Sunday, April 18, 2010

Four Hundred and Eighty-Nine Years Ago He Stood

This is from the Desiring God Blog.

On April 17th, 1521, Martin Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms under the charge of heresy. A pile of his own writings was set before him, many written in critique of the Roman Catholic Church, and he was asked to either defend or revoke them.

Luther was uncertain about how to respond, so he asked for more time. It was granted. He would appear before the Diet again the next day.

Luther's differences with the Church of Rome had been the result of his own careful study of Scripture. He had read things in the Bible that were at odds with many of the doctrines and practices of the Church in his day, and his conscience under God had become burdened to speak about them.

So he wrote. He originally intended his writing to help return the Church to a more biblical form of Christianity, not cause a split. But few heard him that way. Instead, for most, at least among the religious and political leaders, his cries sounded more like the ringings of rebellion.

On April 18th, when Luther reappeared before the Diet to give his response, his examiner, Johann Eck, restated the question (with some prologue):

Martin, how can you assume that you are the only one to understand the sense of Scripture? Would you put your judgment above that of so many famous men and claim that you know more than they all?

You have no right to call into question the most holy orthodox faith, instituted by Christ the perfect law-giver, proclaimed throughout the world by the apostles, sealed by the red blood of the martyrs, confirmed by the sacred councils, defined by the Church in which all our fathers believed until death and gave to us as an inheritance, and which now we are forbidden by the pope and the emperor to discuss lest there be no end of debate.

I ask you, Martin—answer candidly and without horns—do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?

Luther had his response:

Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of 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.

(Quotations from Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton. Paragraphing added.)

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