Luther’s Third Major Debate

The Place: Worms, Germany

The Date: April 18, 1521

Luther’s Opponent: Dr. John Eck, Archbishop of Trier (not to be confused with the Dr. Eck of Ingolstadt, who debated Luther at Leipzig).

The Main Issue: The pope sent a letter to German officials issuing a bull of excommunication against Martin Luther and demanded that the young Prince Charles of Germany act to protect the Church as well as the state. The German princes insisted that a man should not be banished without a hearing.

Dr. Eck’s Contention: That Martin Luther acknowledge the books that were laid out on a table which exposed the papacy and expounded the gospel of justification by faith alone. Luther was asked to either defend them or disavow some of them.

Luther’s Reply: “Since your Imperial majesty requires a plain answer I will give one without horns or hoof! It is this: that I must be convinced either by the testimony of Scripture or by clear arguments. I cannot trust the Pope or Councils by themselves since it is clear as daylight that they have not only erred but contradicted themselves. I am bound by the Scriptures which I have quoted; my conscience is thirled [bound] to the Word of God. I may not and will not recant, because to act against conscience is neither honest nor safe.” ‘This he said both in German and Latin. Then after a pause he added in German:’ “I can do nothing else; here I stand; so help me God! Amen.”¹

The Result: “He was ushered out of the great hall, that was packed with dignitaries and with sympathetic Germans. As he was escorted to his lodgings he pleaded for calm from the German people who looked to him as their champion. The Emperor Charles, King of Germany, caved to papal pressure while bartering for further powers in his rule over Spain, signed the document banning Martin Luther from his empire.

The ban of the empire, thus fraudulently obtained, granted Luther twenty days’ safe-conduct after his departure from Worms; after this — twenty days after April 26, — everyone was forbidden, under severe penalties, ‘to give the aforesaid Luther house or home, food drink, or shelter by words or deeds.’ It only remained to secure Luther’s person and burn him as a heretic. Luther had suddenly disappeared, however, and no one knew where he was, and the wildest conjectures were started. Aleander came nearest to the truth when he said that he believed ’the old fox’, meaning the Elector of Saxony, had hidden him somewhere.”²

Luther had been taken into hiding within the walls of the Wartburg Castle. There he translated the Bible into German, so that the common people could read the word of God in their own tongue.

1 Thomas Lindsay, Martin Luther: The Man Who Started the Reformation (Christian Focus, 1996), 107.
2 Ibid., 110.

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