AP European History
Concept 1.2 – Religious pluralism challenged the concept of a unified Europe.


Late medieval reform movements in the Church (including lay piety, mysticism, and Christian humanism) created a momentum that propelled a new generation of 16th-century reformers, such as Erasmus and Martin Luther. After 1517, when Luther posted his 95 theses attacking ecclesiastical abuses and the doctrines that spawned them, Christianity fragmented, even though religious uniformity remained the ideal. Some states, such as Spain and Portugal, which had recently expelled Muslims and Jews, held fast to this ideal. Others – notably the Netherlands and lands under Ottoman control, which accepted Jewish refugees – did not. In central Europe, the Peace of Augsburg (1555) permitted each state of the Holy Roman Empire to be either Catholic or Lutheran at the option of the prince. By the late 16th century, northern European countries were generally Protestant and Mediterranean countries generally Catholic. To re-establish order after a period of religious warfare, France introduced limited toleration of the minority Calvinists within a Catholic kingdom (Edict of Nantes, 1598; revoked in 1685). Jews remained a marginalized minority wherever they lived.

Differing conceptions of salvation and the individual’s relationship to the church were at the heart of the conflicts among Luther, subsequent Protestant reformers such as Calvin and the Anabaptists, and the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church affirmed its traditional theology at the Council of Trent (1545–1563), ruling out any reconciliation with the Protestants and inspiring the resurgence of Catholicism in the 17th century. Religious conflicts inevitably merged with and exacerbated long-standing political tensions between the monarchies and nobility across Europe, dramatically escalating these conflicts as they spread from the Holy Roman Empire to France, the Netherlands, and England. Economic issues such as the power to tax and control ecclesiastical resources further heightened these clashes. All three motivations – religious, political, and economic – contributed to the brutal and destructive Thirty Years’ War, which was ended by the Peace of Westphalia (1648). The treaty established a new balance of power with a weakened Holy Roman Empire. The Peace of Westphalia also added Calvinism to Catholicism and Lutheranism as an accepted religion in the Holy Roman Empire, ensuring the permanence of European religious pluralism. However, pluralism did not mean religious freedom; the prince or ruler still controlled the religion of the state, and few were tolerant of dissenters.

Supporting Concepts and Examples

The Protestant and Catholic Reformations fundamentally changed theology, religious institutions, and culture.

Christian humanism, embodied in the writings of Erasmus, employed Renaissance learning in the service of religious reform.

Christian humanists
  • Sir Thomas More
  • Juan Luis Vives

Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin, as well as religious radicals such as the Anabaptists, criticized Catholic abuses and established new interpretations of Christian doctrine and practice.

Catholic abuses
  • Indulgences
  • Nepotism
  • Simony
  • Pluralism and absenteeism

The Catholic Reformation, exemplified by the Jesuit Order and the Council of Trent, revived the church but cemented the division within Christianity.

The Catholic Reformation
  • St. Theresa of Avila
  • Jesuits
  • Ursulines
  • Roman Inquisition
  • Index of Prohibited Books

Religious reform both increased state control of religious institutions and provided justifications for challenging state authority.

Monarchs and princes, such as the English rulers Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, initiated religious reform from the top down (“magisterial”) in an effort to exercise greater control over religious life and morality.

State actions to control religion and morality
  • Spanish Inquisition
  • Concordat of Bologna (1516)
  • Book of Common Prayer
  • Peace of Augsburg

Some Protestants refused to recognize the subordination of the church to the state.

Protestants who refused
  • John Calvin
  • The Anabaptists

Religious conflicts became a basis for challenging the monarchs’ control of religious institutions

Religious conflicts caused by groups challenging the monarch’s control of religious institutions
  • Huguenots
  • Puritans
  • Nobles in Poland

Conflicts among religious groups overlapped with political and economic competition within and among states

Issues of religious reform exacerbated conflicts between the monarchy and the nobility, as in the French Wars of Religion.

Key factors in the French Wars of Religion
  • Catherine de’ Medici
  • St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre
  • War of the Three Henries
  • Henry IV

The efforts of Habsburg rulers failed to restore Catholic unity across Europe.

Habsburg rulers
  • Charles I/V
  • Philip II
  • Philip III
  • Philip IV

States exploited religious conflicts to promote political and economic interests.

State exploitation of religious conflicts
  • Catholic Spain and Protestant England
  • France, Sweden, and Denmark in the Thirty Years’ War

A few states allowed religious pluralism in order to maintain domestic peace.

States allowing religious pluralism
  • France (with the Edict of Nantes)
  • Poland
  • The Netherlands

Reading Assignments

Reading 1: Pages 367-371

Prelude to the Reformation:
  Christian (Northern) Humanism
  Church and Religion on the Eve of Reformation

Reading 2: Pages 371-377

Martin Luther and the Reformation in Germany:
  The Early Luther
  The Rise of Lutheranism

Reading 3: Pages 377-381

Martin Luther and the Reformation in Germany:
  Organizing the Church
  Germany and the Reformation: Religion and Politics
The Spread of the Protestant Reformation:
  Lutheranism in Scandinavia
  The Zwinglian Reformation

Reading 4: Pages 381-387

The Spread of the Protestant Reformation:
  The Radical Reformation: the Anabaptists
  The Reformation in England
  John Calvin and Calvinism

Reading 5: Pages 387-389

The Social Impact of the Protestant Reformation:
  The Family
  Education in the Reformation
  Religious Practices and Popular Culture

Reading 6: Pages 389-393

The Catholic Reformation:
  Catholic Reformation / Counter-Reformation?
  The Society of Jesus
  A Revived Papacy
  The Council of Trent

Reading 7: Pages 393-397

Politics and the Wars of Religion:
  The French Wars of Religion
  Philip II and Militant Catholicism
  Revolt of the Netherlands

Reading 8: Pages 397-400

Politics and the Wars of Religion:
  The England of Elizabeth