From “The Life of Martin Luther Gathered from His Own Writings” (p. 52-55, please note that I’ve found a few historical errors in the book, and it doesn’t give the Luther references for the quotations!, but it is particularly interesting to hear Luther describe the major events in his life. The book is free and in the public domain on Google Books.)
When the herald delivered me the summons on the Tuesday in Passion-week, and brought me a safe-conduct from the emperor and several princes, the same safe-conduct was, on the very next day, the Wednesday, violated at Worms, where I was condemned and my works burnt.
This news reached me when I was at Erfurth. The sentence of condemnation was already placarded in all the towns; so that the herald himself asked me whether I was still minded to go to Worms? Although full of fears and doubts, I replied, ‘I will go, though there should be there as many devils as tiles on the roofs!’
Even on my arriving at Oppenheim, near Worms, master Bucer met me, to dissuade me from entering the city. Sglapian, the emperor’s confessor, had gone to him to beg him to warn me not to enter Worms, for I was doomed to be burnt there! I should do better, he said, to stay in the neighborhood with Franz von Sickingen, who would gladly receive me. All this was done by these poor beings to hinder me from appearing; since, had I delayed only three days, my safe-conduct would have been no longer available; they would have shut the gates, refused to listen to me, and have tyrannically condemned me.
But I went forward in the simplicity of my heart, and as soon as I was within sight of the city, wrote to inform Spalatin of my arrival, and ask where I was to put up. They were all thunder-struck at my unexpected arrival; for they had expected that their stratagems and my own terror would have kept me outside the walls. Two nobles, the lord of Hirsfeld and John Schott, fetched me, by the elector of Saxony’s orders, to their own lodgings. But no prince called upon me; only some counts and nobles who had a great regard for me. It was they who had laid before his imperial majesty the four hundred charges against the clergy, with a petition for the reform of clerical abuses, which, if neglected, they must, they said, take upon themselves. They all owe their deliverance to my gospel (preaching).
The pope wrote to the emperor to disregard the safe-conduct, and the bishops egged him on to it; but the princes and the states would not consent, fearing the uproar that would ensue. All this greatly added to my consideration; they must have stood in greater awe of me than I of them. Indeed, the young landgrave of Hesse asked to hear me, visited me, talked with me, and said, as he took his leave, ‘Dear doctor, if you are in the right, may our Lord God be your aid.’
As soon as I arrived, I wrote to Sglapian, the emperor’s confessor, begging him to have the goodness to come and see me, as his inclination and leisure might serve. But he declined, saying that it would be useless.
I was summoned in due form, and appeared before the council of the imperial diet in the Guildhall, where the emperor, the electors, and the princes were assembled. Doctor Eck, the official of the bishop of Treves, began, and said to me, ‘Martin, you are called here to say whether you acknowledge the books on the table there to be yours?’ and he pointed to them. ‘I believe so,’ I answered. But Doctor Jerome Schurff instantly added, ‘Read over their titles.’ When this was done, I said, ‘Yes, these books are mine.’ He then asked me, ‘Will you disavow them?’ I replied, ‘Most gracious lord emperor, some of the writings are controversial, and in them I attack my adversaries. Others are didactic and doctrinal; and of these I neither can nor will retract an iota, for it is God’s word. But as regards my controversial writings, if I have been too violent, or have gone too far against any one, I am ready to reconsider the matter, provided I have time for reflection.’
I was allowed a day and a night. The next day I was summoned by the bishops and others who were to deal with me to make me retract. I told them, ‘God’s word is not mine, I cannot give it up; but in all else my desire is to be obedient and docile.’ The margrave Joachim then took up the word, and said, ‘Sir doctor, as far as I can understand, you will allow yourself to be counselled and advised, except on those points affecting Scripture?’
‘Yes,’ I answered, ‘such is my wish.’
They then told me that I ought to defer all to the imperial majesty; but I would not consent. They asked me if they themselves were not Christians, and able to decide on such things? To this I answered, ‘Yes, provided it be without wrong or offence to the Scriptures, which I desire to uphold. I cannot give up that which is not mine.’
They insisted, ‘You ought to rely upon us, and believe that we shall decide rightly.’
‘I am not very ready to believe that they will decide in our favor against themselves, who have but just now passed sentence of condemnation upon me, though under safe-conduct. But look what I will do: treat me as you like, and I will forego my safe-conduct and give it up to you.’
On this, baron Frederick von Feilitzsch burst forth with, ‘And enough, indeed, if not too much.’
They then said, ‘At least, give up a few articles to us.’
I answered, ‘In God’s name, I do not desire to defend those articles which do not relate to Scripture.’
Hereupon, two bishops hastened to tell the emperor that I retracted. On which the bishop sent to ask me if I had consented to refer the matter to the emperor and the empire. I replied that I had never, and would never, consent to it. So I held out alone against all. My doctor and the rest were ill-pleased at my tenacity. Some told me that if I would defer the whole to them, they would in their turn forego and cede the articles which had been condemned by the council of Constance.
To all this I replied, ‘ Here is my body and my life.’
Cochlseus then came, and said to me, ‘Martin, if you will forego your safe-conduct, I will dispute with you.’ This, in my simplicity, I would have consented to, had not Doctor Jerome Schurff interposed, laughing ironically, with, ‘Ay, forsooth, that’s what is wanted. ‘Tis not an unfair offer; who would be such a fool!’ … So I remained under the safe-conduct.
Some worthy individuals, besides, had interposed with, ‘How? You would bear him off prisoner? That can’t be.’ Whilst this was going on, there came a doctor from the margrave of Baden, who endeavored to move me by high-sounding words. ‘I ought,’ he said, ‘to do and sacrifice much for the love of charity and maintenance of peace and union, and to avoid disturbance. Obedience was due to the imperial majesty as to the highest authority, and all occasions of scandal in the world ought to be sedulously avoided; consequently, I ought to retract.
‘I heartily desire,’ was my answer, ‘in the name of charity, to obey and do everything in what is not against faith and the honor of Christ.’
Then the chancellor of Treves said to me, ‘Martin, you are disobedient to the imperial majesty, wherefore you have leave to depart under the safe-conduct you possess.’
I answered, ‘It has been done as it has pleased the Lord. And you, in your turn, consider where you are left.’
Thus, I took my departure in my simplicity, without remarking or understanding all their subtleties. Then they put into execution the cruel edict of the law, which gave every one an opportunity of taking vengeance on his enemy, under pretence of his being addicted to the Lutheran heresy; and yet the tyrants have at last been obliged to revoke all those acts of theirs. And it befel me on this wise at Worms, where, however, I had no other support than the Holy Ghost.”
So far Luther.
The more traditional speech given by Luther is given a few pages later:
After this speech, the emperor’s orator started to his feet, and said that Luther had spoken beside the question, that what had been once decided by councils, could not be again handled as doubtful; and that, consequently, all he was asked was to say simply and solely whether he retracted or not. Luther then resumed as follows:
‘Since your imperial majesty and your highness ask me for a short and plain answer, I will give you one without teeth or horns. Except I can be convinced by Holy Scripture, or by clear and indisputable reasons from other sources (for I cannot defer to the pope only, or to coun cils which have so often proved fallible), I neither can nor will revoke anything. As it has been found impossible to refute the evidences that I have quoted, my conscience is a prisoner to God’s word; and no one can be compelled to act against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot act otherwise. God be my aid, Amen!’
The electors and states of the empire retired to consult on this answer of Luther’s ; and, after long deliberation, selected the judge of the bishop’s court at Treves to refute him. ‘Martin,’ he said, ‘you have not answered with the modesty becoming your condition. Your reply does not touch the question propounded to you. … What is the good of again discussing points which the Church and the councils have condemned for so many centuries? … If those who oppose the decrees of councils were to force the Church to convince them of their errors through the medium of books, there would be an end to all fixity and certainty in Christendom; and this is the reason his majesty asks you to answer plainly yes or no, whether you will retract.’
On this, Luther besought the emperor not to allow of his being forced to retract in opposition to his conscience, and without his being convinced that he had been in error; adding that his answer was not sophistical, that the councils had often come to contradictory decisions, and that he was ready to prove it.
The official briefly answered that these contradictions could not be proved; but Luther persisted, and offered to adduce his proofs. By this time it being dusk, the assembly broke up. The Spaniards mocked the man of God, and loaded him with insults on his leaving the town-hall to return to his hostelry. (The Life of Martin Luther Gathered from His Own Writings, p. 57-58)