Level 16 - Colossus
Author: Corey Baggett
The Reformation was one of the greatest revolutions ever. It occurred during the 16th century and was a religious revolt that separated the Christians of Western Europe into Protestants and Catholics (Compton’s). There were many events that led to the Reformation and not only did they have an influence people back then, but they have an influence on people today and for centuries to come.
The spark that set the Reformation off was that Western Europe had a controversy with Martin Luther, a German leader of the reformation who was influenced by Jan Hus and John Wycliffe. Luther wanted to change everyone from the Roman Catholic religion because he felt that there were many bad things going on within the Roman Catholic churches. One of the problems that was brought to attention was that the church officials were more concerned with money than with saving people and keeping the religion in tact. What I mean when I say this is that the church officials would do anything to make money, if it was to sell false indulgences to the people or to make the churches so beautiful that people would have to pay in order to get in. The popes were also more concerned about being political leaders rather than priests or religious leaders. They wanted to be more involved in the government because they thought that if they had power people would follow their religion and maybe they could use that power to force people to practice under their religion. These were the first reasons for the Reformation. After this there were many more events that led to the first breaking of the Roman Catholic churches.
The first breaking of the churches occurred in Germany. Germany was the spot of the first breaking because at the time, Germany had a very weak government. Their political situation also wasn’t the greatest; therefore, the breaking of the churches was not going to be stopped. Then Pope Leo came along and appointed Tetzel to sell indulgences to the people. This made Martin Luther very angry. He was angry because he himself was in search of salvation and he believed that the selling of indulgences was criminal-like. He also believed in the inner-faith of god, and that too also went fully against indulgences. In a reaction to the selling of the indulgences, Luther posted the 95 thesis on the church door at Wittenberg on October 31st, 1517. The 95 thesis were statements that protested against the Roman Catholic Church’s ways and also reasons why indulgences were bad. After the posting of this document, the first breaking of the churches was complete (Compton’s).
Since Luther’s ideas were so influential to the people and wet against the church’s ideas, the emperor asked Luther to renounce his ideas at a meeting he called. Luther refused to and the emperor became furious. He quickly excommunicated Luther for taking back his ideas. Although the excommunication couldn’t be carried out to the full extent because the government was too weak, Luther still went into hiding. While in hiding Luther translated the bible into German so it would be easier to understand for the German people. Also, while he was in hiding, his followers began protests against the emperor. The protests were very successful and the followers soon came to be known as Protestants because it has the word “protest” in it. After he came out of hiding, he established a new church where Lutheranism would be practice throughout Europe. Since Lutheranism spread so quickly, King Charles V tried to stop or even slow down the spread. Charles V and his armies did defeat the Protestants in wars, but because it Lutheranism was spread all over, the movement of the reformation couldn’t be stopped. After the religious wars, the Peace of Augsburg, a peace treaty, was signed in 1555. By this treaty, Charles V was forced to grant to the ruler of each German State, the right to choose Catholicism or Lutheranism (Compton’s).
While these religious happenings were occurring in Germany, England was also breaking away from their churches. There breaking was more political than religious. King Henry wanted to divorce from his wife, but the Pope wouldn’t let him because it was against the religion. Furious by the Pop’s refusal, King Henry created the Church of England. This church was also known as the Anglican Church. The church acquired Protestant doctrines, which meant that the new church followed Protestant faiths. This church also granted him his divorce, so the king was very pleased by how it ended up. After King Henry completed the formation of the new Anglican Church, John Calvin came along to help the growing of the church and the religion. He challenged the Catholic Church and made the Protestant Church much more powerful. In order for people to understand what he believed religion should be, he wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion. In this he says “Since we are not our own, we must seek the glory of god,” (Calvin, John Ch.6). In order to unite all of his followers, he created a code that brought them all together. His followers were soon known as Calvinists.
After gaining many followers, Calvin settled in Geneva, a small city. Because there was no real leader of the town, John Calvin became the leader and the main religion became Calvinism. Calvin also came up with the idea of Predestination, which said that god chose who would achieve salvation before they were born. A couple of years later, Calvin made Geneva a theocracy, which is a government ruled by religious authority. There were now many different beliefs among all of Europe, but Calvinism was one of the fastest rising religions during the Reformation (Mosse, George).
A movement that sought to revitalize the church and oppose Protestantism was the Counter Reformation. Pope Paul III was a big part of this movement. He called together the Council of Trent in 1545 to deal with doctrinal and disciplinary questions raised by the Protestants. Pope Paul III not only used his political power, but he also used his military against the Protestants, so he could stop them from spreading or maybe even stop them period. Many strives were taken to bring back power within the Roman Catholic Churches. These battles between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics eventually caused the Thirty Years’ War. The Thirty Years' War was a conflict that involved most Western European countries, and in the end, left Germany devastated (Http://www.calvin).
In the end, the reformation had a very big influence on the people then, the people now, and the people for many generations to come. Some people gained such a belief in Protestantism during the reformation years, that their family today is still practicing the religion to its fullest. The Reformation also gave the people many different variations of religion and they got to choose the best one for them, their family and their families to come. The Reformation passed power and wealth from the high feudal lords and the Roman Catholic hierarchy to the middle class people and the monarchs. Almost all the regions of Europe gained cultural, political and religious freedom, which was a big change as to what it was before the Reformation. Finally, religion became less political and more a direct expression as to what the people believed in (Mosse, George).
Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1845, Wheaton College. (Documents)
Compton’s Encyclopedia. Reformation. 1998 ed.
Mosse, George L. The Reformation. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963. http://www.calvin.edu/meeter/refcente.htm (Internet source)