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The writings to be recanted (introduction)

Prepared for a disputation, Luther must have felt nothing less than thrown off guard when the Trier official Johann von der Ecken bluntly asked him, at the first interrogation, whether he had composed the writings displayed on a table.  

Luther at the Diet of Worms, coloured woodcut from 1521, Eichfelder Archive 
Luther at the Diet of Worms, coloured woodcut from 1521, Eichfelder Archive

Hieronymus Schurf, Luther’s Electoral Saxonian counsel demanded the titles of the papers to be read out; after all, the variety of press works coming onto the market since the recent invention of Gutenberg was continuously growing, and the lawyer wanted to ensure correct procedure. It happened as he had asked; the titles were read out.

Around 20 publications were laid out, in particular ones that had been printed in Basel so that Luther could point out that these were by no means all that he had published. At that point, there were already more than 80.


The works laid out included Luther’s commentary on the psalms, sermon on good works, explanation of the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father) and, besides, works of undisputed Christian content, which Luther also pointed out in his apology on 18 April.

The three papers from the year 1520 were especially provocative for the opposing party: An den christlichen Adel deutscher Nation von des christlichen Standes Besserung (To the Christian nobility of the German nation: the enhancement of the Christian state), De Captivitate Babylonica Ecclesiae praeludium (On the Babylonian captivity of the Church) and Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen (On the freedom of a Christian).