Luther wrestled that night like Jesus in Gethsemane before he would go back to face the imperial court. The next day came, and they said to him, “Luther, what is your answer? Will you say revoko, ‘I recant’? Will you answer non cornutum, ‘without horns’?”

Luther looked at them and at the emperor and said, “If you want me to reply non cornutum, my answer is this …” Part of this might be legend, but Luther’s response was something to the effect, “Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have so often contradicted each other my conscience is held captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

Luther at the Diet of Worms, Anton von Werner, 1877
Luther at the Diet of Worms, Anton von Werner, 1877

When Luther said that, the whole room erupted in chaos, Luther was whisked out of the building, the emperor was enraged, and he removed the Pledge of Safe Conduct, and ordered his capture. Luther’s friends staged his kidnapping, carried him through the woods, miles away from his pursuers, and took him to his third cell, at Wartburg Castle in Germany. There, in isolation, he took off the cowl of a monk, donned the clothing of a knight, grew his beard long, and took on the alias, Junker Jörg, “Knight George.” There, he suffered great illnesses such as intestinal problems and severe insomnia no doubt at least partially from the stress of the ordeal but he set about the singular task of writing during his next year in hiding. First, he wrote a small book on his notes from the Gospels, and building on that, he proceeded to translate the New Testament into German.

While he was there, the price was on his head, and he was like out on a desert island, in a new cell, condemned to stay there for life. The messages were coming to him from Wittenberg, and he would send secret messages back to his colleagues to keep up to speed in Wittenberg. The story has it that the faculty were in a room discussing business, and suddenly the door opened, and to their shock, there stood Martin Luther in the doorway. So Martin Luther put back on his robes as a monk, reclaimed his pulpit, and continued to faithfully preach the gospel, through physical ailments, endangered every moment, hated by half the world. But he stayed the course.

Luther fell fatally ill in February 1546, and the local clergy visited him while he seemed to be completely comatose, breathing his last, but nevertheless the clergymen asked him on his deathbed, “Brother Martin, do you still affirm this gospel that you have preached through these years?”

Luther didn’t open his eyes, but he opened his mouth, and said his last.


Luther closed his mouth and he died, persevering to the end. That’s just another witness in church history of one putting his hand to the plow and never looking back, which is our calling and our vocation even now.

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church history, justification, perseverance, Reformation, systematic theology, travelogue