Diet of Worms
With the issue of ex-communication decree of Luther, Charles V King of Germany was asked to use his power against Luther. But Prince Frederick 3, who had helped Charles V for crowning, persuaded him to protect Luther to appear for trial. As a result, Charles V was in greatly perplexed. Luther was summoned before the assembly of leaders. This gathering is famously known as the Diet of worms. Fredrick 3 made the king arrange safe conduct of Luther. Safe conduct was a like a governmental pass, that the enemy of the state is guaranteed by king’s decree, to be safely carried to attend the place of meeting and safely made to return to his place. Luther was safely carried to the city of worms for trial.
John Eck who was pope’s advocate acted as spokesman of King at this assembly. This series of meetings was conducted from 28th January 1521 to 25th May 1521. In this assembly, Luther made his famous assertions. He was asked to recant, to which he replied,
“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 recant anything since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me! Amen.”Martin Luther
Eck the advocate of pope responded,
“Martin, there is no one of the heresies which have torn the bosom of the church, which has not derived its origin from the various interpretation of the Scripture. The Bible itself is the arsenal whence each innovator has drawn his deceptive arguments.”John Eck
“Here I stand. I can do no other”Martin Luther
Now both the friends of Luther and his enemies were convinced that further attempts to reconcile Luther with the papal empire will be futile. Because the emperor has signed for Luther’s safe conduct, Luther was commanded by the emperor to return to the home. Safety was given to him for safe return. While Luther was on his way back to Wittenberg, private conferences were held to determine Luther’s fate. In Luther’s absence papist persuaded the emperor to issue a decree against Luther.
The Emperor declared Luther as a criminal, banning his literature, and requiring his arrest. It was commanded that as soon as his safe-conduct expired, he should be arrested and delivered to authorities where he might be. The Emperor said, “We want him to be punished as a notorious heretic.” The Decree made it a crime for anyone in Germany to give Luther food or shelter. It even permitted anyone to kill Luther without any legal consequence.
It was plain that Rome would be satisfied with nothing short of his death. Therefore Frederick 3 the prince of Saxony, who was a supporter of Luther, made his soldiers as masked robbers and intercepted Luther as he was returning back to his hometown. They escorted him to safety at Frederick’s Wartburg Castle.
At Wartburg Castle
During his stay at Wartburg Castle which Luther describes as “my Patmos,” he translated the New Testament in the German language for people to read it in their own native tongue. Remember, keeping bible at home was a punishable offence, and translating it from Latin or Greek to any other language was a crime. Luther completed German translation of the New Testament in 1522 and translation of the Old Testament in 1534.
Unlike TPM historians, scholars have not shunned away from criticizing and documenting errors of Luther. One of which is having a low view of the Old Testament book of Esther and of the New Testament books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and the Revelation of John. He called the Letter of James “an epistle of straw,” finding little in it that pointed to Christ and His saving work. His views on some of these books changed in later years and became more positive.
His biography is not written here to present him as a hero but for our learning edification and correction. We should not repeat his mistakes and at the same time thank God for the great work he has done through him.
The Rise of Zwickau Prophets
Luther’s disappearance was mysterious and people were curious all over Germany. Some thought he had been murdered. His supporters swore to revenge his death. Many who were not openly with Luther lamented his mysterious disappearance. Somehow the tiding came that Luther is safe. But amidst all this few men arose in those days who claimed that they received special revelation from heaven. These prophets (Zwickau prophets and Nicholas Storch) rejected the foundational truth that word of God is everything (not the word of the pope). Though they rejected the authority of the pope, they began to preach that word of God can be revealed from outside the scriptures. A sect arose which believed that the source of true Christian belief came through visions and dreams. Honest men who vouched for reformation (changes) of the church fell for the delusion of these prophets. This brought pain to Luther. For him, this was a greater danger than the opposition by pope and emperor. He could challenge them with the word but the new groups of prophets were altogether strange that they had little or no regard for the written word. To combat these new forces Luther decided to come out of the mysterious castle where he was hiding. He wrote to elector Fredrick 3, “Be it known to you highness, I am going to Wittenberg under a protection far higher than that of princes and electors.” He wrote “During my absence, Satan has entered my sheepfold and committed ravages, which I cannot repair by writing but only by my presence and living word”
Marriage and Death
Luther forty-one years of age married Katrina Von Bora who was 15 years younger than him. She was one of the 12 nuns whom he helped escape the convent. Although Luther had condemned vow of celibacy he himself was reluctant to get married initially. He had written, “I shall never take a wife.” Six children were born to Luther. One of his daughters died within a few months. Another died when she was 12 years of age. Luther suffered many diseases. He had a cataract in his one eye, vertigo, fainting, and kidney bladder stones and also from arthritis.
He died on 18th February 1546. His last recorded words were, “Wir sein Bettler. Hoc est verum.” It means “We are beggars. This is true.” God is free—utterly free—in his grace. That is how we live, that is how we die, and that is how we study so that God gets the glory and we get the grace.
Luther translated bible, wrote many books, songs and catechism. Between 1510 and 1546 Luther preached approximately 3000 sermons. During his lifetime he was part of almost all the controversies and conferences of his days. Besides active personal involvement in church conferences, there was the unbelievable stream of publications that are all related to the guidance of the church. For example, in 1520 he wrote 133 works; in 1522, 130; in 1523, 183 (one every other day), and just as many in 1524.
The point in telling all this is to highlight that life was not easy for him, with the death of his daughters, his poverty, his tedious life in preaching sermons, attending controversies, conferences, discussions, debates, writing against contemporary issues, his own deteriorating health, slandering from the pope and other sections of societies, fear of death arrest and being killed. Life for so-called reformer was not a cakewalk.
To be continued….