The Diet of Worms (Reichstag zu Worms) was a general assembly of the estates of the Holy Roman Emperor that took place in Worms, a small town on the Rhine river located in what is now Germany. It was conducted from 28 January to 25 May 1521, with Emperor Charles V presiding. Although other issues were dealt with at the Diet of Worms, it is most memorable for the Edict of Worms (Wormser Edikt), which addressed Martin Luther and the effects of the Protestant Reformation.
The previous year, Pope Leo X had issued the Papal bull Exsurge Domine, outlining forty-one purported errors found in Martin Luther's 95 theses and other writings related to or written by him. Luther was summoned by the emperor. 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 Hus, who was tried and executed at the Council of Constance in 1415 despite a safe conduct pass.
Emperor Charles V commenced the imperial Diet of Worms on 28 January 1521. Luther was summoned to renounce or reaffirm his views. When he appeared before the assembly on 16 April, Johann Eck, an assistant of the Archbishop of Trier (Richard Greiffenklau zu Vollraths at that time), acted as spokesman for the emperor.
According to tradition, Luther is said to have spoken these words: "Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir. Amen." ("Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.") Most scholars now question whether these famous words were actually spoken, however, since only the last four appear in contemporary accounts. Indeed, the full sentence appears in an account by Philip Melanchthon, one of Luther's most ardent sympathisers, but only the last four words are recorded in a similar first hand account by Johannes Cochlaeus.
The Papal nuncio at the diet, Girolamo Aleandro, drew up and proposed the fierce denunciations of Luther that were embodied in the Edict of Worms, promulgated on 25 May. The Edict declared Luther to be a heretic and banned the reading or possession of his writings.
When Luther eventually reemerged from the Wartburg, the emperor, distracted with other matters, did not press for Luther's arrest. Ultimately, 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 Germany. However, in the Low Countries (comprising modern-day Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands), the Edict was initially enforced among Luther's most active supporters there. 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 compelled to make public recantation and repudiation 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. On 1 July 1523, van Esschen and Voes were burned at the stake in Brussels.