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The Edict of Worms (1521)

Dennis Bratcher, ed.

The Edict of Worms was a decree issued by The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V banning the writings of Martin Luther and labeling him a heretic and enemy of the state (see The 95 Theses of Martin Luther). The Edict, issued on May 25, 1521, in the city of Worms in southwest Germany, was the culmination of an ongoing struggle between Martin Luther and the Roman Catholic Church over reform, especially in the sale of indulgences. However, there were other deeper issues that revolved around both political and theological concerns. On a political level, Luther had challenged the absolute authority of the pope over the Church by maintaining that the sale of indulgences, authorized and promoted by the pope, was wrong. On a theological level, Luther maintained that salvation was by faith alone (sola fide) not through the legal mechanisms of the church or by what people did to earn it. He had also challenged the authority of the Church by maintaining that all doctrines and dogmas of the church should be accountable to the teachings of Scripture (sola scriptura).

To protect the authority of the pope and the Church, as well as to maintain the profitable sale of indulgences, church officials convinced Charles V that Luther was a threat and persuaded him to authorize his condemnation by the Empire. Luther escaped arrest and remained in seclusion at Wartburg castle for several years where he continued to write and translate the Bible into German.

While the Edict was harsh, Charles was so preoccupied with political and military concerns elsewhere that it was never enforced. Eventually Luther was allowed to return to public life and became instrumental in laying the groundwork for the Protestant Reformation. -Dennis Bratcher

The Edict of Worms (1521)

Edict and mandate of Charles, Fifth of this name, Emperor Elect of the Romans, ordered and written on the imperial day celebrated in the city of Worms. In the year of our Lord one thousand five hundred twenty-one.

Against brother Martin Luther of the order of the Saint Augustinian Eremites, reviver of the old and condemned heresies and inventor of new ones.

By permission.

Against each and every one of the books and writings under the name of the said Luther already published or to be published, and also against those who henceforth will print, buy, or sell those books and writings.

Item. Against accomplices receiving or favoring Luther and his works in any way.

Item. Against all insulting and libelous books, and other such writings and illustrations, and also against writers, printers, buyers, or sellers, whoever they are or whatever social status or condition they have.

Law for printers to defend against the evils which come from the abuse of the praiseworthy craft of printing.


For the crime of lèse majesté [high treason] and for very serious offense and indignation against the prince.

Item. Confiscation and loss of body and belongings and all goods, fixed and movable, half of which will go to the Lord, and the other half to the accusers and denouncers. With other punishments as given more fully in the present edict and mandate.

Charles, by divine grace emperor of the Romans, king of Castile and archduke of Austria, to our governors of kingdoms, lands, domains, and members of the council of our empire and to all the subjects of our lands, from whatever state, dignity, or condition they may be, and to which our present edict, decree, and ordinance will be shown, greetings.

To the honor and praise of God, our creator, through whose mercy we have been given kingdoms, lands, and domains hereabove mentioned, it is our duty to help subdue the enemies of our faith and bring them to the obedience of the divine majesty, magnifying the glory of the cross and the passion of our Lord (insofar as we are able), and to keep the Christian religion pure from all heresy or suspicion of heresy, according to and following the ordinance and custom observed by the Holy Roman Church. We are rooted in that faith with a true heart, like our predecessors and progenitors, who by the grace of God also persecuted the enemies of our faith and banished them from their lands. Through their labors, expenditures, and indescribable perils, they have augmented and preserved the faith of our Savior Jesus Christ. They were unceasingly concerned that no appearance or suspicion of heresy or unfaithfulness appear in their kingdoms and domains.

For this reason-after having learned of the mistakes and heresies of a certain Martin Luther, of the order of the Eremites of Saint Augustine, who teaches iniquity, preaches false doctrines, and writes, in both Latin and German, evil things against our Catholic faith and the Holy Roman and Universal Church, things which have already been spread throughout almost all of Christendom, and abusively into some of our lands and domains, greatly diminishing the honor of God and the Catholic faith, imperiling and endangering Christian souls, and bringing future confusion to all the public affairs of our Holy Mother Church-if we do not put an end to this contagious confusion, it could lead to the corrupting of all faithful nations and to their falling into abominable schisms.

Furthermore, after having been informed of these things, our Holy Father, Pope Leo X, general pastor of the Universal Church (to whom belongs the right to bring order into all matters pertaining to our faith and to the church sacraments), kindly admonished the said Martin Luther to rid himself of these errors and false doctrines, and, as is appropriate, asked him to renounce these doctrines over all the country (wherever he could). Our Holy Father was diligent to find cures for such pestilences and very often has assembled the cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, as well as several other ecclesiastical prelates (i.e., archbishops, bishops, generals of various orders, and prelates of different areas), several well-known doctors of theology and of canon and civil law, and other men renowned for their common sense, their learning, and their knowledge of languages. After canonically and juridically citing Martin Luther, offering him every assurance and expecting him to come back to a better judgment, but seeing that Luther remained obstinate, our Holy Father, with the cardinals' consent, after deliberation by the prelates and doctors and by the apostolic authority which he holds, condemned the said Luther's books and judged them to be pernicious and against our faith and the union and charity of our Holy Mother Church. He declared that those books, in whatever language they are written, would have to be burned and taken out of the people's memory forever.

As far as the said Martin is concerned, if he would not admit that he was wrong and repent, recognizing his mistakes in a given period of time, he would be declared disobedient, child of iniquity, and heretic. As such, he would have to be arrested, and, consistent with the ordinance and the rights, he would have to be punished according to the contents of the apostolic bulls. The honorable master Hieronymus Aleander, provost of Saint John of Liège, protonotary and librarian in several sciences and languages, nuncio and orator of the apostolic see, was sent especially for this matter, and, acting as a lawyer for our Holy Mother Church, he asked us to help in the execution of all the things contained in the letters and bulls of the apostolic see, as mentioned above.

After the fatherly admonitions and exhortations made to the said Martin by our Holy Father the pope; after the vocation, citation, obligation, and condemnation of Luther and his works; after the presentation of the bulls to us and their disclosure throughout almost all of Germany, and by our order executed in our Netherlands, our city of Louvain, and the imperial cities of Cologne, Mainz, Trier, and Liège, the said Martin Luther has not only refused to repent, return to the obedience of our Holy Church and renounce his errors, but this man of wickedness and furor against our faith and against our Mother Church wants to continue spreading the detestable and perverse doctrines of his wicked and pernicious spirit. He has written, in Latin and German, several books full of heresy and blasphemy which have been condemned by the sacred councils of the Catholic Church. Day after day he continues to write and spread new errors and false doctrines, to the great scandal of the people. In his books he confuses and destroys the order of the seven sacraments of the church, which for a long time have been invariably and devoutly observed.

Item. He changes and dishonestly infects the inviolable laws of the sacred sacrament of marriage.

Item. Regarding the manner of receiving the holy sacrament of the altar, which is observed by all churches: he wants to perform it as do the damned heretics of Bohemia.

Item. As for the sacramental confession, which is beneficial to all poor sinning souls: he has made confusion of this confession, and afterwards he has turned it to his personal gain. What is even worse is that the said Martin threatens in his books to say many other things about this confession, so that some people already start to doubt. Many are confessed in the wrong manner; and even worse, some are allowed to confess everything about themselves while others are publicly advised that confession is not necessary at all.

Item. As for the holy order of the priesthood (through which the precious body and blood of our Lord is consecrated) and the power and authority of the keys of our Holy Mother Church: not only does Luther despise them by saying that they are common to all men, children, and women, but in addition, he provokes the seculars to wash their hands in the blood of the priests.

Item. The vicar of God here upon the earth, our Holy Father the pope, the true successor of Saint Peter, is called several infamous names by Luther. The pope is also blasphemed and persecuted.

Item. He says that there is no such thing as freedom of the will, but says, as does the poet, that all things are predetermined.

Item. He says that the sacred mass does not benefit anybody except the one who says it, and in this way he stops the young people from the practice of praying to God, which the church has until now kept and observed.

Item. Regarding purgatory and the masses and prayers said for the souls of our dead, and also the suffrages and forgivings of our Holy Mother Church: he agrees, not with our church opinion, but with that of the Waldensian and Wycliffite heresies.

Item. As for the Catholic Church: he heeds the words of the Pelagians and the heretical Wycliffites mentioned above.

Item. He despises and condemns the doctrines and authorities which the holy doctors preceding us have left for our instructions, and he degrades with all his might the devotion that we have for our saints.

Item. He says that there are no such things as superiority and obedience. He destroys all civil police and hierarchical and ecclesiastical order, so that people are led to rebel against their superiors, spiritual and temporal, and to start killing, stealing, and burning, to the great loss and ruin of public and Christian good. Furthermore, he institutes a way of life by which people do whatever they please, like beasts. They behave like men living without any law, condemning and despising all civil and canon laws to the extent that Luther, by excessive presumption, has publicly burned the decretals and (as we might expect) would have burned the imperial civil law had he not had more fear of the imperial and royal swords than he had of apostolic excommunication.

Furthermore, he is not ashamed to detract from and speak evil of the sacred and holy general councils. Among these he has primarily destroyed (as much as he was able to) the holy Council of Constance, which was convened for the glory and the memory of the German nation to put an end to the schism and to bring back peace to our Holy Mother Church. The said Luther's polluted mouth, despising and demolishing these, has scandalized the Universal Church. He wants to bring dishonor upon all of Christendom by calling this council "Satan's Synagogue" and by insulting all those who attended it, namely, "Sigismund of curious memory, emperor; and the princes of the Holy Empire, antichrists and apostles of the antichrist, murderers and pharisees," because, following an order from that council, they burned the heretic John Hus. Luther also added that all John Hus's articles, condemned during the council as wrong and heretical, were evangelical and Christian, and he wanted to defend him and approve of what he did. But he rejects and refuses whatever articles were approved by the council, protesting like a madman that if John Hus was once heretic, he [Luther] is proud to be ten times more heretic. And he seeks so much after new things, to the perdition of mankind, that he has not written anything (however truthful it may appear) that does not contain pestilences or the sting of death. This without mentioning the other books full of blasphemies, errors, and heresies not even worthy of mention by the mouth of a good Christian. These books contain as much poison as they have words.

To put an end to the numberless and endless errors of the said Martin, let us say that it seems that this man, Martin, is not a man but a demon in the appearance of a man, clothed in religious habit to be better able to deceive mankind, and wanting to gather the heresies of several heretics who have already been condemned, excommunicated, and buried in hell for a long time. Let us add to this all the heresies recently brought in by him to be the source of all iniquity and rubbish and to destroy the Catholic faith. As an evangelical preacher he labors to trouble and demolish all religious peace and charity and all order and direction in the things of this world. And finally, he brings dishonor upon all the beauty of our Holy Mother Church.

After having mentioned all these things before the council of the nations and our Holy Father the pope, we are endowed with all power to assist and give orders to put an end to and exterminate forever this dangerous and mortal heresy. To proceed better in this matter we appealed to learned people, both ecclesiastical and secular, and to all the general estates assembled in great number during the day designated by our ordinance, in this city of Worms. Upon the advice of our council, several other princes and prelates from our lands and domains and other good people of our company are also in attendance. We have finally arrived at the following conclusion.

Namely, that a man like the said Luther, already condemned and still persisting in his obstinate perversity, separated from the way of life of Christians, and a notorious heretic, should not be listened to nor questioned, according to the law, in order to prevent every opportunity for those who favor the said Luther and his errors to do evil. Because among the many titles bearing the name of Martin Luther some of the books may not have been composed or written by him and because several people said that proceedings should not be taken against him without first having heard what he knew, or what he would tell, we asked by letter patent that the said Luther come before us, giving him safe-conduct and having him escorted by one of our kings-of-arms from Germany, who was sent by us. We asked him to come here, not to judge him or to praise his merits, nor to desire that the things concerning the holy Catholic faith, which for so long, because of new disputations, have brought great scandal and peril to Christians and have brought laughs from the unfaithful enemies of our holy faith-be further discussed, but to see if through good admonitions the said Luther could not be converted.

For this reason the said Luther appeared here in Worms before us and before the princes, prelates, and other people from the several estates. Following our order, we had him questioned, asking him first if, yes or no, he had written the books which were then named and shown to him and [secondly] if he wanted to revoke the contents of these books concerning things against the Catholic faith, the sacred general councils, the apostolic decrees, and the church rites and customs observed and kept by our predecessors and by us down to the present day. We requested of the said Luther, both in our name and in that of all our assistants, that he be willing to return humbly to the unity and communion of our Mother Church. And even then it would have been easy to convert him and soften his heart if the said Luther had not been as obstinate as a rock.

Luther admitted before us and before the princes and the people of the diet that the books named were his and that he could not and would not ever deny them. Furthermore, he said that he has written others that were not shown here because they were not yet in our possession. As far as the revocation of the contents of his books was concerned, he asked that a delay be given him to think about it. This delay should have been refused: things that are against the faith do not deserve postponement. Moreover, because we mentioned in our letter to Luther the reason for his coming here, he should have had time enough to think about the answer he would give us. However, we were willing to give him a delay of twenty-four hours. After that time he was to be brought again before us and before the princes and the people of the diet. We also promised him that if he would revoke the evil mentioned above, we would arrange for him to have an interview with our Holy Father the pope. And also, after just and diligent deliberation, [we agreed that] if there was any good in the contents of his books we would keep it and expurgate only the things contrary to our doctrines. Whatever was good would be confirmed and authorized by apostolic authority.

Nevertheless, through evil words and gestures towards our priests, he publicly pronounced that he would not change one word of the contents of his books, declaring in our presence and in that of the diet that the apostolic decrees and the holy general councils contradicted each other more than once. As far as he was concerned, he did not hold these decrees and councils to be true, and he would not revoke one thing of what he had written until he was convinced otherwise by the Holy Scriptures or by divine authority. He repeated many times, to cover up his false doctrines, that he could not save his soul if he were to change one of God's words-as if we had asked him to change God's words! On the contrary, he had rebelled against our Holy Mother Church.

Finally, the said Luther ended the day in an even worse manner than he had started it. He could not hide his pernicious audacity. He was rejoicing about the destruction of the Christians who, because of his doctrines and his perversity, were living in discord, trouble, and division. Luther also wanted, like the heretics, to pervert and interpret in an evil manner the authority of the holy gospel and to use it maliciously. (For example, where our Redeemer says, "I have not come to bring peace, but the sword," Martin says that there is no greater joy in the world for him than to see contention and factions because of the word of God.) In this manner does he cover up his new opinions concerning the word of God. He wanted to raise factionalism, dissension, discord, crimes, wars, and evil things among Christians, as we can readily see from the effects and the great damage to the common good of the Christian religion.

Thus enlightened by the wicked and unfaithful response of the said Luther, we decided to send him away without arresting him, in accord with the terms of his safe-conduct and the judicial procedures required in such cases, especially since they were written by us. The next day all of the princes and representatives of the various estates were informed of this decision. This was done at the request of the princes and the diet, according to our Creator's words when He said that He does not want the sinner's death but wants him to be converted and live. We gave Luther a three-day delay for him to repent. During that time, two electors, two bishops, two princes, and two deputies of our cities gathered here in the name of all the estates and had Luther present himself to be informed of our remedies and of the manner and type of punishment with which we would proceed against him if he did not repent. All of them did their duty without letting anyone do any harm to the said Luther.

One of the electors made remonstrances to Luther to such an extent that Luther could not utter a word. This elector even admonished Luther to stop being stubborn and to go back to the ecclesiastical obedience and customs that we, our Holy Father the pope, the Holy Apostolic See, all the diet, and all faithful nations have kept until now. He was promised that if he wanted to abandon this erroneous opinion and return to obeying his superiors again, his honor and his salvation would be preserved, as had been done in the past for some of the holy fathers who had also been led astray.

The said Luther gave no better response than he had previously given (according to the report of the deputies). He said that not only was he suspicious of each one of us, but that even if a general council were assembled, he still would not submit to it. And, if we were informed correctly, he even dared say with his polluted mouth that the things of the gospel and the Catholic faith have never been treated well by the general councils. Luther has appealed from the sentence of our Holy Father the pope to the general council as his last resort, even though he has said so many wicked and insulting things and has written such evil things about the general councils. With all his strength and ingenuity he has diverted and confused the people in the manner of the heretics who say there is nothing on earth they fear so much as the general councils. That is because the one thing done there, and that by divine providence, is to contradict the actions and writings of the heretics, enemies of truth, in order to destroy and annihilate their rash inventions. This [attitude towards the councils], more than any other heretical event, has been verified and manifested in Luther and his works.

The things mentioned above have been studied by us carefully and at length. Since the said Luther was so stubborn and obstinate in his opinions, errors, and heresies, the wise people who had seen and heard him said that he was mad and possessed by some evil spirit. We had him sent back, accompanied by our king-of-arms for his safety, according to the contents of his safe-conduct. We gave him a period of twenty days, beginning on the twenty-fifth of April of the present year, which was the day he left this city of Worms. And now it is only just and necessary to find remedies pertaining to such a case, which we have done and executed as follows.

First of all, to the honor of Almighty God, in reverence both to his vicar here on earth, our Holy Father the pope, and to the Holy Apostolic See, moved by zeal, affection, and our natural inclination, and in imitation of our predecessors, we appeal to the defense of the Catholic faith and to the protection of the Holy Roman Church. We desire to defend our goods, to use our power, our domains, our friends and subjects, and if necessary, to risk our own life and blood and whatever it pleases God to give us in this world. By the authority vested in us, and upon the advice of the princes, prelates, knights of our orders, and gentlemen of our council gathered here in great numbers, we have ordered that mandates be sent to every one of our chancelleries and domains in their own language by which the sentence is to be executed against Martin Luther and his false doctrine (already condemned by our Holy Father the pope, the true and legitimate judge in these matters), as contained in the above-mentioned bulls presented to us. We have declared and hereby forever declare by this edict that the said Martin Luther is to be considered an estranged member, rotten and cut off from the body of our Holy Mother Church. He is an obstinate, schismatic heretic, and we want him to be considered as such by all of you.

For this reason we 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, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work.

As for his accomplices, those who help or favor the said Martin in whatever manner or who show obstinacy in their perversity, not receiving absolution from the pope for the evils they have committed, we will also proceed against them and will take all of their goods and belongings, movable and fixed, with the help either of the judges in the area in which they reside or of our parliaments and councils at Malines or in other cities in which these events are made known. Action will be taken according to the desire of the accusers or of our fiscal procurators, but always according to the constitution and the laws, whether canon, civil, or divine, written against those who commit heresy or the crime of lèse majesté . These laws will be applied regardless of person, degree, or privilege if anyone does not obey our edict in every manner.

Item. We desire that the goods of delinquents that might be confiscated according to this edict be divided, one half going to us and the other half to the accusers and denouncers.

We also desire that where there are no accusers our fiscal procurators proceed against the delinquents through inquisition in our name. And if there are accusers, we want them to join you, in the name of our fiscals, for our right and interest, without any opposition given to them.

Item. We ask you and command that "with the sounding of the trumpet" you call the people from the four corners of the villages and cities where this edict will be published and gather them where it is customary to publish our edicts and mandates. You will then read this edict word for word and with a loud voice. We order, upon the penalties contained herein, that the contents of this edict be kept and observed in their entirety; and we forbid anyone, regardless of his authority or privilege, to dare to buy, sell, keep, read, write, or have somebody write, print or have printed, or affirm or defend the books, writings, or opinions of the said Martin Luther, or anything contained in these books and writings, whether in German, Latin, Flemish, or any other language. This applies also to all those writings condemned by our Holy Father the pope and to any other book written by Luther or any of his disciples, in whatever manner, even if there is Catholic doctrine mixed in to deceive the common people.

For this reason we want all of Luther's books to be universally prohibited and forbidden, and we also want them to be burned. We execute the sentence of the Holy Apostolic See, and we follow the very praiseworthy ordinance and custom of the good Christians of old who had the books of heretics like the Arians, Priscillians, Nestorians, Eutychians, and others burned and annihilated, even everything that was contained in these books, whether good or bad. This is well done, since if we are not allowed to eat meat containing just one drop of poison because of the danger of bodily infection, then we surely should leave out every doctrine (even if it is good) which has in it the poison of heresy and error, which infects and corrupts and destroys under the cover of charity everything that is good, to the great peril of the soul.

Therefore, we ask you who are in charge of judicial administration to have all of Luther's books and writings burned and destroyed in public, whether these writings are in German, Flemish, Latin, or in any other written language and whether they are written by himself, his disciples, or the imitators of his false and heretical doctrines, which are the source of all perversity and iniquity. Moreover, we ask you to help and assist the messengers of our Holy Pope. In their absence you will have all those books publicly burned and execute all the things mentioned above.

To that effect, we ask and require all our subjects of your jurisdiction to consider the penalties herein mentioned, and we also ask them to assist and obey you as they would obey us.

We also have to be careful that the books or the doctrines of the said Martin Luther not be written and published under other authors' names. Daily, several books full of evil doctrine and bad examples are being written and published. There are also many pictures and illustrations circulated so that the enemy of human nature, through various tricks, might capture the souls of Christians. Because of these books and unreasonable pictures, Christians fall into transgression and start doubting their own faith and customs, thus causing scandals and hatreds. From day to day, and more and more, rebellions, divisions, and dissensions are taking place in this kingdom and in all the provinces and cities of Christendom. This is much to be feared.

For this reason, and to kill this mortal pestilence, we ask and require that no one dare to compose, write, print, paint, sell, buy, or have printed, written, sold, or painted, from now on in whatever manner such pernicious articles so much against the holy orthodox faith and against that which the Catholic Apostolic Church has kept and observed to this day. We likewise condemn anything that speaks against the Holy Father, against the prelates of the church, and against the secular princes, the general schools and their faculties, and all other honest people, whether in positions of authority or not. And in the same manner we condemn everything that is contrary to the good moral character of the people, to the Holy Roman Church, and to the Christian public good.

And finally, after this edict has been published, we want all the books, writings, and pictures mentioned above to be publicly burned, including those under the name of any author that might be printed, written, or compiled in any language, wherever they may be found in our countries.

We ask you to be diligent in apprehending and confiscating all the belongings of those who seem rebellious to the ordinances herein mentioned and to punish them according to the penalties set out by law-Divine, canon, and civil.

And so as to prevent poisonous false doctrines and bad examples from being spread all over Christendom, and so that the art of printing books might be used only toward good ends, we, after mature and long deliberation, order and command you by this edict that henceforth, under penalty of confiscation of goods and property, no book dealer, printer, or anybody else mention the Holy Scriptures or their interpretation without having first received the consent of the clerk of the city and the advice and consent of the faculty of theology of the university, which will approve those books and writings with their seal. As for books that do not even mention faith or the Holy Scriptures, we also want this decree applied to them, except that our consent or that of our lieutenants will be sufficient. All this will apply for the first printing of the books hereabove mentioned.

Item. Furthermore, we declare in this ordinance that if anyone, whatever his social status may be, dares directly or indirectly to oppose this decree--whether concerning Luther's matter, his defamatory books or their printings, or whatever has been ordered by us--these transgressors in so doing will be guilty of the crime of lèse majesté and will incur our grave indignation as well as each of the punishments mentioned above.

We desire that evidence be added to the copy of this decree, signed by one of our secretaries or by an apostolic notary as would be done for this original.

As a witness to this, and for all these things to be firm and forever established, we have put our seal on this document and have signed by our hand.

Given in our city of Worms on the eighth day of May in the year of our Lord one thousand five hundred twenty-one.

Signed Charles of Germany

-Dennis Bratcher, ed. Copyright © 2018, Dennis Bratcher, All Rights Reserved
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