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1521

Martin Luther defiant at Diet of Worms

Martin Luther, the chief catalyst of Protestantism, defies the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V by refusing to recant his writings. He had been called to Worms, Germany, to appear before the Diet (assembly) of the Holy Roman Empire and answer charges of heresy.

Martin Luther was a professor of biblical interpretation at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. In 1517, he drew up his 95 theses condemning the Catholic Church for its corrupt practice of selling “indulgences,” or forgiveness of sins. Luther followed up the revolutionary work with equally controversial and groundbreaking theological works, and his fiery words set off religious reformers across Europe. In 1521, the pope excommunicated him, and he was called to appear before the emperor at the Diet of Worms to defend his beliefs. Refusing to recant or rescind his positions, Luther was declared an outlaw and a heretic. Powerful German princes protected him, however, and by his death in 1546 his ideas had significantly altered the course of Western thought.

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