- Christogenea Saturdays
Martin Luther in Life and Death, Part 14: Luther at Worms
Not all historians have all the facts, or think that all of the facts which they do have may be important enough to include in any particular narrative. It is probably impossible to get every detail and angle of any story into a single historical account, as that may require so many digressions that it is easy to wander so far from the central narrative so as to never return. As exhaustive as our source volume is for the account of the Reformation in Germany, there are some things which it overlooks, and we may not ever realize most of what it misses. So we can never presume to know everything about any historic event, because we can always be blindsided by some new discovery or revelation, which someone else may even have known and written about much earlier. But with multiple witnesses and well-cited sources, we can be confident with what things we do know. Examining history, both humility and discernment are important qualities to develop.
We have already presented the account of our source historian, Johannes Janssen, of Luther's travel from Wittenberg to Worms, under a promise of safe conduct, to appear before the emperor. Janssen had given an appropriate but general account of the festivities which accompanied Luther in his travels, and the places where he had spoken and the things which he said on the way. Today it is a six-hour drive, but back in horse-and-carriage days, it would have taken well over a week to make the journey of approximately 320 miles, and longer because Luther's route was not as direct as the modern highways. So here we have another account of this journey from a book titled Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation, 1483 – 1521 by Martin Brecht and translated into English by James Schaaf. Brecht not only seems to draw a more complete and colorful picture of the journey, but he also includes an account which Janssen may not have been aware of, detailing some behind-the-scenes maneuvering on the part of Glapion, the priest and confessor of Charles V, which was evidently an attempt to cut Luther off before he reached Worms. So here we will present Martin Brecht's account of Luther's journey, found on pages 449 to 451 of his book:
On the morning of 7 April Luther preached in the Augustinian church which was full to overflowing. The balcony threatened to collapse, so some of the participants broke the windows in order to jump to safety. Luther however, calmed the congregation over this trick of the devil and then no accident occurred. The sermon itself was printed on the basis of notes that had been taken. It treated the central theme of how a person should regard piety and righteousness. The philosophers and doctors have taught a great deal about this, but they have accomplished little. Justice and true piety consist in alien works and not in one's own ceremonial actions. It is through Christ's suffering and death that God has overcome sin, death, and hell. But the pope calls for one's own works, although one can truly be saved only through faith and God‘s work. “Alien works, they make us pious (righteous).” But one comes to faith only through the promising word. The righteousness of faith is not preached correctly, but instead they talk about fables and philosophy. Therefore the punishment of God is proclaimed to the false shepherds. To be sure, despising human laws and works provokes a reaction and ultimately leads to excommunication by the pope. Luther openly declared that one should pay no attention to this excommunication. That was the sole allusion to the present situation. Human works are proper when they are done in faith and love, and where they are regarded as nothing. Worshipping God in the world consists in helping one's neighbor, being concerned for the weak, and renouncing self-interest. All in all, in this sermon Luther offered the Erfurters an attractive and understandable summary of his evangelical message.
Of course, Luther's position in regard to works is the correct one, taught by Christ and by Paul, so long as we understand the term “alien works” to mean things that we do for other Christians. Continuing with Brecht's account:
Luther also preached in Gotha and Eisenach. Everywhere in Electoral Saxony he enjoyed a festive and enthusiastic reception. In Eisenach he was not feeling well and had to be bled. On 14 April he reached Frankfurt. He was feeling well again, and, according to Cochlaeus’s report, even drank with friends and played the lute like an Orpheus in the cowl. From there he informed Spalatin that he believed the mandate for sequestration had been issued in order to frighten him away from coming. “But Christ lives, and we shall enter Worms in spite of all the gates of hell and the powers in the air.” [Luther was ordered by the emperor to be sequestered when he arrived at Worms, probably for the sake of public order as not even the emperor had an armed guard.] In Spalatin's report, and also in Luther's other statements. this became the well-known formulation that he was determined to go to Worms, “even if as many devils were in that city as tiles on the roofs.” Spalatin should therefore arrange accommodations.
Before Luther arrived in Worms, however, a noteworthy interlude took place. On 5 April the imperial chamberlain, Paul von Armerstorff, and Glapion had visited the Ebernburg. The reason was to enlist Sickingen and Hutten in the imperial service. In addition, Glapion attempted to have Luther invited to the Ebernburg instead of Worms, where he could conduct secret negotiations with him. [Ebernburg castle is about 40 miles northwest of Worms, and somewhat beyond the path of Luther's journey. Built in 1338, it still stands today.] The mediator was to be Sickingen's chaplain, Martin Bucer. Glapion asserted that he was concerned for Luther's safety and wanted to encourage the reform of the church, something he had already emphasized in the discussions with Brück. [Saxon Chancellor Gregor Brück was long-time councillor to Frederick the Elector and his successors. He was firmly on the side of the Lutherans.] There is no reason to doubt Glapion's honorable intentions, even though it is not completely clear how they were to be carried out. The confessor succeeded in winning over Bucer and Hutten for his plans. From his long discussions with Glapion, Bucer received the impression that an understanding between Luther and the imperial side was possible. According to Aleander's report. Glapion did not deviate at the Ebernburg from the understanding that certain statements of Luther were heretical. All the participants in the discussion, however, had a common interest in church reform. Nevertheless, Spalatin, who had been informed by Bucer and Hutten, did not trust Glapion. Bucer met Luther on 15 April in Oppenheim and brought him the invitation to come to the Ebernburg. Luther did not accept. He suspected that some sort of trick of his enemies was behind this. The confessor could just as well speak with him in Worms. Allegedly he did not become aware until later that by visiting the Ebernburg he could have jeopardized his safe conduct. In regard to the way the secret negotiations were planned, therefore, Luther in fact did well not to agree to them. Indeed, Glapion is said to have borne a mortal grudge against Luther because the secret negotiations did not take place. A meeting of the two in Worms then never did occur. On 11 April Hutten informed Luther that he would support him until his dying breath.
Aleander was already expecting Luther in Worms on 15 April, He was aware that this journey had become in part a triumphal procession, and he held the imperial herald, who was critical of Rome, responsible for this. The entire world, old and young, boys and girls, was ﬂocking to the monk, and no one was able to prevent this. The people appeared to be possessed by a mad passion for Luther. [Again we see the effect of Luther's and Hutten's writings in the real world.] But Aleander hoped that through Luther's coming he would be able to guide the pro-Luther movement toward what was best for the church. The emperor would certainly honor Luther's safe conduct, but if he refused to recant he would subsequently call for the heretic's destruction. Aleander was not able to keep Luther's companions from entering the city with the subterfuge that they, as his supporters, were automatically under excommunication. On his part, he criticized the resoluteness against Luther that was lacking on the imperial side. Thus the emperor's best intentions were not being carried out. Aleander himself felt that a settlement with the insolent “Saxon dragon” was impossible. In the meantime, even the imperial side allegedly regretted Luther's coming. There was a preliminary discussion between the nuncios and Glapion concerning Luther's reception in Worms. Luther was to enter the city as quietly as possible and stay in the emperor's palace, so that people could be prevented from associating with him. But this could not then be implemented. The nuncios were even afraid that Luther would not simply be ordered to recant, but that a distinction would be made between his statements criticizing dogma and those criticizing the pope. [Evidently they wanted to maintain the confusion of the pope for the Lord.]
On 16 April, about ten o'clock in the morning, Luther entered Worms, probably through the Mainz gate and the Grosse Kämmerergasse. Trumpets from the cathedral had announced his arrival. The imperial herald and his servant rode in ﬁrst, followed by the Wittenberg vehicle, and then Jonas upon a horse [the humanist Justus Jonas]. Some of the nobles from Electoral Saxony had procured it. Two thousand people are said to have been in the streets. Naturally, Aleander was not pleased with this crowd and was even more angry about the untrustworthiness of the imperial side. Because there was no room in Frederick the Wise's quarters, Luther lodged near the house of the Hospitallers (Johanniterhof) on the Kämmerergasse, where the Electoral Saxon counselors Friedrich von Thun and Philipp von Feilitzsch, along with the imperial marshal Ulrich Von Pappenheim, were also staying. One has the impression that the Electoral Saxon side, as well as the imperial side, wanted to keep their eyes on Luther. In Worms, which was overﬂowing, Luther had to share the room with Hans Schott and Bernhard von Hirschfeld, ofﬁcials of Electoral Saxony. On the day after his arrival Luther was already being greeted and sought out by counts and lords, even by a few princes. One of the ﬁrst to appear was the young Landgrave Philip of Hesse…
And here we will leave Brecht's account of Luther's journey to Worms, which we have repeated here because we once again wanted to show the effect which the writing of Luther and the humanists, Hutten only being one notable example, had on the common people of Germany at that time. The festivities surrounding Luther in his travels seemed to exhibit that even a majority of Germans were on his side and against papal oppression. We also wanted to show that there is more to every story, as our source historian for this presentation seems to have missed the behind-the-scenes maneuvering attempted by the confessor Glapion in order to steer Luther away from Worms.
Now we shall continue with our primary source for these presentations, The History of the German People at the Close of the Middle Ages by Johannes Janssen, which was published in English in London in 1900 in a translation by A.M. Christie, with Volume 3, Book 6. This first chapter is subtitled The Diet of Worms and the Sentence on the New Gospel, and we shall commence with page 191 of our source volume, repeating the last short paragraph at the point where we had left off in our last presentation:
On April 16 Luther arrived at Worms, with his escort, among whom was the humanist Justus Jonas [one of the young poets from Erfurt]. He was ﬁrmly resolved, he said, ‘to defy all the gates of hell and the principalities of the air.’ ‘Say a Pater Noster for our Lord Christ,’ he had said on the journey to the principal of the cloister of Reinhardsbrunn, ‘to ask His Father to be gracious to Him.’ If God maintains Christ’s cause mine also is won.’ To Spalatin he wrote: ‘It is our intention to defy and terrify Satan.’
Now there are other details and developments which our source historian has omitted, and one in particular which we find of interest is related in a book by one Thomas Lindsey titled A History of the Reformation, and published in 1906. The following is taken from page 298, after a discussion of many other behind-the-scenes political maneuvers which had been going on at Worms leading up to Luther's arrival:
Spalatin and Brück had discovered that the conduct of the audience was not to be in the hands of Glapion, the confessor of the Emperor, as they had up to that time supposed, but in those of John Eck, the Orator or Official of the Archbishop of Trier. This looked badly for Luther. Eck had been officiously busy in burning Luther's books at Trier; he lodged in the same house and in the room next to the papal nuncio. Aleander, indeed, boasts that Eck was entirely devoted to him, and that he had been able to draft the question which Eck put to Luther during the first audience.
We may remember Johann Eck from earlier in our history of Luther, where he engaged in a famous disputation with Luther at Leipzig in 1519, after which Eck had become an object of scorn in the writings of the humanists. Now to return to page 191 of our source volume, where Luther seems to have lost some of his fire:
But on his ﬁrst appearance before the Emperor and the Council on April 17 Luther was by no means in a conﬁdent state of mind. To the question addressed to him whether he owned to these books he gave an afﬁrmative answer; but on the next question, whether he would retract them all, he asked for time to consider. ‘He spoke in such a low voice that even those close to him could scarcely hear him, reported the Frankfurt delegate, Philip Fürstenberg, ‘and as if he was paralysed with fear.’ The Emperor and the notables answered that although he might have known from the tenor of the citation what he had been summoned for, and therefore was not entitled to delay for further consideration, the Emperor, of his innate clemency, would grant him a respite till the following day.
We will see later that others had a much higher opinion of Luther's performance at Worms. But Luther was severely limited by the emperor as to how and when he could speak, and what he could say. Quite importantly, Frederick the Elector was greatly impressed by Luther's performance.
Ulrich von Hutten could not attend the proceedings at Worms, because he himself was under a papal interdict, and the pope wanted the emperor to send him in chains to Rome. Hutten had been in refuge at Sickingen's castle in Ebernburg during this time. Continuing with our source from page 192:
On the day of the ﬁrst hearing Hutten wrote to Luther from the Castle of Ebernburg as ‘the unconquerable evangelist, the saintly friend,’ and encouraged him to steadfastness. ‘Keep a good heart and be strong; you see how greatly the course of events depends on yourself. If you remain true to yourself I will stand by you to the last breath. For myself I shall hazard and hope for the utmost; it is time that the Lord should cleanse his Vineyard.’ ‘Would that I could go to Worms,’ Hutten wrote at the same time to Justus Jonas, ‘and raise up a storm and an insurrection!’
On April 19 the Emperor sent to the notables a document which he had composed himself and written out in his own hand in French, and which was to the effect that he intended, after the example of his forefathers, to adhere loyally to the Christian faith and the Roman Church, and to believe in the holy Fathers, who had been gathered together in Council from all Christendom, rather than in one solitary monk; that he regretted having so long abetted this man and not having allowed him to be proceeded against in earnest; and that without a moment’s delay Luther must depart from Worms. ‘We will hold, nevertheless, to the safe-conduct we have granted him,’ the Emperor said in conclusion; ‘he shall return unmolested to the place he came from; but we forbid his preaching any more and misleading the people with his heretical teaching, and incitements to sedition.’
The night after this document was sent out to the Estates the following words were placarded upon several of the town gates: ‘Woe to the land whose king is a child!’ [A slap at Charles, who had just turned 21 years of age.] Outside the Council House a notice was posted up which ran as follows: ‘After we have conferred together and sworn not to forsake the righteous Luther, we, numbering four hundred allied knights, proclaim to the simple understandings of Romanist princes and lords, especially the Bishop of Mayence [Albrecht of Mainz], our inveterate enmity, because honour and divine justice have been trodden down by them; we do not further indicate names or describe all the tyranny of the priests over their ﬂocks. We are ill at writing, but we mean grievous injury; with 8,000 men will we ﬁght.’ The threat ended with the dreaded watchword of insurgent peasants, thrice repeated, ‘Bundschuh! Bundschuh! Bundschuh!’ [The word evidently referred to the shoe commonly worn by the peasants of the time.]
Alarmed by repeated threats of this sort, the Estates begged that the Emperor would not so abruptly break off relations with Luther; they dreaded an insurrection in the Empire if action against him was taken thus hastily without further examination. They therefore submitted to the Emperor that he would do well to let some of them endeavour to persuade Luther to retract the articles condemned by the Apostolic See.
Hutten, whom Luther had kept informed of the proceedings, could not divest himself of the fear that the reformer would give in. ‘Unconquerable evangelist,’ he wrote to him on April 20, ‘I see that we need bows and arrows, swords and muskets, to stop the fury of those devils. Do not waver, beloved Father, do not let thyself be shaken. Let them scream, clamour, rage. Stand up fearlessly against these monsters. You shall not lack defenders, avengers. The prudence of friends, who fear my risking too much, compels me to keep quiet, otherwise I should long ago have raised a tumult under the walls of Worms; very soon, however, I shall break loose. And when I have done so you will see that I too, in my fashion, will not betray the spirit that God has awakened in me. We have Franz von Sickingen as an ardent partisan.’
‘You have to thank the German nobility,’ said Thomas Münzer in a pamphlet against Luther, ‘whose mouths you buttered and fed with honey, for having been allowed to appear before the Imperial Council at Worms. Fine visions they had of the windfalls of abbeys and cloisters your preaching would cast at their feet. If you had wavered at Worms you would ﬁrst have been stabbed by the nobles and then sent about your business: it’s patent to every one.’
A committee, consisting equally of ecclesiastical and secular members, with Richard von Greiffenklau, Archbishop of Treves, as president, tried all gentle means in dealing with Luther. The Augsburg delegate, Conrad Peutinger, and the Baden chancellor, Hieronymus Vehus, repeatedly begged him to commit his case to the hands of the Emperor and the Estates for ﬁnal settlement.
Peutinger was a lawyer, a humanist, a representative of German bankers such as the Fuggers, and an early advocate of economic liberalism. He never joined the Reformation, and retired from civil service when his city, Augsburg, joined it in 1534. Heironymus Vehus was also a lawyer, and made his name in Baden circa 1504 at the University of Freiburg by writing and staging a play praising the emperor Maximilian. Continuing from page 195 of our source:
Luther rejected this proposal, informing its authors of the suspicions he entertained of His Imperial Majesty personally and of many of the princes. He listened with perfect indifference to the statement of Vehus that turbulence and insubordination had been aroused by his writings, those especially on Christian freedom, which, as Vehus said, most people would interpret as giving them licence to live just as they pleased.
Luther also rejected the proposal ‘that he should submit to the decision of a committee of German prelates, chosen on behalf of His Papal Holiness, who should consider his case in conjunction with the Emperor.’
Finally Peutinger proposed to him that the decision should be postponed till the next Council. Luther answered that he would agree to this on condition that at the Council ‘no judgment should be pronounced against, or detrimental to, the divine words, the Epistles of St. Paul, and the truth.’ In vain they tried to convince him that this was an inadmissible subterfuge, for he might say in every case that the judgment pronounced was contrary to the divine writings. Equally in vain also did John Cochlaeus, assistant theological councillor of the Archbishop of Treves, propose a public disputation: he would listen to no remonstrance. When Cochlaeus asked him if he had had a divine revelation, seeing that he thus set himself up in opposition to the whole Church and the Councils, Luther answered, after a little hesitation: ‘It has been revealed to me.’ He declared that he would not desist from preaching and writing.
Johannes Cochlaeus was an adversary of the humanist poets since as early as 1512, and was mentioned in part 2 of this series in that context. Now, the humanist poets were Luther's most vocal and ardent supporters.
Christopher von Schwarzenberg wrote on April 25 to Duke Louis of Bavaria that the Archbishop of Treves had informed him that ‘Luther had communicated something to him in strictest conﬁdence, which was not to be repeated to any one.’
This probably referred to Luther’s intimation concerning the revolutionary body of knights who were backing him up.
When all attempts to come to an understanding with Luther had failed, the Emperor caused him to be informed that he must leave Worms without further delay; he still had twenty-one days of safe-conduct left, but he must on no account preach, or issue any pamphlets on the journey.
Luther wrote to tell Hutten of this final decision and he started from Worms on April 26. Two days later he sent a missive from Friedberg to the Emperor and another to the Estates, which last immediately appeared in print; on the title-page Luther was depicted with the halo and with the Holy Ghost in form of a dove over his head. A memorial medal was struck with the inscription: ‘Doctor Martin Luther. Blessed be the womb that bare thee!’
Here our translator leaves a footnote explaining that there were also other coins bearing Luther's image which were made at this time. Continuing from page 196:
‘I am going to be shut up and hidden away,’ wrote Luther to Lucas Cranach, the painter, ‘though where I don’t yet know myself. I must endure and be silent for a little while. “A little while and ye shall not see me, and again a little while and ye shall see me,” said Christ the Lord. I hope it will be the same with me.’
On the evening before his departure the Elector Frederic had told him in the presence of Spalatin and others that he was going to be put under restraint, but that he was not to know where the place of conﬁnement would be, and that he (Frederic) did not wish to know it either, so that in case of need he might be able to swear to ignorance. Luther was conveyed to the Wartburg. His followers, however, in order to incense the people, spread everywhere the rumour that the Emperor’s safe-conduct had been violated; that Luther had been taken prisoner, handcuffed, and cruelly treated. It was even asserted that his corpse had been seen lying in a mine.
Whilst the outbreak of a bloody insurrection was momentarily apprehended at Worms, the Lutheran case was brought to a conclusion at the Diet. On April 30 the Emperor once more solicited the advice of the notables as to the best method of proceeding against Luther, his writings, and his supporters, whether by proscription and outlawry or by some other penalty.
The notables, who had already before advised the Emperor, in case of Luther’s refusing to retract, to protect the Catholic faith by issuing the necessary and customary edict against him, now insisted that this edict should be made out. The Elector Frederic of Saxony wrote on May 4, 1521, that not only Annas and Caiaphas were against Luther, but also Pilate and Herod - that is to say, not only the ecclesiastical princes but also the secular ones. Frederick himself withdrew from the proceedings and left Worms. The edict, which Aleander was commissioned by the Emperor to draw up, was ready by May 8, but was not proclaimed till the expiration of the term granted to Luther in the safe-conduct. It imposed outlawry and excommunication on Luther and all his partisans and patrons, and ordered his books to be destroyed by ﬁre. Luther appeared to the Emperor as a man ‘possessed.’ By his writings, said the edict, he was disseminating noxious poison. He had violated the number, the institution, and the use of the sacraments, and degraded the sacred and unimpeachable law of marriage; he had belaboured the Pope with scandalous and libellous language; he was treating the priesthood with contempt and inciting the laity to wash their hands in the blood of the clergy. He went about teaching the non-freedom of the human will, and encouraging a mode of life altogether unrestrained by law; indeed, he had not scrupled himself to pull down all the most hallowed restraints and barriers by publicly burning the books of the canon law. [But Luther's biggest theological fault was to negate God's law.] He spurned Councils, and in particular he had called the Council of Constance, which, to its eternal honour, had restored peace and unity to Germany, a synagogue of the Devil’s, and those who had taken part in it he had denounced as Antichrists and murderers. ‘Even as the wicked ﬁend in the garb of a monk he united in himself old and new heresies, and wore the semblance of a preacher of the faith in order that he might destroy the true and right belief, and in the name and similitude of evangelical doctrine might trample under foot evangelical peace and love and public order.’ Besides Luther’s books, all his miscellaneous publications, which had been issued in such quantities to the prejudice of the Christian folk, must also be destroyed; all his libellous pamphlets, and also his pasquils [satires, or lampoons] and caricatures of the Pope. And in order that in future the Christian community should be preserved from the pest of corrupt books and the noble art of printing be used only for good and laudable purposes all books and writings whatever, in which there was the slightest allusion to the Catholic faith, should be submitted before being printed to the approval of the ordinary of the place and to the theological faculty of the nearest university.
There was already an edict censoring the printing of books which was issued by the pope at the Fifth Lateran Council in 1517. Obviously from our history here, it did not have much force in Germany.
Round Worms, meanwhile, troops of several hundred knights had gathered together; it was reputed that Sickingen had announced that he would make an end of the Diet. ‘We have Franz on our side,’ wrote Hutten on May 1, 1521, to Wilibald Pirkheimer, ‘and he is not merely favourably disposed, but red-hot and burning. He is so to say, completely saturated with Luther; he has his books read to him at meals, and I have heard him swear that in spite of all dangers he will not forsake the cause of truth. You must positively take these words as a divine voice, so great is his devotion and constancy. It would be well also if you were to sound his praises amongst your own people: there is no grander character in all Germany.’ Hutten’s friends and confederates, the humanists Eobanus Hessus and Hermann van dem Busche, urged immediate action. ‘There had been enough of words and talk,’ wrote the former to Hutten; ‘he wished now to take arms against the hereditary foe, the worst and most veritable Turks they had yet had to ﬁght. He would not be alone in this battle; from all corners of the Fatherland combatants would hasten to his standard; he and Sickingen would be the lightning strokes that would shatter the Roman pestilence.’ They must not wait, urged Hermann van dem Busche on May 5, till the Emperor had left Worms, but rush at once to arms. If Hutten allowed the papal nuncios, Luther’s and Germany’s worst enemies, to escape from Germany with sound limbs, and disappointed the expectations here, it would be a bad blot on his fame. ‘We read in the Book of Joshua,’ wrote Luther on June 1 from the Wartburg to Sickingen, ‘his particular lord and patron,’ ‘that when God led the people of Israel into the promised land, and they slew all the people there, that is thirty-one kings with all their cities, not one of the cities was so poor-spirited as to sue for peace, excepting Gideon only ... but that all in their stubbornness fought against Israel. Thus it was ordained by God that as they fought stubbornly and deﬁantly against Israel they were ruined thereby and no mercy was shown to them. This history seems to me to be meant as an example to our popes, bishops, learned men, and other spiritual tyrants. But although their maneuvers have been disclosed they have thought neither of submission nor of peace. ‘They endeavour to extinguish the light by force, and they persist in their delusions, imagining themselves so ﬁrmly seated that no one can move them, and I expect it will be ordained by God that in their obstinacy they will neither think of humility, nor treat for peace, so that at last they may be overthrown without mercy.’ ‘I can do nothing more; I am put aside on the shelf; but they have time now to alter what can no longer be endured from them, nor will be endured. If they do not alter it all, some one else, whom they will not thank, will do it for them, not, like Luther, with letters and words, but with deeds.’
Sickingen, however, would not come forward actively. He refused to co-operate with the revolutionary party, and found it more proﬁtable to lend an arm to the Emperor, who had just laid Luther under the imperial ban: he hired himself out to Charles for a campaign against Robert von der Mark, who had invaded the Emperor’s hereditary dominions, and against King Francis I. of France, who encouraged and protected Robert.
Here, Hutten seems to have completely misunderstood Sickingen's true allegiances, which were evidently to his own profit and adventure.
The confederates were hesitating and trembling, said Hutten in his answer to Eobanus’ letter; but he himself would persevere till death, would risk everything, would take up arms, and as before he had supported Luther in the spirit so now he would help him with his ﬁsts. It was not his fault that the papal nuncios had escaped with whole skins; he had left nothing undone; he had waylaid them in the streets, he had set ambuscades, but the Emperor’s men-at-arms had protected them.
After the proceedings of the Worms Diet it had become clear that the object aimed at by Luther and his adherents was nothing less than a complete subversion of the whole ediﬁce of Church organisation and of all social order. Hence all those who did not wish for such revolutionary measures fell away from Luther; former panegyrists became dumb; many even went over resolutely to the side of the Church. Before May was out Erasmus began to regret much of what he had written, and now began to utter warning prophecies against appropriation of Church property, tumult, war, and the decay of liberal culture. Mutian, who had begun by greeting Luther as the ‘morning star of Wittenberg,’ soon saw in him nothing but an unholy devastator, and complained of the insolence and benightedness of this innovator, ‘who had all the fury of a maniac.’ Crotus Rubianus came to recognise, in the summer of 1521, that it was a crime to attack the Church, ‘our Queen and Holy Mother, who had given us such good laws.’
But this change of attitude was most marked in the case of a man who was one of Germany’s greatest ornaments - the learned jurisprudent Ulrich Zasius. He, too, had originally hoped for an improvement in the condition of Church matters through Luther’s action, and shortly before the Leipzig disputation he had given utterance to the wish, ‘May our Luther depart thither under favourable auspices!’ But after Luther had denied the divine appointment of the Pope and the infallibility of the Councils, Zasius had gradually broken with him, and ever since the Diet of Worms he had become more and more unreserved in his condemnation of the revolutionary trend of affairs. He lamented that Melanchthon was prostituting his noble intellect to the defence of Lutheran error. To his former pupil Thomas Blarer, who had taken up Luther's opinions, he wrote on December 21, 1521: ‘You pity me, and I pity you from the bottom of my heart, you, a stripling, ignorant of the world, who have forsaken the Church to follow after shadows. Is it right to upset the whole Church on account of the abuses of some of its members? You are reasoning from the exception to the rule, and because of the wicked you are condemning the good and throwing everything into confusion.’ The dishonouring of the Mass ﬁlled him with particular sadness. He thought of writing a pamphlet on the subject, and remarked that it would be quite becoming in him to do so, because ‘you grammarians, and poets, and young people of all sorts presume to meddle with the deep mysteries of theology.’ ‘You reject good works,’ he went on, ‘although some one has said: “Your works shall follow you.”’ ‘You insist on evangelical freedom, but you do not show how it is to be reached. What have you in view, unhappy young men, that you let yourselves be misled by unwise Doctors? You say that you have learnt the Gospel at the fountain-head, from Christ himself, not from the Fathers of the Church. Who disputes that? I also have gone to the fountain-head, but in cases of obscure and doubtful passages in the Gospel, I follow the exposition of Hieronymus, Augustine, Chrysostom - not yours. What unheard-of audacity it is for one solitary individual to set up his interpretation above that of the Fathers, of the Church itself, of the whole of Christendom! What justiﬁcation can you show for such presumption? But I know what you will answer: the Spirit guides and leads you! The Spirit! Answer me, my Thomas, what spirit? Oh, how much could I say on this point! Is it the Spirit that teaches you to slander and revile so scandalously? I have read in the Epistle of St. James that wisdom is peaceable and sober. But your watchword is, “Not peace but a sword;” for it was thus that Luther answered the princes, pressing the Bible meaning with intolerable audacity, for it was in any sense but that[,] that our Saviour Spoke those words. I have learnt from Christ that the sword must be put back in its sheath, and that whosoever ﬁghteth with the sword shall perish by the sword.’ [From Matthew 26:52, which in this case is also taken out-of-context.] Perhaps he was thinking of Luther. ‘Under the cloak of the Gospel,’ prophesied Zasius, ‘the unbridled populace would break out in every possible form of infamy.’
‘I was for a long time favourably disposed to Luther’s proceedings,’ wrote the prebendary Carl von Bodmann, in much the same spirit as Zasius, ‘not because I wished for a separation from the teaching of the Church, or thought new dogmas and new forms of divine worship either necessary or desirable, but because I believed, like so many other learned men, that Luther was aiming at, and would bring about, a wholesome reform of ecclesiastical life. But the sight of all that is going on around us convinces us, only too plainly, that we have been bitterly deceived. How would it be possible to reform any institution if one began by a wholesale destruction of its organisation, with all its century-old traditions and practices, and by proclaiming the whole structure to be throughout pernicious and corrupt? Worldliness and luxury, greed of gold and enjoyment, contempt of law, hatred and envy, and all other ignoble passions, by whatever name we may call them, are deeply rooted in all classes; they spring up, as fruits of our fallen nature, in our age, as in all other ages, and all the more abundantly in our age in proportion as in this or that land, in this or that city, an evil example is set to the lower orders of the people by the rich and the noble, by ecclesiastical and secular personages of the highest standing. But how, I ask, can rich or poor be improved by removing all curbs and checks on their evil passions and all Church discipline and by being taught to despise and ridicule the chastisements of the Church, its fasting and confession, as hurtful institutions? Will the greed for gold and for the good things of this life be suppressed by holding out wealthy Church endowments as baits to the mighty ones of the earth? ‘Will the sanctity of family life be secured and shielded by the proclamation of marriage principles which make every earnest Christian blush? The religion of the people is essentially bound up with the Church and its teaching, and with the loss of these all secular authority will lose its support. Luther’s character has great and noble features, but his presumption has brought about his downfall. I wish I could read in Luther’s own soul how he judges his work and its results, and how he judges the enterprises of which he has been made the tool.’
So it seems that the men who were once firmly on Luther's side, and who should have realized that the Catholic Church would not stand for reform from within, were now abandoning what Luther had already long understood as the only alternative. And even long-time radical humanists such as Crotus Rubianus, now occupying a comfortable position as Rector at the University of Erfurt, would abandon the cause for his present comfort and safety. William Shakespeare said it best, in the mouth of Henry V: “I would give all my fame for a pot of ale, and safety.”
To get the fuller account as to why these men may have been abandoning and even repudiating the Lutheran cause at this point, we will turn to another source, the History of the Greater Reformation of the Sixteenth Century by J. H. Merle D'Aubigne, published in 1850, from book 7, page 205 of the one-volume edition:
The servant of the Duke of Brunswick had scarcely left him, when a messenger from the Elector of Saxony brought orders to Spalatin to come to him immediately. Frederic had attended the Diet with many apprehensions. He had expected that Luther's courage would have failed him in the Emperor’s presence. Hence he had been deeply affected by the Reformer’s ﬁrmness. He felt proud of having taken such a man under his protection. When the chaplain arrived, the table was spread. The Elector was just sitting down to supper with his court, and already the servant in waiting had taken away the vase in which it was the custom to wash before eating. On seeing Spalatin enter, Frederic instantly made a sign to him to follow him; and as soon as he found himself alone with him in his bed-chamber, he said with strong emotion: “Oh! how Luther spoke before the Emperor and all the States of the Empire:- all I feared was that he might go too far!” From that time Frederic formed a resolution to protect the Doctor more openly.
Aleander saw the effect that Luther had produced; there was no time to lose. It was necessary to urge the young Emperor to adopt vigorous measures. The moment was favourable: a war with France was impending. Leo X., eager to aggrandize his states, and caring little for the peace of Christendom, was at the same time secretly negotiating two treaties, - one with Charles against Francis, and the other with Francis against Charles. [This is the scoundrel Charles is protecting against Luther and Hutten, and we shall quickly find out why.] By the former he stipulated with the Emperor for the possession of Parma, Placentia, and Ferrara; by the latter he claimed from the King a district of the kingdom of Naples, which should be conquered from Charles. The latter the importance of gaining Leo to his side, that he might be strengthened by his alliance in the war with his rival of France. The mighty Pontiff's friendship seemed to be cheaply purchased by the sacriﬁce of Luther.
All of the flowery language of the declarations concerning the traditions of his fathers was vanity: Charles V was just a cheap political whore who would sell his people for his own gain. To continue with this account:
The day following Luther’s appearance being Friday, the 19th of April, the emperor caused to he read aloud to the Diet, a message written in Flemish by his own hand: “Descended from the Christian Emperors of Germany, from the Catholic Kings of Spain, from the Archdukes of Austria and Dukes of Burgundy, who have all distinguished themselves as defenders of the faith of Rome, I am ﬁrmly resolved to tread in the footsteps of my ancestors. A single monk, led astray by his own madness, erects himself against the faith of Christendom. I will sacriﬁce my kingdoms, my power, my friends. my treasure, my body and blood, my thoughts and my life, to stay the further progress of this impiety. I am about to dismiss the Augustine Luther, forbidding him to cause the least disturbance among the people. I will then take measures against him and his adherents, as open heretics, by excommunication, interdict, and every means necessary to their destruction. l call on the members of the states to comport themselves like faithful Christians.”
This address was not well received by all to whom it was addressed. Charles, young and hasty, had not observed the customary form which obliged him ﬁrst to ask the opinion of the Diet. Immediately two directly opposite parties began to show themselves. The creatures of the Pope, the Elector of Brandenburg [Joachim, the brother of the bishop Albrecht], and several dignitaries of the church, demanded that Luther’s safe-conduct should not be respected. “His ashes ought to be thrown into the Rhine,” said they, “as was the fate of John Huss.” Charles, if we may believe one historian, subsequently repented bitterly that he did not adopt this cowardly suggestion. “I acknowledge,” said he, towards the close of life, “that I committed a great mistake in not punishing Luther with death. I was not bound to keep my promise; that heretic had offended a master greater than I. I might and I ought to have forgotten my pledge, and avenged the offence he committed against God. It is because I did not have him put to death, that heresy has ever since been spreading. His death would have stiﬂed it in its cradle.”
This frightful proposal ﬁlled the Elector and all Luther’s friends with alarm. “The death of John Huss.” said the Elector Palatine, “has brought too many calamities on Germany for us to think of again erecting a like scaffold.” Even Duke George exclaimed: “The German Princes will not endure the violation of a safe-conduct. This ﬁrst Diet, presided over by our new Emperor, will not be guilty of so shameful an action. Such perﬁdy beﬁts not the ancient good faith of the Germans.” [Duke George of Saxony was a diehard Catholic and staunch opponent of Luther, unlike his cousin Frederick.] The Bavarian Princes, though attached to the Roman Church, supported this protest; and the prospect of his death that Luther’s friends had before them gradually disappeared.
The report of these discussions, which lasted for two days, circulated in the city. Party spirit was roused. Certain gentlemen who had espoused the new opinions began to speak their minds boldly on the act of treachery that Aleander solicited. “The Emperor,” said they, “is young, and is led away by the cajoleries of papists and bishops.” Pallavicini [one of our historian's sources, Pallavicini was evidently a historian, a Jesuit and a Cardinal, and not entirely trusted by other writers] mentions four hundred nobles, all ready with their swords to enforce respect to Luther’s safe-conduct. On the morning of Saturday, placards were seen posted on the doors of the houses, and in the public squares, some against Luther, and others in his favour. In one was read the strong and simple words of Ecclesiastes, Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child! It was rumoured that Sickingen had assembled, at a distance of a few leagues from Worms, within the impregnable walls of his fortress, a number of knights and soldiers, and waited only the issue of the affair to know how to act. The popular enthusiasm, not merely in Worms, but even in the remotest towns of the Empire, the intrepid courage of the knights, - the devotion of several princes to the cause of the Reformation – all together, gave clear intimation to Charles and to the Diet that the course of proceeding urged by the Romanists might place in jeopardy the supreme authority, give birth to popular commotions, and endanger the very stability of the Empire itself. It was but a question - whether a single monk should be brought to the stake; but the princes and partisans of Rome could not muster among them all either the strength or the courage necessary for the act. Doubtless, also, Charles V., yet in his youth, feared to incur the guilt of perjury. We might infer this, from a saying which, if report be true, he uttered at this juncture. “Though honour and good faith should be banished from the earth, they should ﬁnd an asylum in the breasts of princes.” It is a melancholy reﬂection that he appears to have forgotten this maxim before his death. But the Emperor may have been actuated by other motives. The Florentine Vettori, the friend of Leo X. and of Machiavelli, afﬁrms that Charles spared Luther that he might hold the Pope in check.
In the sitting of Saturday, the violent propositions of Aleander were rejected. Luther was the object of much affection, and a desire was general to rescue this simple man, whose confidence in God was so affecting; but it was wished, at the same time, to save the Church. Men trembled at the foreseen consequences of either the triumph or the punishment of the Reformer. Plans of conciliation were started, and it was proposed to make a new effort with the Doctor of Wittenberg. The Archbishop Elector of Mentz (Mainz) himself, the young and prodigal Albert, “more devout than bold,” says Pallavinci, had caught the alarm at witnessing the interest evinced by the people and the nobility in the fate of the monk of Saxony. His chaplain, Capito, who during his residence at Bâle had contracted acquaintance with the evangelical priest of Zurich, Zwingle, a courageous confessor of the truth, of whom we have before had occasion to speak, there can be little doubt, also represented to Albert the justice of the Reformer’s cause. The worldly Archbishop experienced one of those transient recurrences of Christian feelings which we sometimes trace in the lives of men, and consented to wait on the Emperor and request him to give time for a fresh attempt. But Charles would not hear of any thing of the kind. On Monday the 22d of April, the Princes came in a body to repeat the request of Albert. “I will not go from what I have laid down,” replied the Emperor. “I will authorize no one to have any official communication with Luther. But,” added he (much to the indignation of Aleander,) “I will allow that man three days’ consideration; during which time any one may exhort him privately, as he may think ﬁt.” It was all his friends asked. The Reformer, thought they, elevated by the solemnity of his public trial, would perhaps give way in more friendly conference, and, by this means, it might be possible to save him from the gulf that yawned before him.
The Elector of Saxony knew the very contrary: hence he was full of anxiety. “If it were in my power,” he wrote on the next day to his brother, Duke John [who was not Duke of Saxony, but Frederic's nephew John Frederic later held the title while John succeeded Frederic as Elector], “I would be ready to undertake the defence of Luther. You can hardly imagine how I am beset by the partisans of Rome. If I were to tell you all, you would hear strange things. They are bent upon his ruin; and if any one evinces the least interest in his safety, he is instantly cried down as a heretic. May God, who forsaketh not the cause of the righteous, bring the struggle to a happy issue!” Frederic, without betraying his warm affection for the Reformer, contented himself with keeping a constant eye upon all his movements.
It must be said, as we have read in several accounts, that Frederic the Elector was not truly a follower of Luther, and was not fully convinced of his theology, in spite of having Spalatin in his employment, but only wanted to make certain that Luther was treated fairly, on that advice which he had gotten from Erasmus. It is only during the Diet of Worms, as we have seen here, that Frederick became an active, but wisely cautious, supporter of Luther. He was indeed referred to as Frederick the Wise. Continuing with our source from page 206:
Not so men of all ranks at Worms. Their sympathy broke forth without fear or disguise. On the Friday, a train of princes, counts, barons, knights, gentlemen, ecclesiastics, laity and common people, surrounded the Reformer’s lodging, entering and departing as if never satisﬁed with gazing on him. He was become the man of Germany. Even those who did not question his being in error, were affected by the nobility of soul which led him to peril his life at the call of his conscience. Luther had the happiness of holding with many persons at Worms, and those some of the most intelligent of the nation, conversations abounding in that salt with which all his words were seasoned. All, on leaving him, carried away a sentiment of generous enthusiasm for truth: “How many things have I to tell you,” wrote George Vogler, private secretary to the Margrave Casimir von Brandenburg. “What conversations, overﬂowing with piety and kindness, Luther has had with me and others. Oh! how rich in grace is this man!”
One day a young Prince, of seventeen years of age, galloped into the court of the inn; - it was Philip, who for two years had governed Hesse. The young Landgrave was of decided and enterprising character, - wise above his years, warlike, impetuous, and little accustomed to be guided by anything but his own will. Struck by Luther's speech, he wished to have a nearer view of him. “He however was not on my side in the matter,” said Luther, in relating it. He threw himself from his horse, - ran up the stairs without ceremony to Luther’s apartment, and addressing him, said, “Well, Doctor; how are you going on!” “My noble lord,” answered Luther, “I think all will end well.” “I hear,” replied the Landgrave, laughing, “that you, doctor, teach that a woman may leave her husband and take another when the ﬁrst is proved to be too old.” The courtiers of the Imperial Court had invented this story. The enemies of truth never fail to circulate inventions as pretended doctrines of Christian teachers. “No, my lord,” replied Luther, with gravity, “do not talk thus, I beg of your Highness.” On this the Prince thrust out his hand to the Doctor, cordially grasping Luther’s, with the words: “Dear Doctor, if you are in the right, may God be your helper!” and then leaving the room, jumped into his saddle and rode off. It was the ﬁrst interview of these two men, who were destined subsequently to stand in the van of the Reformation, defending it, - the one by the sword of the Word, - and the other by that of kingly power.
This writer, unlike Johannes Janssen, is much more sympathetic to the cause of Luther. However the point in presenting this, is to see that in the aftermath of Worms, Luther lost a lot of moral supporters, men who had begun as rebels but now, holding offices and positions, would suddenly rather maintain the status quo. They seemed to fear the edicts of Charles and the bulls of the pope. However on the other hand, Luther gained a lot of supporters, who were actually men of substance and action and not so much afraid of the emperor or the pope, that they could not act contrary to the status quo. Unlike the young rebel poets, men such as Frederick the Elector and Philip of Hesse would be instrumental to the ultimate success of Luther's cause. But without the support of those rebellious humanists, Luther would have never been known by his new friends and supporters.