A Lutheran timeline

Martin Luther’s Supputatio Annorum Mundi (1541) depicts all of the history of the world from the Creation to Luther’s present as a series of tiny boxes, each representing a single year, running in uniform progression over more than two hundred pages. Here, at the very end, we find Luther dating himself within this scheme of sacred history: but instead of dating his ‘writing against indulgences’ in anni domini (the familiar 1517) or anni mundi, he uses a different scheme altogether: years since the death of Jan Hus. One hundred and two of them come close enough to fulfilling Hus’s alleged dying prophecy that in another century, a second, insuppressible reformer would follow him. Recent history takes on the structure of salvation history: Luther’s exegetical timeline again and again performs the routine hermeneutic practice of stitching disparate moments in salvation history together in the figurative relation of typology, and his procedure for modern history does the same. As Moses is to Christ, so Hus is to Luther. Events on a timeline, viewed from the vantage of biblical exegesis, present historical time as a set of fundamentally figurative relationships that introduce movement and tension into the ostensible linearity of history’s progression. BW

Martin Luther, Supputatio annorum mundi (Wittenberg: Georg Rhau, 1541).

Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge: SP 356

Published by kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College.

Further Reading

James Barr, ‘Luther and Biblical Chronology’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 72 (1990), pp. 51-69.

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