Happy Reformation Day! The day Luther said, “No.” A photo essay.
Happy Reformation Day! I know we refer to October 31, 1517 as Reformation day, but to me this day is actually of much greater meaning. On this day, in 1521, Luther stood before Church and Empire at the Imperial Meeting in Worms and spoke a decisive "no" to the demand that he recant his teachings and writings. If Luther had recanted at this point, I do not see how the Reformation of the Church would have come about, from a human perspective. We are so used to these events that it is far too easy for us to underestimate the enormous pressure to recant that Luther was under and the incredibly intimidating situation he faced when he appeared before Emperor Charles V.
These events took place in the bishop’s palace attached to St. Peter’s cathedral in the city of Worms. The palace no longer stands but the cathedral is as imposing as ever. What follows in the extended entry below is a little photo tour of the cathedral and its grounds. There are many photos below so your download time may be somewhat long, depending on your connection.
This is a model that is in the cathedral, showing the cathedral and then to the right the bishop’s palace. Luther appeared before Emperor Charles V in the palace. I found a German web site that provides a good summary of the history of the cathedral.
By Luther’s day, the palace was used by the Archbishop, but in previous centuries it was the Emperor’s palace. Worms is a very ancient city and a number of the most ancient of the Holy Roman emperors are buried in the cathedral.
The main entrance into the cathedral. Note the close up of the carving over the door, a bishop protecting the flock in the boat and restraining somebody with a sword, a vivid depiction of the doctrine of the Roman Church at the height of the Middle Ages, that the Church had power over both spiritual and secular kingdoms. The doorway features, as do all cathedrals, the wise and foolish virgins, but this rendition pales in comparison to the rendition in Magdeburg.
Here is a picture of the stained glass window that a visitor to the Worms cathedral sees almost immediately upon entering through the main door. It is to the right as you come through the door open to the public. Luther is pictured in the third frame, in the second row, with the Latin words: faith alone, grace alone, Scripture alone. Pretty remarkable, considering where the stained glass is. Ironically, Luther is set in glass facing down the Emperor Charles V. Luther gets the last word after all!
A closer view of the Luther pane. To the left is Charles V.
I tried to find an angle to get the entire cathedral in the frame and give some sense of scale as to how large a building it is. I was about half a block away from the cathedral when I took this photo.
As we arrived at the cathedral, there was a wedding about to begin. I took this photo of the bride and groom entering the cathedral for the wedding mass and, again, it gives you a sense of the size of the cathedral. This is a doorway placed half-way down the cathedral, it’s main portal. To mark the wedding, after the bride and groom left, the cathedral bells rang for nearly ten minutes. We were standing literally next to the spire containing the bells. It was nearly deafening.
A view in the cathedral looking toward the back end of the cathedral. Notice the two men sitting in the pew, near the pulpit. This is only about half the cathedral interior. When I turned to shoot a photo in the other direction, there are more pews and a huge, spacious chancel area. That’s CPH president Bruce Kintz on the left, and VP Jon Schultz on the right.
Here is the crypt in the Cathedral where several of the most famous emperors of the Holy Roman empire are buried.The crypt is directly under the high altar, and is accessible via a staircase leading down into it. More than a little creepy. Usually there is not such open access to crypts in most of the cathedrals in Germany. This was one was open because some of these people are Roman Catholic saints and pilgrims wish to venerate them at their tombs. Visitors were asked to make a contribution for the privilege of veneration, via a collection box. I did not contribute.
There is a lovely garden area on the grounds where the palace used to stand and when you leave the cathedral and head out the door and walk out to the left and around the cathedral there are several memorial carvings set in the walls. Here is one depicting Luther before the Emperor. It is interesting to me that on the grounds of this Roman Catholic cathedral, which never converted to Lutheranism, there stand these memorials to Luther. Luther was a German hero, of course, and so we have these dramatic "hero of Germany" type depictions.
Here, as best I could tell from the models I had studied, is the location of the bishop’s palace. Somewhere on this site is where Luther took his stand. You can see the cathedral looming in the background. Even today driving by car into Worms your breath is taken away by the majestic looking appearance of the cathedral complex sitting on a higher elevation in the city. One can only imagine the incredibly intimidating impression made on Luther as he rolled into town. Considering the state of buildings in those days, the cathedral would have been an incredibly imposing site from a distance and as Luther got closer and closer the reality of what was happening to him obviously sent a cold chill down his spine. The cathedral and its attached palace was a spectacular site for everyone, intended to intimidate and strike fear in the heart of all who approached it. I think that we can understand why Luther asked for a day to consider when he appeared first before the emperor.
A plaque on the ground in the Heylshof garden marks the spot where
Martin Luther refused to recant his teachings in front if the Imperial
Diet in 1521. In those days the bishop’s palace extended as far as this
garden – the palace was destroyed in 1689, along with most of the city of Worms.
The world’s largest Luther memorial is in Worms. Here is the the statue that has been imitated all over the world since it was first put up in Worms. The statue at Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis is a copy of this statue. This entire memorial was erected by those who loved the though of the heroic Luther, as sort of the chief "god" in the "pantheon" of Reformers, who also appear in this memorial. There are also memorial plaques in this memorial for each city and estate that signed the Augsburg Confession. Sasse once observed that when people start putting up statues to Luther, that usually marks a time when they were moving away from his theology! He proved to be prophetic.
Now I’ll show you the best Luther memorial I saw in all of Germany. I walked past a church very close to the cathedral not bothering to look inside, since it was not terribly impressive from the outside. Later in the day I came back to it as my companions were getting some ice cream from a nearby food area. What I found was the church that was built in the early 18th century to commemorate the Lutheran Reformation, with a beautiful mosaic depicting Luther before the Emperor. The church was entirely gutted during WW II, but it was reconstructed and inside is a beautiful church. When I entered I noticed a stranged textured surface on the walls. As I walked further into the church I realized that there are words covering the interior walls on the sides and front. What words? I came closer and began to read and realized that they are the words of Martin Luther’s explanation of the Apostles’ Creed. What a powerful visual sermon that the people sitting there see every Sunday. So, in spite of the now union theology being espoused in that church, there are Luther’s words, the most beautiful he ever wrote, in my opinion=. Here are some photos of the interior of that church.
Close up of of one of the walls, containing here part of the explanation of Luther’s explanation of the third article of the Creed, "I can not by my reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ…" Again, walls in the church are covered by all of Luther’s explanation of the Apostles Creed. Truly one of the most impressive things I saw in Germany. Would any American congregations think to put something like this on their walls?
This is the large mosaic in the back of the church, up in the balcony. It replaced the one that was destroyed when the church was gutted when a bomb hit it. Luther before the emperor, he is being asked to recant his writings, to which the inquisitor is pointing. Two photos of it: a shot from the chancel looking back toward the mosaic, then a close-up.
Another view of the "Luther memorial" church in Worms.
Here is what the official Worms web site says about the church. "Following the devastating fire in Worms in 1689, the Lutheran town – as
opposed to the still catholic cathedral – built the Baroque Trinity
Church as a Reformation memorial church in place of “zur Münze” (the
old town hall) which was destroyed in the fire (foundation stone laid
in 1709, consecration 1725). This is the largest Baroque church of the
town and from an historical aspect, the main church for evangelical
Christians in Worms. Following the severe damage done to the church
during World War II, the interior was reconstructed until 1959 using
More detail on the events in Worms in 1521.
The Emperor Charles had
set a Diet for January 6th, 1521 at Worms. By March 6th the emperor
sent letters to Luther to appear at Worms twenty one days after
receiving them accompanied by Casper Sturm, the emperor’s herald.
Luther, accompanied by few friends, arrived in Worms Tuesday, April 16,
1521 after two weeks of traveling. The Lieutenant-General of the `men-at-arms’ of the Empire, Ulrich von
Pappenheim, was chosen by the emperor to tell Luther to appear before
the Imperial Majesty in the afternoon at 4 o’clock the next day,
Wednesday, to understand the reasons for him having been commanded to
Worms. Luther was led through the garden of the `Knights-of-the-Rhodes’
place to the `Earl Palatine’s Palace’ and then led by secret stairs to
the place where the audience was supposed to take place. Yet many, who
realized the maneuvering, violently rushed in despite being resisted in
order to see Martin Luther. There he stood before the emperor, the
electors, dukes, earls, and estates of the empire being advised by
Ulrich von Pappenheim to remain silent until asked to speak. Then Dr.
Eck began to condemn Luther’s writings and asked Luther directly to
revoke them. Luther said, "I humbly beseech the Imperial Majesty to
grant me liberty and leisure to deliberate; so that I may satisfy the
interrogation made unto me, without prejudice of the Word of God, and
peril of my own soul." Upon this Dr. Eck commanded him to reappear next
day at the same time.
The next day, Thursday, the herald brought Luther back to the court
where he waited until 6 o’clock while the assembly consulted with
themselves on grave matters. After the princes were set and Luther
entered Dr. Eck demanded again from Luther to recant his books.
Dr. Martin Luther answered again modestly and with a low voice, and yet with a stoutness and Christian constancy:
"Most serene emperor, illustrious princes, gracious lords.
I obediently appeared at the time appointed yesterday evening, in
conformity with the order given me yesterday, and by God’s mercies I
conjure your majesty and your August highnesses to listen graciously to
the defense of a cause which I am assured is just and true. If, through
ignorance, I should transgress the usages and proprieties of courts and
should fail to give anyone the titles due to him or should act in some
gestures or manner against courtly etiquette, I entreat you to pardon
me; for I was not brought up in the palaces of kings, but in the
seclusion of a cloister. I can say nothing of myself than that I have
hitherto sought on earth through the simple-mindedness of my writings
and teachings nothing but God’s honour and the edification of believers.
Most serene Emperor, gracious electors, nobles and lords. Yesterday I
was asked two questions: whether I would confess those pamphlets which
were published under my name to be mine and whether I would persist in
them or revoke them. To this I answered readily and clearly that I
would now and for all eternity admit that these books were mine and
were published under my name unless my opponents had changed them with
deception or meddlesome wisdom or given false quotations. For I confess
nothing but what I myself have written and certainly not the
painstaking interpretations and comments of others.
Now I am called upon to answer the second question. I humbly pray your
Imperial Majesty and lords, to consider carefully that my books are not
all of the same kind. There are some in which I dealt with faith and
life in such an evangelical and simple manner that even my opponents
must admit that they are useful, innocent and worthy to be read by
Christian people. Even the bull, which is otherwise quite fierce and
cruel, considers some of my books quite harmless, though it condemns
them on the basis of an unnatural judgment. Would I now revoke these
books, I would do nothing but condemn the truth which is confessed by
all, friend and foe alike. I of all men would be against a common and
The second group of books is written against the papacy and papal
scheming and action, that is against those who through evil teaching
and example have ruined Christendom laying it waste with the evils of
the spirit and the soul. No one can deny or obscure this fact, since
experience and complaint of all men testify that the conscience of
Christian believers is sneered at, harassed and tormented by the laws
of the Pope and the doctrines of men. Likewise the goods and wealth of
this most famous German nation were and are devoured through
unbelievable tyranny in unreasonable manner, through decretals and
laws, regulations and orders. Yet Canon Law states that the law and
teaching of the Pope, whenever contrary to the Gospel and opinions of
the holy Fathers, are to be considered in error and rejected. Were I,
therefore, to revoke these books I would only strengthen this tyranny
and open not only windows, but also doors for such unchristian ways,
which would then flourish and rage more freely than ever before. The
testimony of my opposition will make the rule of their bold and
ignominious malice most intolerable for the poor suffering people…
The third group of my books consists of those I have written against
certain private individuals who attempted to defend such Roman tyranny
and denounce my pious doctrine. I confess that I have been more bitter
and vehement against them than is in keeping with my Christian estate
and calling. I do not claim to be a saint, nor do I proclaim my life,
but rather the doctrine of Christ. Thus I cannot revoke these books,
since my revocation would mean the continuance of their tyrannical,
violent and raging rule due to my compliance and hesitancy. The people
of God would be treated more violently and unmercifully than ever.
What more shall I say? Since I am a man and not God, I cannot support
my pamphlets through any other means then that which the Lord Jesus
employed when he was questioned before Ananias and asked concerning his
teaching and smitten on his cheek by a servant. He said then: "If I
have spoken evil bear witness of the evil." If the Lord, who knew that
he could not err, did not refuse to hear testimony against his doctrine
even from the most miserable servant, how much more should I, the scum
of the earth and prone to error, hope and expect that someone should
testify against my doctrine. Therefore I pray by the grace of God that
your Imperial Majesty and Lordships, and everyone, high or low, should
give such testimony, convict me of error and convince me with
evangelical and prophetic writings. Should I thus be persuaded, I am
most ready and willing to revoke all errors and be the first to throw
my books into the fire.
From this it should be evident that I have carefully considered and
weighed such discord, peril, uproar and rebellion which is rampant in
the world today on account of my teaching, as I was gravely and
urgently made aware yesterday. It is quite revealing as far as I am
concerned that the divine word causes factions, misunderstanding, and
discord to arise. Such, of course, must be the fate and the consequence
of the divine Word, even as the Lord himself said: "I am come not to
send peace but a sword ,
to set a son against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and
the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall
be they of his own household."
Therefore we must ponder how wonderful and terrible God is in his
counsels, plans and intentions. Perhaps we condemn the Word of God if
we do away with our factions and dissensions. It could be a deluge of
inestimable evils, indeed a cause of concern lest the imperial rule of
our most pious and youthful Emperor should have an unfortunate
Finally I commend myself to your Majesty and to
your Lordships, humbly praying that you will not suffer me, against
your will, to be subjected to disgrace and defamation by my enemies.
After this statement the spokesman for the Empire claimed angrily that
I had not given a clear answer. Furthermore there was no need to
discuss what has already been condemned and decided by councils.
Therefore I was asked to answer in a simple and unsophisticated manner
whether I would revoke. Thereupon I said: "Since your Imperial Majesty
and Lordships demand a simple answer I will do so without horns or
teeth as follows: Unless I am convicted by the testimony of Scripture
or by evident reason – for I trust neither in popes nor in councils
alone, since it is obvious that they have often erred and contradicted
themselves – I am convicted by the Scripture which I have mentioned and
my conscience is captive by the Word of God. Therefore I cannot and
will not recant, since it is difficult, unprofitable and dangerous
indeed to do anything against one’s conscience. God help me. Amen."
On Thursday, April 25th, Luther requested to be allowed to return to
Wittenberg. On Friday the 26th of April at 10 o’clock Martin Luther
left Worms on his journey home. However, on the way he was taken
captive by friends and brought to the Wartburg Castle located just SW
of the town of Eisenach at the northern end of the mountainous
Thüringer Wald. He lived there disguised as a knight until 1522 and
started the translation of the Bible into the German language. This
project he completed in 1534. [Source]
Here is a transcript from period reports:
[Dr. Ecken:] . . . Do you wish to defend the books which are
recognized as your work? Or to retract anything contained in
them? . . .
[Luther:] Most Serene Lord Emperor, Most Illustrious
Princes, Most Gracious Lords . . . I beseech you to grant a
gracious hearing to my plea, which, I trust, will be a plea of
justice and truth; and if through my inexperience I neglect to
give to any their proper titles or in any way offend against the
etiquette of the court in my manners or behavior, be kind enough
to forgive me, I beg, since I am a man who has spent his life not
in courts but in the cells of a monastery; a man who can say of
himself only this, that to this day I have thought and written in
simplicity of heart, solely with a view to the glory of God and
the pure instruction of Christ’s faithful people. . . .
. . . Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships: I ask you to
observe that my books are not all of the same kind.
There are some in which I have dealt with piety in faith and
morals with such simplicity and so agreeably with the Gospels
that my adversaries themselves are compelled to admit them
useful, harmless, and clearly worth reading by a Christian. Even
the Bull, harsh and cruel though it is, makes some of my books
harmless, although it condemns them also, by a judgment downright
monstrous. If I should begin to recant here, what, I beseech you,
would I be doing but condemning alone among mortals, that truth
which is admitted by friends and foes alike, in an unaided
struggle against universal consent?
The second kind consists in those writings leveled against the
papacy and the doctrine of the papists, as against those who by
their wicked doctrines and precedents have laid waste Christendom
by doing harm to the souls and the bodies of men. No one can
either deny or conceal this, for universal experience and
world-wide grievances are witnesses to the fact that through the
Pope’s laws and through man-made teachings the consciences of the
faithful have been most pitifully ensnared, troubled, and racked
in torment, and also that their goods and possessions have been
devoured (especially amongst this famous German nation) by
unbelievable tyranny, and are to this day being devoured without
end in shameful fashion; and that thought they themselves by
their own laws take care to provide that the Pope’s laws and
doctrines which are contrary to the Gospel or the teachings of
the Fathers are to be considered as erroneous and reprobate. If
then I recant these, the only effect will be to add strength to
such tyranny, to open not the windows but the main doors to such
blasphemy, which will thereupon stalk farther and more widely
than it has hitherto dared. . . .
The third kind consists of those books which I have written
against private individuals, so-called; against those, that is,
who have exerted themselves in defense of the Roman tyranny and
to the overthrow of that piety which I have taught. I confess
that I have been more harsh against them than befits my religious
vows and my profession. For I do not make myself out to be any
kind of saint, nor am I now contending about my conduct but about
Christian doctrine. But it is not in my power to recant them,
because that recantation would give that tyranny and blasphemy
and occasion to lord it over those whom I defend and to rage
against God’s people more violently than ever.
However, since I am a man and not God, I cannot provide my
writings with any other defense than that which my Lord Jesus
Christ provided for His teaching. When He had been interrogated
concerning His teaching before Annas and had received a buffet
from a servant, He said: "If I have spoken evil, bear
witness of the evil." If the Lord Himself, who knew that He
could not err, did not refuse to listen to witness against His
teaching, even from a worthless slave, how much more ought I,
scum that I am, capable of naught but error, to seek and to wait
for any who may wish to bear witness against my teaching.
And so, through the mercy of God, I ask Your Imperial Majesty,
and Your Illustrious Lordships, or anyone of any degree, to
defeat them by the writings of the Prophets or by the Gospels;
for I shall be most ready, if I be better instructed, to recant
any error, and I shall be the first in casting my writings into
the fire. . . .
Thereupon the Orator of the Empire, in a tone of upbraiding,
said that his [Luther's] answer was not to the point, and that
there should be no calling into question of matters on which
condemnations and decisions had before been passed by Councils.
He was being asked for a plain reply, without subtlety or
sophistry, to this question: Was he prepared to recant, or no?
Luther then replied: Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships
demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless
I am convicted [convinced] of error by the testimony of Scripture
or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or
councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often
contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted
[convinced] by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my
conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not
recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither
safe for us, nor open to us.
On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.
The translation is
from H.C. Bettenson, Documents of the Christian
based on Luther’s Opera
Latina (Frankfurt, 1865-73