Luther at the Diet of Worms, an 1877 portrait depicting Martin Luther by Anton von Werner

The Diet of Worms of 1521 (German: Reichstag zu Worms [ˈʁaɪçstaːk tsuː ˈvɔʁms]) was an imperial diet (a formal deliberative assembly) of the Holy Roman Empire called by Emperor Charles V and conducted in the Imperial Free City of Worms. Martin Luther was summoned to the diet in order to renounce or reaffirm his views in response to a Papal bull of Pope Leo X. In answer to questioning, he defended these views and refused to recant them. At the end of the diet, the Emperor issued the Edict of Worms (Wormser Edikt), a decree which condemned Luther as "a notorious heretic" and banned citizens of the Empire from propagating his ideas. Although the Protestant Reformation is usually considered to have begun in 1517, the edict signals the first overt schism.

The diet was conducted from 28 January to 25 May 1521 at the Bischofshof palace in Worms, with the Emperor presiding.[1] Other imperial diets took place at Worms in the years 829, 926, 1076, 1122, 1495, and 1545, but unless plainly qualified, the term "Diet of Worms" usually refers to the assembly of 1521.


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Summons for Luther to appear at the Diet of Worms signed by Emperor Charles V; the text on the left was on the reverse side.

In June 1520, Pope Leo X issued the Papal bull Exsurge Domine ("Arise, O Lord"), outlining 41 purported errors found in Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses and other writings related to or written by him. Luther was summoned by the emperor. Frederick III, Elector of Saxony obtained an agreement that, if Luther appeared, he would be promised safe passage to and from the meeting. This guarantee was essential after the treatment of Jan Hus, who was tried and executed at the Council of Constance in 1415 despite a promise of safe conduct.

Emperor Charles V commenced the Imperial Diet of Worms on 23 January 1521. Luther was summoned to renounce or reaffirm his views. When he appeared before the assembly on 16 April, Johann Eck, an assistant of the Archbishop of Trier, Richard von Greiffenklau zu Vollrads at that time, acted as spokesman for the emperor.

Martin Luther

Luther in Worms, a 1577 colorized woodcut
The Luther statue in Worms, Germany

The main events of the Diet of Worms relating to Luther took place from 16 to 18 April 1521.

On 16 April, Luther arrived in Worms. He was told to appear before the diet at 4 PM the following day. Jerome Schurff, Wittenberg professor in canon law, was Luther's lawyer before the diet. The Pope did not appear.

On 17 April, the imperial marshal, Ulrich von Pappenheim, and the herald, Caspar Sturm, came for Luther.[2] Pappenheim reminded Luther that he should speak only in answer to direct questions from the presiding officer, Johann Eck. Eck asked if a collection of books was Luther's and if he was ready to revoke their heresies. Schurff said: "Please have the titles read". There were 25 of them, probably including The Ninety-five Theses, Resolutions Concerning the 95 Theses, On the Papacy at Rome, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and On the Freedom of a Christian. Luther requested more time for a proper answer, so he was given until the next day at 4 p.m.[citation needed]

On 18 April, Luther, saying that he had prayed for long hours and consulted with friends and mediators, presented himself before the diet. When the counselor put the same questions to him, Luther first apologized that he lacked the etiquette of the court. Then he answered, "They are all mine, but as for the second question, they are not all of one sort." Luther went on to place the writings into three categories: (1) Works which were well received even by his enemies: those he would not reject. (2) Books which attacked the abuses, lies, and desolation of the Christian world and the papacy: those, Luther believed, could not safely be rejected without encouraging abuses to continue. To retract them would be to open the door to further oppression, he said.[3] "If I now recant these, then, I would be doing nothing but strengthening tyranny".[3] (3) Attacks on individuals: he apologized for the harsh tone of these writings but did not reject the substance of what he taught in them; if he could be shown by Scripture that his writings were in error, Luther continued, he would reject them. Luther then concluded, saying:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.[4]

According to tradition, Luther is said to have declared, "Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise", before concluding with "God help me. Amen."[5]

According to Luther, Eck informed Luther that he was acting like a heretic:

"Martin," said he, "there is no one of the heresies which have torn the bosom of the church, which has not derived its origin from the various interpretation of the Scripture. The Bible itself is the arsenal whence each innovator has drawn his deceptive arguments. It was with biblical texts that Pelagius and Arius maintained their doctrines. Arius, for instance, found the negation of the eternity of the Word—an eternity which you admit, in this verse of the New TestamentJoseph knew not his wife till she had brought forth her first-born son; and he said, in the same way that you say, that this passage enchained him. When the fathers of the council of Constance condemned this proposition of John HussThe church of Jesus Christ is only the community of the elect, they condemned an error; for the church, like a good mother, embraces within her arms all who bear the name of Christian, all who are called to enjoy the celestial beatitude."[6]

Private conferences were held to determine Luther's fate, but he was not arrested at Worms. Through negotiations by his prince, Frederick III, Luther was given a letter of safe conduct to and from the hearing. After his dismissal, he departed for his home in Wittenberg. However, fearing for Luther's safety, Frederick III sent men to fake a highway attack and abduct Luther, hiding him away at Wartburg Castle.

Edict of Worms

The Edict of Worms was a decree issued on 25 May 1521 by Emperor Charles V. Its contents proscribed Luther's writings, declaring him a heretic and an enemy of the state, even permitting anyone to kill Luther without legal consequence; the imperial ban. Though it was never enforced, (the movement for reform and protection from Protestant supporters acted in his favour) Roman Catholic rulers sought to suppress Luther and his followers, and Luther's travels were restricted for the rest of his life.[7]

It was the culmination of an ongoing struggle between Martin Luther and the Catholic Church over reform, especially concerning the practice of donations for indulgences. However, there were other deeper issues that revolved around both theological concerns:

Other decisions

The Diet of Worms was also the occasion for Charles V to reform the administration of the Empire. Given the vast domains of the House of Habsburg, the Emperor was often on the road and needed deputies, including the Governors of the Netherlands and the Regents of Spain, for the times he was absent from his territories.[10][11][12]

Charles V elevated his younger brother Ferdinand to the status of Archduke as Imperial Lieutenant. As such, Ferdinand became regent and governor of the Austrian hereditary lands of Charles V and the Emperor's representative in Germany. Ferdinand's role as chairman of the German Imperial government was never implemented, however, and ended in 1523 with the body's dissolution. Ferdinand's rule of the Austrian lands in the name of the Emperor was confirmed with the secret Habsburg compact of Brussels in 1522, according to which Charles also agreed to favor the election of Ferdinand as King of the Romans in Germany, which took place in 1531.

Following the abdications of Charles V in 1556, Ferdinand succeeded Charles as emperor and became suo jure Archduke of Austria.[10][11][12]


When Martin Luther eventually emerged from Wartburg, the emperor, distracted with other matters, did not press for Luther's arrest. Ultimately, because of rising public support for Luther among the German people and the protection of certain German princes, the Edict of Worms was never enforced in Germany. However, in the Habsburg Netherlands, comprising present-day Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, the Edict was initially enforced against Luther's most active supporters. This could be done because these countries were under the direct rule of Emperor Charles V and his appointed regent, Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Savoy and Charles' aunt.

In December 1521, Jacob Proost, prior of the Augustinian monastery in Antwerp, was the first Luther-supporting cleric to be arrested and prosecuted under the terms of the Worms Edict. In February 1522, Proost was compelled to make public recantation and repudiation of Luther's teachings. Later that year, additional arrests were made among the Augustinians in Antwerp. Two monks, Jan van Essen and Hendrik Vos, refused to recant; on 1 July 1523, they were burned at the stake in Brussels.[13]

The 1522 and 1524 Diets of Nuremberg attempted to execute the judgement of the Edict of Worms against Luther, but they failed.[14]


  1. ^ (Not a direct quote)Chronik der Stadt Worms Internet Archive
  2. ^ Schaff, Philip (2015). History of the Christian Church. Arkrose Press. p. 145. ISBN 978-1346209654.
  3. ^ a b Oberman, Heiko, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006, ISBN 0-300-10313-1.
  4. ^ Brecht, Martin. Martin Luther. tr. James L. Schaaf, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985–1993, 1:460.
  5. ^ Coffman, Elesha (1 April 2002). "'Hier stehe ich!'". Christianity Today. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  6. ^ Martin Luther. "Life of Luther (Luther by Martin Luther)".
  7. ^ "Edict of Worms". Retrieved 21 October 2023.
  8. ^ Noll, Mark A. (2000) [1997]. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-8010-1159-7.
  9. ^ Graebner, Augustus Lawrence. "Outlines of Doctrinal Theology". Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia. p. 161. Archived from the original on 21 January 2012. Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  10. ^ a b Pavlac, Brian A.; Lott, Elizabeth S. (2019). The Holy Roman Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia [2 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1440848568.
  11. ^ a b Kanski, Jack J. (2019). History of the German speaking nations. Troubador Publishing. ISBN 978-1789017182.
  12. ^ a b Rady, Martyn (2014). The Emperor Charles V. Routledge. ISBN 978-1317880820.
  13. ^ Brecht, Martin. Martin Luther. tr. James L. Schaaf, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985–93, 2:102ff.
  14. ^ 1899 Lutheran Cyclopedia article titled "Nuremberg Convention"