The roots of the religious reformations of the sixteenth century were several, including Christian humanism, where the focus was on the Bible and the writings of the church fathers. Among the humanists was Desiderius Erasmus (d.1536), who stressed inner piety and Christ as a guide for daily life rather than dogma and ritual. The Church was criticized for corruption, materialism, and for abuses such as pluralism and absenteeism. For many the quest for salvation was often merely mechanical: collecting relics, going on pilgrimages, purchasing indulgences to reduce time in purgatory. New religious orders answered the calls for reform, such as the Oratory of Divine Love which stressed personal spiritual development. To the medieval church, the sacraments administered by the clergy ensured salvation, but Martin Luther (d.1546) argued that faith alone was the answer, and that the Bible, not the Church, was the sole authority. In 1517 Luther went public in his criticisms. Outlawed after being condemned by pope and emperor, he translated the Bible into German.
Erasmus agreed with Luther’s ideas, but feared that they would destroy Christian unity. When peasants rose in rebellion, Luther condemned them: equality before God did not mean equality on earth, and pragmatically, Luther needed the support of the German princes against Emperor Charles V (r.1519-1556). In 1555, Charles and the princes agreed to the Peace of Augsburg, by which each prince would determine the religion of his subjects. Lutheranism became the state religion Scandinavia. In Switzerland, Ulrich Zwingli (d.1531) removed stained glass windows and eliminated music from worship, and despite his failure to secure an alliance with German reformers, Zwingli created a movement that spread among the Swiss cities and sparked civil war. When Pope Clement VII was unable to annul the marriage of England’s Henry VIII (d.1547), Parliament established a separate church with the monarch as its head. John Calvin (d.1564) agreed with Luther’s theology, but went further in emphasizing God’s sovereignty and the concept of predestination: some were predestined for heaven, others for hell. His leadership made Geneva, Switzerland, the locus of Protestantism.
For Protestants the family was the center of human society, but theological equality did not lead to equality in marriage: the wife’s role was to obey her husband and bear children. Education was encouraged because of the necessity to read God’s word. Catholic holy days and religious carnivals were abolished; some went further, closing theaters and abolishing dancing.
Within the Catholic Church, the response to Protestantism was shaped by both the desire for internal reform and the reaction against Protestantism criticisms. The most important Catholic religious order was the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, founded by Ignatius Loyola (d.1556), whose The Spiritual Exercises was a primer on how to find God. Pope Paul III (r.1534-1549) called the Council of Trent, which met from 1545 to 1563; its final report reaffirmed traditional Catholic doctrine.
It was a violent century. In France, prominent Protestants, or Huguenots, were massacred in Paris on Saint Bartholomew’s Day, 1572, and violence then spilled out into the countryside. Henry III, a Catholic, was assassinated by a monk in 1589, and the Huguenot head of the Bourbon family became Henry IV (d.1610). He converted to Catholicism, reconciling the majority, and he issued the Edict of Nantes, granting religious toleration to the Huguenots: both actions were taken for political reasons. Philip II’s authoritarian rule and persecution of Protestants led to rebellion in the Netherlands. It was crushed in the south, but not the north: the Dutch became independent in 1648.
In England, Elizabeth (d.1603) was a moderate Protestant, whose policies satisfied most, but not the radical Puritans who wanted to rid the Church of England of Catholic-like rituals nor her exiled Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, who plotted against her and was beheaded. English seamen attacked Spanish forces in the Americas, and Elizabeth supported the Dutch. In retaliation, Philip II sent a naval Armada against England in 1588. It ended in defeat for Spain.
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
Organizing the Church
Germany and the Reformation: Religion and Politics
Lutheranism in Scandinavia
Reading 3: Pages 381-387
The Spread of the Protestant Reformation:
The Zwinglian Reformation
The Radical Reformation: the Anabaptists
The Reformation in England
John Calvin and Calvinism
Reading 4: Pages 387-389
The Social Impact of the Protestant Reformation:
Education in the Reformation
Religious Practices and Popular Culture
Reading 5: Pages 389-393
The Catholic Reformation:
Catholic Reformation / Counter-Reformation?
The Society of Jesus
A Revived Papacy
The Council of Trent
Reading 6: Pages 393-397
Politics and the Wars of Religion:
The French Wars of Religion
Philip II and Militant Catholicism
Revolt of the Netherlands
The England of Elizabeth