The Presiding Official at the Diet of Worms

Johann Eck was a staunch defender of the Pope and Rome, and a vocal enemy of Luther. He wrote a scathing attack on Luther’s 95 Theses on indulgences. Prior to the debate in Leipzig, Eck accused Luther of being a follower of Jan Hus. At the Leipzig debate Luther stated that Scripture alone is infallible.

After the debate at Leipiz, Eck traveled to Rome where he helped write the papal bull, Exsurge Domine. This document condemned Luther’s teachings and eventually led to the Diet of Worms, which Eck presided over and demanded Luther to recant. Luther did not, and the rest as they say, is history. 

Luther’s pastor

Born in 1485, Johannes Bugenhagen is known for his role as Martin Luther’s pastor and confessor. Bugenhagen first encountered Luther’s writings to refute them. Instead, Luther’s words convinced Bugenhagen. He was the first priest in Wittenberg to get married. In 1523 he became the pastor of St. Mary’s and developed a close relationship with Luther.

He also performed the marriage of Luther and Katie in 1525 and preached at Luther’s funeral in 1546. Luther’s inner circle consisted of Justus Jonas, Philipp Melanchthon, and Bugenhagen He translated Luther’s Bible into Low German to make it even more accessible. He had a pastor’s heart, was practical, and made the difficult become easy.

The Man Who Delivered Exsurge Domine

Girolamo Aleandro worked with Erasmus, and taught Greek in France. He became one of Luther’s most vocal enemies. Pope Leo X sent Aleandro to present Luther with the bull Exsurge Domine, which condemned Luther’s teachings and threatened excommunication.

Aleandro also was vocal against Luther at the Diet of Worms. In one his sermons, or tirades agains Luther, he said that Luther had “brought up John Hus from hell.” He ordered Luther’s books burned in several cities and burned at the stake two monks who preached Luther’s ideas in Antwerp. Most scholars believe they were the first martyrs of the German Reformation.

Cajetan, the Judge for Luther’s Hearing

Thomas de Vio Cajetan was a bishop, cardinal, and theologian. What I found interesting about him is that he was put in charge of Luther’s hearing at Augsburg in 1518. This event lasted three days, and Rome had given clear instructions for Cajetan – no backing down.

Cajetan informed Luther on the first day of the hearing that he must recant immediately. Two days later, Cajetan concluded the reformer was a heretic and called Luther an animal. Luther’s response? He characterized Cajetan as a man no more fit to handle his case than a donkey was fit to play a harp.

He sang hymns on his way to execution

Jerome of Prague, also called Hieronymus, lived from 1379 – May 30, 1416. He was a Czech scholastic philosopher, theologian, church reformer, and professor. He was one of the chief followers of Jan Hus and was burned heresy against the Church of Rome in Constance.

He was condemned to die in the flames as Hus had. For two days the Council of Constance kept him in suspense, hoping to frighten him into a recantation. The Cardinal of Florence personally reasoned with him. Jerome remained steadfast. When a cap was made for him painted with red devils, he said:

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, when he suffered death for me, a most miserable sinner, did wear a crown of thorns upon his head; and I for his sake will wear this adorning of derision and blasphemy.”

He sang hymns on his way to execution. Because of his vigor and health it took him a long time to die in the flames.

Meet Martin Bucer

Martin Bucer was a German reformer who was influenced by both Luther and Calvin. He also was influenced by Anglican doctrines. Bucer left the monastic order one year after Luther nailed the 95 theses. He worked hard to reform the church in Wissembourg which resulted in his excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church. He was forced to flee to Strasbourg.

Bucer believed that the Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire could be convinced to join the Reformation. Through a series of conferences organized by Charles V he tried to unite Protestants and Catholics to create a German national church separate from Rome. It didn’t work and led to the Schmalkaldic War. 

In 1549, Bucer was exiled to England, where, under the guidance of Thomas Cranmer, he was able to influence the second revision of the Book of Common Prayer. He died in Cambridge, England at the age of 59.

Heinrich Bullinger

Heinrich Bullinger was a convert from Roman Catholicism who succeeded the Swiss Reformer Huldrych Zwingli and became a leading figure in securing Switzerland for the Reformation.

He was influenced by the Reformation while a student at the University of Cologne. Bullinger gradually accepted the theology of Bullinger and even helped him at the Bern Convocation.

When Zwingli died in 1531, Bullinger took his place as main pastor at Zürich.

He wrote many letters. There exists about 12,000 letters from and to Bullinger, the most extended correspondence preserved from Reformation times. Bullinger was a personal friend and advisor of many leading personalities of the reformation era. He corresponded with Reformed, Anglican, Lutheran, and Baptist theologians, with Henry VIII of England, Edward VI of England, Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth I of England, Christian II of Denmark, Philipp I of Hesse and Frederick III.

A Second-Generation Reformer

Born in 1509, John Calvin only 8 years old when Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses in 1517, making him a second generation reformer. Because of this, Calvin’s theology focused on finding common ground between Luther and Zwingli. Calvin encountered Luther’s works in 1534 and identified himself on the side of the Reformation.

Martin Luther brought passion and populism to the Reformation. Calvin brought an intellect, non-emotional approach to faith and helped the Reformation identify its theology.

His attempt to find common ground between Zwingli and Luther ended up forming a third theology. A theology which has spread around the world.

Frederick the Wise, Owner of 19,000 Relics

At the age of 22, Frederick assumed his father’s title of elector of Saxony. He had multiple castles, including locations in Torgau, Wittenberg, Coburg and Wartburg. Some of these would be important in Luther’s life.

Frederick was a Catholic with an extensive relic collection! Among his relics were fragments of the cross, the cradle, the swaddling cloths and others. Eventually Frederick had more than 19,000 relics. What was the reason for all of these relics? He had been taught that venerating relics would aid in getting to heaven. But they were also a tourist attraction and made him money.

Frederick also believed in indulgences. He used some of the money from indulgences to build a bridge near Torgau and to fund the building of his university at Wittenberg. He employed a monk named Johann Tetzel to sell indulgences. Tetzel came around again in 1517 selling indulgences for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. But Frederick wasn’t ready for that.  He didn’t want German money to go to Rome!

Tetzel conducted business just over the border. Enter Luther. Luther found out and was outraged. And he posted his 95 Theses on October 31, 1517.

Later in 1521, Frederick arranged to have Luther “kidnapped” and hid him in the Wartburg castle after the Diet of Worms.

The Holy Roman Emperor who inherited the Luther problem

Charles V was 20 years old when inherited most of Western Europe! But it wasn’t all good news, most of Western Europe was at war. Charles V became Holy Roman Emperor over Francis I of France, essentially because he had more money. 

Charles had been emperor only a few months when the Diet of Worms was held in 1521, the same Diet when Luther said that he would not recant. Charles issued the imperial Edict of Worms labeling Luther an outlaw with a price on his head. That edict got Charles V in trouble with Luther’s supporters, as well as the pope, because the pope had already excommunicated Luther. The Emperor was always trying to placate the Catholics and the Protestants.

Charles abdicated his throne in 1556 and Ferdinand became the next emperor. He spent the last two years of his life near a monastery in Spain, where he died and is buried.