The Protestant Reformation

Author(s): Martin Luther (published by Hieronymus Höltzel)

Historical Context

In 1517, an obscure German theologian by the name of Martin Luther published a document criticizing the Catholic selling of 'indulgences', or actions performed to reduce the amount of punishment for sin.

Luther could not have known that his document and the subsequent events would change the face of Europe and Christendom forever. Over the next 150 years, Europe split between the Catholic faith of the Roman popes and the new, reformed religion known as Protestantism, of which there were many branches. Northern Europe switched to Protestant, Southern Europe remained Catholic, and Central Europe became the site of the devastating Thirty Years' War.

For his writings and teachings, Luther was put on trial for heresy and in 1521 was excommunicated by the Pope. He would continue to teach and write widely on religion, including by translating the Bible into German vernacular and publishing numerous hymns. He would die in 1546, near the peak of the Reformation itself. Today, more than 900 million people adhere to the Protestant faith.

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