To Prove all Things

  • Alan Sandison
Part of the Macmillan Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature book series (STCL)


When Martin Luther stubbornly refused to withdraw his criticism of the Church before the Imperial Diet at Worms in 1521, he was duly made aware of the extreme consequences to himself if he persisted in his recusancy. The warning was delivered by Johann von der Eck, Luther’s interrogator before the Diet, who clearly saw himself not just as the secretary-representative of the Archbishop of Trier but as the oracle of a prescriptive and systematic absolutism established in the dogma of the Universal Church. To us today the importance of what this voice says — in von der Eck’s own carefully edited account — is virtually equalled by how it says it: we are struck by the way it clarifies the contending ideologies, but we are perhaps even more struck by the familiarity of its vocabulary:

Even granted that some of your books contain nothing harmful, a point that we do not concede; but cut out your pernicious and poisonous dogmas, cut out the blasphemous passages, cut out the heresies and what savours of heresy, cut out the passages hurtful to the Catholic faith; then no danger will arise from what is right and proper. His sacred and imperial Majesty is prepared to deal very leniently with these matters; and if you alter your views will prevail upon the supreme pontiff not to destroy and blot out the good with the bad. If, however, you obstinately persist in your notorious errors and heresies as up to the present, most certainly all memory of you will be wiped out, and everything, whether right or wrong, together with their author, will be condemned.1


Autonomous Individual Notorious Error Creative Vision Moral Doctrine Catholic Faith 
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  1. 1.
    B.L. Woolf (trans.), Reformation Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 2 (London, 1956) p. 152.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Erik Erikson, Young Man Luther (London, 1959) pp. 188, 189–90.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Irving Howe, ‘The Fiction of Anti-Utopia’, in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: Text, Sources, Criticism. (ed. Howe, New York, 1963) p. 178.Google Scholar

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© Alan Sandison 1986

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  • Alan Sandison

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