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According to Wiesner-Hanks, Luther was not the first person to express his dissatisfaction with the established religious structure (165). Some groups that were active before Luther’s teachings became popular were unhappy with the amount of power that the church had at that time. However, the ideas of earlier reform movements were not as recognized as Luther’s. Thus, he became the most recognizable person and a symbol of Protestant beliefs. While Protestants usually agreed on some topics, some aspects were debated between different groups.
For example, the issue of the Eucharist became a subject of heated discussions for many Protestants. The notion of God’s presence in wine and bread was understood differently by Luther and Zwingli, which led to their followers splitting into fractions. Reformation in England was strongly influenced by Zwingli’s ideas, while many European countries were more open to the concepts introduces by Luther. The impact of the English king, Henry VIII, significantly changed the course of the reformation in England. While reforms in other countries came from various scholars and citizens, England’s separation from the church was affected by the decisions of the royal family.
Luther’s Address to the Nobility
In his address to the nobility, Luther describes Church officials as arrogant and greedy people. He writes that the pope “wears a triple crown, whereas the mightiest kings only wear one crown,” implying that the head of the church has more power than any country leader (Luther). Cardinals are portrayed as unnecessary in his letter. Their only purpose is to gather riches that were taken away from citizens by the church. Luther says that Germans are being deceived by the church, which is spreading from Italy to Germany to collect people’s resources. According to Luther, “Italy is sucked dry,” and the church wants to gain more power by enforcing this religion on Germans. Luther asks the nobility to follow him and listen to his ideas in order to stop the “Romanists” from stealing their resources. Moreover, he encourages people to educate themselves and learn more about other nations and their relationship with religion.
Many individuals supported the idea of separation of state and church. These people were deemed as radicals and persecuted for their beliefs by both Catholic and Protestant rulers. However, various activists gained more and more followers, which allowed them to influence the state of religion in many European countries. Moreover, some new rules and regulations, which were enforced by the church, were met with protests from peasants. Many different religious groups were seen as heretical by Catholics and Protestants, including the Anabaptists, Mennonites, Hutterites, and Unitarians. These groups had different opinions on many concepts described in the Bible and other religious documents. The difference in beliefs of these groups led to them having conflicts, which affected more and more territories. Lutherans and Catholics began to fight for territories and religious property. Catholics wanted to return property that was occupied by Protestants. However, Germany was overflowing with various religious conflicts, which did not allow the Catholic leaders to end the war forcefully. Thus, the sides created a peace treaty, called the Peace of Augsburg, in which Lutherans were allowed to keep their property (Wiesner-Hanks 182). Moreover, the treaty gave territories an opportunity to choose their religious beliefs.
Calvinism was another type of religious beliefs that differed from other movements. Calvin talked about one’s predestination and the superiority of God’s will. The citizens that followed the teachings of Calvin were not allowed to misbehave in order to adhere to God’s plans. Thus, such activities and behaviors as drinking, gambling, dancing, and profanity were deemed illegal. Moreover, Calvin tried to discipline citizens by enforcing various punishments for misbehaving. People were excommunicated, imprisoned, whipped, or even killed. Citizens submitted to this discipline because many of them believed in the teachings of Calvin. Furthermore, the nature of this religious belief offered people more freedom from the royal authority. For example, many nobles in France decided to become Calvinists because they saw it as a way to reject the government and oppose the papacy.
The idea of predestination implies that God creates a path for every person. Every individual has a certain destination, which he or she cannot refuse. Thus, there is no free will, and every person should follow their predestined path in order to achieve salvation. Calvin wrote about “God’s eternal election,” saying that some people will achieve salvation, while others will not, regardless of their actions. This idea bears some resemblance to the teachings of Luther and Zwingli, as they also believed in elected salvation. Furthermore, the notion of God’s presence in the Lord’s Supper is also shared by Zwingli and Calvin. However, Luther did not agree with this concept. According to Calvin, God decides the fate of all humans because of his absolute knowledge. However, Calvin was concerned with some issues connected to preaching predestination. He believed that people might perplex themselves with questions about predestination and strive away from doing God’s bidding. Many people were attracted to the idea of Calvinism because of its dynamism. It is possible that some individuals could consider the notion of predestination as an opportunity of having an explanation for every situation.
Calvin, John. “On Predestination.” Fordham University, 2017, Web.
Luther, Martin. “Address to the Nobility of the German Nation, 1520.” Fordham University, 2017, Web.
Wiesner-Hanks, Merry E. Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789. 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press, 2013.