Several years ago in Germany, I devoted some enriching days to the little town of Wittenberg, south of Berlin, the town of Martin Luther. I’d like to go back one day, but the cheapest tours are the ones we do from our armchairs. In this blog, let’s review the timeline and some bullet points related to that monk who changed the world with his mallet — Martin Luther.
A Simple Timeline of Reformation History
- AD 100-325 – Ante-Nicene Age, marked by rapid church growth amid periodic persecution.
- 313 – Constantine issued the Edict of Milan: “It is proper that the Christians and all others should have liberty to follow that mode of religion which to each of them appeared best.”
- 324 – Constantine divided the Roman Empire into East and West, with Constantinople (Istanbul) capital of the Eastern half, which became the Byzantine Empire.
- 325 – The Council of Nicea convened. Main subject: The doctrine of Christ. In every generation that followed, genuine Christian believers lived out and passed along the Gospel; but institutionally, the church in both West and East became increasingly corrupt.
- 325-1054 – The Patriarch of Constantinople became a “rival” to the pope in Rome. Two “denominations” grew within Christendom—the Roman Catholic Church in the West and the Orthodox or Byzantine Church in the East.
- 1054 – After centuries of tension, the Great Schism brought a final separation between the Eastern and Western churches. The pope and patriarch excommunicated each other.
- 1054-1518 – In the West, the church became political, bureaucratic, wealthy, immoral, and heretical, filled with: Sexual sin, such as Pope Alexander VI (Borgia), with orgies at the Vatican; Simony (the selling of church offices); The loss of the Bible in the language of the people; The loss of congregational singing; The loss of wine for the laity at communion; The worship of saints, especially Mary; The Great Schism of the Papacy (1378-1417) – two or three popes at once; The proliferation of indulgences.
- 1300s – John Wycliffe of Oxford, the “Morning Star of the Reformation,” called for reforms in the church and began translating the Bible into English. His body was exhumed and burned in 1428.
- 1400s – John Hus of Prague, a Bohemian priest and professor at the University of Prague. He was burned at the stake in 1415 by order of the Council of Constance.
- 1483 – Martin Luther was born in Eisleben. Great changes were starting to take place in Europe philosophically. This was the dawning of the Renaissance in Italy. The Reformation and the Renaissance took parallel courses through the middle of European culture.
- 1487-1500 – Luther attends primary and secondary school in Mansfield, Magdeburg and Eisenach. In school, he received musical instruction and thrived in learning the old Latin hymns.
- 1501 – Enrolls in the University of Erfurt to study law. While here he sees a copy of the Latin Bible in the university library and for the first time views the entire Scripture in printed form.
- 1502-1505 – Earns a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Art degree in Erfurt.
- July 2, 1505 – 21 years old. Caught in a thunderstorm, and his close call with a lightning bolt leads him to shout: “Saint Anne, help me! I will become a monk!”
- July 17, 1505 – Enters the Augustinian cloister at Erfurt. Tremendous emotional and spiritual struggles. Cannot find peace.
- 1508 – Travels to Frederick’s struggling Wittenberg university as a temporary teacher.
- 1510 – Travels to Rome, where his infatuation with Catholicism fades.
- 1511 – Moves to Wittenberg, population 2000-2500. Came under the mentoring of Johann von Staupitz, the vicar of the Augustinian order in Germany.
- 1512 – Earns a Doctor of Theology degree
- 1513 – Begins lecturing in Wittenberg on the Psalms
- 1514 – Is stuck by Romans 1:16-17. He realizes that the righteousness of God to which Paul referred included the act of God’s declaring us righteous in His sight by grace alone through faith; not by works.
- 1515-16 – Begins lecturing on the book of Romans, then the book of Galatians. “These studied proved to be for Luther the Damascus Road” (Bainton).
- 1517 – Grows upset at the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel, which indirectly aided in raising funds for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome under Pope Leo X.
- Oct 31, 1517 – Posts his 95 theses on the cathedral door in Wittenberg. The essence of the 95 theses is: It’s wrong to sell indulgences to build St. Peter’s Basilica; the pope has no power over purgatory; and buying indulgences gives people a false sense of hope.
- 1518 – The Pope demands Luther come to Rome; Luther appeals to Frederick; defends himself in Augsburg and is ready to recant if he can be shown from Scriptures he is wrong.
- Jan 2, 1519 – Meanwhile in Zurich, Zwingli was appointed teaching pastor at the Grossnmster, or Great Cathedral. He began his ministry by declaring he would preach through the entire New Testament, alpha to omega. He began in Matthew 1:1, and over the next six years preached through the New Testament, relaunching the ear of expositional preaching.
- 1519 – Luther debates Johann Eck in Leipzig
- 1520 – The pope excommunicates Luther, and Luther burns the document. Luther’s books fly from the newly-invented printing press all across Germany. In his writings, he suggests there should be two sacraments, not seven. He also felt the bread and the wine should be given to every believer.
- 1521 – The diet at Worms.
- 1521 – Luther is “kidnapped” and taken to the Castle of Wartburg, where he translates the New Testament into German.
- 1522 – Luther returns to Wittenberg; his New Testament is published.
- 1523 – The first martyrs of the Reformation are burned. Luther issues a hymnbook and returns congregational singing to the church. His hymn: “Flung to the Heedless Winds.”
- 1525 – Caught in the chaos of the Peasants’ Revolt. Marries Katherine von Bora.
- 1527 – Composes “A Mighty Fortress” based on the support he had received from Psalm 46.
- 1529 – The Muslims press into Europe from Turkey and besiege Vienna.
- 1529 – With Germany divided between Catholic and Lutheran areas., the Second Diet of Speyer decreed that in Lutheran lands, religious liberty for Catholics must be observed; but in Catholic areas, Lutherans will not have the same. Lutherans protested, making them Protestants.
- 1529 – Publishes his Large and Small Catechisms, easy-to-understand presentations of Christian doctrine. Debates communion with Ulrich Zwingli.
- 1530 – Luther’s associate, Philip Melanchthon, writes the Augsburg Confession.
- 1534 – During the final years of life, Luther teaches at the university and preaches and writes. He publishes commentaries. He advises political and church leaders. He entertains, especially students. His chats with them are published in his Table Talk. In 1534, the entire Bible was published in German.
- 1541 – Faced with pressure from the pope in the West and the Turks in the East, wrote the hymn: “Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word.”
- 1546 – Luther, 62, dies in Eisleben.
- 1600s – A revival took place within Lutheranism, known as German Pietism – Philipp Jakob Spener. Check out the hymns of Paul Gerhardt
- 1618-1648 – The Thirty Years’ War in Central Europe, resulting in eight million causalities.
- 1500s-1900s – The Reformation spread throughout Europe and the world, and as it made its way through different cultures and countries it manifested itself in the forming of various denominations.
Some of Luther’s Great Contributions
- He returned the church to biblical truth and to biblical practices
- He returned the Bible to the people in their own language
- He returned the sermon to the church liturgy
- He returned Christian education to the town, church, and home, especially with his catechisms.
- He returned congregational singing and worship to the churches
One of Luther’s Greatest Failures
- As he grew older and more tired and ill, he became more irritable and wrote too severely, especially toward the Jews and the Anabaptists
The Solas of the Reformation
- Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone!
- Sola Gratia – Grace alone!
- Sola Fide – Faith alone!
- Sola Christus – Christ alone!
- Sola Deo Gloria – To the glory of God alone!
A great assessment of Luther:
The most profound impact of Luther on his people was in their religion. His sermons were read to the congregations, his liturgy was sung, his catechism was rehearsed by the father with the household, his Bible cheered the fainthearted and consoled the dying. If no Englishman occupies a similar place in the religious life of his people, it is because no Englishman had anything like Luther’s range. The Bible translation was the work of Tyndale, the prayer book of Cranmer, the catechism of the Westminster divines. The sermonic style stemmed from Latimer; the hymnbook came from Watts. And not all of these lived in one century. Luther did the work of more than five men. And in sheer richness and exuberance of vocabulary and mastery of style he is to be compared only with Shakespeare.
–Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Abingdon, 1950), 384.