Reformation, or, “reforming



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The Reformation

Chapter 1, Sections 3 and 4

In the early 1500s, a movement to make changes involving morality and scruples in the Roman Catholic Church evolved into the Reformation, or, “reforming.” The Reformation led to the birth of a whole new branch of Christianity known as Protestantism including Lutheran, Anglican, and Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian and more.

By the 900s A.D., The Roman Catholic Church had established religious supremacy over most of Europe, not only in Southern Europe (Italy and Spain) but also in Northern and Western Europe.

As the power of The Church grew, so did its need for money. As with all organizations, the larger and more powerful they become, the probability of abuse of power increases. The Roman Catholic Church was no exception.

There had been those who had called for reform in The Church earlier than the 1500s including famous names such as John Wycliffe of England and Jan Hus of Bohemia (Germany).

In the 1500s Northern Renaissance humanists such as Erasmus and Sir Thomas More had also criticized The Church.

With the Renaissance, came beautiful art and learning, sponsored in great part by the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of the Pope and important cardinals. But, there was criticism, spoken and unspoken, of the use and perceived abuse of money and power of The Church.

A young man named Martin Luther attended college at the University of Erfurt in Germany. This was at the urging of his parents who wanted him to become a lawyer. Born in 1483, Luther graduated from college within one year in 1502. By 1505, he had received his Master’s Degree. It was then that he enrolled in law school. Luther was agreeable to becoming a lawyer although he had always considered the life of a monk. In the summer of 1505 as Luther was returning to school, he was riding his donkey when he was caught in a severe thunderstorm. Lightning struck and knocked Luther to the ground. Luther was terrified and cried out, “Help, St. Anne! I’ll become a monk!”

Although spared of his life, Luther regretted his words but he kept his bargain, dropped out of law school and entered the local monastery.

Martin Luther struggled with his own internal religious beliefs. It was not easy for him. He prayed to do good works, help others and devoted himself to fasts, flagellations, pilgrimages and constant confession.

But for Luther, the harder he tried, the more aware he seemed to become of his own sinfulness. At the urging of his superior, he became an ordained priest in 1507 and by 1512, he had become a Doctor of Theology and began teaching at the University of Wittenberg.



In 1517, there was a huge fund-raising campaign from The Church to rebuild St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. One was to get money was to sell indulgences. Luther objected to the selling of indulgences (pardons) and how they were being represented. From all walks of life and different educational and social levels, the vast majority of people were led to believe that if they had sinned, they could buy an indulgence from The Church, which would completely forgive the sin and insure their entry into heaven. Now you understand! It seemed possible to buy a “ticket to heaven!”

In response to the selling of indulgences, Luther wrote the 95 Theses, which attacked the practices of The Church. He posted these statements on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. His 95 Theses were copied and printed and soon spread all through Germany. The name Luther soon became a household name, known throughout Germany and much of Europe.



Luther had three main ideas:

  1. People could win salvation only by faith in God’s forgiveness. (The Church said that faith and ‘good deeds’ were needed for salvation.)

  2. All Church teachings should be based on the words of the Bible. He said the authority and traditions of the Pope and The Church were false.

  3. All people with faith were equal. They did not need priests to interpret the Bible for them.

Luther and his ideas attracted many followers, which astonished him.

The Church viewed Luther as a threat. In 1520, Pope Leo X issued a decree threatening to excommunicate Luther. Martin Luther refused to retract any of his statements and the Pope did excommunicate him.



Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, was a devout Catholic who supported the Pope. Charles controlled a vast empire including the German states. He summoned Luther to the town of Worms in 1521 to stand trial. Luther refused to recant.

Charles V issued the Edict of Worms declaring Luther an outlaw and a heretic. No one was to offer Luther food or shelter and his books were to be burned.

Luther’s friend, Prince Frederick of Saxony disobeyed Charles V and offered Luther sanctuary in one of his castles. Luther stayed in the castle for a year and translated the New Testament into German.

Luther returned to Wittenberg in 1522. Luther and his followers had become known as a new church, Lutheran.



The Peasants’ Revolt – People, especially peasants, applied the revolutionary ideas to society. They raided monasteries, raided and burned towns. Luther disapproved and urged German princes to show no mercy to these peasants. As a result over 100,000 people were killed. The peasants felt betrayed by Luther.

German princes were divided on Martin Luther.

German princes who remained loyal to the Pope joined forces against Luther’s ideas. Princes who supported Luther signed a protest against the other princes. Thus, the protesting princes were known as Protestants.

Charles V was determined that his subjects would be Roman Catholic so he waged war against the Protestant princes. Charles V, who was the grandson of Queen Isabella of Spain, defeated the protesting princes but could not make them return to being Catholics.



Charles V grew weary and called both Catholic and Protestant princes to meet in Augsburg. There they all agreed that each ruler would decide the religion of his state. This is the famous Peace of Augsburg. And, it was here that Luther’s followers joined hands and sang the battle hymn of the Reformation, “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” the music and words having been written by Martin Luther. (Luther’s words were inspired by Psalm 46.)

England Breaks from the Roman Catholic Church

Henry VIII became king of England in 1509. He was a devout Catholic who had assailed Martin Luther and was given the title “Defender of the Faith” as a reward for his loyalty by the Pope!

Henry VIII was married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, the aunt of Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. (DO YOU GET THE CONNECTION TO SPAIN, CATHOLIC SPAIN?!!!?) Catherine bore Henry a child, Mary. But Henry wanted a male heir to continue his legacy and keep England Catholic.

In 1527, Henry VIII was disgusted with Catherine because this 42-year-old woman was about to leave her child-bearing years. AND NO SON! Besides, Henry wanted a younger queen. Because Church law forbade divorce, Henry VIII asked the Pope to annul his marriage to Catherine. But, the Pope would not annul the English marriage.

In 1529, Henry VIII convened Parliament and managed to pass laws that ended the Pope’s power in England. This Parliament is known as the Reformation Parliament.

In 1533, Henry secretly married Anne Boleyn. Parliament legalized Henry’s divorce from Catherine.

1534 – Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, which made Henry the head of the Church of England, not the Pope. Sir Thomas More had been critical of The Church but refused to recognize the Act of Supremacy. Henry had him tried and convicted of high treason and More was beheaded in the Tower of London.



Anne Boleyn – Anne did have a child for Henry, a little girl named Elizabeth. Henry got really upset and charged Anne with treason. She was tried, convicted and beheaded in the Tower of London. Little Elizabeth grew up with this memory.

Henry married again in 1537 to Jane Seymour. Jane was lucky and bore a son, Edward, for Henry. But her luck did not last. Jane got sick and died.

Henry then married Anne of Cleves in January, 1540 and divorced her in July of 1540.

Sixteen days after Henry divorced Anne of Cleves, he married Katherine Howard, a beautiful and lively young girl. (She had been a lady-in-waiting for Anne of Cleves and no doubt had caught Henry’s eye.) Henry was 49 and Katherine was not yet 19. Henry had become extremely overweight and suffered from other health issues. Despite this, Katherine managed to lift his spirts. However, Katherine caught the eye of younger, virile young men at court and she might have written her own death sentence. Informants told Henry that Katherine was unfaithful. After investigation, the allegations were overwhelming. Henry had Katherine beheaded in the Tower of London in February, 1542. She was buried next to her cousin, Anne Boleyn.

July, 1543 – Henry married again, this time to Katherine Parr. Katherine had no children but Henry died in 1547 and she was widowed. Katherine Parr died in 1548.

When Henry VIII died, his 9-year-old son, Edward VI, became King of England. Edward was guided by Protestant advisors. Edward was also a weak and sickly child and died in 1553.



He was followed by his half-sister, Mary, who was Catholic and returned England to the Catholic Church. Mary gained the name of “Bloody Mary” because of her persecution of Protestants. She died in 1558.

Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn, followed to the throne of England. She was Protestant and was determined that the Church of England would reign supreme, not the Roman Catholic Church.

Elizabeth sought middle ground and established a state church that would appeal to both Catholics and Protestants. For example, priests could marry and could deliver sermons in English. This pleased Protestants. Some of the high pomp of the Catholic Church was allowed to remain along with the order of service, which pleased Catholics.

England found religious peace under Elizabeth I.

Elizabeth faced other very serious problems. There was an effort to replace Elizabeth with her cousin Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots and a Catholic.

And she managed to thwart an attempted invasion of England by Philip II of Spain in 1588. This is the famous Spanish Armada.

Plus, she had money problems. The late 1500s saw a great effort by England to establish colonies in America. The money made, however, would not benefit Elizabeth directly. And the constant need for money would carry over into the monarchs that followed her death in 1603.



Chapter 1, Section 4

The Protestant Reformation grows and takes on new forms.



  • John Calvin gives order to the faith and practice to Luther’s beliefs.

  • Calvin followed Luther’s belief that salvation cannot be earned.

  • God chooses very few people to save.

  • They were called the “elect.”

  • This is the doctrine of presdestination.

  • A new Protestant religion began called Calvinism.

  • Calvin believed in a theocracy, government controlled by religious leaders.

  • Upon invitation from Protestants in Geneva, Switzerland, Calvin ruled Geneva.

  • There were strict rules:

    • Religion classes attended by all.

    • No bright clothing.

    • No card games.

    • Harsh punishment for those who broke the rules, e.g., imprisonment, excommunication, banishment.

    • If one preached a different doctrine, it meant burning at the stake.

For many Protestants, John Calvin’s Geneva was a model city of moral people.

  • Scottish minister John Knox admired Calvin.

  • He brought Calvinism to Scotland, where followers were known as Presbyterians.

  • Calvinism/Presbyterianism became the official religion of Scotland.

  • They deposed Catholic Queen, Mary Queen of Scots.

  • Mary’s infant son, James, became King James VI of Scotland.

  • John Calvin’s influence can be found in many churches today, although “softened.”

  • In France, Calvin’s followers were called Huguenots.

  • French Catholics and French Huguenots clashed.

  • St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre-1572-Catholics hunted Protestants and murdered them.

  • Within six months, 12,000 Huguenots were murdered.

  • Anabaptists believed that baptism was only for those old enough to decide for themselves.

  • Anyone baptized as a child would need to be baptized as an adult.

  • Anabaptists means “Baptize Again.”

  • Anabaptists believed church and state should be separate.

  • They refused to fight in wars.

  • Anabaptists were a threat to other Protestants and were persecuted.

  • Anabaptists were forerunners to Mennonites, Amish, Quakers and Baptists.

The Role of Women

  • Women played important roles in the Reformation.

  • Chief among them was Martin Luther’s wife, Katherina von Bora. She was a nun who believed in Luther’s teachings, fled her convent, and she married Martin Luther.

  • Katherina respected her husband but argued with him about the role of women.

  • As Protestant religions developed, women were kept in minimal roles and “marginalized.”

The Catholic Reformation or

Counter-Reformation

  • In the face of “revolution,” The Church began its own internal changes.

  • Millions of people had remained loyal Catholics.

  • Ignatius de Loyola – founded new religious orders.

  • Loyola was from Spain. He was injured in a war in 1521. He wrote a book about daily devotions called Spiritual Exercises.

  • 1540 – The Pope founded a new order called the Society of Jesus, known as the Jesuits.

  • Jesuits had three missions:

    • Founding schools and educating people throughout Europe.

    • Convert non-Christians to Catholicism. Missionaries were sent around the world to accomplish this.

    • Stop the spread of Protestantism.

  • Pope Paul III – Four major programs:

    • Investigate the selling of indulgences and other abuses.

    • Approved the Jesuit Order

    • Used the Inquisition to seek out heresy in papal territory.

    • Called for the Council of Trent 1545 – 1549.

  1. Interpretation of the Bible was entirely up to The Church.

  2. Faith and good works were required for salvation.

  3. Bible and Church tradition were equally important in Church life.

  4. Indulgences were valid expressions of faith. False selling of indulgences was banned.

  • Pope Paul IV – drew up a list of dangerous books.

  • The list was called Index of Forbidden Books.

  • Offensive books including Protestant Bibles were gathered and burned in huge bonfires.

Legacies of the Reformation

  • Christian unity in Europe ended. Europe was culturally divided.

  • Protestants and Catholics gave new emphasis to education, founding parish schools and universities.

  • Women had hoped for more important roles in churches. It did not happen.

  • As the Catholic Church’s authority declined, it led to the growth in power of monarchs and nation-states.

  • The questioning of beliefs laid the foundation for the Enlightenment, a new age of thinking in the 18th Century.





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