What was the Diet of Worms, and why was it significant?

2 Min Read

We recently celebrated the five-hundredth anniversary of the Diet of Worms, which took place April 16–18, 1521.

Luther had posted his Ninety-Five Theses, which sparked debate within his church and culminated in him getting excommunicated. Frederick the Wise was his protector, and was over Saxony, Germany. The pope ordered Luther to Rome to answer for his actions. Frederick the Wise said: “No, he is a German monk. He is going to be tried on German soil.” So, the Diet, which was an imperial council, was scheduled to be held at Worms that spring. This Diet conducted both political and church business, but on the docket were the charges against Luther.

Luther arrived in Worms on April 16, and he was to appear before the Diet at 4 p.m. the following day, April 17. He thought he was going to have a little bit of a debate. Instead, when he got there, he was asked two questions. There was a table with all of his books spread out. They asked, “Are these your books?” Luther said, “Yes.” Then, the question was, “Will you recant?” This question stopped Luther in his tracks because if he recanted he would be forfeiting all of this great theology and betraying God. However, if he did not recant, he was going to be condemned. So, Luther tried to start a debate, but it did not work because they kept pressing him. Luther asked for a day, twenty-four hours.

When April 18 arrived, Luther came at 4 p.m.—same place, same people. The emperor Charles V was there on the throne, and all the German princes, papal legates, and archbishops were there too. And there was Luther in his simple monk’s tunic. Again, they asked,

“Are these your books?”


“Will you recant?”

Luther responded, “Do you want an answer plain and without horns?”In other words, “Do you want an answer without debate?” Then he said: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. To go against conscience is neither safe for us nor open to us. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

For that, Luther was condemned as a heretic, but his response exudes the Reformation plank of sola Scriptura, that our consciences are captive to the Word of God.

I would say that the Diet of Worms may be even more significant than the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses.

This transcript is from a live Ask Ligonier event with Stephen Nichols and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email ask@ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.