International School History - International Baccalaureate - MYP History

MYP4 Last update - 07 février 2018  
Unit 3 - Lesson 1 - Luther... what happened next.

In the first lesson of the last unit I quoted Marx, you may remember? 'It is not the consciousness of man that determines his social being, but rather, his social being that determines his consciousness.' We spent most of the last unit illustrating this quote. We explored how changes in society - towns, trade, disease, technological development, exploration - created new contexts in which new ideas (a new paradigm?) became possible. Feudalism didn't begin to crumble, just because people had an idea and wished it away.

However, Marx also wrote in another book, 'History does nothing; It is men, real, living men... who possess things and fight battles.' In other words, what people think and do, does make a difference. This is rather important for two reasons.

1. The historical events of the 1520s were caused by people like Martin Luther and Thomas Müntzer in Germany, 'real living men who fought battles'.  They thought about things and acted in ways that were very dangerous for their health. Luther expected to die for his ideas and Müntzer ended up with his head on a pole. They knew it was dangerous, but did it anyway.

2. Marxism is like Christianity, they are both based on big books that can appear to say contradictory things. As we will see, when people were free to read and interpret the Bible themselves, independent of the authority telling them what it meant, those contradictions caused trouble.

Structure and Agency

The subject of sociology distinguishes between the ability for individuals to shape their world as agents, and their inability to do so as a result of socio-economic structures that limit their autonomy.

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The Diet of Worms

The dramatic events in Germany from 1521 to 1525, resulted from fundamental causes which would cause similar dramatic events across Europe for the next few hundred years.

The Diet of Worms was a general assembly of The Holy Roman Empire that took place in 1521 at Worms, a small town on the river Rhine located in what is now Germany. It is most memorable for the Edict of Worms which dealt with Martin Luther and the effects of the Protestant Reformation.

The previous year, Pope Leo X had issued the Papal bull, outlining forty-one errors found in Martin Luther's 95 theses and other writings related to or written by him. Prince Frederick III, Elector of Saxony obtained an agreement that if Luther appeared he would be promised safe passage to and from the meeting. Such a guarantee was essential after the treatment of Jan Huss, who was tried and executed at the Council of Constance in 1415 despite a safe conduct pass.



Emperor Charles V began the Imperial Diet of Worms on 28 January 1521. Luther was summoned to renounce or reaffirm his views; he appeared before the assembly on 16 April. Luther was asked if a collection of books was his and if he was ready to revoke their heresies He stated “They are all mine, but as for the second question, they are not all of one sort." Luther went on to place the writings into three categories: (i) Works which were educational and well considered useful by his enemies. These Luther would not revoke. (ii) Books which attacked the abuses of the papacy: to revoke those would be to encourage the abuses to continue. “If I now recant these, then, I would be doing nothing but strengthening tyranny” (iii) Attacks on individuals: he apologized for the harsh tone of these writings but did not reject what he had taught; if he could be shown from the Bible that he was mistaken, Luther continued, only then would he reject them.

According to tradition, at the end of his defence Luther said: ‘Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen.’ Most historians now question whether these words were actually spoken, however, since only the last four appear in contemporary accounts. The full sentence only appears in an account by Philipp Melanchthon (him again!), one of Luther's strongest sympathisers, but only the last four words are recorded in a similar first-hand account by Johannes Cochlaeus who was a defender of the church.

The Edict of Worms was issued on 25 May 1521 by Emperor Charles V. It made Luther an outlaw. But because of rising public support for Luther among the German people and the protection of certain German princes, the Edict of Worms was never enforced in all German territories. However, in the Low Countries (comprising modern-day Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands), the Edict was initially enforced among Luther's most active supporters.

In December, 1521, Jacob Probst, prior of the Augustinian monastery in Antwerp, was the first Luther-supporter to be prosecuted under the terms of the Worms Edict. In February 1522, Probst was forced to make public recantation of Luther's teachings. Later that year, additional arrests were made among the Augustinians in Antwerp. Two monks, Johannes van Esschen and Hendrik Voes, refused to recant and so on 1 July 1523; they were burned at the stake in Brussels. They became amongst the earliest Protestant martyrs.

Edict of Worms

‘we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favour 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 ‘


Activity 1

Examine these sources about the diet of worms and answer the questions that accompany them.




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