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Church History: 1500's in Europe

The Large Picture: What happened in this century?


1501 November 14: Arthur of England and Catherine of Aragon (Spain) married. They were both 15 years old; Arthur died five months later.
1501 Erasmus is becoming more prominent in Europe as the leading Christian scholar. To read an excerpt from a book he wrote this year, The Handbook of the Christian Soldier, go here.
1502 Frederick the Wise founded the University of Wittenberg. This is the school where Luther would one day teach, start the Protestant Reformation, and spend the rest of his life.
1502 April 2: Arthur died. This leaves Catherine of Aragon a widow at age 16 and living in England. Arthur's younger brother, Henry VIII, is next-in-line to the English throne; he is 10 years old.
1503 Henry VIII and Catherine were betrothed.
1503 also Luther's thunderstorm incident. He had been attending school in order to become a lawyer. He was caught in a field during a thunderstorm and said, "Help me, St. Anne, and I will become a monk." [author's note: Anne was the mother of Mary the mother of Jesus.] He soon gave away his possessions, joined the Augustinian Order, and went to live in a monastery in Erfurt, Germany. He is 22 years old.
[1506 Christopher Columbus died.]
1506 also Zwingli ordained as a priest.
1506 also Pope Julius II laid the cornerstone of the Basilica of St. Peter. The enormous cost of the cathedral caused the next pope to raise money through a special indulgence. This indulgence prompted Luther to post the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg in order to debate the issue.

Big Picture: Indulgences
Indulgences were opportunities for Catholics to reduce time in purgatory (by having their sins forgiven). One example of an indulgence was to go on a Crusade. Another example was to travel to see a relic at a church or monastery. (For a list of some of the relics available in the 1500's, go here.) In the case of the special indulgence during Luther's time, the pope wanted to raise money for building St. Peter's Basilica and so issued a indulgence where people paid money for having sins forgiven/reduce time in purgatory. Plus, at least one friar claimed that they reduced the time in Purgatory of people who had died and were already in Purgatory. In many cases, part of the money of this special indulgence stayed with the local bishop and the other part went to the pope.
1507 Luther began his theological studies and was ordained a priest.
1508 Michelangelo began painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. He finished it in 1512.
1509 Henry VII died and Henry VIII became king of England. Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon.
1509 also John Calvin born.
1510 Catherine of Aragon miscarried a daughter.
1510 also Luther sent to Rome on behalf of his Order. When he saw Rome for the first time, he fell to the ground and said, "How blessed are you, Holy Rome!" Yet, his trip turned sour as he witnessed many financial abuses of the Catholic Church against Christian pilgrims.
1510 also By this time, Erasmus is exceedingly popular in Europe as a scholar and author.
1511 Catherine of Aragon gives birth to a son named Henry. He died 3 weeks later.
1512 Luther received his doctorate degree and was officially hired at the University of Wittenberg.
1513 Catherine of Aragon was pregnant again but miscarried.
1514 John Knox born; he helped bring Calvinism to Scotland and helped found the Presbyterian Church.
1514 also Catherine of Aragon was pregnant again but miscarried.
1515 In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Luther is placed in charge of 11 Augustinian monasteries.
1515 also Catherine of Aragon was pregnant again but miscarried.
1516 Erasmus moved to the Netherlands and became a counselor to the future Emperor Charles V.
1516 also The indulgence designed to raise money to renovate and enlarge St. Peter's Basilica was issued. It was this indulgence that would prompt Luther to write the 95 Theses.
1516 also Catherine of Aragon gave birth to a daughter, Mary. Mary would one day become queen.
1516 also Erasmus' Greek edition of the New Testament was published. He did not write the New Testament in Greek, instead he gathered the best and oldest sources of the Greek New Testament and compiled them into the most accurate version of the NT available up to that point. For example, the Vulgate (the Latin version used by the Catholic Church) rendered Matthew 4:17 as "do penance, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand," whereas Erasmus' version states "repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand." Luther learned from Erasmus' version of this verse that God wanted repentance and not penance.
1517 John Tetzel traveled near Wittenberg and preached on indulgences. Frederick did not allow him to preach on indulgences in his territory. Tetzel's famous advertisement: "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!" Some people in Wittenberg traveled to Tetzel in order to buy indulgences. Luther was irate because the people were buying indulgences.

The Big Picture: Indulgences
An indulgence was a partial or full pardon for sins. In the case of Tetzel, the pope needed to raise money to rebuild St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and decided to allow people to buy a special indulgence. This meant that a person gave Tetzel (or other papal representatives, Tetzel was not the only one) money and that person received a document which stated the type of indulgence to be given. This indulgence involved (1) reducing the time one spent in Purgatory, (2) allowing one to bypass Purgatory and go to heaven, or (3) allowing someone else to reduce or eliminate time in Purgatory. [Other indulgences could be awarded for many things, such as service to the Church, going on a Crusade, or making a pilgrimage to see a relic and donating for the upkeep of the church or monastery where the relic was held.]
1517: April Erasmus wrote to Pope Leo X and said, "If ever there was a golden age, then there is good hope that ours will be one." Erasmus wanted to change the Catholic Church, but from the inside. He understood how far he could push the Catholic Church without getting into trouble. He was unaware of Luther's actions, which led to a break with the Catholic Church.
1517 October 31: Luther nailed 95 Thesis on the church door in Wittenberg. This was meant to encourage a debate with Luther on the validate of the indulgence; they were printed in Latin. The next year (January) someone or some people translated them into German, had it printed, and spread it around. In this way many people learned of Luther's ideas, and many agreed with him. Note: ironically, the church in Wittenberg contained enough relics (over 19,000) to reduce someone's time in Purgatory by 1.9 million years.
1518 Heidelberg Disputation. This was held by Luther's Order, the Augustinian Order, in order to give him a chance to elaborate on his ideas; Martin Bucer wrote in a letter concerning Luther: "What Erasmus insinuates, he speaks openly and freely."
1518 also The Pope called Luther to Rome for examination, but Frederick the Wise (Luther's prince) has the location changed to Augsburg. The pope was not present at the Diet of Augsburg, but Cardinal Cajetan was; Luther did not change his position and had to flee back to Wittenberg. Frederick continued to protect Luther. [One of the great mysteries of Church History: Frederick the Wise protected Luther from the Pope a number of times, yet Frederick never left the Catholic Church.]
1518 also The Pope wrote a new decree on indulgences in which he states his right to issue indulgences. Now, if Luther argued against indulgences, he argued against the pope.
1518 also Catherine of Aragon gave birth to another daughter; the daughter died soon afterward.
1518 also Zwingli became the chief preacher in Zurich; he will remain in this position until his death.
1519 Luther and John Eck, the pope's representative, debated at the Leipzig Debate. Eck later calls Luther a heretic. This is important, because, if proven, Luther would probably have been killed.
1520 Frederick was visited by a papal ambassador, who encouraged Frederick to send Luther to Rome. This would have been a death sentence for Luther, and Frederick said, "No."
1520 also Luther received an offer of the protection of 100 knights. This shows the extent to which people were increasingly growing upset against Luther and against the Catholic Church.
1520 also The Pope issued a bull [name given to an official papal pronouncement] that instructed Luther to recant in 60 days. Luther publicly burned this bull in December.
1520 also Luther wrote 3 of his greatest books: "Address to the Christian Nobility," "On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church," and "On the Freedom of the Christian." Taken together, these three encourage Catholics to deny many of the Catholic Church's teachings.
[1521 Cortes conquered Tenochtitlan (Mexico City)]
1521 Henry VIII was named "Defender of the Faith" by the pope for his opposition to Luther. Henry wrote a book against Luther called The Defense of the Seven Sacraments in this year. To see an excerpt, go here. [Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church but retained the title. Today, it is one of the titles of the monarch of England.]
1521 also Luther attended the Diet of Worms. At first he believed that he was going to debate his ideas. Once there, he found out otherwise. Apr 17: Luther came to the Diet at 4 in the afternoon: present were Charles, the seven electors, Spanish troops, princes, bishops, etc.; in their midst was a table piled with books. He was asked if he had written these books and if he would recant. He replied that he had written those books plus more. He requested time to think about the second question. Apr 18: Luther was not called into the Diet until night. He stated that he could not recant and then added "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen." [There is some doubt as to whether or not he said these lines.] Luther was subsequently given 21 days to travel to Wittenberg and then he would be placed under the ban; any town or individual helping him after 21 days would also be under the ban. [This meant that they would be outside the protection of the law.] Luther was certain that he would soon be killed. He traveled to the region where he grew up with friends. Along the way some horsemen rode up and took Luther away. His friends thought he would be killed, but the horsemen were actually working for Frederick. They secretly kidnapped Luther to the Wartburg, one of Frederick's nearby castles, for safekeeping. Luther wrote many works attacking the papacy and doctrines in the Catholic Church while there. He also translated the New Testament into German in less than four months; note: the Catholic Church forbid any translation into any language.
1521 also By this time Zwingli began teaching Grebel and some of his other priests. One of his beliefs was the importance of reading the Bible for oneself. Grebel and others began to do this and, eventually, reached the conclusions which caused them to begin the Anabaptist faith.
1522 Ignatius Loyola (a future leader within the Catholic Church against the Protestants) decides to dedicate himself to prayer; he exchanges clothes with a beggar in order to practice humility.
1522 also Luther returned to Wittenberg, where he lived for the rest of his life.
1523 Two Augustinian monks who followed Luther's teachings were burned at the stake. They were the first martyrs of the Protestant Reformation.
1523 also Zwingli had his own 67 Theses, which he defended in Zurich.
1523 also John Calvin was 14 years old and most likely moved to the University of Paris.
1524 Zwingli married, even though he was a priest. Also, he wrote a letter in which he defended a symbolic view of the Lord's Supper.
1525 Luther married Katharina von Bora, a runaway nun.
1525 Jan 21: A number of men gather at the home of Felix Manz; Grebel baptized George Blaurock by pouring water on his head from a pitcher. This was the first Believer's Baptism of the Reformation period and began the Anabaptist movement. Grebel proceeded to preach in the area and to baptize many people.
1525 also The first known Anabaptist martyrdom takes place this year when Eberli Bolt is burned at the stake.
1526 Luther's books were burned in England.
1526 also William Tyndale published the first English-language translation of the New Testament.
  • More details: To read about Tyndale's life and his other contributions (he coined the word "Passover"), go here
1527 Felix Manz was drowned in Zurich for rebaptizing other people. Zwingli possibly coined the word "Anabaptist" because he believed they were being "re-baptized." "Anabaptist" comes from the Greek: "ana" means "again."
1527 also Michael Sattler wrote the Schleitheim Confession. This document lists the basic beliefs of Anabaptists. [It is used by Amish today.] Later in the year he was tortured and then burned at the stake. His wife was drowned a week later.
1527 also Henry VIII moved on his plans to divorce Catherine. He secretly gathered bishops and lawyers to sign a declaration that Henry and Catherine's marriage was invalid on the grounds that she was previously married to Henry's brother, Arthur. Note: The debate centered around whether or not the marriage between Arthur and Catherine was consummated. Henry believed that Catherine had failed to give birth to a son because of the condemnation addressed in Leviticus 20:21: "If a man marries his brother's wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be childless." Henry understood "childless" as "sonless." Henry used the Leviticus passage as a neccesity for the divorce. Catherine stated that her marriage to Arthur was not consummated, but Henry and others did not believe her and proceeded with the divorce.
1527 also The plague came to Wittenberg. Luther and Katie stayed and helped those who were sick and alowed them to stay in their house, which was quarantined. Luther wrote "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." To learn more, go here.
1529 The term "Protestant" is first used.
1529 also George Blaurock, the first person baptized as a adult believer in the Protestant era, was burned at the stake.
1529 also The Colloquy of Marburg. The followers of Luther and Zwingli convinced them to meet and try and find common theological ground. They agreed on all points except one: Communion. Zwingli said it was symbolic; Luther said that it was more than that. To read more, go here.
1531 Zwingli died. He was a chaplain in the Zurich army and died in battle helping defend Zurich from a Catholic army.
1532 Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn in secret.
1533 Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn in public; 4 months later Anne Boleyn gave birth to Elizabeth. Elizabeth would one day become queen.
1533 also Pope Clement VII excommunicated Henry VIII.
1534 Luther finished his translation of the Old Testament into German. His German Bible is printed.
1534 also The Act of Succession is passed by Parliament in England. Everyone in England must now swear allegiance to Henry VIII as the head of the Church of England.
1534 also Geneva, where Calvin will end up living, became more Protestant when they abolished the Catholic Mass. [Author's note: This means that they rejected the transubstantiation view of Communion, which means that the bread and wine turned into the Body and Blood of Christ.]
1536 Henry VIII had Anne Boleyn beheaded and married Jane Seymour. Catherine of Aragon died of natural causes in this year.
1536 also John Calvin completed the first copy of the Institutes. While traveling, he passed through Geneva. He is persuaded to stay and help complete the Reformation movement there.
1536 also Erasmus died.
1537 Jane Seymour gave birth to Edward. He would one day become king. Seymour died about 2 weeks later.
1538 After a series of disagreements, Calvin left Geneva.
1540 Pope Paul III approved of Ignatius Loyola's Order, the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Loyola wrote a manual to help instruct his followers called "Spiritual Exercises." To read an excerpt, go here.
1540 also Calvin married. He also received an invitation from Geneva to return.
1541 Calvin returned to Geneva to complete the Reformation movement there.
  • More details: To read a short summary of Calvinism's 5 points (and to find out why there are 5 points), go here.
1542 Pope Paul III reinstituted the Inquisition.
1542 also Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier arrived in India.
1545 The Council of Trent began. This was a series of meetings held from 1545 to 1563. The Catholic Church, realizing that they were hemorrhaging members, decided to meet and review all their doctrines. Basically the Council determined that their doctrines were correct and that Protestants were excommunicated.
>1546 Luther died. In his pocket was a piece of paper which said (in part): "We are all beggers." To read about his last hours, go here. His body was buried in the main church in Wittenberg where he had preached so many times. During his life, he was so exceedingly popular that people who ate with him later wrote down what he said. Some of these were collected into a book called Luther's Table Talk or Table Talk. To read excerpts, go here.
1547 Henry VIII died and Edward VI became king. Edward was 9 years old when he became king and he died at age 15.
1549 Francis Xavier arrived in Japan and began missionary work.
1551 Robert Stephanus, a printer, divided the New Testament into verses. This was available for the first time in his newly published NT which came out in this year. His system was adopted. To see when the chapters were added, click here.
1552 Francis Xavier died. He was a Jesuit and traveled as far as Japan. He died en route to China. To read more of his missionary story, and what he accomplished in ten years, go here.
1553 Edward VI died. Mary (daughter of Catherine of Aragon, a Catholic) became queen. She reverted England back to a Catholic nation. Many English Protestants died and many left England.
1556 Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), died.
1557 The Index was created. It consisted of books which the Catholic Church banned.
1558 The Academy began in Geneva. Many Protestants attended Calvin's school, including John Knox, who took back Calvin's ideas and helped founded the Presbyterians of Scotland.
1558 also Mary, Queen of England, died. Elizabeth became Queen. She revert the faith of England back to the Church of England.
1559 The last edition of Calvin's Institutes was published.
1560 Jacob Arminius born. He championed ideas that opposed Calvin's ideas.
1563 The Council of Trent ended.
1564 Born: William Shakespeare & Galileo 
Died: Michelangelo & John Calvin
1583 Jesuit Matteo Ricci arrived in China and began missionary work. [Francis Xavier wanted to go to China, but died 10 miles from China's coastline.]
1588 Arminius became a pastor in Amsterdam.

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