After Luther had left Worms, while he was still making his way toward home, he wrote a letter to the emperor assuring Charles that he was not a rebel, but that when the emperor’s will crossed God’s Luther had to obey God, even if it meant disobeying his emperor. “When eternal interests are concerned, God wills not that man should submit unto man. For such submission in spiritual matters is a real worship, and ought to be rendered solely to the Creator.”[i]
As Luther traveled toward home, back in Worms, Aleander was doing his own writing. He composed an edict, or official order, against Luther. On a day when Emperor Charles V was in the cathedral, Aleander brought the edict for him to sign. Charles signed it and Aleander hurried it to the printers to have it published.
This, in part, is what the edict said:
The Augustine monk, Martin Luther…has rushed like a madman on our holy Church and attempted to destroy it by books overflowing with blasphemy…has incessantly urged the people to revolt, schism, war, murder, robbery, incendiarism, and to the utter ruin of the Christian faith…this man, who is in truth not a man, but Satan himself under the form of a man dressed in a monk’s frock, has collected into one stinking slough all the vilest heresies of past times, and has added to them new ones of his own….
For this reason, under pain of incurring the penalties due to the crime of high-treason, we forbid you to harbor the said Luther…to conceal him, to give him food or drink, or to furnish him, by word or deed…with any kind of succor whatsoever.[ii]
The edict commanded all people to arrest him and turn him over to the authorities or to hold him in prison. All his followers were to be imprisoned and their property taken away. Luther’s books were to be destroyed. Rome’s supporters were encouraged to do what they liked with any person found printing, writing, painting, buying or selling anything against the church.
On his way home, Luther visited with his grandmother and continued the next day with his brother James and his friend Amsdorff. Suddenly five masked horsemen galloped toward the wagon carrying Luther. His brother jumped from the wagon and ran away through the woods. One of the masked men threw the driver from the wagon, another held Amsdorff. The other three riders captured Luther and put him on a horse and led him away.
When Amsdorff and the cart driver arrived later in Wittenberg and spread the news that Luther had been captured by his enemies, people all over Germany mourned.
But Luther was not in the hands of his enemies. He was with friends. It was Frederick the Wise who had Luther abducted to save him from Charles and the pope. The plan was so secretly devised and carried out, however, that Frederick himself did not at first know where Luther had been taken.
Luther had been carried away to the Wartburg, a castle in the forests of Thuringia. When he arrived just before midnight on the night of his capture, his captors took away his monk’s dress and gave him the cloak and clothing of a medieval warrior. From that night until the day he walked free almost a year later, Luther was known around the castle as Knight George.
[i] As quoted in History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 396.