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During the middle ages, Roman emperors would call for meetings called “diets” whenever the need arose for representatives of imperial estates to deliberate on political, societal, and ecclesiatical matters pertinent to the Roman Empire. The Diet of Worms was held in the town of Worms (pronounced “vorms”), Germany, from January 28 to May 25, 1521. Worms is located in southwestern Germany on the Rhine River. At the time of the diet, Worms had a population of about seven thousand, and the imperial diet brought to town an estimated ten thousand visitors, including the most powerful and prominent men of the empire, along with their entourages. At stake was the unquestioned, authoritative control of the Roman emperor, Charles V, and the peace and unity of his empire. Johann Eck, representing the emperor, deemed one man in particular a threat to that peace and unity—a thirty-seven-year-old Augustinian professor from Wittenberg named Martin Luther.
When Luther appeared at the Diet of Worms on April 15–18, the assembly had already been meeting for nearly three months. At first, Luther was not scheduled to appear. He was summoned after he publicly burned the papal bull Exsurge Domine on December 10, 1520. The bull, drafted largely by Eck and issued by Pope Leo X in June, listed forty-one charges against Luther and threatened his excommunication if he did not recant his teachings against some of the actions and teachings of the church, particularly as they pertained to the sale of indulgences to fund the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Luther burned the papal bull in response to Eck’s burning of Luther’s books throughout Germany. Luther’s refusal to repent prompted Leo to excommunicate Luther in another papal bull titled Decet Romanum Pontificem on January 3, 1521. However, Luther remained under the protection of the elector of Saxony, Frederick III, which gave him freedom to preach and teach throughout the Saxon region. Luther’s audacious actions fueled the growth of his teachings’ popularity, leading many churches throughout the region to support and follow him.
When Luther appeared before the diet, he remained steadfast in his insistence that the Word of God is the ultimate and only infallible authority for all of faith and life, for he knew that although he was standing before the most powerful men in Europe—men who could take his life—he also stood before God, who alone has the power to give life through the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes.