1500-1550 · Germany

A Mighty Fortress

sword
photo credit: Wikimedia Commons; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St_Katharines_Ickleford_Nave_Up.JPG

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24 March, 1521 • Bishop’s Palace • Worms, Germany

“Sturm!” Kaspar Sturm looked down the hallway at the page running to meet him. The boy slid to a stop before him. “A committee of the imperial assembly summons you. You are to go to them immediately.”

Kaspar nodded, following the boy back down the hall. “Any idea what they’ve been discussing?”

“Oh, yes sir. They’ve been talking about that rebel monk in Wittenburg.”

Kaspar’s ears pricked. So the imperial assembly is finally getting around to discussing Martin Luther’s case. About time. We’ve been here three months already! “What about him?”

The boy chewed his bottom lip. “They’re divided. Some of the electors think he should be burned at the stake like John Huss without a trial. Others say he should be given a chance to explain and recant.”

“With or without safe conduct?”

“Prince Friedrich demands safe conduct and a guard to get him here safely and return. I think he’s the only one that supports Luther without resignation.”

Kaspar let out a deep breath and slowly nodded. “Well, he does rule Saxony…” His thoughts flitted to a town in that province, Wittenburg, which boasted one of the finest–and newest–universities in all of Europe. Wonder what the school would do if Dr. Luther… He couldn’t bear to finish the thought. It wasn’t just the University at Wittenburg that needed him either. The reform that Luther was bringing to the Roman church was too important to literally lose its charismatic head just yet.

The problem was that the Vatican demanded a verdict about Dr. Luther’s doctrine and consequential fame. Since Prince Friedrich supported him, Rome demanded that Germany’s government come to a decision about him, and it was no secret that Rome wanted Luther dead.

The boy nodded. “Yes… but some of the archbishops don’t agree with the prince. They sent me to get you before they voted.”

Certainly God is too merciful to let him be martyred. Kaspar’s chest constricted. Then again, I’m sure people said the same about John Huss. Maybe I should light a candle in the chapel for him tonight.

The boy stopped before a large door, grunting as he pushed on it. Though it swung open on silent hinges, all the heads in the room swiveled to look at the newcomers. The page entered and bowed his head. “My lords, the herald Kaspar Sturm, as you requested.”

Kaspar entered and quickly surveyed the men present. Prince Friedrich was sitting at the foot of a long table. A few archbishops and princes sat around the table. At its head was the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Kaspar’s eyes widened and instantly bowed at the waist. “My emperor, my lords, I am at your service.”

“Rise, Herald Sturm.” The Emperor’s youthful face belied his deep set eyes. Jutting out his sharp chin, he beckoned Kaspar to approach the council. “We are summoning the heretic Dr. Martin Luther to be judged by the assembly and we have agreed to grant him safe conduct, providing he does not teach or stir up trouble on his journey.”

Kaspar bobbed his head. “I’m sure the esteemed doctor will be gratified.”

The emperor waved aside his words. “It is our desire to temper judgment with mercy, especially for such a high profile case as this.”

Prince Friedrich shifted in his seat, then lifted his glass of water to his lips. The crystal did little to hide his troubled expression. Kaspar stiffened, but forced his face to remain blank as he turned his eyes back to the emperor. “Of course, your grace.”

“You admire the heretic, do you not, Herald Sturm?”

Kaspar opened his mouth and then closed it. Suddenly, the room seemed tense. He glanced at the rest of the men. All listened intently, but most watched the scene with half-closed, beady eyes like a counsel of cats. He rocked back on his heels. “I think the… um… heretic’s teachings bear careful… consideration.”

The emperor nodded. “Personally, we agree with you.” Kaspar nodded, his shoulders relaxing as the emperor continued. “We are intrigued, but are concerned that Dr. Luther may fall into less than friendly hands and never make it to Worms.” He shot a dark look at an archbishop sitting at his right. “Prince Friedrich proposes sending an imperial escort. Since you are not altogether opposed to him, we have chosen you for the task.”

Kaspar allowed himself the smallest of smiles. Not altogether opposed? More like completely supportive. “I will do my best to honor your grace, this council, and the church.”

“Good man. You are to send regular reports directly to me on your journey. I wish to know not only your progress, but also the heretic’s attitude and actions.”

“Yes, your grace.”

“How soon can you leave for Wittenburg?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

“Excellent.” The emperor gathered the papers on the table before him. As he stood, all the other men rose and bowed to him. “The council is dismissed.” With that, he swept from the room, followed by his retainers.

No one else looked at Kaspar, so he bowed to no one in particular and left for his chamber. Wittenburg is about three days away, two if I ride hard. I’ll need food, clothes, my sword, money…

“Sturm!”

Kaspar turned to see Prince Friedrich walking briskly toward him. Kaspar inclined his head. “My lord.”

Prince Friedrich extended a sealed document. “The summons. Deliver it to Dr. Luther himself and none other.”

“As you wish.”

The prince licked his lips, then glanced behind him. Voices floated incoherently from the open council chamber door. He moved a step closer to Kaspar and dropped his voice. “I’ve heard rumors that you are greatly encouraged by Dr. Luther’s writings and the impact that they could have on our world. Is this true?”

Kaspar smiled. “Yes, sir; though I didn’t think it wise to speak so openly before his grace and the committee.”

Prince Friedrich nodded. “You’re right. I just wanted to make sure. I…” He glanced behind again then cleared his throat. “Walk on. I’ll accompany you.” Sturm blinked, but obeyed. Once they were out of the corridor, Prince Friedrich took a deep breath, twisting an emerald ring on his right hand. “I am deeply worried about assassins. Dr. Luther is a dear friend, and I don’t know what would happen to his cause… or any of us, really… if he met an untimely end. Treat him well, and allow him to bring along as many friends as he wants.” He smiled as he continued, “And don’t let his ways bother you. He can lack manners at times, but he has the heart of an angel and the mind of a genius.”

Kaspar nodded. “Of course, my lord. You need not worry that he’ll be mistreated at my hands. On my life, he will be safe in my charge.”

The prince’s smile turned ghostly then disappeared altogether. He pulled off his ring and handed it to Kaspar. “If you believe Dr. Luther’s life is in danger, see to it that he escapes. Once you know he’s safe, send me this ring. I’ll do everything I can to protect you from the emperor’s wrath.”

Kaspar felt the blood drain slowly from his face as he fingered the ring. The wide band was wrought gold, a massive transparent emerald set in it. If Dr. Luther disappears while in my custody, you would probably discover that you’re not as powerful or persuasive as you want to believeNonetheless, he slowly nodded, slipping the ring onto his own finger. He didn’t even bother trying to find his voice.

Prince Friedrich glanced down the empty corridor again. “May God speed and protect you.” With that, he turned and walked away.

+++++

6 April • Erfurt, Germany

Kaspar glanced around the forest as Dr. Luther’s escort plodded on. These furtive observations had become a habit of his ever since they left Wittenburg four days before. Nothing. No one–not even a deer–lurked in the trees. They weren’t being followed, and he had never noticed anyone following him. Then again, he could never be too relaxed. What a mercy it would be if Prince Friedrich was just overreacting.  

Kaspar took a deep breath and allowed himself to enjoy Dr. Luther’s heavenly singing and harp playing. He turned to look at the enclosed, two-wheeled box seat harboring the monk as his beautiful tenor voice penetrated Kaspar’s heart.

“Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands,
For our offenses given;
But now at God’s right hand He stands–”

The carriage bounced in a hole in a road. Kaspar winced when Dr. Luther’s voice jolted to a stop, but it resumed the next second,

“And brings us light from heaven.
Therefore let us joyful be…”

“He can’t be too comfortable in there,” Kaspar remarked to Brother Nicholas von Amsdorff, a close friend of Dr. Luther’s. “Do you think he’d prefer riding for a while?”

Amsdorff shook his head. “Not with his health problems. Believe me, it’s kinder for him there than it would be on one of our mounts.”

“If you say so.”

Dr. Luther’s voice descended the scale as he drew out an “hallelujah” to a glorious finish of the verse. Kaspar smiled as he glanced around the small group surrounding the carriage. When he arrived at Wittenburg, he had expected to be treated respectably by the monks, but with distrust and thinly veiled disdain. Can’t believe they accepted me as one of them so quickly. Kaspar shook his head, warmth spreading through his chest, despite the spring chill.

“Christ is Himself the Joy of all,
The Sun that warms and lights us…”

Kaspar’s eyes were drawn to Dr. Luther’s other two companions, one of whom drove the carriage, who were suddenly laughing uproariously at some shared joke that Kaspar missed.

I really need to get out more. Kaspar felt his mouth twitch up. Spend time with jovial men like this instead of being around austere princes and archbishops all day.  The two monks’ guffaws turned into chortles as they wiped tears from their smiling cheeks. Kaspar’s eyes flitted back to the carriage as Dr. Luther stuck his head out, joining their conversation. He’s such a passionate writer. Hard to believe that in person, he’s so… so… 

Dr. Luther’s contagious laughter rang out through the woods as he ducked back inside, a flute’s merry twittering filling the air a moment later.

No wonder that most of Europe wants to follow him. He’s a master theologian and yet isn’t aloof like most priests.

After the song’s final arpeggio, silence filled the forest. All of the monks seemed lost in thought, unwilling to break the peace. Or perhaps preparing their hearts for Easter mass tomorrow.

Kaspar’s attention was drawn by horses ahead of them, just out of sight. Kaspar instantly tensed, reaching for his sword. Too many for me to fight alone and riding fast. Won’t be able to protect Dr. Luther if they’re unfriendly. Grabbing his reins with both hands, he slowed his horse until he was alongside the carriage. Dr. Luther’s gaunt face peeked down the road from the carriage window. “Be ready to jump on my horse, sir,” Kaspar murmured as the mail-clad soldiers rounded the bend. He tried to remember which towns were on the other side of the forest and, more importantly, which might be willing to sanction a heretic and his guard.

Dr. Luther’s deep brown eyes hardened. “And leave my friends to die? Do you take me for a coward?”

Kaspar opened his mouth but before he could answer, the leading horseman, a young man in a brown cape, raised a hand in greeting. “Greetings and peace be on you, Dr. Luther!”

Dr. Luther glanced at the man approaching and smiled. “At ease, Sturm. This is a friend. Stop the carriage!”

Before it could come to a complete stop, Dr. Luther opened the door and ran toward the men before them. Hardly daring to breathe, Kaspar followed Dr. Luther, watching the caped man at the head of the entourage for a hint of treachery. The young man threw back his hood to reveal a monk’s haircut and a doctor’s cap. As soon as Dr. Luther reached him, they embraced like old comrades.

“Father Jonas!” Dr. Luther laughed. “Why, I wasn’t expecting to see you until we reached the monastery. What brings you all the way out here? And who are these?” He gestured at the soldiers.

“We’re here to protect you, Father. We heard that Charles sent an imperial herald, but we wanted to make sure that you had more supporters as you entered town.”

Dr. Luther bowed his head. “I’m touched. The Lord is gracious to send you.” Father Jonas squeezed his shoulder. “But please, join me in my carriage. I desire your companionship. So how is Father Lange?”

As the two men returned to the carriage, Kaspar approached the captain. “I’m Kaspar Sturm, imperial herald. Are you expecting an attack as we enter the city?”

The captain smiled. “Yes, but I’m confident that a show of force will prevent it.”

Kaspar nodded. “Very well. Have your men surround the caravan.”

+++++

“So the lass came and told the prior, who in turn told me. I alerted the guards and we came for you at once. And not a moment too soon, either! We had just passed the two-mile marker when we found you.”

Kaspar shook his head as Father Jonas finished his story, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. He took a sip of the gose in his mug, its sour blackberry flavor filling his mouth. With such a near-miss so soon, what do we face as we approach Worms? His mind flitted back to the emerald ring in a secret pocket in his saddle. Then he thought about his wife. His son. His grandchildren. The youngest was still an infant. Even if Prince Friedrich could protect him, who would protect them? 

Dr. Luther took a gulp of his ale. “Well, next time you see her, please relay my thanks.” He breathed deeply and looked around the twilight courtyard. “I’ve missed this garden. I spent so many hours here reading the Bible or praying or…” His face grew somber as he stared into the cemetery through a doorway in the wall. “Is Brother Auer there?”

Father Jonas nodded , gesturing with his mug. “His is the one closest to us. The one with the wooden cross.”

Dr. Luther screwed up his eyes and just stared. “See, my father, he died peacefully and there he rests. While I–” He looked at the darkening sky, then handed his mug to Father Jonas. “Excuse me.”

Kaspar watched as Dr. Luther sat by the grave. Father Jonas did nothing to stop him, watching him sadly. After a minute or two, the monk sighed. “The Lord has given a heavy burden to His faithful servant. I’m not sure how much more he can physically bear… or even how much he will be called to bear.”

Kaspar wasn’t sure Father Jonas had been speaking to him specifically, but he answered anyway. “Sir?”

“He’s sure he’s going to be martyred in Worms.”

“He’s not the only one.” Kaspar looked down at his mug, his stomach knotting. “I wonder if he thinks it’s worth it.”

“Oh, I know he does.” Father Jonas smiled sadly. “Although, he never expected it to get this far. When he nailed his 95 theses to the door at Wittenburg, all he wanted was a simple and open debate with certain professors and attorneys. His instant fame throughout Europe was as much of a shock to him as it was for the rest of us.” He shook his head. “He’s been taken to court twice since then, yet no one has offered to civilly debate him as a righteous and sincere man. Only as a heretic and criminal.” He looked down at the mugs in his hands. “Well, I think I’m going to take these back inside. Coming?”

Kaspar looked from the monastery to the form of Dr. Luther at the graveside. “No sir. I’ll stay with him.”

Father Jonas raised an eyebrow. “The walls around this monastery encompass the graveyard, too. It’s a high wall and we are all friends here. He’s protected for the night.”

Kaspar inclined his head. “Nonetheless, I’d rather not leave him here alone.”

Father Jonas shrugged. “As you wish. Can I at least take your mug?” Kaspar nodded and watched him walk up to the main building. As the minutes stretched, Kaspar paced and rubbed his hands together, glancing occasionally at the shivering Dr. Luther. At one point, Kaspar thought he saw Dr. Luther wipe away a tear, but it was too dark to tell for sure.

The cold only worsened after sunset.

Footsteps and a light approached from the monastery. Kaspar sensed no danger, but he still placed a ready hand on his sword hilt. As the lantern came closer, Brother Amsdorff’s face came into focus.

The monk stopped on the path a couple yards from Kaspar. “Where–?” Kaspar inclined his head toward the cemetery. As soon as Amsdorff saw Dr. Luther’s hunched form, his shoulders drooped. After a long moment, he cleared his throat. “Martin?”

Dr. Luther’s shadowy head rose from his chest. “Yes, Nicholas?”

Brother Amsdorff shifted back and forth, licking his lips. “I… You’ve been out here for over an hour. The, uh… monastery bell range a quarter of an hour ago. Everyone else is already in bed.”

Dr. Luther sighed and stiffly rose from his position. “Thank you.”

When he joined them,  Brother Amsdorff led the way back to the monastery and Kaspar took the rear. Half-way through the garden, Brother Amsdorff asked, “Who was he?”

“One of my favorite professors when I was a student here. Then when I became a monk, he became a dear friend.” Dr. Luther sighed. “I miss his companionship and counsel.”

Inside, an older man with a lantern met them. “Ah, Dr. Luther, I was just coming to find you. Did Father Jonas show you to your room?”

“Yes, Father Superior,” Dr. Luther replied, a thin smile stretching tightly over his face.

“Excellent. Brother Amsdorff, I’ll take you to your room. Herald Sturm, your room is next to Dr. Luther’s.” Kaspar nodded and Brother Amsdorff handed his lantern to Dr. Luther, then turned to follow the superior.

Dr. Luther didn’t move. In the frail candlelight, his lips twitched as he watched the two men walk away. Finally, he took a deep breath. “Father Superior?”

“Yes, Martin?” The older man turned to look at Dr. Luther.

“Would you permit me to preach tomorrow?”

The summons… the conditions of the safe conduct… Kaspar’s thoughts spluttered to a halt, and he shook his head minutely. He’s mad. Only a crazy person would put himself in that kind of danger. 

“Of course, my son.”

Kaspar’s head jerked as he turned to look at the older man, who was smiling gently in the candlelight.

Kaspar cocked his head at the man, whose eyes held no hint of avarice. Still… Does that smile mean that he’s thrilled that Dr. Luther is disobeying the assembly’s edict or does he admire Dr. Luther’s courage? 

Dr. Luther’s mouth twitched up and he turned away. It took several minutes for Kaspar’s thoughts to calm enough to form words. “With all due respect, Dr. Luther, do you think that’s wise?”

Dr. Luther stopped and held up the lantern so they could see each other better. “What do you mean?”

“You preaching here tomorrow. I’m under orders to report to the emperor as we journey along. If I tell him… and even if I don’t the emperor will still finds out–”

Dr. Luther chuckled. “Tell him whatever you feel you have to. That over-confident fox is not my concern. I will preach tomorrow according to the words God gives me. After that, I will go to Worms. I’ll stand before the assembly and have my say. After that–” He shrugged. “My life is in God’s hands, Sturm, and I must obey Him, though all earth and hell oppose me.”

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15 April • Zur Kanne Inn • Oppenheim, Germany

“You’re insane, Dr. Luther!” Chaplain Butzer exclaimed as he paced around Dr. Luther’s room. “Father Glapion has been meeting with representatives from your friends and enemies, and he’s offering you the only escape you’ll be given before you arrive at Worms!”

Dr. Luther shook his head, a stubborn fire blazing behind his eyes. “His offer stinks of treason, Butzer. I tell you again: I will not go to Ebenburg Castle to avoid the imperial assembly.”

Kaspar glanced across the room at Brother Amsdorff. So far, he hadn’t said anything either for or against Butzer’s proposal, and his expression was difficult to read as his blue eyes flitted back and forth between the interlocutors.

Butzer stopped pacing and stared at Dr. Luther, his mouth hanging open. “He’s trying to help you. He wants to keep you alive! Would you spit at that? Tomorrow, you arrive at Worms. Maybe the next day, you’ll go before the assembly and the emperor, who has admitted that he regrets giving you safe conduct. What if they order you burned at the stake?”

The fire in Dr. Luther’s eyes dimmed to glowing coals. Slowly he stood and crossed to the window, staring at St. Katharine’s church across the street. “That’s their plan,” Butzer pleaded quietly. “Please, sir, I beg of you: do not make it so easy for them to kill you!”

“They want my life? This frail, broken body?” Dr. Luther fiercely whirled around to face Butzer. “Then let them have it. I will go on to Worms, be it ever so filled with demons.”

Butzer’s mouth slowly closed, his gaze dropping to the floor. “Then, if you will not be dissuaded, I’ll take my leave.” He stopped at the door, and said without turning around, “If you change your mind, I’m staying across the street at St. Katharine’s.” The door closed resolutely behind him.

“Martin…” Brother Amsdorff said.

“Don’t start, Nicholas.” Dr. Luther turned back to the window.

“But he has a point. Could it not be said that to… walk into this trap would be tantamount to wastefulness? God has gifted you with a simple and sincere heart, a zeal for His house and worship, and a charisma in speaking and writing. To… throw away your life now–”

“I’m throwing nothing away.”

“Yet you’re going to Worms, aren’t you?”

Dr. Luther vigorously shook his head. “That’s… It’s not the same thing…”

“Are you trying to convince me or yourself?”

Dr. Luther looked over his shoulder at Brother Amsdorff. His mouth opened, then closed again.

I can’t do this. Kaspar thought, resolutely setting aside the mental image of his family. I can’t take him to his death. I’d feel guilty the rest of my life. “Well,” Kaspar said. Both monks started as though they had forgotten that Kaspar was in the room. “I think I’ll take my leave now.”

Brother Amsdorff’s eyebrows scrunched. “But I thought you were sleeping here…”

“Yes, but a friend of mine once recommended an excellent beer hall on,” his mind searched for a street name. “Mainzer. I doubt I’ll ever have a better chance than right now.” Brother Amsdorff stared at him slack-jawed, but Dr. Luther was staring at St. Katharine’s. “Until we meet again, Doctor.”

Dr. Luther’s head snapped to look at him. his brow creasing as he met Kaspar’s eye. “Thank you. I’ll be going to bed early, I think. Enjoy a beer for me.”

Kaspar looked sideways at him. Maybe he didn’t understand. Out of the corner of his eye, Brother Armsdorff, his jaw nearly touching his chest, was staring fixedly at Kaspar. He does, though. “Yes, well, I won’t be back until late.” Doctor Luther nodded, so he cleared his throat and left.

Just in case Dr. Luther was watching, Kaspar did walk down to Mainzer. Nearly at the Rhine River, he actually found a half-decent looking tavern and wandered inside. He ordered a beer and sat at a corner booth overlooking the street. I’ll need to write to my family. Explain things… somehow.  The sun slowly set, and still, he couldn’t talk himself into swallowing. Hours passed, the room growing steadily quiet.

“Sir?” Kaspar looked up at the burly bartender. “We’re closing for the night.”

“Of course. I’ll be leaving then.” Kaspar tossed a couple of coins on the table to pay for his glass, still full to the brim, and left.

At the inn, Kaspar stopped in the stable. No one was around except the snoring horse boy in an empty stall. A dark lantern hung on a hook by the barn door. Quietly, Kaspar grabbed it and carried it back to the tack room. It didn’t take him long to find his saddle and even less time for his fingers to find the secret pocket. Thrusting the handkerchief-wrapped ring into his pocket, he replaced the lantern. I’ll send it to Prince Friedrich by courier first thing.

Although he was sure it would be empty, he still opened the bedroom door as quietly as possible. The moon filtered through the window, illuminating a man-sized lump on the bed. Amsdorff must have stayed, Kaspar thought. I wonder if any of the other monks went with him. He took a step forward, then stumbled, landing painfully on his hands and knees. “What the–?”

Kaspar looked back at the large, groaning lump that tripped him. Slowly, it rose, rubbing its shoulder. “Kaspar?” Amsdorff’s groggy voice murmured with another groan. “Just get back?”

Kaspar nodded. “Uh… I…” He glanced at the bed, a snore escaping from it. “Who’s that?”

Armsdorff’s hand moved over his face. “Luther.”

“But he… I thought you would have him miles away by now!”

“He wouldn’t go.” Armsdorff laid back down then sat up again with a growl, groping on the floor. “Here,” he handed Kaspar the white, lumpy package. “You dropped this.”

Within seconds, the monk was again asleep. Kaspar sat staring at the cloth in his hand, pale and ghostly in the brilliant moonlight. Shaking his head, he stood and stepped over Amsdorff. On the table in the opposite corner of the room, Kaspar dropped the package with a soft clunk. He glanced over at the sleeping men, but neither stirred.

A piece of paper, black words like soldiers marching down the page, lay next to an inkwell and pen. Kaspar carried the sheet to the window and read the poem.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth;
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Kaspar’s eyes filled with tears. He swallowed and returned the paper to the table. “You’re a brave man,” he whispered toward the bed. “May God preserve you.”

+++++

17 April • Bishop’s Palace • Worms, Germany

Kaspar stopped before the grand doors leading to the town hall. He turned to Dr. Luther, standing next to his legal representative, Dr. Jeromee Schurff. “Are you ready?”

Luther nodded. “I am.”

With that, Kaspar pushed the doors open and stepped inside. He bowed then loudly announced, “Martin Luther to appear before his excellency, Charles V with his archbishops and princes.” With that, he stood aside and let Dr Luther and Dr. Schurff enter. The floor and balcony were filled with silent men and women, straining to see the excommunicated monk that had turned all of Europe on its head.

At the head of the room, the emperor and his princes sat watching Dr. Luther walk to the center of the room to meet the prosecuting attorney, Dr. Eck, who was standing near a table piled with books.

“Dr. Eck,” the emperor called out. “You may begin.”

Dr. Eck bowed slightly then turned a disdainful face to Dr. Luther. “Martini Lutheri, suam maiestatem sacris invicta et cum in consilium de civitatibus imperii, iam prope denuntiauit ut simplex ut duo responde quaestiones.”

“Ah,” a commoner standing near Kaspar hissed to his wife. “It’s times like this that I wish I could have stayed in school and learned Latin.”

“You’re a butcher,” she whispered back. “Butchers have never needed to know Latin. Though, I agree. It would be nice if they would just speak in plain German!”

“Dr. Eck says that he only has two questions for Dr. Luther.” Kaspar translated quietly out of the corner of his mouth. “But it’s my understanding that they will be conducting the trial in both languages.”

Sure enough, Eck took a breath then repeated himself in German. Dr. Luther nodded, so Eck gestured at the table. “Do you acknowledge that you’re the author of these books?”

“Let the titles be read,” Schurff commanded before Luther could answer.

Kaspar walked over to the table and began reading the front covers and stacking the books in careful piles. There were twenty-five in all, most of which he had read over the last few years.

“They’re all mine,” Dr. Luther said.

“The second question is this: will you retract the doctrines and opinions therein?” Eck asked.

Luther stared fixedly at the table for one minute, then two, sweat appearing on his upper lip. Finally, he took an shaky breath and turned to the head of the room. “Gracious emperor, this second question has deeper implications than the first.”

Kaspar’s eyes widened at Dr. Luther’s daring. Never before had he seen someone address the emperor like this. The emperor’s eyebrows raised to his hairline, but he didn’t silence the monk.

“Depending on my answer, my own salvation and the freedom of the Scriptures in this country may be affected. Therefore I cannot answer lightly, for I dare not try to bind the Word of God to anything other than to its holy Master; that is, God Himself. Therefore, I must beg that the assembly grant me a recess to consider the question, lest I anger our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The room erupted in whispers, filling the hall like a beehive. Kaspar glanced around at the peasants and assembly first, noting the large eyes and shaking heads. Then he looked back at the emperor.

The young ruler rubbed his chin, staring at Luther. Finally, he held up his hand for silence. “Prince Friedrich and Archbishop von Wied, approach me.” The three whispered together for some time as Dr. Luther, his hands clasped, stared at the floor. Finally, the two electors pulled away. “Understanding the gravity of the question, we will grant your request. You have twenty-four hours to consider.”

+++++

The following day, the crowds had gathered again in equal numbers. When the emperor gestured for Dr. Eck to begin, the attorney looked at Dr. Luther, who stood straighter today. Despite the dark circles under his eyes, calm and confidence surrounding him like the mists of dawn.

“Martin Luther, yesterday you admitted to be the author of these books, but declined to reject their evil doctrine. Today, on behalf of the emperor and with him as witness, I must demand an answer of you: do you recant?”

Dr. Luther bowed his head and took a deep breath. “Most serene emperor, illustrious princes, and clement lords, I am again before you. Respectfully, I ask that you hear me fairly, and please forgive me if I break some rules of convention. I am but a simple monk and unaccustomed to the culture of palaces. However I assure you, my feeble attempts at preaching and writing are only to glorify God. I have no other purpose.”

Kaspar nodded. He’s definitely starting out better this time. Wonder who talked to him about his lack of ettiquette?

“My lords,” Dr. Luther continued, “I will now answer Dr. Eck’s question. Yesterday, I admitted that these books are mine, written only after much consideration and prayer. So long as they haven’t been maliciously or mistakenly misprinted, to recant them all would be rather difficult because they don’t all fall under the same category.”

Kaspar bit his lower lip. Eck cocked his head and squinted at Dr. Luther. “What do you mean?”

Dr. Luther walked over to the table and picked up one of the books. “Take this one, for example. A Treatise on Good Works is meant to edify and encourage the righteous, those who are trying to live in God’s grace and finding themselves often discouraged in that endeavor.” He set down the book and turned to face Eck. “Yet the bull that condemned me as a heretic also condemned all my books, even the ones that have been universally acknowledged as beneficial. If I recant all my writings, then I am putting myself in complete opposition against the faithful and good doctrines represented on this table. That, Dr. Eck, would make me a heretic in even my own eyes.”

He then reached for another book. “Then there’s a different class of books. To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation was intended to attack the papacy as the antichrist and monstrosity that it is. In this and others like it, I wrote in clear German about how the Romanists by their teachings ruin sound doctrine and the souls of men. If I now set these aside, I’d be aligning myself with these traitors of the faith, to the ruin of not only my own salvation, but also my fatherland and all of Christendom.”

He set down the second book and picked up a third. “Then there’s the third category, personal defenses against those who oppose me, most of which were too aggressive.” He tossed the book on the stack and turned his back to the table. He extended his hands in a humble appeal as he continued. “I am no saint. My conduct is not above reproach, and that I freely admit. However, the spirit of even these pamphlets was to defend the cause of Christ, my captain. To disavow even these would give Rome an inch. They would take a mile, and the end result would be an extension of her kingdom, to the oppression of men’s souls.”

He turned back to the table and rested his hands on it. His chin was extended, a small and proud smile played on his mouth; yet his jaw was set and a frown creased his brow. “I have never sought any patronage for these works other than Christ’s.” He straightened and faced the emperor and assembly. The young ruler leaned forward, his bridged fingers resting against his nose, staring intently at the monk. “As the Lord’s lowly slave, I call you to witness against me. You have the Scriptures: show me where I have been false. Show me my error, and I will gladly throw these books into the fire myself, and you can do whatever you wish with me.”

Dr. Luther raised himself to his full height, fire igniting his eyes. “But know this: I published these works knowing quite well that they could turn the world upside down. I have weighed the dangers and risks, and I rejoice to see that God’s Word already is producing excellent fruit. Not just the fruit of joy and love, but that of turmoil and persecution. Jesus Himself warned us, saying, ‘I came not to send peace, but a sword, to set the son against his father.’ Hear me, great lords: if God is for this doctrine, as I believe He is, then to set yourselves up against it is to oppose all of heaven. God will not ignore that.” Tears filled his eyes, and he stared at the ceiling for a moment before continuing, his voice steady. “It would be a curse against you and your lands. Please, hear my heart: I seek not to oppose you but rather to warn you against the harm you could bring to my–our–beloved Germany!”

He sighed, lowering his gaze to the floor. “I conclude by putting myself in your gracious hands. I humbly entreat that you do not give me over to my enemies, but rather sanction me against their wrath.”

Kaspar watched Dr. Luther absently straighten some of the books on the table, but even the slight movement resounded through the silent hall.

“My Emperor,” the imperial orator exploded the silence as he rose from his seat. “He has not answered the question! We are not here to judge whether or not the councils of the realm are right or wrong. We are here to decide if this–this–silver-tongued blasphemer deserves to keep his life.” The orator whirled on Luther, whose hands had dropped to his side and faced the orator, who gestured impatiently. “Answer us plainly, “yes” or “no”: will you recant these works?”

Luther took a deep breath, never taking his blazing eyes off of the orator. As he spoke, his voice crescendoed passionately. “Since you demand a simple answer, I’ll give you one. Unless I am convicted of error by the Scriptures or manifest evidence (and the pope and the councils don’t count because they often err and contradict each other), I cannot and will not recant, for we must never sin against our own consciences! This is my profession of faith, and expect none other from me. God help me, I am done. Amen!”

The princes and archbishops exploded into instant argument. Kaspar turned to look at them, but their individual arguments couldn’t be heard over the echoing cacophony. The emperor stood. “Order! Dr. Luther, remain there. We must retire to debate this case.” He left the room, and the rest of the assembly followed, muttering to each other as they went.

Kaspar grabbed a chair and ran forward as the whispers began until the room filled with the soft flow of it. “Dr. Luther, here.” The pale monk sat, leaning his elbows on his thighs. “You spoke well. I hope and pray that the council will be reasonable.”

Dr. Luther shrugged. “Pray instead that they please God, whatever that will entail.”

+++++

1 May, 1521 • Worms, Germany

Kaspar lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling. Five days since Dr. Luther left. I wonder how far he’s gotten? At least his safe conduct was technically extended to include his journey home. He grimaced. The edict had been given in name only. In actuality, Dr. Luther was an outlaw, which meant that he hadn’t been allowed an imperial escort this time. To avoid trouble, Dr. Luther left surreptitiously at night. Before dawn the next morning, a page came to collect and return Prince Friedrich’s ring.

Kaspar sighed and rolled onto his side. The sun hadn’t risen yet and he didn’t want to get up. He thought about home, his little wife’s gentle smile and smelling her home-cooked sauerbraten. He closed his eyes. Two more weeks. Then I can go home.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

He groaned and rolled out of bed just as the pounding resumed on his door. “I’m coming! I’m coming!” He pulled a shirt over his head and lit a lantern, muttering, “Of all the indecent times to visit someone. This had better be good.” He threw open the door and nearly dropped his lantern.

“Brother Amsdorff?”

The monk nodded, a sheepish smile playing on his mouth. “I hope I didn’t wake you.”

Kaspar shook his head. “No. But… what are you doing here? I thought you and Dr. Luther would almost be at Wittenburg by now.”

Brother Amsdorff looked at the floor. “I’m afraid not.”

Suddenly, Kaspar couldn’t breathe. “Is Dr. Luther… all right?”

Slowly, the monk nodded. “But I don’t know where he is. He was kidnapped a couple days ago. By…” He looked behind him. “May I come in?”

“Of course,” Kaspar opened the door wider, then closed it behind him. “Please, have a seat,” he gestured to the table on the far side of the room from the door. Kaspar got them some water, then sat, leaning toward Brother Amsdorff. “What happened?”

“It was all arranged beforehand. Prince Friedrich had Dr. Luther taken somewhere safe, but I don’t know where. No one does. I was the only other person with Dr. Luther at the time. They pulled him from the carriage, dressed him in chain mail and a fake beard. I was on my way to report to Prince Friedrich when I realized I was standing by your door. After spending so much time with us, I figured…” He shrugged. “They’re going to circulate rumors that he’s dead. When things have calmed down, he’ll be released to us.”

Kaspar leaned back in his chair. “Any idea how long that will take? Are you thinking weeks?”

Brother Amsdorff shook his head. “Only God knows, but it may take years. Who’s to say?”

“Well, at least he’s safe and free. God be praised for that.”

Amsdorff nodded. “Amen.”

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Author’s Note

In my research, I found no evidence that Prince Friedrich and Kaspar Sturm had any sort of correspondence or understanding regarding Dr. Luther. However, understanding the beliefs, recorded conversations, and actions of both men during this time, I don’t believe it would be completely improbable.

Sources and Further Exploration

Articles

Caspar Storm (Reichsherold) by Wikipedia

Charles V: Holy Roman Emperor by Britannica

Diet: German Government by Britannica

The Emperor and the Electors in Late Medieval Germany by medievalhistories.com

Hymns by Martin Luther by CLCL Lutheran Church

The KegWorks Field Guide to German Beer Styles by KegWorks

Ludwig Senfl by allmusic.com

Oppenheim by germany.travel

Three Treatises by goodreads

A Treatise on Good Works by goodreads

Books

The Life of Luther Written by Himself

The Christian Church from the 1st to the 20th Century

Others

Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands (lyrics) by Hymnary.com

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