment. It is better that I should die a thousand times than that I should retract one syllable of the condemned articles. And as they excommunicated me for the sacrilege of heresy, so I excommunicate them in the name of the sacred truth of God. Christ will judge whose excommunication will stand. Amen.


Luther preparing to defend himself at trial
Martin Luther’s books being burned in Rome

Luther posts his 95 Thesis

The sale of indulgences

The trial of Martin Luther

Charles V. Holy Roman Emperor from 1519 -1558. The Holy Roman Emperor was the king of Germany during the Renaissance, and as the name suggests, the government was very strongly connected to the Catholic Church. Charles was strongly opposed to Luther, since he made a public declaration of faith in the Catholic Church.

Pope Leo X. Pope of the Roman Catholic church from 1513-1521. Spent vast sums of the Church’s money and his own personal money restoring the Church as a cultural center of Rome. Built very large buildings and commissioned a lot of Renaissance painters. Failed to take the reforms proposed by Luther and others seriously, leading to the Protestant Reformation

Martin Luther. A German monk, priest, and eventually a theologian. Fought against several key church doctrines, which eventually led to the Protestant Reformation and the establishment of a new Christian denomination, Lutherans.
The Key Participants

John Eck. Main German opponent against Martin Luther. Eck disagreed very strongly with Martin Luther’s positions and worked closely with Charles V to try to get rid of Protestant believers in Germany after the trial of Martin Luther.
Alexander. Alexander was the prosecuting attorney against Martin Luther, appointed by Leo X.


Martin Luther

I never work better than when I am inspired by anger; for when I am angry, I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened, and all mundane vexations and temptations depart.

Every thing that is done in the world is done by hope.

I am more afraid of my own heart than of the Pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great Pope, Self.

Peace if possible, but truth at any rate.

Pope Leo X

Since God has been pleased to give us the Papacy, let us enjoy it.

Arise, O Lord, and judge your own cause. Remember your reproaches to those who are filled with foolishness all through the day. Listen to our prayers, for foxes have arisen seeking to destroy the vineyard whose winepress you alone have trod.

Erasmus injured us more by his wit than Luther by his anger.

Prosecution Worksheet

Opening Statement: Write 2-3 paragraphs about what is wrong with Martin Luther’s views from the Church’s perspective. In your paragraphs, you should give the jury a background about what the disagreement is about, and why you think you are right.

Examination of the Prosecution Witness—Give 3 questions you would want to ask either Pope Leo X or John Eck. Also write what you expect their response would be.







Cross Examination of the Defense Witness—Give 3 questions you would want to ask Martin Luther. Remember, you are trying to make him look bad.








Choose at least 1 picture or quote to present to the jury as evidence. Describe what it is, and why you would use it:


Conclusion: Write a 2-3 paragraph conclusion, stating all the evidence you believe proves your case.

Defense Worksheet

Opening Statement: Write 2-3 paragraphs to defend Martin Luther’s case in court. In your paragraphs, you should give the jury a background about what the disagreement is about, and why you think you are right.

Examination of Luther—Give 3 questions you would want to ask Luther to help him defend himself. Also write what you expect his response would be.







Cross Examination of the Defense Witness—Give 3 questions you would want to ask Pope Leo X. Remember, you are trying to make him look bad.








Choose at least 1 picture or quote to present to the jury as evidence. Describe what it is, and why you would use it:


Conclusion: Write a 2-3 paragraph conclusion, stating all the evidence you believe proves your case.

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