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(Copyright 1944. The Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.)

Condensed from Chapter VIII of the March of Truth by Stephen Zsabo.

 

“Truth, even if left alone, will save itself by its own right hand.”   MARTIN LUTHER

 

Tuesday.  The sixteenth of April fifteen-hundred twenty-one.

The dew was not yet dried on the grass.  On the winding highway that ran parallel with the romantic River Rhine, a cloud of dust caused by the tramping of horses, moved forward toward Worms.  A small party neared its destination.  Worms was only fifteen miles away.

In front of a covered carriage, pulled by two husky horses of Mecklenburg, the Imperial Herald rode on horseback, clad in the picturesque robe of state.  Four men sat in the carriage: two black monks dressed in the habit of the Augustinian order, and two men in medieval civilian garments.  Behind the carriage followed a lonely armed escort on horseback again.

Martin Luther, the heroic Black Monk of Wittenberg, was on his way to the Imperial Diet of Worms.

It was the first of April when Caspar Sturm, the Imperial Herald, arrived at Wittenberg with the Emperor’s citation and many letters of safe-conduct.

Charles V, the powerful Roman king and emperor, summoned the infamous Wittenberg monk to appear before the Imperial Diet at Worms and defend himself and his teachings.

On the night of April first, all friends of Luther gathered together in the dark cell of the Black Cloister to warn him against going to Worms.

“Remember the Imperial Diet of Constance,” they said.  “And remember Huss, who was burned alive at the stake in Constance!  Remember Savonarola who was strangled and burned at the stake, punished with a double-death in Florence only twenty-three years age!”

But the sturdy Black Monk, in spite of all warnings, solemnly declared with an unsurpassable courage: “Even if they kindled a fire as high as heaven from Wittenberg to Worms, I would appear in the name of the Lord and confess Christ!”

And on the next day, the second of April, Luther started out for Worms.

The Imperial Herald rode in advance on horseback.  Then the carriage followed with Luther and his three friends who accompanied him on the historic journey: Petzensteiner, an Augustinian brother; Amsdorf, a professor representing the faculty of Wittenberg University; and Swaven, a young nobleman of Pomerania, representing the student body.

The two weeks journey was a continual ovation.  Luther, whose fame had already traveled near and far and through the whole empire, was warmly greeted by multitudes at every populated point on his way.  The ovation at Erfurt rose the highest where an armed escort was added by the cheering town, to his party for his protection.

At Weimar disheartening news reached him.  The Imperial Diet of Worms, already in session, had condemned all his books as heretical and by a special diet ordered them to be burned.  This was his condemnation in advance.

Luther trembled for a moment, but when the Imperial Herald asked whether he would proceed or not, he answered with a heroic courage that was so characteristic of his whole life: “Yes, I will proceed, and entrust myself to the Emperor’s protection.  Christ lives: and I shall enter Worms, though all the gates of Hell and powers of the air be unwilling!”

And the party proceeded on toward Worms.

One of the greatest scenes of history was in the making.  The Black Monk of Wittenberg would not be a traitor to his divine mission to make a solemn and brave confession of Faith, Truth, and Right before the Emperor, the Pope, and the empire.

When, in fifteen-hundred-twelve, the degree of Doctor of Theology was conferred upon him by the University of Wittenberg, he had had to take an oath that he would defend the Truth of the Gospel, with all his might.

Luther, now, while speeding toward Worms, set his eyes upon the heavy, golden ring on his finger and repeated the solemn oath to himself: “I, Dr. Martin Luther, pledge myself to the Holy Scriptures.  I solemnly promise to teach them with purity, to preach them faithfully, and to defend them both in writing and disputation against all false teachers. So help me God!”

“So help me God!” he repeated aloud, thus gaining inspiration, strengthening his conviction and courage from his doctoral oath for the great battle of truth to come, against all false teachers supported and defended by might and force, sword and money, power and all.

Then with great determination he spoke loudly to his companions: “Those false teachers cannot defend themselves against me.  I am determined, in God’s name, to tread upon the lions, to trample dragons and serpents underfoot.”

Luther’s party entered the small village of Oppenheim.  Suddenly and unexpectedly a band of knights on horseback intercepted Luther: a band of about ten knights clad in iron and steel, with helmets and swords.

The captain of the knights, a husky man with broad shoulders and coarse voice, began to talk to the famous Monk of Wittenberg disclosing their mission: “Reverend Sir and Doctor!  We are men of Knight Sickingen, your admirer and wholehearted supporter.  We have come on an errand of our Lord and Master to warn you against your entering into Worms, and to take you with us in his Ebenburg castle-fortress where he is willing to hide you, protect you, and defend you against your enemies.”

“Sir Knight,” answered Luther, who was caught by surprise.  “Be pleased to accept and convey my gratitude to you Lord and Master for the gracious protection he offers.  However, I must definitely decline to accept.  Tell your Lord that my mighty fortress is God, and He, and He alone, will defend me against my enemies.  I am un-terrified.  I am afraid of nothing.  Even though there be as many devils in Worms as tiles in the roofs, I will enter Worms!”

“Reverend Sir,” said the Knight.  “My Lord and Master begged me to remind you of the fate of John Huss who had been summoned to the Imperial Diet in the same way and manner and had been burned at the stake, although held in his possession the Emperor’s letter of safe-conduct, as you do.”

“Indeed, Huss was burned,” answered Luther with unconquerable faith, “but the Truth remained.  For this reason I go to Worms!”

And the heroic monk went on.

After leaving Oppenheim behind, they sighted the city of Worms, the most ancient city of the old German mythical tales of the Nibelungen.  This historic city on the Rhine was, at this time, the political capital of the whole Holy Roman Empire where the Emperor and his Electoral Princes held the yearly Imperial Diet to settle matters of state.  For centuries and centuries this city of old had been the seat of a series of kings and bishops.

The magnificent Roman Cathedral of red bricks, one of the most beautiful of all Europe, stood out high with its four tall heavy towers above the hundreds of palaces and houses.

Luther’s dreamy blue eyes blazed as he beheld the scene of his decisive battle for truth.  As the heavy carriage rocked him from side to side, and his eyes gazed at the ever-nearing Worms, he gathered his thoughts for the greatest confession in human history before the most powerful congregation of men ever gathered together on the globe.

Near the city limits cheering multitudes of people stood and waited for the oncoming Monk of Wittenberg, the idol and hero of millions throughout the Empire.  His legal advisor, his friends, and scores of Saxon noblemen belonging to Luther’s great protector Elector Frederick’s court, waited in the front line to escort him into the city.

The watchman on the Cathedral’s tower blew a loud blast, announcing to the inhabitants of the city that Martin Luther was entering Worms.

The cavalcade began to march into the city on the cold gray April morning in a triumphal procession.

The crowds on the streets and from the windows shouted to him a most appropriate sentence from the Bible: “Whosoever denieth me before men, him will I also deny before my father who is in heaven.”

Then a Roman priest ran out of the crowd up to the carriage and held up to Luther a picture of Savonarola, begging him as a hero to stand fast by the truth, not to recant!

In the roaring of the immense crowd Luther’s mellow voice was only faintly audible as he said: “God will be with me!  I will stand!”

*********

Wednesday.  The seventeenth of April, fifteen-hundred twenty-one.

The sun was just setting behind the huge red towers of the Cathedral of Worms, painting the enormous edifice and the sky around with deep shades of purple and blue.

In a dark upper room in the House of the Knights of St. John, the Black Monk of Wittenberg whispered his prayer on his knees before the greatest hour of his life: “Thou true Eternal God!  Not mine, but Thine, is the cause.  For my own self, I have nothing to do with these great earthly lords.  Stand by me, oh, God, my Defense, my Shelter, my mighty Fortress!”

Heavy footsteps echoed through the hall.  The black oak door opened noisily, and two armored men appeared, dressed in uniforms of many loud colors.  One was Ulrich von Pappenheim, the marshal of the Empire, and the other Caspar Sturm, the Imperial Herald.

“Martin Luther,” said the Imperial Marshal in a dignified tone, “the Emperor summons you to appear before His Imperial Marshal in a dignified Holy Empire.”

“The time for silence is gone; the time for speech is come,” said Luther with great determination—“I shall not recant an iota, if Christ be gracious unto me!”  And he followed his summoners.

The marshal of the Empire preceded him, and the Imperial Herald followed him, while the Black Monk of Saxony marched on through the mighty palace of the bishop of Worms.  There the Emperor and Holy Empire waited for the heretic monk already condemned in advance.

The night was slowly falling on the history-making square: all lights already were being lit in the Episcopal Palace, when the Black Monk with his two escorts arrived at the high, arched marble gate of the palace.

The monk of Saxony with firm steps and titanic courage entered the illuminated palace.

Charles V, a youthful looking man with long hair was dressed in all the majesty of the great Roman Caesars.  He presided over the brilliant court of the Holy Empire; his brother Ferdinand stood at his side.

Seated around were princes and noblemen, statesmen and soldiers, scholars and knights, within and around in such a mighty assembly as had never before and never since been congregated.  Church and State, Rome and Empire, tiara and crown, power and pomp, armory and money, prejudice and hatred, all these were present in the splendid array.

In front of the Emperor, in an arm chair of oak, sat the spokesman of Charles the V, John von Eck, official-general of the Archbishop of Tirer, clad in the black gown of scholars, with a small round and neatly shaved, grave face.

Before him was placed a long, narrow, dark table of mahogany with rich wooden carvings of angel faces with wings and on the table a pile of some twenty large folio books of the summoned Saxon monk.

And there, confronting this majestic assembly, representing all the power and might of the Middle Ages, stood the “solitary monk that shook the world,” the peasant’s son in the rude black robe of the Augustinian monks, all alone with His Bible as the only weapon in his hand.

In a great, impressive silence the spokesman of the Emperor began to proceed according to the prearranged program made by Aleandro, the purple clad cardinal, the ambassador of the pope.

Dr. Eck addressed Luther first in Latin, then in German, in a dignified tone as if the Emperor himself had spoken: “Martin, the Emperor has summoned you hither to answer, first, whether you have written these books: secondly, whether you will recant, or abide by them?”

In reply to this question, Luther began in a firm and loud voice to give his address, first in Latin and then in German.  First, he gave a lengthy review of all his books, asserting in the end that not one of them could be recanted.  Then he expressed his willingness to face a debate, and if anyone could refute any of his books from the Holy Scriptures, he himself would be the first to throw it into the fire.  Then he proceeded to warn the young Emperor against following the policy of Pharaoh and the kings of his like.  In closing, he made an appeal to the Emperor, saying, “I commit myself to Your Majesty with the prayer that you will not allow my cause to be prejudiced by my adversaries.”

Following Luther’s address the Emperor and his counselors held a short consultation, after which Dr. Eck declared the decision in loud voice: “Martin, His Majesty, the Emperor, and his Imperial Diet are not here to hold a disputation.  His Majesty demands a simple and definite answer, an answer without teeth or horns.  Will you, or will you not, recant your books and writings published in your name?”

Now the Wittenberg monk realized that the Imperial Diet was not at all concerned with the Truth of God, was not willing to face at debate, and was not anxious to prove or disprove.  Both Emperor and Pope were active in only one thing, to press him to recant or die.  And then the heroic Black Monk with his titanic courage, unparalleled in history, gave the mightiest of the world a definite and simple answer.

“Well, then,” exclaimed he, “since His Imperial Majesty wants a plain answer, I shall give him a plain one without teeth or horns.  I am convinced by the passages of Scripture which I have cited, and I shall stand firm unless I be refuted by Scriptural testimonies or clear arguments, for I believe neither the Pope nor the councils alone, since it is clear that they have often erred and contradicted one another.  I cannot, and will not recant anything, because I believe it is insecure and dangerous to act against conscience.”

Then the Wittenberg monk, sensing that the greatest moment of his life was now at hand, thundered into the dead silence of the overcrowded hall: “Here I stand!  I cannot do otherwise!  God have mercy upon me!”

The mighty Emperor jumped up abruptly from his golden chair of state with astonishment.  Cardinals and bishops were dumbfounded, princes and knights were amazed; but thousands in the multitude within the hall clapped their hands approvingly and joyfully.

Great excitement and severe confusion followed.  The Emperor instantly and unexpectedly adjourned the Diet.

“The greatest scene in modern European history from which the whole subsequent history of civilization takes its rise” came to a sudden end.

“Had Luther in that moment done other, it had been all otherwise.”

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