The Life of Martin Luther
Luther the Reformer (1517-1525)
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(age 33)

Johann Tetzel begins selling indulgences on the borders of Saxony. Among his customers are some of Luther's parishioners.  Luther notices fewer people are coming to confession. He finds out about Tetzel's activities and begins preaching against indulgences.  He also writes  Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.  [Friedrich Myconius' account of indulgences]
At the University, Luther begins a year of lectures on the Epistle to the Hebrews.
October 31 Luther posts the 95 Theses [picture, painting] on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, which was a kind of bulletin board for the University. His intent is to spur debate. He also sends copies of the theses to a few bishops and some friends. Initially, he gets very little response.
December In response to falling sales of indulgences, Johann Tetzel writes two sets of counter theses addressing Luther's 95. He gets help from Dominican friends.
(age 34)
March 26 The Disputation at Heidelberg begins. It is a debate of Luther's ideas at a meeting of the Augustinian chapter. Luther joins the debate in April. Several of the brothers come to accept his way of thinking.
summer The papal court begins an inquisition in Rome in response to Luther's ideas. Luther is tried in his absence on charges of heresy.
August 5
Emperor Maximilian denounces Luther as a heretic
August 7 Luther is summoned to Rome within sixty days to answer charges against him
Luther begins almost three years of lectures on the Psalms
October 12 Luther begins his interview with Cardinal Cajetan in Augsburg (in lieu of going to Rome) [woodcut]. Cajetan tells him to recant, return to the heart of the church and stop his disruption of church life.
October 14 Luther ends his interview with Cajetan. Luther refuses to recant.
October 20 Luther flees from Augsburg in fear of his life.
October 30 Luther arrives back in Wittenberg and places himself under the protection of Elector Frederick III ("Frederick the Wise") of Saxony.
November 8 Pope Leo X [picture] issues Cum Postquam [Latin version with German Translation], outlining the church's doctrine of indulgences. It directly contradicts Luther's position.
December 18 Luther is ready to go into exile. But Frederick decides not to banish him, despite requests by the pope (via his representative Carl von Miltitz) to do so.
(age 35)
January 4 Luther begins an interview with papal chamberlain, Carl von Miltitz in Altenburg.
January 6 Luther ends his interview with Miltitz. Luther agrees to make certain concessions, including sending a letter of apology to the pope, and to lay his case before Matthäs Lang, the archbishop of Salzburg. 
February Luther revises Exposition of the Lord's Prayer (completed in April). He maintains that prayer should be internal, not merely rote.
March 1 Luther publishes his translation of the seven penitential Psalms
March 3 Luther writes a letter to Pope Leo X. In the letter he states that it was not his intention to undermine the authority of the pope or the church.
June 27 Luther and Andreas Karlstadt [picture] debate Johann Eck [picture] in Leipzig. At the heart of the debate is the issue of indulgences and the unique authority of the pope and the Roman church.  [woodcut of the debate]
July 14 Luther finishes his debate with Eck, convinced that Eck won. As a result of the debate the impact of the Luther-Rome dispute begins to grow. Luther and his ideas become unignorable.
early October
Luther receives a copy of Jan Hus' The Church from Prague.  He declares himself to be in fundamental agreement.
Luther begins a series of sermons on the sacraments.
mid-October Luther writes A Sermon on Preparing to Die.

Luther begins a second round of lectures on Psalms at the University of Wittenberg ( -1521)
(age 36)

Luther begins an intensive period of polemic writing. He also completes a Brief Form of the Ten Commandments; a Brief Form of the Creed; a Brief Form of the Lord's Prayer, which he believed contained the essentials for salvation as revealed in the Scripture. luther in 1520  
Martin Luther in 1520
engraving by
Lucas Cranach
January 9 Rome restarts the inquisition against Luther and his ideas
Lent Luther writes Meditation of Christ's Passion. At the core of this work is the admonition to sinners to allow Christ to free them of sin through his Easter victory over sin and the grave.
March 15 Rome sends a letter to Staupitz [picture], the vicar of Luther's order, telling him to restrain Luther or be dismissed. Staupitz resigns his position two months later.
May Luther writes his Treatise on Good Works.
June 11 Luther writes The Papacy in Rome
June Luther writes The Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation
June 11 Luther receives an offer of protection from 100 knights
June 15 Pope Leo X [picture] issues bull of excommunication against Luther. It is entitled Exsurge Domine ("Arise, Lord, and defend thine own vineyard against the wild beast that is devouring it.") Luther has 60 days to recant.
July 20 Luther finishes writing Appeal to the German Nobility
September Johann Eck posts the bull of excommunication throughout Saxony
October 6 Luther writes The Babylonian Captivity. It attacks the denial of the cup to laity, the mass as a sacrifice, and the seven (as opposed to two) sacraments. It sets Luther irrevocably against Rome.
October 10 Luther receives the papal bull, though he probably knew about it as early as late September. 
mid-October At the University of Erfurt, students rip up a copy of the papal bull and throw it into the water. University officials take no action against them.
November 12 Luther's books are burned in Cologne. Burning of his book in other cities follows shortly thereafter..
November 20 Luther writes Freedom of the Christian Man and publishes it along with an open letter to Pope Leo X.  In the letter Luther apologizes to the pope personally, but continues to denounce what he sees as false doctrine and corruption. In the treatise he speak of the freedom a Christian gains with justification.
December 10 Luther burns Exsurge Domine and other papal documents under a large oak outside the walls of the city. [picture, another picture]  He also burns books of church law and books written by his enemies.  [more about the Luther oak]
(age 37)  [Cranach's 1521 portrait of Luther]
January 3 Luther is excommunicated in the bull Decet Romanum Pontificem
February Elector Frederick the Wise [picture] demands Luther not be outlawed or imprisoned without being given the chance to defend himself at a hearing.
March 6 The Emperor Charles V [picture] summons Luther to appear before the Diet of Worms
March 8 An edict mandating the sequestration of Luther's books is issued at the Diet of Worms.
April 6 Luther begins the journey to Worms*, stopping along the way to preach in Erfurt, Eisenach, Gotha, and Frankfurt.  Traveling with him is Nikolaus von Amsdorf [picture].
April 15 Luther enters Worms in triumphal procession. A crowd has gathered and cheer him. [picture]
April 17 The first hearing of the Diet of Worms begins. An official of Trier points to a table of books and asks Luther if he is willing to recant. Luther sees that some of the books are his writings on Scripture. These he is unwilling to recant. He asks for a recess.  [picture, another picture]
April 18 During the second hearing of the Diet, Luther says, "Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason-- I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other-- my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me."  He probably didn't say "Here I stand."
April 19 The emperor sides with Rome, wants Luther condemned immediately. The imperial estates want to give Luther a few more days to recant.
April 24 Elector Frederick the Wise tells his brother about his decision to support Luther. 
April 25 Diet of Worms is dismissed. Luther leaves the negotiations room and says, "I am finished."
April 26 Luther leaves Worms as quietly as possible.
May 4 Luther is captured by "bandits" on his way home from Worms. He is taken to safety in Wartburg. Luther knew about the capture beforehand.  The ruse allows Frederick to escape charges of harboring a heretic.  [picture]
Luther as Junker Jörg  
Luther as
Junker Jörg in 1521
painting by
Lucas Cranach
May 10 Luther arrives at Wartburg castle, near Eisenach. He hides there for 11 months (from 5/4/1521 to 2/29/1522). During that time, he grows his hair and a beard and calls himself Junker Jörg (Knight George) [picture of Luther's room at Wartburg].  While at Wartburg he struggles with the devil.
May 26 Edict of Worms is signed by the emperor and issued. It formally condemns Luther's teachings and places him under the ban of the Empire.
August 1 Luther writes Let Your Sins Be Strong, a letter to Melanchthon.
December 3 Luther dashes home to Wittenberg then back to Wartburg surreptitiously
December Luther begins work on Sermon Postils, a collection of sermons, and on the German New Testament [picture, another picture, a third picture]
December A ban is issued against Luther and his followers.
(age 38) [picture of Luther at age 38]

While Luther is Wartburg, a number of changes take place in Wittenberg. Monks first refuse to say private Mass, then begin leaving the Augustinian congregation until it is finally disbanded. The minister at the castle church marries. Students destroy the altar at the Franciscan monastery. An Evangelical Lord's Supper begins to be celebrated with the liturgy in German and the cup offered to the laity.
February The ban on Luther and his followers is lifted
March 1-6 Luther leaves Wartburg and travels to Wittenberg accompanied by several knights. Upon arriving in Wittenberg, he immediately preaches in the parish church.

Luther begins two years of preaching. He travels throughout central Germany, including Erfurt and Weimar.
August 4 Martin Luther writes Contra Henricum Regem Anglicum, a response to King Henry VIII of England's [picture] Assertio septem sacramentorum adversus Martinum Lutherum (Defense of the Seven Sacraments) [image 1  image 2]. Neither subtle nor tactful, it cost him most of his support in England.
September 21 Luther publishes the German New Testament.  His introduction to the book of Romans includes a classic definition of faith.  [search the original text*]
(age 39)

Luther writes Jesus was born a Jew, a conciliatory work.  [information on Luther and the Jews]

Johannes Bugenhagen becomes Wittenberg's town priest and a theology lecturer at Wittenberg University.  Through out the years he serves at Luther's personal spiritual adviser.

Wittenberg sets up a community money box [picture] to deal with social services. 
March 6 The General Council of the Diet of Nürnberg orders Luther and his followers to stop publishing. It outlaws the preaching of anything other than established Roman Catholic doctrine.
March Luther writes On Civil Government
April 18 The General Council of the Diet of Nürnberg instructs the princes to enforce the Edict of Worms
June 1 Luther publishes his first Forma Missae et Communionis, a description of the Mass as it is celebrated in Wittenberg. It is in Latin, and is largely the traditional Mass with a few Evangelical touches. Congregational singing and the sermon are in German, but everything else is Latin. Luther expresses the hope that the Mass will soon be celebrated solely in the vernacular. He calls on poets and musicians to develop the appropriate settings.
July 1 The first Protestant martyrs are burned in Brussels.
(age 40)

The Third Imperial Diet of Nuremberg renews the banishment of Luther. By this time, however, he is so popular it is unlikely he would be arrested.  He continues his life and work in Germany.

Luther begins two years of argument with Desiderius Erasmus [picture]. It causes bad feelings and a minor split with the humanists, who had previously welcomed Luther's ideas.

Luther, with Johann Walther's assistance, publishes the Wittenberg Gesangbuch, a songbook for church use. Luther writes some of the words and tunes, adapts others from popular music.  Walther does the polyphony. The settings are simple enough that the young can learn them as well.

Luther writes Letters to the Princes of Saxony Concerning the Rebellious Spirit

Luther writes To the Councilmen in All Cities in Germany that they Establish and Maintain Christian Schools [image]

Peasants rise up in southwest Germany. They cite Luther's teachings as authority and demand more just economic conditions.  They are ready to overthrow the authorities if necessary.  Among their leaders is Thomas Müntzer, a Wittenberg-trained theologian, who urges them to show no pity.
August 6 Luther writes To Several Nuns, instructing them on the possibility of their leaving the convent.
October 9 Luther stops wearing the religious habit [image].
(age 41) [Cranach's 1525 portrait of Luther]

Luther writes Against the Heavenly Prophets.  In it he calls for a truly German Mass.
April 5 Katharina von Bora leaves the Nimbschen Cistercian Cloister.  She is living in Wittenberg, waiting for a husband to be arranged.  She rejects one prospect before agreeing to marry Luther.
April 19 Luther writes Admonition to Peace, a reply to the twelve articles of the Peasants in Swabia 
May 2 Frederick the Wise dies.  John the Steadfast becomes Elector of Saxony. 
May 5 Luther writes against the peasants in  Against the Murderous and Thieving Hordes of Peasants
May 13 Luther is betrothed to Katherine von Bora.  Lucas Cranach the Elder presents Luther's proposal of marriage.
May 15 At the Battle of Frankenhausen, 50,000 peasants are cut down.  Before the uprising is quelled, most of the year's crops, hundreds of villages, 1000 castles and monasteries are destroyed.  Nearly 100,000 die.  Protestant ministers are hanged by Catholic princes.  The peasants believe that they were betrayed by Luther. 
June 13 Luther marries Katherine von Bora. [picture, another picture]  They take up residence in the Black Cloister, the former Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg.
July Luther writes Open Letter Concerning the Hard Book Against the Peasants
December Luther publishes De Servo Arbitrio (Bound Will), which answers Erasmus' [picture] De Libero Arbit (Free Will). Luther maintains that sin hinders human ability to work out their own salvation.
December 25  Luther begins to use the German Mass
* indicates a site in German.  Altavista has a good translator.  So does Google.

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