Wednesday, March 14, 2012

March 14, 2012

Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms
It was the year 1521, and Martin Luther was a man who understood fear. He had been looking over his shoulder since he first published his "95 Theses" in 1517. He still refused to heed the apprehension that must have dogged his spirit. He continued to talk, to write, to proclaim, to give the expression of religious freedom to men and women who had had no idea that such a thing could exist.
Yet the Diet of Worms was another matter altogether. Luther was about to be called out for his inflammatory actions. His accusers wanted him to recant. They wanted to know what fire he had in his soul that he was unafraid to speak out against the abuses of the day, that he might be willing to single-handedly reform the Church. (As of yet, there was no such thing as a "Lutheran" religion --- that would come later, and would not be at Martin Luther’s hand).
Luther came to the Diet expecting the worst. In 1520 he had received the Exsurge Domine (an official "bull" or document decrying the 95 Theses). To receive such a document from the pope was rarely a good sign. Many men would have "repented" heartily. But not Luther. He had as much love for the Exsurge Domine as the pope, the bishops, and the cardinals had for his "heretical" writings. He refused to recant. When the Diet of Worms was convened, he was expected to be in attendance.
It was a frozen January day when long-robed theologians, court officials, and Holy Roman Emperor Charles himself first arrived at the house of debate. The Diet would languish for months. During this time, Luther came to Worms and defended himself twice. The first time was in April. It must have buoyed his spirits to see how warmly people received him. He rode high on their acceptance and realized that, for people to be responding in such an enthusiastic manner, he must never give up the fight. But he had already known that. Martin Luther was not the sort of man to give up on anything.
He arrived at the Diet and went to work. Imagine what a position he was in! In this one microcosm, it was the Catholic Church versus Martin Luther. A later portrait shows him in simple brown-robed humility, arm outstretched as he exclaimed and gesticulated in a way that was far from humble. Perhaps the scene was not quite so dramatic. However it happened, there is no question that the room was charged with emotion. This was where the Emperor could make or break the first buds of the Protestant Reformation. If Luther recanted, disavowed his books, and repented of his "errors," he would go free, and the new "reform" he taught would lie dead.

Martin Luther standing firm at the Diet of Worms, 1521
Yet he did not recant. He requested another meeting, saying he needed more time. The pressure must have been immense. I imagine he was not fazed, but rather cautious . . . he likely understood that he was setting things into motion that could never be reversed, and he wanted to make sure he approached it properly. Tensions rose higher as Luther was repeatedly hammered with accusations. Finally he said "Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen."

Was there deafening silence? Were there cries of indignation? Shouts of affirmation? Could you hear a pin drop as the cogs of the Reformation began to turn slowly but surely? Whatever the outcome, Martin Luther had done what he came to do. Just before starting for home, he declared, in his simple way that somehow spoke volumes, "I am finished."

Fallout was inevitable. At the end of May, Emperor Charles slammed Luther with the Edict of Worms, part of which stated: "For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favor the said Martin Luther." No holds barred. But, now that the Reformation had begun her birth pangs, she would not cease until the Five Solas --- faith alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, for the glory of God alone --- became well-established in Protestant hearts and minds. This was one small victory. Martin Luther did not back down. He never did. He knew what he wanted and went for it.
He wanted religious freedom. He wanted truth. He wanted pureness of faith. He would risk death and dishonor to get the word out to the people, and he did so with wit, temper, and unshakable conviction in his God and his faith. The Diet of Worms did not faze him. Instead, he allowed the experience to reaffirm the truths he had already been mulling over. He did not back down even as the Emperor sat in kingly splendor before him. He triumphed through truth, showing strength of will that could have only come from God.
Amen and amen.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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