He settled down at a table on which his books and pamphlets had been stacked, and he began to speak. I studied his thin, sallow face with its prominent cheekbones and dark, glittering eyes. Where did those persuasive powers he possessed come from? There seemed to be a great driving force in him, but again he spoke only of sacraments and indulgences. I was bored by all that nonsense and I thought, We're wasting time. All these monks should be exterminated, the Dominicans along with the Augustinians, Churches should be replaced by schools, sermons by lessons in mathematics, astronomy, physics. We should be discussing Germany's constitution right now instead of listening to these puerile speeches. Charles, however, listened attentively to Luther's words while fingering the medallion of the Golden Fleece which rested on his pleated shirt. The monk's voice grew excited. He began speaking with fire, and in the too-narrow room, stifling from the summer's heat, everyone fell silent. In a frenzied outburst, he said, "I cannot, will not, retract a single word of what I have said or written, for to act against one's conscience is neither safe nor honest."
I winced. His words struck at me like a challenge. But it was not only the words; it was the tone in which he spoke them. This man had the audacity to maintain that his conscience was more important than the interests of the Empire, indeed, than the interests of the world. I wanted to gather the universe in my hands and he declared that he was a universe in himself. His arrogance populated the world with thousands of stubborn wills. And this, surely, was why the people and even the sages listened intently to him. He stirred up that rage of pride in their hearts which had devoured Antonio and Beatrice. And if he were permitted to continue his preachings, in time he would have everyone believing that each man was sole judge of his relations with God and judge also of his own acts. How then would I ever be able to make them obey?
He continued to speak, attacking the Church's established dogma. But I began to see that it was not only dogma, grace, faith that was in question; something else was at stake: the very works of which I had so long dreamed. They could be realized only if men were brought to renounce their self-love, their whims, their follies. And it was precisely this that the Church taught. She enjoined people to obey one set of laws, to bow before one faith; and if I were powerful enough, those laws would be mine. Through the mouths of priests, I could make God speak in whatever manner I wanted. But if each individual sought God in his own conscience, I knew it would not be I whom he would encounter. "Who has the right to decide?" Balthus had said to me. That was why they defended Luther —they wanted to decide, each man for himself. But then the world would be even more divided than it had ever been before, and it had to be governed by a single will —mine.
A hundred arms were raised up to carry Luther aloft triumphantly. Outside they were acclaiming him, acclaiming pride and folly. Their stupid shouts ripped through my ears, and again I felt the monk's feverish eyes on my face, those eyes that had challenged me. He wanted to turn people away from their true good, their true happiness, and they were so lacking in sense that they were ready to follow him. If they were left to their own devices, they would never discover the road to an earthly paradise. But I was there; I knew where they had to be led and by what path. I had fought for them against famine, against plague, and I was prepared, if necessary, to fight for them against themselves.
—Simone de Beauvoir, All Men Are Mortal, p. 162