Martin Luther’s Early Years: Christian History Timeline

by Ken Schurb

Chronology of events related to Luther's life and the Reformation.

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue 34 in 1992 ]

Martin Luther

1483: Born at Eisleben, November 10

1484: Parents, Hans and Margaretha Luder, move family to Mansfeld, where Hans works in copper mines

1492: Attends school in Mansfeld

1497: Attends school in Magdeburg

1498: Attends school in Eisenach

1501: Enters University of Erfurt

1502: Receives B.A. at Erfurt

1505: Earns M.A. at Erfurt; begins law studies; in thunderstorm on July 2, vows to become a monk; enters Order of Augustinian Hermits

1507: Ordained and celebrates first Mass

1509: Becomes bachelor of Bible

1510: Visits Rome

1511: Transferred to Augustinian house at Wittenberg

1512: Becomes doctor of theology

1513: Begins lecturing on The Psalms

1515: Lectures on Romans; appointed district vicar over ten monasteries

1516: Begins lecturing on Galatians

1517: Begins lecturing on Hebrews; on October 31, posts “95 Theses” on indulgences

1518: At meeting of Augustinians in Heidelberg, defends his theology; in October, appears before Cardinal Cajetan at Augsburg, but refuses to recant; in December, Frederick the Wise protects Luther from being handed over to Rome.

1519: Understands the “righteousness of God” as “passive righteousness with which God justifies us by faith”; in July, debates Professor John Eck at Leipzig and denies supreme authority of popes and councils

1520: Papal bull “Exsurge Domine” gives Luther 60 days to recant or be excommunicated; writes 3 seminal documents: To the Christian NobilityOn the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and The Freedom of a Christian; burns papal bull and canon law

1521: Excommunicated by the papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem; at Diet of Worms in April, he refuses to recant writings, and edict (in May) condemns him as heretic and outlaw; he is “kidnapped” and hidden at Wartburg Castle; begins translating the New Testament

1522: In March, comes out of hiding and returns to Wittenberg

1523: Writes On Temporal Authority

1524: Debates Karlstadt on the Lord’s Supper; Luther’s former superior, Staupitz, dies

1525: Writes Against the Heavenly Prophets; writes Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes, criticizing the Peasants’ Revolt; marries Katherine von Bora; writes Bondage of the Will (against Erasmus).

1526: Writes German Mass; becomes a father (son Hans)

1527: Fights sickness and intense depression; writes “A Mighty Fortress”; daughter Elizabeth born; writes against Zwingli’s views on the Lord’s Supper

1528: Writes Great Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper; grieves over Elizabeth’s death; visits churches

1529: Attends Marburg Colloquy with Zwingli, but no agreement reached on the Lord’s Supper; publishes Large Catechism and Small Catechism; daughter Magdalena born

1530: Luther’s Father, Hans, dies; Luther, as outlaw, cannot attend the Diet of Augsburg, held in attempt to end religious division in the empire; Melanchthon presents Augsburg Confession, a statement of Lutheran beliefs

1531: Begins lecturing on Galatians; son Martin born; mother, Margaretha, dies

1532: Writes On Infiltrating and Clandestine Preachers; is given the Augustinian cloister in Wittenberg for his home

1533: Son Paul born

1534: Publishes German Bible; daughter Margaret born

1536: Agrees to Wittenberg Concord on the Lord’s Supper, in attempt to resolve differences with other reformers, but Zwinglians do not accept it

1537: Draws up Schmalkaldic Articles as his “theological last will and testament”

1538: Writes against the Jews in Against the Sabbatarians

1539: Writes On the Councils and the Church

1541: Writes Admonition to Prayer against the Turks

1542: Drafts his will; daughter Magdalena dies

1543: Writes On the Jews and Their Lies

1544: Writes against Schwenckfeld’s interpretation of the Lord’s Supper

1545: Writes Against the Papacy at Rome, an Institution of the Devil

1546: Dies in Eisleben, February 18

1552: Katherine von Bora dies , February 18

Other Reformers

1469: (probably) Erasmus born

1484: Ulrich Zwingli born

1491: Henry VIII born

1496: Menno Simons born

1497: Melanchthon born

1498: Savonarola burned at the stake in Florence

1505: John Knox born

1509: John Calvin born; Henry VIII of England begins reign and marries Catherine of Aragon

1516: Erasmus publishes Greek New Testament

1518: Melanchthon becomes professor of Greek at Wittenburg

1519: Zwingli begins New Testament sermons; Swiss reformation is born

1521: Religious unrest in Wittenberg: private masses abolished, Karlstadt serves Communion in both elements, religious statues destroyed; Melanchthon writes Loci Communes; Pope titles Henry VIII “Defender of the Faith” for attacking Luther’s views of the sacraments; “Zwickau prophets,” early Anabaptists, arrive in Wittenberg

1522: Zwingli’s first Reformation debates; Ignatius Loyola begins work on Spiritual Excercises

1523: First two Reformation martyrs burned at the stake in Belgium

1524: Erasmus’s On Freedom of the Will

1525: Anabaptist movement begins in Zurich, spreads to Germany

1526: Reformation spreads to Sweden and Denmark

1527: First Protestant university (Marburg) founded

1528: Bern, Switzerland, becomes Protestant

1529: Name Protestant first used

1531: Zwingli killed in battle

1534: Henry VIII becomes supreme head of Church of England

1535: Anabaptist uprising at Münster put down, and Anabaptists executed

1536: First edition of Calvin’s Institutes; William Tyndale, Bible translator, burned at stake; Denmark and Norway become Lutheran; Erasmus dies

1538: Calvin expelled from Geneva

1540: Society of Jesus (Jesuits) formed

1540: Calvin returns to Geneva from exile

World Events

1452: Leonardo da Vinci born

1453: Turks capture Contantinople

1455: Gutenberg completes printing the Bible using movable type

1469: Lorenzo de’ Medici rules Florence; 
Ferdinand and Isabella marry

1470: Portuguese explorers discover Gold Coast of Africa

1471: Thomas à Kempis, author of The Imitation of Christ, dies

1473: Copernicus born

1478: Spanish Inguisition set up

1485: Treaty of Leipzig divides Saxony

1492: Spanish forces conquer city of Granada, expelling Islamic Moors from Iberian peninsula; Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas

1493: The pope divides the New World between Spain and Portugal

1495: Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper”

1497: John Cabot reaches coast of Newfoundland; Vasco de Gama discovers west coast of India

1498: Albrecht Durer paints Apocalypse

1499: Swiss gain independence

1500: Future Charles V born

1502: Frederick, elector of Saxony, founds Wittenberg University

1506: Pope Julius orders work on St. Peter’s in Rome; Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa

1508: Michelangelo begins painting Sistine Chapel ceiling

1509: Erasmus writes In Praise of Folly

1510: First shipload of African slaves arrives in Hispaniola (Haiti)

1513: Leo X (Giovanni Medici) pope; Balboa discovers the Pacific Ocean

1514: Albert of Brandenburg becomes elector and archbishop of Mainz

1516: Thomas More publishes Utopia; Concordat of Bologna assures French Catholic autonomy

1517: Tetzel hired by Albert of Mainz to sell indulgences

1519: Charles I of Spain is elected Holy Roman Emperor Charles V; Cortes enters Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan

1520: Suleiman I becomes sultan of the Ottoman Empire (Turks)

1521: Pope Leo X dies, succeeded by Hadrian VI

1522: Magellan’s expedition completes circumnavigation of globe; German knights organize against the emperor; France attacks Charles V; Diet of Nuremberg defers action on Edict of Worms

1523: Clement VII becomes pope

1524: Peasant Wars begin; Diet of Nuremberg fails to enforce Edict of Worms condemning Luther

1525: Charles V defeats Francis I; Elector Frederick the Wise dies; France makes pact with Suleiman I

1526: League of Torgau formed; First Diet of Speyer postpones enforcement of Edict of Worms

1527: Imperial troops sack Rome; plague strikes Wittenberg

1529: Second Diet of Speyer decides to enforce Edict of Worms; Turks lay siege to Vienna

1531: Schmalkaldic League, a body of German Protestant groups, forms in self-defense against Charles V

1532: Elector John the Steadfast dies; Diet of Regensburg and Peace of Nuremberg guarantee religious toleration in face of Turkish threat

1533: Pizarro conquers Peru; Ivan “the Terrible” (age 3) ascends Russian throne

1534: Paul III becomes pope

1535: Emperor forms Catholic Defense League; France makes pact with Suleiman I; Thomas More beheaded for opposing Henry VIII

1539: Catholic Duke George of Saxony dies; 
Frankfurt Truce declared between Catholic and Protestant territories

1540: Philip of Hesse, German prince, enters bigamous marriage with consent of Luther; conferences at Hagenau and Worms fail to reconcile Protestants and Catholics

1541: At Conference of Regensburg, Melanchthon and Bucer reach agreement with Catholics on most doctrines, but Luther and Rome reject their work; Karlstadt dies

1543: Copernicus writes that earth revolves around sun; John Eck dies

1545: Ferdinand I and Suleiman I agree to truce; Council of Trent, for reform of Catholic Church, opens

1555: Peace of Augsburg allows rulers to determine religion of their region

Ken Schurb is assistant professor of religion and philosophy at Concordia College, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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