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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Reply at the Diet of Worms
By Martin Luther (1483–1546)
On the Second Day of his Appearance 1

MOST Serene Lord Emperor, Most Illustrious Princes, Most Clement Lords: I now present myself obediently at the time set yesterday evening for my appearance. By the mercy of God, your Most Serene Majesty and your Most Illustrious Lordships, I pray that you will deign to listen leniently to this my cause, which is I hope one of justice and truth. Should I through my inexperience not accord to any one his just titles, or should I err in any way in the matter of customs and courtly manners, may you benignly overlook such mistakes in a man not brought up in palaces, but in monastic seclusion. As concerns myself, I can bear witness to this point only,—that hitherto I have taught and written in simplicity of mind, having in view only the glory of God and the sincere instruction of Christian believers.  1
  Most Serene Emperor, and Most Illustrious Princes: As to the two articles yesterday presented to me by your Most Serene Majesty,—namely, whether I would acknowledge the books edited and published in my name as mine, and whether I wished to persevere in their defense or to revoke them,—I have given my ready and clear response to the first: in that I still persist, and shall persist forever; to wit, that these books are mine, and have been made public by me, in my name,—unless meanwhile, haply, any matter in them has been changed, or has been maliciously extracted, through the cunning or the perverse wisdom of my enemies. For clearly, I cannot acknowledge anything as mine, except what has been written of myself and by myself alone, to the exclusion of any explanation which may be the work of some one else.  2
  To the second point, your Most Serene Majesty and your Lordships, I will reply by asking you to turn your minds condescendingly to this fact,—that my books are not all of the same kind: for there is one group in which I have handled religious faith and conduct in a simple evangelical fashion; moreover, this class has been composed in such a spirit that my very adversaries are forced to recognize the works as useful, harmless, and explicitly worthy of a Christian’s perusal. Even the Bull, fierce and cruel as it is, considers my books in part at least as harmless; although it condemns them as a whole, with an altogether unusual severity of judgment. Consider what I would be guilty of, were I to begin any revocation of this class of writings. Should I not be the sole one of all mortals to censure that very truth which is acknowledged by friend and foe equally? Should not I alone be contending against the accordant confession of the rest of the world?  3
  There is another group of my books, which inveighs against the papacy, and the teaching of the papists. This class is directed against those who, by their extremely corrupt doctrine and example, lay waste our entire Christendom, with every evil that spirit and body can invent. For it cannot be denied, nor can any one disguise the fact, attested as it is by the experience of all persons and by the complaints of the entire civilized world, that the consciences of believers are wretchedly entangled, vexed, and tortured, by papal laws and human teachings. Property and substance are devoured by an incredible tyranny, especially in this noble German nation, and will be devoured continuously without end, and by unworthy means. Yet Romanists, by their own edicts, caution us against the papal laws and doctrines which are contrary to the gospel and the opinions of the fathers, and declare that all such variants should be regarded as erroneous and unapproved.  4
  If therefore I should recall these books, I should do nothing else than add to the strength of this tyranny, and should open, not windows only, but doors to this tremendous foe of religion. It would stalk abroad more freely than it has hitherto dared. Yes, from the proof of such a revocation, their wholly lawless and unrestrained kingdom of wickedness would become still more intolerable for the already wretched people; and their rule would be further strengthened and established, especially should it be reported that this evil deed had been done by me in virtue of the authority of your Most Serene Majesty, and of the whole Roman Empire. Good God! what a covert for wickedness and tyranny I should become.  5
  A third series of these books consists of such as I have written against certain private persons, whom people call distinguished; such, namely, as have tried to preserve the Roman tyranny, and to undermine that view of religion which I have inculcated. Toward those individuals I confess that I have been more bitter than befits a churchman and a monk. But then I do not set myself up for a saint; neither am I disputing about my own career, but about the teaching of Christ. It would not then be right for me to recall this class of works, because by such a withdrawal, despotism and irreligion would again obtain sway, and that through my protection. It would rage against the people of Germany more violently than under any previous rule.  6
  Nevertheless, because I am a man and not God, I cannot shield my practices with any other defense than that with which my Lord Jesus Christ himself vindicated his teaching. For when he had been asked about his doctrine before Annas, and had been smitten by the blow of a servant, he said, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil.” If our Lord, who was always conscious of his inability to err, yet did not decline to hear any evidence against his doctrine even from the most contemptible menial,—how much more ought I, who am of the dregs of the people, and powerless in everything save sin, to desire and expect the introduction of testimony against my teaching?  7
  Therefore, your Most Serene Majesty, your Most Illustrious Lordships, I beseech you by the mercy of God, that whoever can, whether high or low, let him bring forward the proof, let him convince me of errors: let the Scriptures of Prophecy and Gospels triumph, for I will be wholly ready to revoke every error, if I can be persuasively taught; yes, I will be the first to cast my books into the fire.  8
  From these considerations it has become manifest that the crisis and danger on the one hand, the zeal and the controversy on the other, which the occasion of my teaching has excited in the world, have been an object of anxious solicitude on my part, and have been thoroughly weighed. It was about this commotion that I was admonished so bravely and forcibly yesterday. Under these agitations, this to me is the most joyous feature of all,—the sight of such zeal and dispute over the Word of God. For the course of that divine Word has just such a fortuity and consequence, in that Christ says: “I came not to send peace, but a sword; for I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”  9
  Moreover, we ought to reflect that since our God is wonderful and terrible in his counsels, he is probably testing us by so large an access of zeal, whether we will begin by condemning the Word of God. If so, we shall afterwards be precipitated into a more unendurable flood of evils. We should particularly avoid making the reign of this youthful and noble Prince Charles, in whom after God we place so much hope, unhappy and inauspicious. I could enforce this point very richly, through the examples furnished by Scripture, in the case of Pharaoh, the king of Babylon, and the kings of Israel, who lost most when they were endeavoring to pacify and establish their kingdoms by seemingly the wisest of counsels. Before they are aware, the Lord takes the crafty in their craftiness, and overturns mountains. Therefore we must fear God. I do not say this because it is necessary for such high authorities as you to be instructed by my teaching or admonition, but because I must not withhold the fealty due to my Germany. With these words I commend myself to your Most Serene Majesty, and to your Lordships; humbly begging you not to suffer me to be rendered odious without cause, by the persecution of my adversaries. I have spoken.  10
  [To these words the same imperial orator replied with harshness that he ought not to have made such a response, nor were the subjects formerly condemned and defined by the councils to be called in question; therefore he sought from him a simple answer, and one without horns: would he revoke or not? Then Luther said:—]  11
  Therefore, your Most Serene Majesty and your Lordships, since they seek a simple reply, I will give one that is without horns or teeth, and in this fashion: I believe in neither pope nor councils alone; for it is perfectly well established that they have frequently erred, as well as contradicted themselves. Unless then I shall be convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, I must be bound by those Scriptures which have been brought forward by me; yes, my conscience has been taken captive by these words of God. I cannot revoke anything, nor do I wish to; since to go against one’s conscience is neither safe nor right: here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.  12
Note 1. Thursday, April 18th, 1521. [back]

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