Protestant Reformation Timeline
Timeline Description: The Protestant Reformation, launched by the German monk Martin Luther in 1517, revolutionized Christianity. Frustrated by the Church's growing use of indulgences (pardoning in exchange for monetary gifts) and involvement in secular affairs, Luther called for Christians to reject the authority of Rome. His ideas inspired others to protest papal authority and found Protestant sects of their own.

Date Event
1517 Johann Tetzel sparks outrage by offering indulgences.

The priest Johann Tetzel sets up a church outside Wittenberg, and he offers indulgences to any Christian who contributes money for the rebuilding of the Cathedral of St. Peter in Rome. By purchasing indulgences, Tetzel claims, Christians will ensure entry into heaven for themselves and their dead relatives. Martin Luther is outraged by Tetzel's actions.
October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posts his 95 Theses.

In response to Tetzel's offer, the German monk Martin Luther draws up 95 theses, or arguments, against indulgences. Among other things, he argues that indulgences have no basis in the Bible, and that Christians can be saved by faith alone, not by the pope. He posts his 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg's All Saints Church.
June 15, 1520 The Church asks Luther to recant.

Luther's 95 Theses are printed and distributed throughout Europe, where they generate outrage and debate. The Church asks Luther to recant, or give up his views, but Luther refuses. Instead he grows more radical and encourages Christians to reject the authority of Rome. Only secular authorities can reform the Church, he argues.
January 3, 1521 The Church excommunicates Luther.

Since Luther refuses to recant, and only grows more radical in his rejection of the pope's authority, the Church excommunicates Luther.
April 1521 Charles V declares Luther an outlaw.

The new Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, summons Luther to the diet, or assembly, of Worms. He asks Luther to give up his beliefs, but Luther again refuses. Charles declares him an outlaw, making it a crime for anyone in the empire to give him food or shelter. Nevertheless, Luther's many friends support him.
1521 Luther's ideas spread.

Thanks to the development of the printing press, Luther's ideas spread quickly throughout northern Germany and Scandinavia, starting in 1521. Preachers in the region begin denouncing Church abuses.
1524 Peasants revolt across Germany.

Peasants revolt across Germany in 1524, calling for an end to serfdom and demanding other reforms in their harsh lives. To their dismay, Martin Luther denounces their revolt, and his support allows nobles to suppress the rebellion with violence. Tens of thousands of people die.
1530 Lutherans begin using the name "Protestant."

Lutherans, or followers of Martin Luther, begin to use the word "Protestant" for those who protest papal authority. They embrace his reforms as an answer to Church corruption, but some also see them as a way to throw off the rule of the Church and the Holy Roman Empire. Wars break out between Lutherans and the Church.
1534 King Henry VIII of England breaks with the Church.

King Henry VIII of England attempts to have his marriage annulled so he can marry another woman. The Church refuses, and Henry has Parliament pass a series of laws placing the English church under his control. In 1534, the Act of Supremacy makes Henry the only supreme head of the Church of England.
1536 The Church of England spreads.

Between 1536 and 1540, Henry has English convents and monasteries closed, and he seizes their lands and wealth. He then gives some of this land to nobles and high-ranking citizens, who then declare their support for the Church of England (now the Anglican Church). Henry's religion spreads across England, but his successors launch oppressive measures and religious conflict.
1536 John Calvin publishes Institutes of the Christian Religion.

John Calvin, a French priest and lawyer, publishes Institutes of the Christian Religion. In his book, which is read by Protestants everywhere, he explains his beliefs in predestination, the idea that God predetermines who will gain salvation. His followers become known as Calvinists.
September 27, 1540 Pope Paul III recognizes the Society of Jesus.

Hoping to combat heresy and spread the Catholic faith, Pope Paul III recognizes the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, founded by Ignatius of Loyola. The Jesuits embark on a crusade to defend and spread Catholicism throughout the world. Other measures attempt to reform Protestant regions, but Europe remains divided between a Protestant north and Catholic south.
1541 Calvin sets up a theocracy in Geneva.

Protestants in Geneva ask Calvin to lead their community, and he sets up a theocracy, or government run by church leaders. His followers see themselves as a new "chosen people," entrusted by God to build a truly Christian society. Reformers visit Geneva and spread Calvin's ideas across Germany, France, England, Scotland, and the Netherlands.
December 13, 1545 The Council of Trent convenes.

Pope Paul III sets out to revive the moral authority of the Church and prevent the Protestant Reformation from spreading further across Europe. He calls the Council of Trent in 1545 to reaffirm Catholic views and end abuses within the Church.
September 25, 1555 The Peace of Augsburg settles the question of religion.

After a series of wars between Lutheran princes and the Catholic Church, Charles V reaches a settlement in the Peace of Augsburg. Each prince can decide which religion (Catholic or Lutheran) will be followed in his territory. Most northern German states choose Lutheranism, while the south remains Catholic.