The Trial of Martin Luther: A Chronology

Wittenberg, Germany in the time of Martin Luther
November 10, 1483
Martin Luther is born in Eisleben, in Germany (Saxony, part of the Holy Roman Empire).
Luther enters the University of Erfurt where, in accordance with his father's wishes, he plans to prepare himself to become a lawyer.
July 2, 1505
A bolt of lightening knocks Luther, still a student at the University of Erfurt, to the ground and Luther interprets this as a sign that he should become a monk.  Two weeks later, he takes his monastic vows at an Augustinian cloister.
Luther becomes an ordained priest.
Luther earns a degree in Biblical studies from the University of Wittenberg.  He becomes an instructor at the university.
Luther travels to Rome where he becomes disillusioned with the incompetence, flippancy, and immorality of the Italian clergy.
Luther becomes a professor of theology (the Doctor in Bible) at the University of Wittenberg.
Luther studies the Bible and prepares series of lectures on Psalms, Romans, and Galatians.  Luther gains a new understanding of Paul's message and begins to see Faith as a gift from God, not as an achievement.  He rejects the prevailing view of a capricious God.  The theology of Paul from this time on is Luther's pole star.
Pope Leo X begins to sell indulgences.  On October 31, the eve of All Saints Day, Luther delivers a sermon critical of the practice of selling indulgences.  Remission of sins, in Luther's view, depended on personal confession and contrition.  Luther also doubted the power of the Pope to release a soul from purgatory.
October 31, 1517
Luther, upset with the practice of selling indulgences, send a letter to Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, questioning that and numerous other practices of the Catholic Church.  The letter comes to be known as The 95 Theses.  Although there is some doubt as to the matter, the 95 Theses were probably also posted on the door of All Saint's Church ("Castle Church") in Wittenberg.  Within a few months, the 95 Theses were translated from Latin into German and widely distributed throughout Europe.
May 1518
Augustians gather for a chapter meeting in Heidelberg.  Despite concerns about his safety, Luther makes the trip to Heidelberg and is received as a guest of honor.
August 1518
In a printed sermon, Luther questions the historical primacy of the Church in Rome and doubts the Church's power of excommunication.  Pope Leo asks Sylvester Prierias, of the Dominican Order, to draft a reply to Luther which brands his ideas heretical.  Luther receives a citation to appear in Rome to answer the charge of heresy.  Frederick the Wise, elector of Germany, suggests to the papal legate, Cardinal Cajetan, that Luther be allowed to answer the charge in Augsburg, Germany instead of Rome.
October 12-14, 1518
Luther is interviewed for three days in Augsburg by Cardinal Cajetan.  Luther is told that he must recant his views on indulgences and papal infallibility, but Luther refuses to do so.  Luther proposes that his case be referred to the universities.  He flees Augsburg on horseback at night after hearing of plans to have him arrested. 
November 9, 1518
The papal bull Cum Postquam officially defines the doctrine of indulgences, thus allowing Luther's prosecution for rejecting established dogma of the Church.  The bull eliminates some of the worst abuses concerning indulgences.
November 28, 1518
Luther files an appeal seeking a review of his case by a general council, which he claims is above the authority of the pope.
December 18, 1518
Frederick the Wise sends to Cardinal Cajetan calling for a debate on the questions raised by Luther and indicating that he would not banish Luther, or send him to Rome, until he is formally convicted of heresy.
June 28, 1519
Charles of Spain becomes Charles V, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, a vast region that includes Germany. 
July 1519
Luther engages in a theological debate in Leipzig with a chief defender of traditional Catholicism, John Eck, a professor at the University of Ingolstadt. The universities of Paris and Erfurt are chosen as judges.  The eighteen-day debate addresses matters ranging from purgatory to indulgences to the primacy of the Church in Rome.
Summer-Fall 1520
Luther publishes a series of tracts that are considered his primary works: The Sermon on Good Works (May), The Papacy in Rome (June), The Babylonian Captivity (September), and The Freedom of the Christian Man (November).  The Babylonian Captivity questions all but two of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.
June 15, 1520
Pope Leo X, in the papal bull Exsurge Domine, warns Luther that he will be excommunicated unless he recants 41 sentences included in his 95 Theses within sixty days.
July 8, 1520
The pope writes to Frederick the Wise, sending him a copy of the bull and asking him to take Luther captive unless he recants his heresies.
August 1520
Luther appeals to Caesar, in the person of Charles V, asking that his cause be heard and arguing that ecclesiastical authorities should be answerable to the state.
October 11, 1520
The day after receiving a copy of the pope's bull, Luther writes, "This bull condemns Christ himself."  In his letter, he also writes that he is now "certain the pope is the Antichrist."
November 29, 1520
Luther publishes his answer to the papal bull entitled Assertion of All the Articles Wrongly Condemned in the Roman Bull.
December 10, 1520
In Wittenberg, Luther publicly burns the papal bull threatening him with excommunication.
January 3, 1521
Pope Leo X excommunicates Luther.
February 6, 1521
Charles V receives Luther's appeal to Caesar and tears it up and tramples on it.  Within weeks, however, concerned with the reaction of the German people if Luther were to be condemned without a hearing, he reconsiders his decision.
March 11, 1521
The emperor sends an invitation to Luther to come to the Diet meeting at Worms within twenty-one days to "answer with regard to your books and your teaching."
April 16, 1521
Luther enters Worms in a two-wheeled cart.  Two thousand people help escort him to his lodging.
April 17, 1521
Luther appears before the Diet of Worms, a general assembly of the estates of the Holy Roman Empire, with Charles V presiding.  Luther is to be asked by the Archbishop of Trier, Eck (but not the Eck of the Leipzig debate), about the content of his books and his 95 Theses, and whether he stands by all of what he said.  He asks for time to consider his response.
April 18, 1521
At his second hearing, Luther distinguishes between his books, allowing him to make a statement.  On key points, however, he stands firm.  He says, "My conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  God help me.  Amen."
April 23-24, 1521
A committee of electors privately meets with Luther and tries reach a compromise, accepting some of his attacks as warranted by gaining Luther's revocation on other of his points.  The committee is unsuccessful in its efforts.
April 26, 1521
Luther departs Worms.  A week later, after a staged kidnaping, Luther is taken to Wartburg.
May 25, 1521
Charles V presents the final draft of the Diet of Worms ("The Edict of Worms") that declares Luther an outlaw, authorizes his arrest, and bans his literature.  The Edict makes it a crime to shelter Luther and permits anyone to kill Luther without risk of punishment.
Late May
Frederick the Wise devises a plan (involving a staged abduction by armed horsemen) to allow Luther to escape arrest.  He finds temporary refuge at Wartburg Castle.
March 1522
Luther bravely returns to Wittenberg and begins a series of important lectures on core Christian values.
During the Peasants War, German peasants revolt against the state and the upper classes.  Luther, in whose name the peasant groups committed some atrocities, sympathizes with many of the peasants' grievances, but urges them to obey authorities.  He  writes a tract condemning the violence at the devil's work.
June 13, 1525
Luther marries Katherine von Bora, a nun who had helped escape from a badly run convent.
During this period, most of northern Germany becomes Lutheran, as well as several major cities in other parts of Germany.  Germany is divided into two camps.  Luther is busy during this period writing sermons and working on building the church and shaping its institutions.
August 1526
The Diet of Speyer reaffirms the Edict of Worms only for Catholic territories and allows Lutheranism to be tolerated in regions where it could not be effectively suppressed.
Luther publishes his complete translation of the Bible into German.
After 1534
Lutheranism spreads, becoming the dominant faith in Scandinavia and, much later, gaining an extensive following in the United States.  The Catholic Church, shocked by the Reformation, undertakes a series of reforms of its own practices and institutions.
February 18, 1546
Martin Luther dies at age 62 in Eisleben.  He is later buried beneath the pulpit in the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

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