Well, I turned in the first draft and got some feedback and subsequently made a few changes. I think the 2nd draft is a better attempt, as it should be, as it attempts to articulate less of the Reformation's spread, and suggest a few more of the social implications. I also squeezed in a small section about the counter Reformation and the 30 years war...its amazing what you can do in 1,000 words.
Between the 14th and 17th Centuries, the Protestant Reformation introduced profound changes upon European religious, social and political life. While the reformers spiritual impetus sought a re-definition of salvation and ecclesial authority, they simultaneously reshaped both political autonomy and authority of the populace.
Initial steps of reform are widely attributed to the English philosopher John Wycliffe (c.1330-84) and the Bohemian priest Jan Hus (c.1372-1415). Their followers, the Lollards and Hussites respectively, anticipated many of the Reformations’ central theological tenants of personal faith, centrality of scripture, and vernacular liturgy while resisting papal authority, celibacy, transubstantiation, and indulgences.
While such critiques were hardly new, Martin Luther (1483-46) intensified this spirit of reform in Germany. Luther’s biblical studies convinced him that salvation came by faith and not by works as emphasized within Medieval Catholic theology. Rome instituted a new indulgence, or financial donation to church remitting sin or release from purgatory, collected by John Tetzel (1465-1519) to complete St. Peter’s Basilica and to repay debts for purchasing the Archbishopric of Mainz. Luther responded on October 31, 1517 posting 95 theses of theological charges upon the Wittenberg Chapel door. The Vatican denounced Luther’s positions; leading to his second conviction that scripture, not popes or councils, was the standard of faith. Having dispensed with church’s sacred hierarchy and lineage Luther emphasized the priesthood of believers thus localizing church authority.
Pope Leo X (1475-1521) condemned Luther’s writings and excommunicated him in 1521. Under oath to the Vatican, Charles V (1500-58) called Luther to a Diet, or official assembly, at Worms to account for his writings. Refusing to recant, Luther was summarily exiled to Saxony where he translated the New Testament, and later the Latin liturgy, into German allowing the reform to continue.
Luther’s vernacular translations and emphasis on the common believer had significant political and social effects. Incited by Luther’s colleague Andreas Karstadt (1480-1541), radical reformer Thomas Muntzer (c.1489-1525) and a newly delivered authority the German peasants revolted (1524-6) against their nobility to end serfdom. Luther reacted critically to the peasants’ violent misunderstanding of his egalitarian notions claiming they applied within the church only, and not secular authorities. The German nobility crushed the insurrection with Luther’s assent. Likewise, many Lutheran leaning Princes assented to his sacred/secular political theology, which provided grounds for independence from both the pope and Charles V while giving them control over the local churches and their lands.
Luther’s shift of authority to local rulers, churches, and parishioners themselves ultimately atomized the church into an age of denominationalism and the privatized faith of Modern individualism. Similarly, many reformers like Karlstadt incited extensive cultural and artistic destruction leaving the Protestant church with a legacy of cultural disengagement.
In 1530, Luther’s colleague, Philip Melanchton (1497-1560) wrote the Augsberg Confession to be signed by the Lutheran Princes. However, Charles V remained unmoved in seeking to dismantle the heretical movement. In 1530 the Lutheran princes united in the Schmalkald League against the Catholic Princes. After sporadic civil wars, they signed the Peace of Augsberg (1555) allowing the princes to decide the religion of their subjects.
Nearby, the Swiss Reformation birthed two central movements: the Anabaptists and Calvinists. Zurich’s Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) followed Luther’s convictions on salvation and biblical teaching, but famously denied transubstantiation in favor of a purely memorial sign. An offshoot of Zwingli’s followers called Anabaptists, meaning “re-baptizers”, introduced believers’ baptism through personal faith, rather than a requirement of state politics. Coupling the Anabaptist refusal of political oaths and the redefinition of baptism put them at odds with the state, Catholics, and reformers alike who cruelly persecuted them.
In 1536, Guillaume Farel (1489-1565) convinced John Calvin (1509-64), a French scholar, to organize Geneva’s reformation. Within two years however, the city forced both to leave over Calvin’s strict theology. In 1541 Geneva’s politics shifted allowing Calvin’s return and Geneva’s emergence as a reformers refuge. Politically, Calvin’s emphasis upon on God’s sovereignty divorced the church and state legitimating government rule, while de-privileging earthly claims of absolute power.
In England, politics of royal succession, more than theology, initiated reform movements. Failing to produce a son, King Henry VIII (1491-1547) sought an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536). Politically, the Pope resisted; however, Henry secretly married Anne Boleyn (1501-36) in 1533. The King then arranged Thomas Cranmer’s (1489-1556) appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury who subsequently annulled his first marriage. Both were swiftly excommunicated, forcing Henry’s hand in the Act of Supremacy (1534) which challenged papal supremacy by severing Roman ties and establishing the Church of England. Henry, now church head, upheld orthodox Catholic doctrine in the Six Articles of 1539. Cramner continued reform uniting aspects of Calvinism and Catholicism by translating the liturgy into the English Book of Common Prayer.
Following Henry’s death in 1547, Cramner’s Protestantized Forty-Two Articles replaced the Six Articles of Henry’s Catholicism. Mary I (1516-58) ascended to the throne and earned the title “Bloody Mary” for her persecution of Protestants including the martyrdom of Cramner.
Elsewhere, Calvinist reformer John Knox (1514-72) led the Scots to resist Mary’s Catholicism amidst a civil war by likewise drafting articles of religion outlawing Catholicism. Following Mary’s violent reign, Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth I assumed the throne. Her Thirty-Nine Articles (1563) allowed the Church of England to fully embody its distinctive, and politically necessary, character as a via media between Catholicism and Protestantism. Yet Elizabeth’s reforms were not enough for the more radical Puritan Protestants who criticized both church and state, while emphasizing a Congregationalist church government and strict personal piety.
Luther was intent on reforming Catholicism, not causing a schism, he did inspire a counter, and concurrent, reform within Catholicism. The Council of Trent (1545-63) clarified and united Catholic doctrine against the Protestant contests. In spite of the Peace of Augsburg, skirmishes continued and culminated in the 30 Years War (1618-48). Beginning in religion and ending in a political stalemate, the Treaty of Westphalia gave recognition to Calvinists, Lutherans and Catholics to reciprocally worship in the others lands.
Lindberg, Carter. The European Reformations, 2nd ed. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.
Lindberg, Carter, ed. The European Reformations Sourcebook, London: Wiley- Blackwell, 2009.
MacCulloch, Diarmaid. The Reformation, New York: Penguin, 2005.
McGrath, Alister E. Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 3rd ed. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2001.
Pettegree, Andrew, ed. The Reformation World, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2001.