This chapter opens with a description of the spiritual and intellectual discontent characteristic of European society for many decades before the Protestant Reformation. While anticlericalism and abuses by the church fueled the radicalism of religious dissenters like Girolamo Savonarola, intellectuals and lay people sought salvation in new ways. Europeans demonstrated deep piety and concern for salvation that the church hierarchy consistently failed to address, as evidenced by books and tracts published by the burgeoning print industry, art, and the village veillèe, when common folk gathered to share stories and discussions. In northern Europe, a group of Christian humanists including Sir Thomas More and Desiderius Erasmus used techniques of textual analysis to examine the original teachings of Christ and his apostles and to advocate a purer spiritual life within the Catholic Church.
This pre-existing climate of spiritual ferment helps to explain the success of the determined reformer from Saxony, Martin Luther. Equally important was the support he gained from German princes determined to establish their independence from both the Holy Roman Emperor and the papacy. From his initial revelatory insight that salvation comes from a faith granted solely through God’s grace, Luther drew doctrinal conclusions that led to his complete break with Rome. In acrimonious exchanges with the church and impassioned pamphlets addressed to fellow Germans, Luther asserted the sole authority of the Bible, repudiated monastic life and five of the sacraments, and urged the equality of all believers. His teachings undermined the legitimacy of the papacy and the priesthood, and they sparked disturbances by radical preachers, imperial knights, and peasants throughout the south and central parts of Germany. Ultimately, his criticisms led to open warfare between Protestant German princes and the Catholic forces of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.
As his critics had predicted, Luther’s challenge to the church resulted in a fragmentation of religious belief among the reformers themselves. In Zurich, Ulrich Zwingli formulated many of the same doctrinal positions as Luther, but split from him over the nature of communion and the austerity he demanded from believers. More radical sects rejected all ecclesiastical organization and advocated forms of religious individualism or communalism anathema to Catholics and Lutherans alike. John Calvin founded the most successful of these later movements. Calvin’s meticulously reasoned arguments asserted that man was helpless in God’s hands. In Geneva, Calvin created a model community rigidly organized by church and state toward the worship of God. Followers who came to learn left to extend the frontiers of Calvinism from Scotland to Hungary.
By the 1530s, a series of important changes had begun within the Catholic Church as well. Under the leadership of Pope Paul III, an ecumenical council at Trent defined practice and belief more clearly than ever before. Repudiating the central tenets of Protestantism, the Church reaffirmed the importance of the priesthood, the seven sacraments, church ritual, and a freely-chosen acceptance of Christ. These and myriad other changes revitalized Catholicism. In southern Europe, the visionary nun Teresa of Avila became legendary for her mystical and activist fervor, and Ignatius Loyola founded a new religious movement, the Society of Jesus, whose works of conversion and education made it the most forceful advocates of the Counter Reformation.
Lecture and Discussion Topics
1. Stage a veillèe in which students take on the roles of villagers, peddlers, travelers, and the local priest.
2. Find examples of early almanacs, devotional tracts, and broadsides pertaining to anticlericalism and the religious discontents of the fifteenth century for students to study and discuss.
3. Discuss the progress of the Protestant Reformation in one German town during the sixteenth century, describing individual motivations and social, political, and economic factors that shaped its course.
4. Compare and contrast the lives of Sir Thomas More and Erasmus. How did their distinct approaches to relationships with secular leaders lead these men in different directions?
5. What avenues did the religious ferment of the sixteenth century provide for women to express their ideas and influence events? Consider the positions of Protestant reformers and the Catholic church on the role of women in society in the discussion.
6. Present a biography of Martin Luther. What aspects of his personality and experiences contributed to his reforming zeal?
7. Investigate the peasant revolts that took place around 1525 in the Holy Roman empire. What was their relationship to Lutheranism?
8. Describe the central teachings of John Calvin. Discuss the appeal Calvinism would have held for its converts.
9. Consider how the radical sects threatened both the Catholic church and the more conservative Lutherans and Calvinists.
10. Discuss the founding of the Anglican church. Consider Henry VIII motivations and the advantages and disadvantages of breaking with the Catholic church for both the king and ordinary people.
11. Organize a debate regarding the Catholic church’s response to the Reformation. Did the church respond adequately to the challenge? What else might it have done to counter the appeal of the new religious sects?
12. Research the founding and early years of the Society of Jesus. How did the Jesuits become the leading proponents of the Counter Reformation?
Martin Luther. 105 min. B/W. Gospel Films. Depiction of Luther as well as the historical and religious forces that shaped Luther's theology from when he entered a monastery to his break with the Roman Church.
The Reformation: Age of Revolt. 24 min. Color. 1973. Encyclopedia Britannica Educational. Explains the issues and chain of events leading to the Reformation.
Reformation: Overview. 180 min. 2 vols. Color. Vision Video. Vol. I: Wycliff, Hus, and Martin Luther. Vol. II: The Swiss, Anabaptists, and Tyndale.
John Calvin. 29 min. Color. University of Utah, Educational Media Center. Survey of Calvin’s life, thought, and importance.
Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. 30 min. B/W. Time-Life Films. Luther, his personality, and the reasons for his protest.
The Reformation: Age of Revolt. 24 min. Color. Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corporation. Emphasizes the political consequences of the Reformation.
The World of Martin Luther. 30 min. B/W. 1965. Concordia Publishing House. Places Luther within the German countryside.
d. God has preordained the salvation or damnation of every human soul (p.459)
17. The Anabaptists believed that
a. infants should be baptized
b. baptism was not a legitimate religious ceremony
c. the bible should not be taken literally
d. baptism should be administered to mature adults (p.457)
18. Which of the following explains the rapid spread of Calvinism and the militancy of its adherents?
a. Calvin’s Institutes provided a clear definition of religious doctrine
b. Calvinism was highly disciplined
c. Calvinists considered themselves possessors of the true faith
d. Calvinists believed they had a mission to live out God’s word on earth
e. all of the above (p.460)
19. The Anglican Church was founded when
a. Henry VIII converted to Calvinism
b. Henry VIII refused to marry Anne Boleyn
c. the pope refused to grant the English king a divorce (p.462)
d. Catherine of Aragon attempted to divorce Henry VIII
20. Pope Paul III attempted to reform the Roman Catholic church by
a. avoiding the use of church councils which often disagreed on doctrine
b. tolerating a wider range of belief and practice within the church
c. appointing accomplished and dedicated cardinals to the College (p.464)
d. abolishing the unpopular Inquisition
21. The most important action of the Council of Trent was to
a. provide a clear definition of Catholic theology, morality, and discipline
b. allow clerical marriage
c. bring about a temporary reconciliation with the Protestants
d. totally reject Protestant theological innovations
e. a and d (pp.464-465)
22. Which of the following was not true of women in the sixteenth-century Roman Catholic church?
a. mystics like St. Teresa were immediately welcomed by the church because of the power of their visions (p.466)
b. an increasing number of religious orders were founded for them to join
c. through their charity work, they played a crucial role in the Counter Reformation
d. they were not participants at the council of Trent
23. Which statement is not true of the Jesuit order?
a. it had many similarities to a medieval military order
b. its followers abandoned rational discourse in order to convert through emotional appeals (p.468)
c. it maintained a very early missionary presence in the Far East
d. it owed allegiance to the Pope, not to local bishops
24. The Jesuits played a crucial role in the Counter Reformation
a. by advocating a withdrawal from the concerns of temporal life
b. by repudiating humanist ideals and embracing mystical ones
c. through education and missionary work (p.468)
d. through faith and reliance on the grace of God
25. What role did the written word play in spreading the criticisms of the church and suggestions for reform? How did illiterate people come in contact with these ideas?
26. What were the characteristics of northern Humanism? In what ways was it similar to Italian Humanism?
27. Luther and Erasmus both attacked what they saw as abuses and pretensions of the church and the clergy. Compare their criticisms and their approaches to Church reform.
28. Although there had been heretics and reformers in the Catholic church before Martin Luther, none had threatened the unity of the church. Discuss the social, economic, and political conditions in Germany and contributed to the enormous success of Lutheranism.
29. Discuss the reaction of the mainstream reformers to radical movements such as Anabaptism. Why did they react thus?
30. Although Martin Luther was the originator of the Protestant Reformation, a younger man, John Calvin, had an even more far-reaching influence. Describe and explain John Calvin’s success.
31. Describe the responses of the Catholic forces in Europe to the challenges presented by the reformers. How did the responses of the church hierarchy differ from the responses of lay people?
32. What role did politics play in the Protestant Reformation? Using political, economic, social, AND religious factors, argue why a prince within the Holy Roman empire would have been sympathetic or unsympathetic to the Reformation.
33. How do Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises and the Jesuit movement itself represent a continuation of Renaissance humanism?
34. How did women react to the Reformation and the Counter Reformation? What appeal would the reforming tendencies have held for women? Why do you suppose other women remained faithful to the Catholic church?
35. Why do you think the painting on page 437 portrays Florentine citizens ignoring the execution of Savonarola?
36. What conditions in Europe explain the popular preoccupation with death and the devil as portrayed in The Three Ages of Woman and Death on page 438 and The Temptation of St. Anthony on page 443? Why is the central figure in the former a woman and not a man?
37. What does the scene in the woodcut on page 439 reveal about the role of the Church in society during this period?
38. Why might the peasants portrayed in Brueghel’s painting on page 440 have found Protestantism appealing?
39. How does the Portrait of Erasmus on page 445 convey humanist ideals?
40. Consider Map 13.1. How did the spread of the Protestant faith coincide with political unrest?
41. How does the cartoon on page 453 attack the enemies of Luther?
42. What techniques does Titian employ to create a sense of tension in the painting on page 463?
Luther's Experience in the Tower
43. How does this passage refute the traditional Roman Catholic insistence on good works as the path to salvation?
44. How accurately do you think Luther describes the events at hand, writing a quarter of a century after they had transpired? How do you think he may have distorted the events?
The Trial of Elizabeth Dirks
45. What criticism does Elizabeth Dirks make of the Catholic church? Were her criticisms new or original?
46. How does Elizabeth Dirks communicate the egalitarianism of Protestantism in her responses to the examiner?
St. Teresa's Visions
47. Why do you think the Roman Catholic Church accepted the mystical experiences of this woman and later canonized her?
48. Sensuality often plays a part in mystical visions. Why do you think sensuality appears in descriptions of mystical experiences?