The Reformation

The Reformation was a period of social and religous uphieval in the 16th Century. It has its foundings in Humanism the works of thinkers like Erasmus. However it was sparked by Martin Luther and his 95 theses.

The reformation can be said to have taken place in two waves. The first wave was that of Lutheranism and Zwinglism. The major changes in theological thinking occured at this stage.

The mass was rejected, the number of sacraments reduced and most importantly Papal authority was rejected. The struggle for first generation reformers was to gain accpetance to these revolutionary ideas. For over 1000 years in Europe there had been only one religion with no possibility of another.

It came down to the second generation reformers to lay down a clear structure for the new churches. It was primarily John Calvin who did this. There were no other really successful second generation reformers, by their time the Catholic church had organised its Catholic Reformation.

1517 - Martin Luther pins his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg University.

1518 - Luther has an interview with Cardinal Cajetan, the Papal Legate in Germany. Nothing is resolved.

1519 - Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian dies leading to an election process during which the Pope orders that Luther is left alone. Charles of Spain becomes Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. The Leipzig disputation takes place between Luther and Dr Johannes Eck.

1520 - Luther condemned in the Papal bull Exsurge Domine. He reacts by burning the bull and other writings.

1521 - Luther is excommunicated with the bull Decet Romanum. Charles V enforces this at the Diet of Worms but Luther is protected by Frederick the Wise.

1522 - Ulrich Zwingli breaks Lenten fasting regulations in Zurich to protest against man made regulations in the church. Luther translates the New Testament into German while in hiding at Wartburg.

1523 - Zwingli produces his 67 theses in Zurich. These are adopted by Zurich as the basis of their new reformed church.

1524 - There is ordered iconoclasm in Zurich. The Peasants War begins.

1525 - Luther condemns the Peasants War. Zurich rejects the mass. The Diet of Speyer grants temporary religious freedom to Lutherans.

1526 - Landgrave Philip of Hesse adopts Lutheranism.

1529 - Luther and Zwingli meet at the Marlburg Colloguy but fail to unite their movements. The 2nd Diet of Speyer takes place, the religious freedom is removed and 6 princes and 14 cities sign the Protestation.

1530 - The Diet of Augsburg begins. Philip Melanchthon produces the Augsburg Confession.

1531 - The League of Schmalkalden, a group of Protestant states, is formed. Zwingli is killed in battle against a neighbouring canton.

1532 - At the Diet of Regensburg another religious tolerance agreement is formed, the Religious Truce of Nuremburg.

1534 - King Henry VIII of England breaks from the Roman Catholic Church.

1535 - Anabaptists gain control of the city of Münster. Geneva gains its freedom from the Duke of Savoy. Thomas Moore is executed for refusing to take the oath of the King's supremacy.

1536 - John Calvin publishes his Institutes of Christian Religion in Geneva. Henry VIII absolves the monasteries and nunneries in England. Denmark and Norway are declared Lutheran.

1538 - Calvin is expelled from Geneva following a change in the balance of power in the synod.

1539 - The Frankfurt Interim grants a further period of toleration for Lutherans.

1541 - Talks fail at the Diet of Regensburg due largely to the Pope's of agreements reached by Philip Melanchthon and Contarini at the Colloquy of Ratisbon. Calvin is invited to return to Geneva. He publishes his Ecclesiastical Ordinances. John Knox begins the Calvinist movement in Scotland.

1545 - First session of the Council of Trent.

1546 - Luther dies. The Schmalkaldic war begins, between Charles V and the Lutheran Princes.

1547 - Charles V wins the Schmalkaldic war at the Battle of Muhlberg, 1547. The Diet of Augsburg, 1547-48 is convened in an attempt to produce a religious settlement. The Augsburg Interim is produced. Attempts unsuccessful and Lutheranism remains entrenched in Germany.

1554 - The Catholic Church is restored in England.

1555 - The Diet of Augsburg produces the Truce of Augsburg granting each ruler the right to chose between Catholicism and Lutheranism. Calvin gains total control of Geneva.

1560 - The Church of Scotland is founded.

1562-1578 - French Wars of Religion between Catholics and Calvinist Protestants (Huguenots)

The Reformers

The Politicians

The Organisations

The Writings

The Happenings

The New Churches and Faiths

Luther and Calvin: A Comparative Essay

The Protestant Reformation, brought upon by many reformers, divided Christianity into two separate churches. Martin Luther and John Calvin were two significant reformers of the church whose ideas and attitudes toward political authority and social order were both similar and different in many ways. For example, they differed in their belief of separation between church and state. Both these individuals brought on a separate reformation to their respective locations, though with different political and social attitudes.

Martin Luther, unlike John Calvin, was unable to establish a separation of church and state due to his political interests. Luther, not having the support from the Catholic Church in establishing reform had to attract reform by way of gaining favor from the princes. His support for the independence of rulers from ecclesiastical supervision won him the support of many princes. Through Luther’s Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, he urged these German princes to force the reform on the Roman church. Due to this situation, the church and the state would not become separate. Princes would appoint officials who oversee the church enforcing reform. Hence, Luther’s attitude toward political authority is that he relied on the Princes assistance in reforming the church, therefore was unable to support a complete separation of church and state, unlike John Calvin. Calvin believed that God wielded his authority through the church, leaving the church independent and separate from the state. Because of his belief, Calvin had established a complete separation of church and state.

Both Calvin and Luther agreed on the idea that God was the only authority. Luther developed his idea of sola scriptura, which meant that righteousness comes from faith, and faith comes only from reading the scriptures. Hitherto, this belief had not been deeply established, so this idea of the only religious authority being the Bible (and not an elite clergy) changed the origins of sovereignty. Calvin, similarly, believed in the sovereignty of God over all the creation and the necessity of humankind’s conformity to his will. Therefore, both were rejecting the idea of the church being the supreme authority.

Martin Luther revealed his attitude of social order through his reaction to the Peasant’s Revolt (1524-1525). Although at first, Luther had sympathized with the peasants, he later showed that he was against social revolts after many peasants revolted against their masters. Luther condemned these peasants as being “un-Christians,” and urged the princes to crush their revolt without mercy. As a result, tens of thousands of peasants were killed. This expressed Luther’s idea that the freedom of a Christian was to be found in an inner release from guilt and anxiety, and not in a right to restructure society by a violent revolt. Likewise, Calvin also opposed revolts. He had expelled many dissenting Christians, and even put one Spanish physician to death as a heretic for denying the doctrine of the Trinity.

In Geneva, Calvin had established a sort of social hierarchy in the church when he divided church organization into four levels. There were the pastors (five men who exercised their authority over religious matters), teachers (they teach the doctrine to the population), elders (they oversee everything that everybody did in the city), and deacons (they take care of the sick, elderly, widowed and poor). Calvin also sought to improve the life of the society by supporting good hospitals, a proper sewage system, and special care for the poor and infirm. Calvin, as well as Luther, praised women mainly for their roles as mothers and housewives. Calvin’s Geneva gained a reputation of being a “women’s paradise” because the laws punished men who beat their wives. Unlike previous civilizations, they treated women more importantly than before. They also played an active role in educating the population. Luther pressed for a universal compulsory education for both boys and girls. This illustrates the attitudes of both the reformers on social order. Both placed an importance on women, the ill, and children.

Although Luther and Calvin share some similarities amongst each other, they differ on some important issues such as the idea of separation of church and state. The attitudes of these two reformers toward political authority and social order were on some issues similar and on on other issues different.

In the 16th century, Europe was torn apart by an unprecedented wave of religious conflict that broke the more or less unified structure of Western Christianity into a variety of communions. This outline is designed to provide an overview of the religious turmoil of the Reformation.

The Reformation was made possible by the intricate politics of the early 1500s. The dominant figure was Emperor Charles V—“emperor” of Germany and nominal ruler of the independent-minded German nobility, but also the king of Spain, Austria, and Naples (which included all southern Italy) and the Duke of Milan. His only rival was François I of France, who took every opportunity to check his power. Other rulers, such as the popes and Henry VIII, tried to advance themselves by playing these two off of each other. Meanwhile, everyone was afraid of the Turks, who had conquered Eastern Europe and appeared capable of conquering all of Christendom.

Of course, the Reformation was primarily a religious movement, and its roots lie in the unprecedented growth of the Church between 1000 and 1300. During this period, its leaders tried to centralize as much power in Rome as possible, and to make religion significant for lay people and not only for the clerics and those who entered monasteries. However, their successes caused two problems: first, the popes needed a government to govern the church, so that the papal court rapidly came to look like an imperial capital than a spiritual center. Second, lay people wanted to live good lives but were still taught that God expected a level of virtue that ordinary people did not achieve. The idea of Purgatory, a place where imperfect people were purified after death, developed as a sort of compensation, and so did a collection of prayers, rituals, and objects that were supposed to save people who fell short. More devout people who tried to identify, regret, and pay for their sins were left on very shaky ground because there was no clear way to determine how much repentance was enough.

Reformation History 1: 1517-1523
Reformation History 2: 1524-1531
Reformation History 3: 1531-1547
Reformation History 4: 1547-1570
Reformation History 5: 1570-1600
Reformation History Epilogue: 1600-1700

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