The movement in Christianity that resulted in Christian history's second great schism, or split: that between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The latter inspired the numerous protest churches that emerged in western Europe in the 1500s and after and rejected both Roman Catholic tradition and the authority of the popes. This Protestant Reformation had its roots in the migivings of some Christians over some of the practices and theological assumptions of the established church of Rome. Few of the questions were new, but they were given new life in the early 1500s thanks to the intellectual habits of the Renaissance, which encouraged free inquiry into the original sources of all belief, and also thanks to the appearance of printing technology, which made the spread of ideas much easier.
In 1517 the German monk Martin Luther (14651519) drew up a list known as the Ninety-five Theses. These theses were points of dispute, particular issues that Luther believed church authorities should examine. Many of them were concerned with indulgences, a common church practice by which one substituted cash payments for the ordinary penance offered by a priest for the forgiveness of sins.
Although the story is probably anecdotal, popular Protestant tradition holds that the Reformation began when Luther nailed the Ninety-five Theses onto a church door in his hometown of Wittenburg. Luther went on to develop a simplified Christian theology based on three principles: salvation by faith alone; the priesthood of all believers; and the ultimate authority of scripture. Church authorities demanded that Luther, an officer of the church, withdraw his criticisms and objections.
When he refused, he was excommunicated by the 1521 Edict of Worms. Luther was protected for the rest of his life by various German noblemen who had territorial or political axes to grind with the Roman Catholic Church. An important feature of Luther's teachings was his desire to make Christian teachings readily available to ordinary people; prior to this time worship services were generally conducted in Latin, a language known only to the well educated.
Luther's contributions included a German translation of the Bible, while other reformers used other methods to help devise a more popular Christianity. Among them were the German Philip Melanchthon (14971560) and the Swiss Ulrich Zwingli (14841531). Melancthon wanted to revise church rituals so that they would be more meaningful to ordinary people, while Zwingli's churches abolished the Mass as well as other ceremonial components of worship, such as incense, vestments, and decorations.
Zwingli held that the demands of the people might just as well reflect the will of God as the dictates of religious elites. Another Swiss reformer, John Calvin (15091564), published an important text called the Institutes of the Christian Religion and, briefly, ran a theocratic government in the city of Geneva. Both were major influences in the development of Protestant institutions, with their preference for leaders who arose from the people and for lay officials.
Calvin's teaching was also the basis for the conservative sects known variously as Puritans or Reformed Protestants, which took hold in the Netherlands, Scotland, and, for a short time, England. Politics and Religion Political developments continued to reinforce church reforms. In 1529, at a meeting known as the Diet of Speyer attended by many important kings and princes from the German states, leaders granted the protest churches what amounted to official recog- nition by asserting that each prince had the right to choose which form of Christianity would be followed in his lands.
Meanwhile in England, King Henry VIII broke with Rome in the 1520s and proclaimed himself the head of the renamed Anglican Church in England. Henry's motivation was largely his desire to end his first marriage so that he could marry again, a move opposed by Roman Catholic authorities. But the long-term result was the establishment of the Anglican form of Protestantism, the closest of the Protestant churches to Catholic ritual.
Meanwhile, Henry's breakaway lent the authority of one of Europe's most powerful kings to the larger Protestant movement. In 1548, by which time Protestantism was spreading rapidly across Europe, the Peace of Augsburg, which ended numerous conflicts in the German states, gave further authority to the decisions originally taken in 1529. In response to this threat, the Roman Catholic Church underwent a Reformation of its own.
This Counter-Reformation succeeded, at least partly, in arresting the spread of Protestantism, particularly in central and eastern Europe. The Reformation itself might be said to have ended in 1648. By then Protestantism had spread to the New World.
But that year also saw the conclusion of an agreement known as the Peace of Westphalia. The Peace ended about a century of religious wars including, among other conflicts, a civil war in France, the war for the independence of the Netherlands, and the razing of much of the German states and the deaths of an estimated one-third of their population. The Refor mation had split European Christendom in two.
SEE ALSO: Anglican (Episcopal) Church; Calvinism; Counter-Reformation
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