A complex constellation of events and circumstances dominated Europe in the first two decades of the sixteenth century. The rediscovery and study of Christian and Roman culture, known as “renaissance” and “humanism,” called into question much of the contemporary Christian culture. Discovery and exploration of a new, nonEuropean world expanded trade and led to what was later called “capitalism.” The Holy Roman Empire, a symbiotic relationship between spiritual and temporal rulers—pope and emperor—was being threatened by a massive invasion of Muslims led by Turkish sultans. Moreover, the unity of Christendom was being imperiled by the fast-growing reform movement started by Martin Luther. In this turbulent era, the diet (assembly) held at Worms in 1521 was one attempt to preserve that unity.

Pressures for the Diet

Politics and religion had become strange bedfellows in Germany. The “Golden Bull” of 1356 had provided for the election of an emperor by majority vote of four secular and three ecclesiastical princes. Two years before the Diet of Worms, the elector Frederick “the Wise” cast the deciding vote in favor of Charles I of Spain to become Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Luther was Frederick’s subject; thus, when the papacy moved to silence him, Frederick insisted that his professor—a growing attraction at the University of Wittenberg, newly founded by Frederick—be heard on German soil and treated fairly.

As a result, Luther had a hearing before a cardinal in Augsburg in 1518, and he could debate the issue of papal authority at a well-publicized event at the University of Leipzig in 1519. He was also free, in 1520, to publish his ideas on church reform through bestselling treatises such as The Babylonian Captivity of the Church ...

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