Below is a record of what took place when Luther appeared at the Diet of Worms excerpted from Roland Bainton’s biography of Luther.
He had been summoned for four o’clock on the afternoon of the morrow, but the press of business delayed his apperance until six. This time his voice was ringing. Eck reiterated the question of the previous day [the previous day Luther had been confronted with a pile of his books and asked whether they were his. When he acknowledged they were he was further asked whether he would defend them all or reject part]. Luther responded: “Most serene emperor, most illustrious princes, most clement lords, if I have not given some of you your proper titles I beg you to forgive me. I am not a courtier, but a monk. You asked me yesterday whether the books were mine and whether I would repudiate them. They are all mine, but as for the second question, they are not all of one sort.”
This was a skillful move. By differentiating his works Luther won for himself the opportunity of making a speech instead of answering simply yes or no.
He went on: “Some deal with faith and life so simply and evangelically that my very enemies are compelled to regard them as worthy of Christian reading. Even the bull itself does not treat all my books as of one kind. If I should renounce these, I would be the only man on earth to damn the truth confessed alike by friends and foes. A second class of my works inveighs against the desolation of the Christian world by the evil lives and teaching of the papists. Who can deny this when the universal complaints testify that by the laws of the popes the consciences of men are racked?”
“No!” broke in the emperor.
Luther, unruffled, went on to speak of the “incredible tyranny” by which this German nation was devoured. “Should I recant at this point, I would open the door to more tyranny and impiety, and it will be all the worse should it appear that I had done so at the instance of the Holy Roman Empire.” This was a skillful plea to German nationalism, which had a strong following in the diet. Even Duke George the Catholic took the fore in presenting grievances.
“A third class,” continued Luther, “contains attacks on private individuals. I confess I have been more caustic than comports with my profession, but I am being judged, not on my life, but for the teaching of Christ, and I cannot renounce these works either, without increasing tyranny and impiety. When Christ stood before Annas, he said, ‘Produce witnesses.’ If our Lord, who could not err, made this demand, why may not a worm like me ask to be convicted of error from the prophets and the Gospels? If I am shown my error, I will be the first to throw my books into the fire. I have been reminded of the dissensions which my teaching engenders. I can answer only in the words of The Lord, ‘I came not to bring peace but a sword.’ If our God is so severe, let us beware lest we release a deluge of wars, lest the reign of this noble youth, Charles, be inauspicious. Take warning from the examples of Pharaoh, the king of Babylon, and the kings of Israel. God it is who counfounds the wise. I must walk in the fear of The Lord. I say this not to chide but because I cannot escape my duty to my Germans. I commend myself to Your Majesty. May you not suffer my adversaries to make you ill disposed to me without cause. I have spoken.”
Eck replied: “Martin, you have not sufficiently distinguished your works. The earlier were bad and the latter worse. Your plea to be heard from Scripture is the one always made by heretics. You do nothing but renew the errors of Wyclif and Hus. How will the Jews, how will the Turks, exult to hear Christians discussing whether they have been wrong all these years! Martin, how can you assume that you are the only one to understand the sense of Scripture? Would you put your judgment above that of so many famous men and claim that you know more than all they? You have no right to call into question the most holy orthodox faith, instituted by Christ the perfect lawgiver, proclaimed throughout the world by the apostles, sealed by the red blood of the martyrs, confirmed by the sacred councils, defined by the Chruch in which all our fathers believed until death and gave to us an inheritance, and which now we are forbidden by the pope and the emperor to discuss lest there be no end of debate. I ask you, Martin-answer candidly and without horns-do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?” Luther replied, “Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason-I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other-my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen”
The earliest printed version added the words: “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” The words, though not recorded on the spot, may nevertheless be genuine, because the listeners at the moment may have been too moved to write.
Luther had spoken in German. He was asked to repeate in Latin. He was sweating. A friend called out, “If you can’t do it, Doctor, you have done enough.” Luther made again his affirmation in Latin, threw up his arms in the gesture of a victorious knight, and slipped out of the darkened hall”
178-181 Here I Stand: Roland Bainton