4) Reformations


1517: Wittenberg

Martin Luther disagreed with the papal policy of indulgences. The money collected from them was used for building projects, like St Peter's in Rome, which Luther didn't agree with. Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the Power of Indulgences on the church door. He wrote one in Latin and another in German allowing the general population to read it. He outlined 3 main principles which became the main tenets of all the new Christianity reforms ('Protestantism' didn't exist yet though, it was just identified as a schism in the church):

  • Sola fide - faith alone will bring salvation. Luther believed the 'good works' used by the church, like pilgrimages, confessions and fast days, weren't necessary to achieve salvation, only faith could do this.
  • Sola gratia - grace alone/God's will will bring salvation. He claimed things like clerical edifices, ceremonies, priesthood, confessions and penance etc weren't necessary as they couldn't mediate faith and salvation, only God could do that. The church could be misleading people by pretending to offer them salvation.
  • Sola scriptura - the scriptures alone will bring salvation. God gave us the Bible that tells us how to achieve salvation. This casted doubt on clerical traditions and canon law.

Church authorities became alarmed. Luther started publishing at a mad pace and his word spread like wild fire. It only became known as a reformation in the 17th century though.

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Luther was labelled as a heretic in 1520 and was excommunicated from the church. In 1521, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, declared Luther an outlaw. After his excommunication, Luther took refuge in Saxony.

In 1522, Luther's ideas took ground in German territories, like Saxony, Hesse and Prussia. Then, his ideas reached England. The Knight's War in 1523 used Luther's ideology, as did the Peasant's Revolt of 1524/5. But, Luther liked order, so he didn't like all this upheaval and was appalled by the rebels' adoption of his doctrine. But, the schism caught force and continued spiralling.

In 1529, the 'Protestation' was signed, and in 1530, the 'Augsburg Confession' was drawn up and agreed to which was a statement of the Lutheran faith. This reduced the number of sacraments from 7 to 2 and changed many other aspects of the church.

In 1531, the Schmalkaldic League was formed from the people who signed the Protestation and Augsburg Confession, and they went to war against the Catholic Church. The Treaty of Augsburg was signed in 1555. Charles V accepted the compromise that 'whoever has the rule has the faith' that meant that every country should follow the religion of the monarch (Erastian rule). This was crucial in the 16th century and ended in rebellions and much dissatisfaction in the 17th century.

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Calvinism, Fragmentation and Consolidation

The establishment of Calvinism and Anabaptism is seen as the second wave of reform that took place in the 1540s. John Calvin was from Geneva and established his godly city here, and in 1541, Calvinism was established as the official confession. Calvinism spread and in 1560s, it was in the Netherlands, and in the 1580s, Calvinism/Presbyterianism was established as the confession of Scotland through the influence of John Knox.

Christendom was beginning to fragment with reformed evangelical confessions conquering wide tracks of Europe. The counter-reformation soon began following the Council of Trent in 1545-1563 where the Church decided how to defend itself. But, this just led to the consolidation of the fragmentation. This all led to political fragmentation though involving many wars, like the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and the English Civil War (1642-9).

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How the Change Happened

  • The political and moral weaknesses of the papacy. After Emperor Charles V conquered Rome in 1527 and held the pope captive, and due to him fighting wars all over including in Rome, the backdoor was left open for Lutheranism to enter the empire. It tagetted the corruption, nepotism and immense wealth of the Catholic Church.
  • Problems within the Holy Roman Empire. The empire was huge and so it isn't surprising that it split up. The emperor was also otherwise engaged in wars against the Ottoman Empire, the 1529 siege of Vienna, and the Habsburg-Valois Wars of 1449-1555.
  • Support for reform was multi-lateral, including support from above (e.g. magisterial reformation, the Schmalkaldic League, and the Erastian Doctrine) and below (e.g. Luther's reform, Peasant's War, urban reformations, and clerical circles).
  • Emergence of charismatic leadership. There may have been no reformation without Luther who was very charismatic. Other leaders also included John Calvin and John Knox.
  • The reformed worship was attractive due to the vernacular devotion and the personal reading of the scriptures, and allowing the lay people to read and think for themselves.
  • The availability of print allowed it to spread. Once the power of print had reached places, it was impossible to stop the spread of the reformation.
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