Oct 20, 2016

“Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”

Luther is in the hot seat in today's Refo Thursday post!

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By Dan Graves, Christian History Institute webmaster

Somewhere in the mists of childhood I first heard the name Martin Luther. Long before I read church history or opened a biography of the man, I knew he had created quite a stir. I could not have said just what, but I knew he had done something important.

When I began to study history, I learned Luther had reemphasized the neglected doctrine of justification by faith alone, had by example made individualism a more powerful component of western ideology than it had ever been before, and had been the wedge against which the western church split into Catholic and Protestant factions. October 31st, 1517, is often given as the date this process began. That is the day, as Phillip Melanchthon later told the story, that Luther posted his 95 Theses. He intended them only as points for debate, but their sharp criticism of the profitable system of indulgences soon brought him into conflict with religious and secular authorities. He refused to back down, one thing led to another, and the rest is history.

Next year marks the fifth centenary of that event. In honor of the posting of the 95 Theses, we are continuing today a year-long series of Thursday blogs about the Reformation. As with other blogs in this series, this centers on an anecdote or saying from a sixteenth-century reformer.

Luther at Worms

Luther Before the Diet of Worms by Anton von Werner (1843–1915)


Most famous of all Luther’s quotable words are those from the Diet (Assembly) of Worms (1521). Commanded to repudiate his writings, he stood alone with his conscience against an array of powerful clergy and statesmen. The official transcript quotes him as saying, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason (I do not accept the authority of popes and councils because they have contradicted each other), my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. So help me God. Amen.”

Luther’s collected works, issued later under his supervision, give the closing words as, “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.” It is that version of his speech that has come down so memorably to posterity.

I remember being taunted about the Bible when I was in college before I became a practicing Christian. Although I was only facing one of my peers, the best reply I could muster was to mumble that I had read the Bible and found it fascinating. That memory doubles my appreciation of Luther, standing on conviction not before a single peer, but before the mighty movers of his world, men who could squash him like a bug if they chose.

Whether or not he actually said “here I stand,” his actions that day spoke for him. It is impossible to imagine the last five centuries of sacred or secular history without his trembling but defiant determination to stand with God’s Word when it taught truths that a corrupt church had mislaid or mangled. And that is why we are undertaking this series.

Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation. #RefoThursday, #ReformationConversation

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