On This Day

The Protestant Reformation

1517 copy of Martin Luther's 95 theses, the publication of which began the Protestant Reformation in Europe
1517 copy of Martin Luther's 95 theses, the publication of which began the Protestant Reformation in Europe

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.

Document Info

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


Related Events

  • 1512-10-21 Martin Luther joins the theological faculty of the University of Wittenberg.
  • 1517-10-31 Martin Luther sends his 95 Theses to Albrecht von Brandenburg, the Archbishop of Mainz, precipitating the Protestant Reformation
  • 1518-10-12 Pontifical ambassador interrogates Martin Luther
  • 1519-07-16 Public debate between Martin Luther and theologian Johann Eck at Pleissenburg Castle in Liepzig, during which Luther denies the divine right of the Pope
  • 1520-12-10 Martin Luther publicly burns papal edict demanding he recant
  • 1521-05-08 Parliament of Worms installs edict against Martin Luther
  • 1521-05-25 Edict of Worms outlaws Martin Luther and his followers
  • 1522-03-09 Martin Luther begins preaching his "Invocavit Sermons" in the German city of Wittenberg, reminding citizens to trust God's word rather than violence and thus helping bring to a close the revolutionary stage of the Reformation
  • 1547-06-23 Champion of the Protestant Reformation, Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse is captured and taken to south Germany

Historical Documents