Birth of Martin Luther
November 10, 1483 - Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, to Hans and Margarethe Luder (or Ludher, later Luther).
Birthplace of Martin Luther in Eisleben.
November 11, 1483 - Luther was baptized in the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul (a short distance from the home in which he was born) on the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, after whom he was named.
Martin Luther's parents, Hans and Margarethe
Eisleben town square
1484 (age -1) - Hans Luther, disappointed with business prospects in Eisleben, moved to Mansfeld, hoping to make a living in the copper mines there.
1491 (age 7) - Hans Luther leased a smelter from the count of Mansfeld. The family's financial security improved.
Luther home in Mansfeld.
Hans ruled his son with an iron hand. Martin later
recalled, "my father once whipped me so hard I ran away. I hated him
until he finally managed to win me back." Margarethe was also a
harsh disciplinarian. Martin recalled "[that] for the sake of
stealing a nut, my mother once beat me until the blood flowed."
March 12, 1491 - Having risen from the peasantry, Hans Luther was determined to see his son ascend to civil service and bring honor to the family. To that end he sent young Martin to the Mansfeld Latin School, which taught the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, the Latin grammar of Donatus and the parts of the Bible used in church services.
At school, as at home, Martin experienced harsh discipline. One morning he was punished no less than fifteen times. His image of God was shaped by his environment. As a child, the name of Christ made him cringe:
From early childhood I was accustomed to turn pale and tremble whenever I heard the name of Christ mentioned, for I was taught to look upon him as a stern and wrathful judge.
October 12, 1492 -
Christopher Columbus made landfall in the Bahamas. The explorer
believed he had reached East Asia.
1497 (age 13) - From Mansfeld Luther moved to Magdeburg, one the the great cities of the region, with about 30,000 inhabitants. He boarded with the Brothers of the Common Life, who stressed Bible reading and living simply. As at Mansfeld everything was taught in Latin, the language of the church. But few understood it.
1497 Vasco de Gama rounded
the Cape of Good Hope, sailed up the east coast of Africa and
crossed the Indian Ocean, solving the major problem of the time
� how to sail directly to the East from
1498 (age 14) - A year later Luther began attending the parish school of St. George in Eisenach, a much smaller, but still important town. Initially, he stayed with relatives. The following year he moved in with Heinrich Schalbe, father of one of his classmates and one of the leading men of the city. Luther called Eisenach "my beloved town."
Entrance to Eisenach's Old Town.
Young Luther earned extra money as a singing
student in a chorus that performed for weddings and funerals. Ursula
Cotta, wife of a wealthy burgher, took a special liking to him
when she noticed him among a group of boys singing outside her house. Accounts tell us he had a beautiful tenor voice, ranging into alto. Mrs. Cotta, whose son Luther tutored, offered him free lodging enabling him to devote time to his studies. Luther called Mrs. Cotta his "adopted mother." He developed a love for music and art. It was during this time that he learned to play the lute, a difficult 15-string instrument.
The half-timber style Cotta home in Eisenach
1501 (age 17) - Upon completion of his early schooling Luther enrolled at the University of Erfurt. Reputedly one of the best schools of its time it had approximately one thousand students and four colleges: Theology, Liberal Arts, Medicine and Law. As part of his studies he read the Psalms, 15 per day. Every ten days he started over again, a practice he kept up the rest of his life until he knew all 150 by heart.
July 2, 1502 (age 18) - Elector Frederick III "the Wise" founded Wittenberg University.
September 29, 1502 - Luther received his Baccalaureate degree and began studying for his Masters.
January 1505 (age 21) - Luther received his Masters degree. His father gave him a copy of Corpus Iuris (or Juris) Civilis ("Body of Civil Law") and arranged for his entry into law school.
May 19, 1505 - Luther entered law school at University of Erfurt and began his studies by memorizing the titles of laws. But something soon happened that changed the direction of his life.
July 2, 1505 - While returning to Erfurt from his
parents' home in Mansfeld, Luther was near the town of Stotternheim,
when he was caught in a bad thunderstorm and nearly struck by
lightening. Later, Luther used a German word, Anfechtung, "a
grasping dread," to describe what he felt. He vowed to become a monk
if St. Anne saved him. (St. Anne was the patron saint of miners
around whom Luther grew up.)
July 17, 1505 - Luther entered the Augustinian Black Monastery in Erfurt. Devout, earnest, self-critical, relentlessly self-disciplined and intelligent, his only goal as a monk was to earn his way into heaven. He performed his share of manual labor and begged in the city with other monks. "I kept the rule of my order so strictly that if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery, it was I." At least once, Luther spent six hours confessing to his superior, Johann Von Staupitz. He later wrote:
I was myself more than once driven to the very depths of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him! ... I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailor and hangman of my poor soul.
Augustinian monastery in Erfurt.
1506 (age 22) - Pope Julius II ordered the old St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, dating from the time of Constantine (4th century), torn down and commissioned a new St. Peter's Basilica designed by Donato Bramante, the father of high renaissance architecture.
1507 (age 23) - Luther's superior, Johann
Staupitz, recognized his problems and his gifts and took him off
menial duties in the monastery. He told him that "God was not angry
with him, but he with God." Luther had shown a particular aptitude
for biblical studies and Staupitz ordered him to study theology at
the University of Erfurt.
April 3, 1507 - Luther ordained to the priesthood.
May 2, 1507 - Luther celebrated his first mass with his father present. In accordance with the usual ritual he placed himself face down on the floor, then raised himself to his knees. Church officials placed their hands on his head and spoke the words of ordination. He then went behind the altar and began the Mass. But the familiar words he spoke left him terrified. He stumbled, sure that a sinner like him had no business speaking such sacred text. After completing the ritual his father blurted a statement that showed his doubts about his son's calling:
I hope it was God and not the devil that called you.
Winter 1508 (age 24) - After three years at the monastery, Johann Staupitz sent Luther on a temporary teaching assignment at the recently established university in Wittenberg.
1508 - Pope Julius II
commissioned 33-year-old Michelangelo to paint frescoes on the
vaulted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (completed October 31, 1512).
1509 - He earned his bachelor's degree in the Four Books of Sentences by Peter Lombard, (the main theology textbook of the time).
Martin Luther's handwritten margin notes in his theology textbook, the Book of Sentences by Peter Lombard.
October 1, 1509 - Luther recalled to Erfurt from Wittenberg, perhaps to assist his old Augustinian theology teacher, Johannes Nathin, instruct novitiates.
1510 (age 26) - Pope Julius II authorized the sale of indulgences to finance construction of the new St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Pilgrimage to Rome
November 1510 (age 26) - Luther and another unnamed monk from his cloister were sent on an 850-mile journey, on foot, to Rome to handle a dispute over a new set of rules for the Augustinian order. It was also hoped that a visit to the seat of the Roman Catholic Church would ease Luther's spiritual struggles.
During his stay in Rome (fall of 1510 until spring of 1511), he did all the things any devout pilgrim would do. On his knees he ascended the steps of the Scala Santa, said to have been transported from Pontius Pilate's judgment hall in Jerusalem. He said an "Our Father" on each step to free his grandfather from purgatory. In his later writings he recalled his great disappointment with the "holy city:"
It is almost incredible what infamous actions are committed at Rome; one should see it and hear it in order to believe it. It is an ordinary saying that if there is a hell, Rome is built upon it. It is an abyss from which all sins proceed.
Johann Staupitz, Luther's Augustinian superior, also the dean of the theology faculty at Wittenberg University, transferred him back to Wittenberg to teach theology and work on his doctorate.
Luther moved into the newly constructed Augustinian Black Cloister (above), named for the monk's black habits.
1512 (age 28) - Luther began his second teaching stint at the University of Wittenberg (above), which opened October 18, 1502. It was called Leucorea, the Greek translation of Wittenberg (leukos white; oros mountain).
October 19, 1512 - Luther awarded Doctorate of Theology.
August 16, 1513 (age 29) - Luther began lectures on the Psalms. One university student stated that professor Luther was a good lecturer with a voice that was easy to listen to.
He spoke neither too quickly nor to slowly, but at an even pace, without hesitation and very clearly, and in such fitting order that every part flowed naturally from what went before.
1514 (age 30) - Luther named priest for Wittenberg's Stadtkirche St. Marien (city church of St. Mary, named for Mary Magdalene) in addition to his university duties.
Wittenberg town square with the twin towers of the Marienkirche, where Martin Luther regularly preached; known as the mother church of the Reformation.
1515 (age 31) - Luther's workload increased when he was appointed Augustinian vicar for Meissen and Thuringia, which gave him charge over eleven area monasteries. Describing his workload at Wittenberg, Luther wrote to his friend Johann Lang at the Augustinian priory in Erfurt:
I could use two secretaries. I do almost nothing during the day but write letters. I am a preacher, a reader at meals, director of studies ... overseer of the fish pond at Litzkau, referee of the squabble at Torgau, lecturer on Paul, collector of material on the Psalms ... I rarely have time for canonical hours and for saying mass, not to mention my own temptations with the world, the flesh and the devil. See how lazy I am.
1515 - Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz (also Bishop of Halberstadt and Archbishop of Magdeburg) obtained permission from Pope Leo X to sell indulgences in Germany to repay a loan from the wealthy Fugger banking family of Augsburg. Albrecht borrowed the money to secure his appointments to high church offices. Half the money was to be forwarded to the papacy. But Albrecht's actions violated church law which stated that it was illegal to hold multiple offices, a practice call simony. Never mind that Albrecht was too young (mid 20's) to be bishop in the first place!
Pope Leo X got what he wanted: money for himself and money to build Saint Peter's Basilica. Albrecht got what he wanted: money to pay off his debt and control of the German church. The German people got what they didn't need indulgences.
May 1515 - Luther began year of lectures on Romans.
Hall at Wittenberg University where Luther often gave his lectures.
Luther's "Tower Experience"
When Luther had his key revelation, his so-called "tower experience," is a matter of debate. It most likely took place late in 1516. Luther himself tells us that the major turning-point in his life took place in his study in the tower of the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg.
Tower of the Augustinian monastery where Luther had his study.
As he often did he was thinking about the terrible justice by which God punished sinners. His Bible was open to Paul's letter to the Romans. Romans 1:17 caught his eye: "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written [Habakkuk 2:4], "The righteous will live by faith. "Reading further, he came to Romans 3:22: "...This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe."
He must have read those passages many times before. But at that moment a light went on revealing the answer to the dilemma that drove him to enter the monastery some 10 years earlier. As he read the passages, he saw that his fasting and confession, all he did to earn salvation for his soul, meant nothing. Those passages in Romans showed him that salvation was a gift of God's grace. They became his Damascus road. Luther stated:
I felt I was altogether born again ...That place in Paul was truly my gate to paradise.
1516 (age 32) - Plague struck Wittenberg. Luther's
friends encouraged him to leave the city, but he would not abandon
October 27, 1516 - Luther began a year of lectures on Galatians.
December, 1516 - Luther published Theologia Germanica (German Theology), a mystical treatise believed to have been written around 1350 by an anonymous author. Luther added his own preface and claimed he learned more from this manuscript than any other source except the Bible and and the writings of Augustine. Theologia Germanica proposed that God and humanity can be wholly united by following a path of perfection, as exemplified by the life of Christ, renouncing sin and selfishness, ultimately allowing God's will to replace human will.