Recantation neither right nor safe

Group 236


Rarely in human history has one individual’s views had such an immediate and far-reaching impact. After the debates between Johann Eck and Martin Luther in 1519, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V invited the rebellious monk to Worms before him and the Diet, a formal deliberative assembly of the whole Empire. Luther accepted the opportunity to defend his views.

At the assembly, he argued forcefully that Scripture did not grant the authority that the Pope had long claimed to rule the medieval church. Luther also called for extensive theological and institutional reforms. Standing before the Emperor and a large gathering of distinguished church officials, Luther clarified point-by-point.

When told he must recant them, Luther boldly declared: “I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise. God help me.”

The next day, the Emperor labelled him “a notorious heretic” and condemned his followers. He did, however, give Luther safe passage back to Wittenberg as a gesture to Luther’s patron, Frederick of Saxony. On April 26, Luther left Worms, traveling with a contingent of guards but also fearful for his safety.