Reformation Day commemorates Martin Luther’s action in nailing the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.
Just as consequential were the events that transpired a little over three years later.
In January 1521, Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther and called upon him to defend his beliefs before the Holy Roman Emperor at an Imperial Diet in Worms. When the Diet took place that April Luther, did not stroll into Worms a confident man. On the first day he was so intimidated his statements could hardly be understood. Luther had reason to be afraid, for there were plans to banish Luther from the empire (or worse) if he did not recant his books.
The interrogation was no short affair, but by the end Luther had summoned his courage, concluding with these famous words: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, for going against my conscience is neither safe nor salutary. I can do no other, here I stand, God help me. Amen.”
On May 26, 1521, the emperor rendered his decision. Luther was to be placed under “ban and double ban.” The Edict of Worms enjoined the men and women of the empire “not to take the aforementioned Martin Luther into your houses, not to receive him at court, to give him neither food nor drink, not to hide him, to afford him no help, following, support, or encouragement, either clandestinely or publicly, through words or works. Where you can get him, seize him and overpower him, you should capture him and send him to us under tightest security.”
Nevertheless Luther would live to see another day. . . .and another. . . .and another. . . .and another, managing escape from the imperial snare, sometimes quite dramatically. But Luther didn’t know any of that when he took his famous stand at Worms. What he did know was that he was willing to endure expulsion and face the gravest bodily harm for the sake of his conscience.