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The Protestant Reformation, 1517-1559

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Privacy Overview This website uses cookies to improve your experience while you navigate through the website. Privacy Overview. Necessary Always Enabled. Non-necessary Non-necessary. Subscribe To Our Mailing List Join our mailing list to receive regular catalogues of new, second hand and antiquarian Theological books and ephemera. Unrest due to the Great Schism of Western Christianity — excited wars between princes, uprisings among the peasants, and widespread concern over corruption in the Church, especially from John Wycliffe at Oxford University and from Jan Hus at the Charles University in Prague.

Hus objected to some of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church and wanted to return the church in Bohemia and Moravia to earlier practices: liturgy in the language of the people i. Czech , having lay people receive communion in both kinds bread and wine—that is, in Latin, communio sub utraque specie , married priests, and eliminating indulgences and the concept of Purgatory. Some of these, like the use of local language as the liturgical language, were approved by the pope as early as in the 9th century.

The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church condemned him at the Council of Constance — by burning him at the stake despite a promise of safe-conduct.

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The council did not address the national tensions or the theological tensions stirred up during the previous century and could not prevent schism and the Hussite Wars in Bohemia. Pope Sixtus IV — established the practice of selling indulgences to be applied to the dead, thereby establishing a new stream of revenue with agents across Europe. He was the father of seven children, including Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia.

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A number of theologians in the Holy Roman Empire preached reformation ideas in the s, shortly before or simultaneously with Luther, including Christoph Schappeler in Memmingen as early as The theses debated and criticized the Church and the papacy, but concentrated upon the selling of indulgences and doctrinal policies about purgatory , particular judgment , and the authority of the pope. He would later in the period — write works on devotion to Virgin Mary , the intercession of and devotion to the saints, the sacraments, mandatory clerical celibacy, further on the authority of the pope, the ecclesiastical law, censure and excommunication, the role of secular rulers in religious matters, the relationship between Christianity and the law, good works , and monasticism.

In contrast, Reformed areas typically secularized monastic property. Reformers and their opponents made heavy use of inexpensive pamphlets as well as vernacular Bibles using the relatively new printing press, so there was swift movement of both ideas and documents. Parallel to events in Germany, a movement began in Switzerland under the leadership of Huldrych Zwingli. These two movements quickly agreed on most issues, but some unresolved differences kept them separate. Some followers of Zwingli believed that the Reformation was too conservative, and moved independently toward more radical positions, some of which survive among modern day Anabaptists.

After this first stage of the Reformation, following the excommunication of Luther in Decet Romanum Pontificem and the condemnation of his followers by the edicts of the Diet of Worms, the work and writings of John Calvin were influential in establishing a loose consensus among various churches in Switzerland, Scotland , Hungary, Germany and elsewhere.

It swept through the Bavarian, Thuringian and Swabian principalities, including the Black Company of Florian Geier , a knight from Giebelstadt who joined the peasants in the general outrage against the Catholic hierarchy. The Radical Reformation was the response to what was believed to be the corruption in both the Roman Catholic Church and the Magisterial Reformation. Beginning in Germany and Switzerland in the 16th century, the Radical Reformation developed radical Protestant churches throughout Europe.

In parts of Germany, Switzerland and Austria, a majority sympathized with the Radical Reformation despite intense persecution.


Despite significant diversity among the early Radical Reformers, some "repeating patterns," emerged among many Anabaptist groups. The Reformation was a triumph of literacy and the new printing press. From onward, religious pamphlets flooded Germany and much of Europe. By , over 10, publications are known, with a total of ten million copies.

The Reformation was thus a media revolution. Luther strengthened his attacks on Rome by depicting a "good" against "bad" church. From there, it became clear that print could be used for propaganda in the Reformation for particular agendas, although the term propaganda derives from the Catholic Congregatio de Propaganda Fide Congregation for Propagating the Faith from the Counter-Reformation.

Reform writers used existing styles, cliches and stereotypes which they adapted as needed.

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Using the German vernacular they expressed the Apostles' Creed in simpler, more personal, Trinitarian language. Illustrations in the German Bible and in many tracts popularized Luther's ideas. Lucas Cranach the Elder — , the great painter patronized by the electors of Wittenberg, was a close friend of Luther, and he illustrated Luther's theology for a popular audience.

He dramatized Luther's views on the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, while remaining mindful of Luther's careful distinctions about proper and improper uses of visual imagery. The following supply-side factors have been identified as causes of the Reformation: [32]. The following demand-side factors have been identified as causes of the Reformation: [32]. In , Luther nailed the Ninety-five theses to the Castle Church door, and without his knowledge or prior approval, they were copied and printed across Germany and internationally.

After the Heidelberg Disputation where Luther described the Theology of the Cross as opposed to the Theology of Glory and the Leipzig Disputation , the faith issues were brought to the attention of other German theologians throughout the Empire. Each year drew new theologians to embrace the Reformation and participate in the ongoing, European-wide discussion about faith.

The pace of the Reformation proved unstoppable already by In Table Talk , Luther describes it as a sudden realization. Experts often speak of a gradual process of realization between and Reformation ideas and Protestant church services were first introduced in cities, being supported by local citizens and also some nobles. The Reformation did not receive overt state support until , although it was only due to the protection of Elector Frederick the Wise who had a strange dream [40] the night prior to October 31, that Luther survived after being declared an outlaw, both in hiding at Wartburg Castle and afterward his return to Wittenberg.

It was more of a movement among the German people between and , and then also a political one beginning in Reformer Adolf Clarenbach was burned at the stake near Cologne in The first state to formally adopt a Protestant confession was the Duchy of Prussia Albert, Duke of Prussia formally declared the "Evangelical" faith to be the state religion. Catholics labeled self-identified Evangelicals "Lutherans" in order to discredit them after the practice of naming a heresy after its founder.

Ducal Prussia was followed by many imperial free cities and other minor imperial entities. For a more complete list, see the list of states by the date of adoption of the Reformation and the table of the adoption years for the Augsburg Confession. The reformation wave swept first the Holy Roman Empire , and then extended beyond it to the rest of the European continent. Germany was home to the greatest number of Protestant reformers. Each state which turned Protestant had their own reformers who contributed towards the Evangelical faith.

In Electoral Saxony the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Saxony was organized and served as an example for other states, although Luther was not dogmatic on questions of polity. The Reformation also spread widely throughout Europe, starting with Bohemia, in the Czech lands, and, over the next few decades, to other countries.

Austria followed the same pattern of the German-speaking states within the Holy Roman Empire , and Lutheranism became the main Protestant confession among its population. Lutheranism gained a significant following in Austria which was concentrated in the eastern half of present-day Austria, while Calvinism was less successful. Eventually the expulsions of the Counter-Reformation reversed the trend.

Czech reformer and university professor Jan Hus c. Jan Hus was declared heretic and executed—burned at stake—at the Council of Constance in where he arrived voluntarily to defend his teachings. This predominantly religious movement was propelled by social issues and strengthened Czech national awareness. In , two years after the execution of Jan Hus, the Czech reformation quickly became the chief force in the country.

Hussites made up the vast majority of the population, forcing the Council of Basel to recognize in a system of two "religions" for the first time signing the Compacts of Basel for the kingdom Catholic and Czech Ultraquism , a Hussite movement. After Habsburgs took control of the region, the Hussite churches were prohibited and the kingdom partially recatholicized. Even later Lutheranism gained a substantial following, after being permitted by the Habsburgs with the continued persecution of the Czech native Hussite churches. Many Hussites thus declared themselves Lutherans. Two churches with Hussite roots are now second and third biggest churches in the predominantly agnostic country: Czech Brethren which gave origin to the international church known as the Moravian Church and Czechoslovak Hussite Church.

In Switzerland, the teachings of the reformers and especially those of Zwingli and Calvin had a profound effect, despite the frequent quarrels between the different branches of the Reformation. Parallel to events in Germany, a movement began in the Swiss Confederation under the leadership of Huldrych Zwingli.

Zwingli was a scholar and preacher who moved to Zurich —the then-leading city state—in , a year after Martin Luther began the Reformation in Germany with his Ninety-five Theses. Although the two movements agreed on many issues of theology, as the recently introduced printing press spread ideas rapidly from place to place, some unresolved differences kept them separate.

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Long-standing resentment between the German states and the Swiss Confederation led to heated debate over how much Zwingli owed his ideas to Lutheranism. Although Zwinglianism does hold uncanny resemblance to Lutheranism it even had its own equivalent of the Ninety-five Theses , called the 67 Conclusions , historians have been unable to prove that Zwingli had any contact with Luther's publications before , and Zwingli himself maintained that he had prevented himself from reading them. The German Prince Philip of Hesse saw potential in creating an alliance between Zwingli and Luther, seeing strength in a united Protestant front.

A meeting was held in his castle in , now known as the Colloquy of Marburg , which has become infamous for its complete failure. The two men could not come to any agreement due to their disputation over one key doctrine. Although Luther preached consubstantiation in the Eucharist over transubstantiation , he believed in the real presence of Christ at the Mass. Zwingli, inspired by Dutch theologian Cornelius Hoen , believed that the mass was only representative and memorial—Christ was not present.


Zwingli countered this saying that est in that context was the equivalent of the word significant signifies. Some followers of Zwingli believed that the Reformation was too conservative and moved independently toward more radical positions, some of which survive among modern day Anabaptists. One famous incident illustrating this was when radical Zwinglians fried and ate sausages during Lent in Zurich city square by way of protest against the Church teaching of good works.

Other Protestant movements grew up along the lines of mysticism or humanism cf. Erasmus and Louis de Berquin who was martyred in , sometimes breaking from Rome or from the Protestants, or forming outside of the churches. Following the excommunication of Luther and condemnation of the Reformation by the Pope, the work and writings of John Calvin were influential in establishing a loose consensus among various churches in Switzerland, Scotland , Hungary, Germany and elsewhere.

After the expulsion of its Bishop in , and the unsuccessful attempts of the Berne reformer Guillaume William Farel , Calvin was asked to use the organisational skill he had gathered as a student of law to discipline the "fallen city" of Geneva. His "Ordinances" of involved a collaboration of Church affairs with the City council and consistory to bring morality to all areas of life.

After the establishment of the Geneva academy in , Geneva became the unofficial capital of the Protestant movement, providing refuge for Protestant exiles from all over Europe and educating them as Calvinist missionaries. These missionaries dispersed Calvinism widely, and formed the French Huguenots in Calvin's own lifetime and spread to Scotland under the leadership of the cantankerous John Knox in Anne Locke translated some of Calvin's writings to English around this time.