The Protestant Reformation was one of the greatest religious movements which resulted in the splintering of the Christian church. SpiritualRay provides the causes and effects along with a timeline of Protestant Reformation.
A Surprising Revelation!
Protestant Reformation came to the fore in the early 16th century in Germany, triggered by one man, Martin Luther, who stood against all odds and triggered a worldwide movement by campaigning a protest against the malpractices and corruption in the church.
A surprising outcome was the revolution of art that produced masterpieces like Noli me tangere, a relatively rare Protestant oil painting of Christ by Hans Holbein the Younger and Cranach the Elder’s Altar piece in Wittenburg.
The Reformation disintegrated the unity enforced by medieval Christianity and ushered in the beginning of a modern era. Prior to the reformation, the Christian church was already perturbed with the dissents that were brought about by independent and adamant thinkers.
In the mid 1300s, one of these thinkers John Wycliffe, a theologian at Oxford University, believed that the Bible was the only authority and should be made accessible to all who could read it. He started a movement that translated the Bible into English, from Latin. His movement came to be known as the Lollard movement.
However, in 1401, the British Parliament instituted death for blasphemy, and in 1407, The English Bibles were banned. Further, Pope Alexander V issued a papal proclamation for the same.
Causes of the Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was sparked off in 1517, by a German Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, when he pasted 95 theses on a church door in the university town of Wittenberg, inviting a debate. These theses were his concerns on the sale of indulgences prevalent at that time.
The Sale of Indulgences
It was a practice granted by Pope Leo X to raise money for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. As per this practice, the church acknowledged a donation or any charitable deed with a paper (an indulgence) certifying that the soul would enter the gates of heaven quicker with a reduced time in purgatory.
Although Martin Luther had hoped for renewal from within the church, in 1521, he was summoned before the Holy Roman Emperor in the German city of Worms and asked to disavow his writings. When he refused, he was excommunicated.
After being excommunicated, Luther, along with other reformers, turned to the Bible as their only source of instruction.
The invention of the printing press, combined with the translation of the Bible into different languages, made it accessible to all the people who could read it. Earlier, the Bible was written only in Latin (ancient language of Rome) which was chiefly used only by the clergy. This gave people an opportunity to connect to God.
When Luther and other reformers looked up the word in the Bible, they found that many of the practices and teachings of the Church didn’t match Christ’s teachings. This included many of the Sacraments, Attaining Salvation, Holy Communion (Eucharist).
As the hope of renewal from within the Roman church dwindled, the “protestants” were forced to separate from Roman Catholicism, resulting in the birth of Lutheran churches in Germany, Scandinavia, Scotland, and portions of France, the Reformed churches in Switzerland and the Netherlands, Presbyterian churches in Scotland, and the Anglican church in England, and many other current denominations.
King Henry VIII
The British Reformation was triggered by King Henry VIII, and his fixation to beget a male heir. He was refused permission by Pope Clement VI to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Henry’s desire for a divorce along with political gains of the members of his court were successful in diffusing the power of the Catholic church in England.
In 1534, King Henry VIII brought about “The Supreme Act” which declared the king and his successors as the Head of the Church of England.
The Reformation also facilitated the power-hungry rulers of Europe who were anxious to take the opportunity offered by it to diffuse the power of the Papal Office. Thus increasing their own supremacy as compared to the Church in Rome and other rulers. They also manipulated the movement in order to gain control of the valuable church property.
Timeline of the Reformation
1517 :- Beginning of the Protestant Reformation by Martin Luther, he pastes 95 theses on a church door in the town of Wittenberg to protest against indulgences.
1518 :- Huldrych Zwingli, a Swiss theologian and leader of the Reformation in Switzerland, denounces the sale of Indulgences.
1520 :- Luther publishes his works. In one of his works, “The Christian Nobility of the German Nation”, Luther states his philosophy that the interpretation of the Bible should not be limited to priests only, thus denouncing the authority of the pope.
1521 :- Martin Luther is excommunicated by the Catholic Church.
1527 :- Henry VIII appeals to Pope Clement VII for annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Pope Clement refuses permission.
1529 :- Marburg Colloquy: Martin Luther meets Huldrych Zwingli, leader of the Reformation in Switzerland, to discuss the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Both disagree as the Sacramental view of Luther and the symbolic view of Zwingli clash.
1530 :- Augsburg Confession: Charles V uses religion to unite his empire against the Turks and turned to Martin Luther, who published the Augsburg Confession, outlining Lutheran theology and practice. German princes sign it to express solidarity to evangelical faith.
1533 :- Henry VIII is excommunicated by the Pope for having the Archbishop of Canterbury sanction the divorce from Catherine of Aragon and approving his marriage to Anne Boleyn.
1534 :- Henry VIII has the Parliament pass an act―appointing him the king and his successors as the Supreme Head of the Church of England, thus distancing himself from The Catholic Church and establishing an independent national Anglican church.
1536 :- John Calvin, a French theologian and reformer, flees religious persecution in France, and settles in Geneva in 1536. He institutes a form of Church government in Geneva, which comes to be known as the Presbyterian church.
1555 :- The Peace of Augsburg or the Augsburg Settlement permits each German Prince to decide the religion of the place he rules. Hence, now people can opt for a religious belief of their choice.
Effects of the Reformation
The Protestant Reformation divided the Christians mainly into the Catholics and the Protestants. However, the consequences of the Protestant Reformation were more political than religious.
The Religious Wars
The aftermath of the Reformation brought about deep, lasting political and religious changes. Northern Europe’s new religious and political freedoms came at a great price, with wars, persecutions, and rebellions playing a major role
When the Reformation spread through Germany, which was part of the Holy Roman Empire, the Emperor considered it his duty to protect the dominion of the Roman Catholic Church; however, the German princes saw the reformation as an opportunity to break away from the Emperor’s control by associating themselves with it.
This triggered a number of wars in Europe―the Wars of Religion and the Thirty-Year War―which were both political and religious in nature. The Wars of Religion ended with the Peace of Augsburg Treaty. The Thirty-Year War began as a religious conflict but, by 1630, the political motive overtook the religious one. The war ended in 1648, in turn ending the age of the Reformation.
Along with dividing the church, the Reformation also gave rise to reforms within the Catholic Church, thus affirming the doctrine and structure of the Catholic Church. In 1545, the leaders of the Catholic Church congregated in the Italian city of Trent for an emergency conference, their aim was to reclaim the superiority of the church.
After 20 years of debate, the Council of Trent laid the groundwork for reforms in the Catholic Church, by laying down decrees governing the celibacy of priests, establishing of a seminary for their theological studies, duties and quality of the clergy among the other things.
It would not be possible to understand modern history without the Reformation. It had a profound influence on the politics, law, and science of that era. However, most importantly, it was instrumental in laying down the most important right of an individual― freedom of mind and conscience.