[Breslau]: [Adam Dion], 1521.
Quarto: 20.6 x 15.3 cm. p. (A4)
Modern marbled boards. Lightly soiled and spotted, inky fingers (possibly those of a careless pressman) have left minor smears in the blank margins.
One of fourteen printings recorded in the Benzing of this German-language edition. VD16 attributes the printing to Adam Dion of Silesia in Breslau while Benzing lists Hieronymus Höltzel in Nuremberg as the possible printer. The first Latin edition of the missive was published in 1521 by Thomas Anshelm in Hagenau.
This letter was written by Luther on April 28th, three days after he left the Diet of Worms. A Latin edition, published in 1521 by Thomas Anshelm in Hagenau (Benzing 1027) was addressed to the Emperor Charles V. This German edition (translated by Spalatin?) is addressed to the electors, estates, and princes of the Holy Roman Empire.
Luther was granted 21 days (April 25 to May 15) of safe travel back to Wittenberg, providing he did not preach, write, or disturb the peace in any way. Luther was protected by an imperial herald, Kaspar Sturm, whom Luther dismissed at Freiberg, having entrusted to him this letter. Luther then moved on to the Wartburg with his “kidnappers”. The letter was delivered to the Reichstag on 30 April.
Luther wrote the letter to explain and defend his actions at the diet, where he had refused to renounce his works – one of the most significant acts of defiance in Western history. The two versions of the letter differ in minor ways. The text quoted below is the version addressed to the Emperor:
“Your Sacred Majesty had summoned me to Worms with a public guarantee of safe-conduct in order to investigate my opinion concerning the little books that were published under my name. Complying with this summons, I appeared in all humility before Your Sacred Majesty and the whole Imperial diet, thus being obedient in every way. Your Sacred Majesty ordered that I be asked first whether I would acknowledge said little books as mine and second whether or not I would be ready to revoke them, or would uphold them.
“When I had acknowledged that these little books were mine… I pointed out with great reverence and submission that the following was my opinion: since I had fortified my little books with clear and intelligible Scripture passages, it does not seem right or just to deny the Word of God and revoke my little books in this way, nor could I do it in any way. I humbly begged that Your Sacred Majesty under no circumstances allow me to be forced into such a recanting…
“The possibility was finally discussed that I should make a concession, and entrust some articles selected from my books to the judgment of an Ecumenical Council. I, however, who was always humbly and zealously ready to do and suffer everything possible for me, could not obtain the fulfillment of this one obviously completely Christian wish: that the Word of God should remain free and unbound for me; that presupposing this, I should submit my little books to Your Sacred Majesty and the Estates of the Empire or even entrust them to the judgment of a council; and that nothing against God’s gospel should be submitted by me or decreed by them. This was the crux of the whole controversy…
“Since the Word of God is above everything, it has to be held absolutely free and unbound in all things, as Paul teaches. The Word of God is never subject to any man’s whim to lower its importance or challenge it, no matter how great, how numerous, how learned, and how holy the men are. 'If we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.'(Galatians 1:8)
“Now in earthly things, which have nothing in common with the Word of God and with eternal values, we ought to trust each other...Concerning the Word of God and the eternal values, however, God does not allow this risk, that is, that man surrender the Word of God to man. For He has ordered that all men and all things should be submitted only to Him, as He alone has the glory of the truth and is truth Himself, while ‘every man’ is ‘false’ and in vain, as St. Paul excellently points out in Romans 3:4.
“I most humbly beg Your Sacred Majesty, therefore, not to consider this decision concerning the Word of God as stemming from an evil motive, nor to interpret it harshly. My decision has arisen from the said Scripture passages to which every creature rightly yields. The authority of Scripture is greater than the comprehension of the whole of man’s reason, as St. Augustine says.
“I could in no way obtain a refutation of my little books on the basis of Scripture, and I was forced to leave without having been refuted. The whole controversy, as I have mentioned rests upon the fact that no one was willing to refute on the basis of Holy Scripture any erroneous articles of faith, which are supposed to be in my little books. No one gave me any hope or promise that an examination or an investigation of my little books would be conducted in the light of God’s Word at some time in the future. Nevertheless I thank Your sacred Majesty most humbly for having so carefully observed the safe conduct to Worms and for having pledged to uphold it until I arrived again at my quarters. I beg Your Sacred Majesty once more for Christ’s sake not to allow me to be crushed by my enemies, to suffer violence and be condemned since I have so often made myself available, as is becoming to a Christian and obedient man.
“For this reason, I now make my humble petition, not on my behalf (since I am of no importance) but on behalf of the whole church; it was my concern for the church that motivated me to send this letter after having left town. With my whole heart I desire, of course, that Your Sacred Majesty, the whole Empire, and the most noble German nation may be served in the best possible way, and all be preserved in God’s grace as happy people. Hitherto I have sought nothing but God’s glory and welfare (salvation) of all men. Even now I have not considered my own advantage, whether my opponents will condemn me or not. For if Christ my Lord prayed for his enemies while on the cross, how much more should I, with joy and trust in Christ, be concerned about and pray and plead for Your Sacred Majesty, for your Empire, for my most beloved superiors, and all native Germany. I expect nothing but the best from them, relying on my aforementioned offer. - Your most dedicated supplicant, Martin Luther.”.
Benzing, Luther 1041; VD 16, L 3679