The Diet of Worms in 1521: Definition & Summary

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  • 0:00 What Is an Imperial Diet?
  • 0:51 Overview
  • 1:32 Martin Luther's Challenge
  • 2:26 The Diet of Worms
  • 4:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about the Diet of Worms, which was an imperial diet (assembly) held in 1521. We will learn why this particular diet was important, what it had to do with the life of Martin Luther, and how people were affected in its aftermath.

What Is an Imperial Diet?

When you hear the word 'diet,' you probably think of counting calories and restricting food intake. Understandably, you might be a little concerned to connect the word 'diet' to 'worms.' In the case of this lesson, though, an imperial diet has nothing to do with food; instead, it is basically a formal assembly or council meeting, kind of like a parliament. So we're definitely not talking about eating worms!

Throughout the Middle Ages, the Holy Roman Empire frequently held diets in order to decide important political and religious questions. Remember, during this time politics and religion were very much intertwined. Imperial diets were held periodically in various cities. Heads of state, princes, royals, and church leaders typically participated.

So, remember, this isn't a lesson about eating worms!


The Diet of Worms of 1521 was an imperial diet (remember, an assembly meeting) of the Holy Roman Empire. It was convened to determine how authorities (both political and religious) should respond to Martin Luther's teachings. The diet was held in Worms, Germany (pronounced 'Vurmz' and hence the name).

Holy Roman Emperor Charles V presided over the meeting. The diet issued the Edict of Worms, which basically forbade anyone to shelter Martin Luther or provide him with aid. The edict stated that Luther should be captured and punished as a heretic. The Diet of Worms in 1521 was a critical moment in the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther's Challenge

Martin Luther, who lived from 1483 to 1546, is the central figure of the Protestant Reformation. As a German Catholic priest and professor of theology, he became concerned over what he perceived as corruption in the Catholic Church. He was particularly bothered by the selling of indulgences.

Luther believed that salvation was not something that could be earned through performing outward righteous acts but was rather graciously given to those who internally followed after the teachings of Jesus Christ. To protest what he perceived as corruption and incorrect teaching in the Catholic Church, Luther wrote 'Ninety-Five Theses'. This document contained 95 points of disagreement with official Church doctrine. Luther nailed this document to a church door in Wittenberg in 1517, for all to see. Martin Luther's 'Ninety-Five Theses' sparked the Protestant Reformation.

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