Wednesday, May 25, 2011

490 years ago: Edict of Worms condemns Martin Luther as a heretic

On May 25, 1521, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V issued the Edict of Worms, declaring:

For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favor the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work.

Which is to say, the Edict of Worms not only condemned Mr. Luther as a heretic, but also banned the reading or possession of his writings.

The Edict marked the conclusion of the Diet of Worms, which had begun on January 28, 1521. One might think that "Diet of Worms" was the punishment forced on Martin Luther by the Roman Catholic leaders, but the Diet was an assembly held in the city of Worms in what is now Germany. It was on April 18 that Mr. Luther was said to have concluded his defense with the words, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”

The Edict of Worms marked a key point in the Reformation. As the word implies, the Reformation was an attempt by Roman Catholics to call their church to reform in both doctrine and practice. As with the Council of Constance's condemnation of Jan Hus more than a century earlier, the Edict of Worms was a clear statement that the Roman Catholic Church wasn't open to reform. As a result, an increasing number of people began to follow the command of scripture:

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.
And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
II Corinthians 6:17-18

It's worth noting that almost 500 years later, the Roman Catholic Church has yet to reform its positions on the main issues that Mr. Luther was concerned about: justification by faith (see Habakkuk 2:4, cited in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11; Romans 3:28) and the selling of indulgences.

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