The Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation may be considered to have started with Martin Luther's writing of the 95 Theses in 1517. Luther was not the first to question certain doctrines of the Catholic Church, but he served as a focal point for those who would ultimately work to throw off the domination of Rome. The reformation was primarily a religious revival and a revival in the interest of Christ's life, which turned out to start many bloody wars between different religious sects. At the time when he first began to push the idea that salvation was by faith alone and not by works, Germany was politically falling apart. The Emperor was in frequent disagreement with the Papacy over a variety of political matters, and there were intermittent wars with France. When Luther's ideas began to spread, they found fertile ground in Germany, and were protected in part because of the political climate. Both the Papacy and the King of France would be stern upholders of traditional Catholic ways. Luther being German gave him immediate sympathy within the German state governments. And, with the rise of nationalism at the time helped to protect him in spreading his ideas. The Protestant League gave them a form of political power against the rest of Europe also. Until the Protestant Reformation, Catholicism was a uniting force in Europe. Since all people there, other than Jews, were members of the Church, there was a sense of solidarity, which would never exist again in Europe after the Reformation. The power of the Church, then, was both religious and secular. However, after the Reformation, countries began to choose sides religiously, and to attempt to keep their own states almost entirely one or the other. This helped to change the alliances of powers within Europe, with Protestants standing against Catholics. Ultimately, these divisions led to a series of religious wars. For the common European, war was a fact of life as result of the Reformation, for each side sought to protect its political and religious position by fighting.
In the 1520s, Germany experienced the Peasant's Revolt. The Reformation was not the cause of the revolt, but it was an encouraging factor. The peasants were severely oppressed and poor. They were forced to pay burdensome tax and services both to Lords and also to the Catholic Church. With the ideas of equality and the sense of liberation that Reformation brought, and the Protestant attacks on the money abuses of the Catholic Church, the peasants felt empowered to take to violent rebellion. Their effort failed, and added to the suffering of the poor. Nevertheless, it was the first shot felt by the conflicts of the Reformation. One aspect of the Reformation was the increased splitting which took place within religious groups, and the oppression, which came from the authorities trying to maintain control over them. Lutheranism was the first major group, but following it were the rise of the Calvinists.
Calvinism was very strong in Switzerland and Scotland. John Calvin was born in Switzerland and began as a Lutheran. He had a very stern faith in which he believed strongly in predestination, it influenced political developments and relations with other Protestant states as well as with Catholic countries. Indeed, one of the dividing factors between England and Scotland was the clash of types of Protestantism. Although the Reformation divided Europe religiously as well as politically, ending the unanimous control of the Catholic Church, it did not change the idea that within each country only one religion would be allowed. The principle of "one faith, one king, one law" was widely accepted. England, Scotland, Geneva, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands all abided by this principle. However, France saw monarchy as opposing God. There were persecutions of the rebellious, but a minority still remained and even came to try to seek some political power. Eventually, the Huguenots were crushed, but they for a time showed the possibility of coexistence.
Overall, the Protestant countries were more progressive than their Catholic rivals, and they carried out a more vigorous religious life. Also, Protestantism fostered the desire for political freedom and self-determination, especially the desire for democracy. Education for the masses was promoted by Protestants because of their desire to have everyone be able to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. And ultimately, the drive to settle the New World was in part fueled by the desire for religious freedom, which resulted from the Protestant Reformation. Thus, the Reformation had major social, political, and religious impact on Europeans in the Sixteenth century.