April 19, 2021

“HERE I STAND. I CAN DO NO OTHER”: Yesterday was the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s dramatic refusal to recant his “heresies” at the Diet of Worms. His words—“Here I stand. I can do no other”—are perhaps the Protestant Reformation’s most riveting.

Alas, it’s possible they were never actually uttered. They don’t appear in the contemporary records of the event. But, to me, that seems beside the point.  Luther gets full credit either way:  He lived the words.

The “Diet” was a heresy trial of sorts, called in the free imperial city of Worms by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Months earlier Pope Leo X had issued the Exsurge Domine (“Arise, O Lord”), a papal bull that condemned the many “errors” of Luther’s 95 Theses. The Diet was called to enforce Leo’s bull.

Luther refused to be intimidated. He did, however, apologize for the harshness of some of his words. Like many 16th century Germans, Luther had a penchant for the scatological. His writings were sprinkled with references to farts, excrement, and the bodily parts that produce them. That can make his writing seem less than inspiring to modern readers. (And, yes, he had an assortment of other prejudices that wouldn’t go over well today… it was another time and place.) On the other hand, his concern over corruption in the Roman Catholic Church was both sincere and important. No fair-minded person could disagree with him completely.

By standing by his beliefs, Luther was putting his life on the line. In theory, Frederick the Wise, the Elector of Saxony, had secured from the Emperor a guarantee of safe passage for Luther both coming and going from the Diet. Yet Luther knew the same promise had been made to Jan Hus a century earlier under similar circumstances. Hus had been nevertheless burned at the stake as a heretic.

In May, the Emperor issued the Edict of Worms: “[W]e forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favor the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic ….” Luther had to be hidden away for a time.

Twenty-first century America is certainly a different time and place. We have our own issues. Mercifully, being a dissenter doesn’t require the same kind of courage it did in the 16th century.

On the things that matter, here we stand, fellow Instapundit readers. There’s not much excuse for failing to speak up.

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