Diet of Worms

1521. Charles V,* in accepting his election as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, had pledged himself to call a diet as soon as possible. Moreover the Golden Bull of 1356 made a diet mandatory. A pestilence in Nuremberg made it necessary to hold the diet elsewhere, and Charles chose Worms. In January the several estates of the empire started gathering in that city. The diet was confronted with the “Gravamina of the German Nation,” the problem of what to do about Martin Luther,* and the problem of civic administration because of the many territories outside of the Holy Roman Empire held by Charles.

On 28 November 1520 Charles commanded Elector Frederick the Wise* of Saxony to bring Luther with him to the diet. Negotiations carried on by the papal legate caused Charles to rescind this request, and the causa Lutheri became a political question. Finally on 2 March, the emperor gave his consent to Luther's summons and promised safe conduct. Luther was required to appear because of his “teachings and books.” The summons was handed on 26 March by Kaspar Sturm. Luther left Wittenberg on 2 April and arrived in Worms on the 16th. On 17 April he appeared before the diet and was asked whether the books present were his and whether he still subscribed to their contents. Luther's request (in his own words) “for time to think, in order to satisfactorily answer the question without violence to the divine Word and danger to my soul” was granted, and he was given one day for deliberation. On the 18th he answered (in part): “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen.” At least, so tradition has the last sentence.

On the 19th Charles notified the estates that he would defend the ancient faith against Luther. On the 24th Luther met with the archbishop of Trier and seven other princes or churchmen. At this meeting Luther continued to insist on the authority of Holy Scripture. The next day further attempts were made to deter him from his stand. Luther left Worms on the 26 April for his return trip to Wittenberg. En route he was kidnapped and taken to the Wartburg Castle. The Edict of Worms, dated 8 May 1521, declared Luther an “outlaw,” together with his adherents. Other matters occupied the attention of the diet, especially the cause of justice (Kammergericht), but these have largely been forgotten because of Luther's appearance before the diet.

See Luther's Works (American ed.), XXXII (1958), pp.101-131; F. Reuter (ed.), Der Reichstag zu Worms von 1521: Reichspolitik und Luthersache (1971).