Meet Danny Daley

Date Published

February 29, 2024

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Published by Daniel Daley

Assistant Professor of New Testament

At the Diet of Worms (1521), Martin Luther was summoned to respond to a papal bull by Pope Leo X. Luther was asked either to renounce or reaffirm many of the views set forth in his writings. Rather than recant, Luther reportedly responded by saying, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason . . .I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.” Luther highlights three important things in this brief response. First, in order to recant or change his views, it was necessary for his opponents to show him, directly from Scripture, that he was wrong. Second, Luther was open to being corrected by rational arguments that his views were contradictory or in error. And third, Luther believed (as did the Apostle Paul, in my view), that our conscience is an important guide when following our convictions and doing what is right. Luther refused to hedge—he refused to qualify what he had found in the Scriptures merely to satisfy the demands of others. I would not necessarily affirm all aspects of Luther’s behavior and approach to his conflicts with the Church in the years leading up to this moment, but his careful words on this day continue until today to serve as a powerful summary of the heart of the Reformation itself. Luther’s response continues to capture, more than anything else, what it means to be Reformed. 

One might quibble that a commitment to Scripture and plain reason is more broadly Protestant than it is specifically Reformed, and in many ways, that’s true. However, this conviction has, in my experience, been more keenly emphasized in Reformed circles. I had a vivid experience with this while studying at Edinburgh. I was sitting with one of my professors in his office, and he said something that struck me as odd. I quipped, “That’s not very Protestant of you,” and he responded by invoking Luther at Worms: “My responsibility,” he said, “is to Scripture and plain reason. It is in the Reformed spirit that I feel comfortable, by my understanding of Scripture, to disagree with the views of others, even with those in the Reformed tradition.” To be Reformed is to allow oneself to follow God, and the evidence of Scripture, and to do so freely, even in the face of external pressures to violate one’s conscience. Five centuries after Luther’s statement, this is still a revolutionary idea. 


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