Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation, 1483-1521

By Martin Brecht; James L. Schaaf | Go to book overview

XII

Luther and the
Diet of Worms of 15211

1. THE STRUGGLE OVER THE SUMMONS

History remembers the Diet of Worms because of Luther's historic stand, his appearance there before emperor and empire. But the "Luther affair" as such was not even on the agenda. The imperial estates at Charles V's first diet were called to deal with imperial governance, public peace, the imperial supreme court, police procedure, economic questions, the emperor's trip to Rome, and problems of foreign politics. It was impossible, however, to prevent the diet from also becoming involved in the current burning issue of Luther. Definite positions and clear interests in this regard existed only in part. The papal nuncios Aleander and Caracciolo were demanding that the emperor follow up the excommunication by imposing the imperial ban upon Luther. In contrast, Frederick the Wise was attempting to protect Luther and, despite the excommunication, to have Luther interrogated by an objective court of scholars. At first the intentions of the imperial side were neither precise nor unchanging. There was no doubt, of course, about the emperor's fundamental allegiance to the church, but at court they were also aware of the political contexts in which the Luther affair was transpiring, and obviously they were searching for solutions. The most important advisors of the emperor in this were the grand chancellor Gattinara, the imperial counselor Chièvres, and Jean Glapion, a French Franciscan, who through Chièvres's recommendation had become the emperor's confessor. In the total picture of imperial politics, of course, Luther was only one piece among others. The imperial estates could hardly have been aware of the worldwide dimensions of the Luther affair. The ecclesiastical princes were generally defending the church's interests. Nevertheless, the consciousness of the need for reform of the church was widespread, and thus there was a certain justification for Luther's criticism. This was especially so where the imperial estates or their advisors had already been affected by humanism. Finally, the responsible parties in Worms could not completely ignore public opinion. A publicity campaign was becoming more and more active, and it had largely espoused Luther's cause. In addition, at least in a preliminary way, the sort of positive response Luther was enjoying in all walks of life was already becoming apparent. At this point, therefore, the Luther affair was an open issue.

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