VerMeer's Geographer

VerMeer's Geographer
The Geographer, by Vermeer, c. 1669


Luther's Prayer at Worms

37 year old reformer, Dr. Martin Luther was tried for heresy in the German city of Worms by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, in an imperial council meeting, called a "Diet", on April 17, 18, 1521.  The penalty for heresy at this time was well known, and not infrequently applied--death by burning at the stake.

The first day of his trial saw the court demand he recant of all his writings--and Luther equivocated--and asked the Emperor's court for a day to think it over.  That night he allegedly said this prayer:

“Almighty, eternal God, what a contemptible thing this world is! Yet how it causes men to gape and stare at it! How small and slight is the trust of men in God. How frail and sensitive is the flesh of men, and the devil so powerful and active through his apostles and the ‘wise’ of the world! How soon men become disheartened and hurry on, running the common cause, the broad way to hell, where the godless belong! Their gazes fixed on what is splendid and powerful, great, and mighty! If I too were to turn my eyes to such things, I would be undone! The verdict would already have been passed against me, and the bell that is to toll my doom would already have been cast.
O God, O God, O Thou my God, my God, help me against the reason and wisdom of all the world! Do this! Thou must do it, Thou alone, for this cause is not mine, but Thine! For myself, I have no business here with these great lords of the world! Indeed, I too desire to enjoy days of peace and quiet and to be undisturbed. But Thine, O Lord, is this cause, and it is righteous and of eternal importance! Stand by me, Thou faithful eternal God. I rely on no man! Futile and vain is all; lame and halting all that is carnal and smacks of the flesh. God, O God, dost Thou not hear me, my God? Art Thou dead? Nay, Thou canst not die! Thou art merely hiding Thyself. Hast Thou chosen me for this task? I ask Thee!
I am sure Thou hast. Were so, let it be, then. Thy will be done. For never in my life did I intend to oppose such great lords. Never had I resolved to do this! O God, stand by me in the Name of Thy dear Son, Jesus Christ, Who shall be my protector and defender, yea, my mighty fortress, through the might and the strengthening of Thy Holy Spirit. Lord, where tarriest Thou? O Thou my God, where art Thou? Come, O come! I am ready to lay down my life for this cause, meek as a lamb, for the cause is righteous and it is Thine. I will not separate myself from Thee forever. Be that decision made, in Thy Name!
The world must leave my conscience unconquered even though it were full of devils and though my body, the work and creation of Thy hands, should be utterly ruined! But Thy Word and Spirit are a good compensation to me, and after all, only the body is concerned. The soul is Thine, and belongs to Thee, and willingly it will remain eternally. Amen. God help me. Amen.”

The next day, Luther gave his earth-shaking "Here I stand" speech (apparently in a quavering voice...) where he refused to recant--three times stating he stood on the authority of Scripture, and would not be convinced without Scripture.  He left the assembly (a "safe conduct" pass had previously been arranged), to ride back to Wittenberg.  The Diet of Worms convicted Luther, and put him and his followers under a ban--which meant they should be arrested and handed over to Roman Catholic authorities as heretics ASAP.

On his way home, soldiers for Luther's feudal ruler, the Elector Frederick the Wise, kidnapped him (for his own safety--as an assasination plot had been discovered) and squirreled him secretly away to an unused castle called the Wartburg.  He spent most of a year there, where, during one 11 week period he translated the entire New Testament into German (this was the first original-Greek-to-German translation). (This has to be one of the greatest academic accomplishments in history.  Even using the latest computer technology, it would be difficult to come up with a readable new translation in 11 weeks.... ) In the mean time Wittenberg got taken over by a radical, hyper-charismatic group of religious fanatics from another German town, and Luther quickly returned to use his influence there to put things back into order.  The rest of Martin Luther's life he lived under a death sentence--which would of most assuredly been carried out had he ventured into Roman Catholic-controlled lands.

Nearly forty years later, Charles V, in his will, listed his biggest regret as having not killed Martin Luther.

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