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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 53. The Diet of Worms. 1521.


I. Sources. Acta et res gestae D. M. Luth. in Comitiis Principum Wormatiae. Anno 1521. 4°. Acta Lutheri in Comitiis Wormatiae ed. Pollicarius, Vitb. 1546. These and other contemporary documents are reprinted in the Jena ed. of Luther’s Opera (1557), vol. II.; in Walch’s German ed., vols. XV., 2018–2325, and XXII., 2026 sqq.; and the Erlangen-Frankf. ed. of the Opera Lat., vol. VI. (1872); Vermischte deutsche Schriften, vol. XII. (or Sämmtl. Werke, vol. LXIV., pub. 1855), pp. 366–383. Förstemann: Neues Urkundenbuch, 1842, vol. I. Luther’s Letters to Spalatin, Cuspinianus, Lucas Cranach, Charles V., etc., see in De Wette, I. 586 sqq. Spalatin: Ann. Spalatin is also, according to Köstlin, the author of the contemporary pamphlet: Etliche wunderliche fleissige Handlung in D. M. Luther’s Sachen durch geistliche und weltliche Fürsten des Reich’s; but Brieger (in his "Zeitschrift für Kirchengesch.," Gotha, 1886, p. 482 sqq.) ascribes it to Rudolph von Watzdorf.

On the Roman-Cath. side, Cochläus (who was present at Worms): Pallavicini (who used the letters of Aleander); and especially the letters and dispatches of Aleander, now published as follows: Johann Friedrich: Der Reichstag zu Worms im Jahr 1521. Nach den Briefen des päpstlichen Nuntius Hieronymus Aleander. In the "Abhandlungen der Bayer. Akad.," vol. XI. München, 1870. Pietro Balan (R. Cath.): Monumenta Reform. Lutheranae ex tabulariis S. Sedis secretis. 1521–1525. Ratisb. Fasc. I., 1883. Contains Aleander’s reports from the papal archives, and is one of the first fruits of the liberal policy of Leo XIII. in opening the literary treasures of the Vatican. Theod. Brieger (Prof. of Ch. Hist. in Leipzig): Aleander und Luther, 1521. Die vervollständigten Aleander-Depeschen nebst Untersuchungen über den Wormser Reichstag. 1 Abth. Gotha, 1884 (315 pages). Gives the Aleander dispatches in Italian and Latin from a MS. in the library of Trent, and supplements and partly corrects, in the chronology, the edition of Balan.


II. Special Treatises. Boye: Luther zu Worms. Halle, 1817, 1824. Zimmer: Luther zu Worms. Heidelb. 1521. Tuzschmann: Luther in Worms. Darmstadt, 1860. Soldan: Der Reichstag zu Worms. Worms, 1863. Steitz: Die Melanchthon- und Luther-Herbergen zu Frankfurt-a.-M. Frankf., 1861. Contains the reports of the Frankfurt delegate Fürstenberg, and other documents. Hennes (R. Cath.): M. Luther’s Aufenthalt in Worms. Mainz, 1868. Waltz: Der Wormser Reichstag und seine Beziehungen zur reformator. Bewegung, in the "Forschungen zur deutschen Gesch." Göttingen, 1868, VIII. pp. 21–44. Dan. Schenkel: Luther in Worms. Elberfeld, 1870. Jul. Köstlin: Luther’s Rede in Worms am 18. April, 1521. Halle, 1874 (the best on Luther’s famous declaration). Maurenbrecher: Der Wormser Reichstag von 1521, in his "Studien und Skizzen zur Gesch. der Reform. Zeit," Leipzig, 1874 (pp. 241–275); also in his Gesch. der kathol. Reformation, Nördlingen, 1880, vol. I., pp. 181–201. Karl Jansen (not to be confounded with the Rom.-Cath. Janssen): Aleander am Reichstage zu Worms, 1521. Kiel, 1883 (72 pages). Corrects Friedrich’s text of Aleander’s letters. Th. Kolde: Luther und der Reichstag zu Worms. 2d ed. Halle, 1883. Brieger: Neue Mittheilungen über L. in Worms. Program to the Luther jubilee, Marburg, 1883 (a critique of Balan’s Monumenta). Kalkoff: Germ. transl. of the Aleander Dispatches, Halle, 1886. Elter: Luther u. der Wormser Reichstag. Bonn, 1886.

III. Ranke, I. 311–343. Gieseler, IV. 56–58 (Am. ed.). Merle D’aub., bk. VII. chs. I. -XI. Hagenbach, III. 103–109. G. P. Fisher, pp. 108–111. Köstlin, chs. XVII. and XVIII. (I. 411–466). Kolde, I. 325 sqq. Janssen (R. Cath.), II. 131–166. G. Weber: Das Zeitalter der Reformation (vol. X. of his Weltgeschichte), Leipzig, 1886, pp. 162–178. Baumgarten: Gesch. Karls V. Leipzig, l885, vol. I. 379–460.


On the 28th of January, 1521, Charles V. opened his first Diet at Worms. This was a free imperial city on the left bank of the Rhine, in the present grand-duchy of Hesse.329329    Worms is 26 miles S. S. E. of Mainz (Mayence or Mentz, the ancient Moguntiacum, the capital of Rhenish Hesse since 1815), and has now over 20,000 inhabitants, about one-half of them Protestants, but in the beginning of the seventeenth century it had 70,000. It was almost destroyed under Louis XIV. (1683). The favorite German wine, Liebfrauenmilch, is cultivated in its neighborhood. H. Boos, Urkundenbuch der Stadt Worms, Berlin, 1886. It is famous in German song as the scene of the Niebelungenlied, which opens with King Günther of Worms and his sister Chriemhild, the world’s wonder for grace and beauty. It is equally famous in ecclesiastical history for "the Concordat of Worms," which brought to an end the long contest between the Emperor and the Pope about investiture (Sept. 23, 1122). But its greatest fame the city acquired by Luther’s heroic stand on the word of God and the rights of conscience, which made the Diet of 1521 one of the most important in the history of German Diets. After that event two conferences of Protestant and Roman-Catholic leaders were held in Worms, to heal the breach of the Reformation,—one in 1541, and one in 1557; but both failed of their object. In 1868 (June 25) a splendid monument to Luther and his fellow-laborers by Rietschel was erected at Worms, and dedicated with great national enthusiasm.330330    See description of the celebration by Dr. Friedrich Eich, Gedenkblätter, Worms, 1868; and his book on the controversy about the locality of the Diet, In welchem Locale stand Luther zu Worms vor Kaiser und Reich? Leipzig, 1863. He decides for the Bishofshof (against the Rathhaus).

The religious question threw all the political and financial questions into the background, and absorbed the attention of the public mind.

At the very beginning of the Diet a new papal brief called upon the Emperor to give, by an imperial edict, legal force to the bull of January 3, by which Luther was finally excommunicated, and his books condemned to the flames. The Pope urged him to prove his zeal for the unity of the Church. God had girded him with supreme earthly power, that he might use it against heretics who were much worse than infidels.331331    "Multo deteriores haereticos." The new papal bull of condemnation, together with a brief to the Emperor, arrived in Worms the 10th of February. Aleander addressed the Diet three days after, on Ash Wednesday. Ranke, I. 329. Köstlin, I., 422 sq. On Maundy Thursday, March 28, the Pope, in proclaiming the terrible bull In Coena Domini, which is annually read at Rome, expressly condemned, among other heretics, Martin Luther by name with all his adherents. This was the third or fourth excommunication, but produced little effect.332332    Luther published this bull afterwards with biting, abusive, and contemptuous comments, under the title, Die Bulla vom Abendfressen des allerheiligsten, Herrn, des Papsts. In Walch XV. 2127 sqq. Merle d’Aubigné gives characteristic extracts, Bk. VII. ch. 5.

The Pope was ably represented by two Italian legates, who were afterwards created cardinals, -Marino Caracciolo (1459–1538) for the political affairs, and Jerome Aleander (1480–1542) for the ecclesiastical interests. Aleander was at that time librarian of the Vatican, and enjoyed great reputation as a Greek scholar. He had lectured at Paris before two thousand bearers of all classes. He stood in friendly relations to Erasmus; but when the latter showed sympathy with the Reformation, be denounced him as the chief founder of the Lutheran heresy. He was an intense papist, and skilled in all the arts of diplomacy. His religious wants were not very pressing. During the Diet of Worms he scarcely found time, in the holy week, "to occupy himself a little with Christ and his conscience." His sole object was to maintain the power of the Pope, and to annihilate the new heresy. In his letters he calls Luther a fool, a dog, a basilisk, a ribald. He urged everywhere the wholesale burning of his books.333333    Janssen, who praises him very highly, remarks (II. 144): "Um der Häresie Einhalt zu thun, hielt Aleander die Verbrennung der lutherischen Bücher für ein überaus geeignetes Mittel." But I can not see why he says (p. 142) that Aleander prided himself on being "a German." Aleander was born in Italy, hated the Germans, and died in Rome. He employed argument, persuasion, promises, threats, spies, and bribes. He complained that he could not get money enough from Rome for greedy officials. He labored day and night with the Emperor, his confessor, and the members of the privy council. He played on their fears of a popular revolution, and reminded them of the example of the Bohemians, the worst and most troublesome of heretics. He did not shrink from the terrible threat, "If ye Germans who pay least into the Pope’s treasury shake off his yoke, we shall take care that ye mutually kill yourselves, and wade in your own blood." He addressed the Diet, Feb. 13, in a speech of three hours, and contended that Luther’s final condemnation left no room for a further hearing of the heretic, but imposed upon the Emperor and the Estates the simple duty to execute the requirements of the papal bull.

The Emperor hesitated between his religious impulses—which were decidedly Roman Catholic, though with a leaning towards disciplinary reform through a council—and political considerations which demanded caution and forbearance. He had already taken lessons in the art of dissimulation, which was deemed essential to a ruler in those days. He had to respect the wishes of the Estates, and could not act without their consent. Public sentiment was divided, and there was a possibility of utilizing the dissatisfaction with Rome for his interest. He was displeased with Leo for favoring the election of Francis, and trying to abridge the powers of the Spanish Inquisition; and yet he felt anxious to secure his support in the impending struggle with France, and the Pope met him half-way by recalling his steps against the Inquisition. He owed a debt of gratitude to the Elector Frederick, and had written to him, Nov. 28, 1520, to bring Luther to Worms, that he might have a hearing before learned men; but the Elector declined the offer, fearing the result. On the 17th of December, the Emperor advised him to keep Luther at Wittenberg, as he had been condemned at Rome.

At first be inclined to severe measures, and laid the draft of an edict before the Diet whereby the bull of excommunication should be legally enforced throughout all Germany. But this was resisted by the Estates, and other influences were brought to bear upon him. Then he tried indirectly, and in a private way, a compromise through his confessor, John Glapio, a Franciscan friar, who professed some sympathy with reform, and respect for Luther’s talent and zeal. He held several interviews with Dr. Brück (Pontanus), the Chancellor of the Elector Frederick. He assured him of great friendship, and proposed that he should induce Luther to disown or to retract the book on the "Babylonian Captivity," which was detestable; in this case, his other writings, which contained so much that is good, would bear fruit to the Church, and Luther might co-operate with the Emperor in the work of a true (that is, Spanish) reformation of ecclesiastical abuses. We have no right to doubt his sincerity any more than that of the like-minded Hadrian VI., the teacher of Charles. But the Elector would not listen to such a proposal, and refused a private audience to Glapio. His conference with Hutten and Sickingen on the Ebernburg was equally unsuccessful.334334    See Brück’s conversations with Glapio in Förstemann, I., pp. 53, 54. Erasmus and Hutten regarded him as a crafty hypocrite, who wished to ruin Luther. Strauss agrees, Ulrich von Hutten, p. 405. But Maurenbrecher, (Studien, etc., pp. 258 sqq., and Gesch. der kath. Ref., I. 187 sqq.) thinks that Glapio presented the program of the imperial policy of reform. Janssen, II., 153 sq., seems to be of the same opinion.

The Estates were in partial sympathy with the Reformation, not from doctrinal and religious, but from political and patriotic motives; they repeated the old one hundred and one gravamina against the tyranny and extortions of the Roman See335335    See the list in Walch, XV., 2058 sqq. (similar to the charges in Luther’s Address to the German Nobility), and resisted a condemnation of Luther without giving him a hearing. Even his greatest enemy, Duke George of Saxony, declared that the Church suffered most from the immorality of the clergy, and that a general reformation was most necessary, which could be best secured by a general council.

During the Diet, Ulrich von Hutten exerted all his power of invective against the Pope and for Luther. He was harbored at Ebernburg, a few leagues from Worms, with his friend, the valorous Francis of Sickingen. He poured contempt and ridicule on the speech of Aleander, and even attempted to catch him and Caracciolo by force.336336    Luther, in a letter to Spalatin (Nov. 23, 1520, In De Wette I. 523), in a moment of indignation expressed a wish that Hutten might have intercepted (utinam —Intercepisset) the legates, but not murdered, as Romanists (Janssen, twice, II. 104, 143) misinterpret it. See Köstlin, I. 411, and note on p. 797. But he and Sickingen favored, at the same time, the cause of the young Emperor, from whom they expected great things, and wished to bring about an anti-papal revolution with his aid. Hutten called upon him to dismiss his clerical counsellors, to stand on his own dignity, to give Luther a hearing, and to build up a free Germany. Freedom was now in the air, and all men of intelligence longed for a new and better order of things.337337    See Aleander’s dispatches in Brieger, l.c. I. pp. 119 sqq.; Strauss, Ulrich von Hutten, 4th ed., pp. 395 sqq.; and Ullmann, Franz von Sickingen (Leipzig, 1872).

Aleander was scarcely safe on the street after his speech of February 13. He reported to his master, that for nine-tenths of the Germans the name of Luther was a war-cry, and that the last tenth screamed "Death to the court of Rome!" Cochlaeus, who was in Worms as the theological adviser of the Archbishop of Treves, feared a popular uprising against the clergy.

Luther was the hero of the day, and called a new Moses, a second Paul. His tracts and picture, surrounded by a halo of glory, were freely circulated in Worms.338338    Aleander reports (April 13) that Luther was painted with the Holy Spirit over his head (el spirito santo sopra it capo, come to depingono). Brieger, I. 139.

At last Charles thought it most prudent to disregard the demand of the Pope. In an official letter of March 6, he cited Luther to appear before the Diet within twenty-one days under the sure protection of the Empire. The Elector Frederick, Duke George of Saxony, and the Landgrave of Hesse, added letters of safe-conduct through their respective territories.339339    The letters of safe-conduct are printed in Walch, XV., 2122-2127, and Förstemann, Neues Urkundenbuch, I., 61 sq. In the imperial letter signed by Albert, Elector and Archbishop of Mayence and Chancellor of the Empire, Luther is addressed as "honorable, well-beloved, pious" (Ehrsamer, Geliebter, Andächtiger; in the Latin copy, Honorabilis, Dilecte, Devote), much to the chagrin of the Romanists.

Aleander now endeavored to make the appearance of Luther as harmless as possible, and succeeded in preventing any discussion with him. The heretic was simply to recant, or, in case of refusal, to suffer the penalties of excommunication.



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