As soon as Martin Luther stood his ground and refused to back down from his teachings, the Imperial Diet, held in the city of Worms, Germany, erupted in chaos. Above the din of the princes and noblemen crowded into the room the group of Spaniards that had accompanied the emperor was heard to say, “To the fire with him!”
A series of informal negotiations was held following Luther’s stand which did not bring about reconciliation. Eight days later Luther left Worms and went into hiding for ten months for his safety. Then he returned to Wittenberg and continued preaching the Gospel for another 25 years.
The emperor, a devout and devoted Roman Catholic from Spain, soon issued the Edict of Worms. The Edict declared Luther to be an outlaw. (Vogelfrei is the actual German term.)
Anyone who encountered Luther could either kill him or turn him in to the emperor. Anyone who was found to be supportive of Luther was also condemned. All his writings were banned.
In addition, any future books against the Roman faith, Roman church, pope or scholastic theology were prohibited.
As one historian put it, “The edict was meant to crush all claims to the right of individual liberty of thought and conscience, the very cornerstone of modern Protestantism and of democracy.”
If it weren’t for the support and protection of the German princes Luther probably would have ended up burned at the stake, the standard punishment for heretics in those days. Since the emperor depended on the German princes for support in his numerous other conflicts, he was reluctant to alienate them by enforcing the Edict of Worms.
Martin Luther’s teachings live on today. A few decades after Luther’s death the Book of Concord was published which brought together all the important writings and teachings of The Lutheran Church.
For more information about Luther’s appearance at the Diet of Worms see:
Luther and His Times, E. G. Schwiebert, Concordia, St. Louis, 1950.