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The Protestant Reformation Research Paper

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Updated: Feb 11th, 2019

The word Reformation is commonly used in reference to the main religious changes that took place all over the continent of Europe in the sixteenth century. Notable was the Protestant Reformation, also referred to as the Protestant Revolt, which started on 31 October 1517 when Martin Luther published “The Ninety-Five Theses” to criticize the doctrinal practices of the Roman Catholic Church (Morison, 97). Consequently, other denominations were formed.

These were the Lutheran, the Reformed or Calvinist, and the Anglican, which were distinct from the Roman Catholic Church in both organization and theological practices. Several other dissident religious organizations as well as persons, jointly refereed to as the Radical Reformists, also surfaced during this period. They established communities that thrived in spite of the frequent persecution they were facing. The Protestant Reformation led to major changes in the history of Christianity.

Historians have referred to numerous events that took place in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as possible antecedents of the Protestant Revolt. An English theologian, John Wycliffe, led an early dissident movement in the fourteenth century based on anticlerical and biblically centered reforms.

Because he was one of the earliest opponents of papal authority, at times he is referred to as “The Morning Star of the Protestant Reformation.” Wycliffe’s views were amplified later by John Huss in Bohemia who is renowned for having been burnt alive on 6 July 1415 because of his opposition to the orthodox views of the Catholic Church.

His condemnation was ordered by the Council of Constance and after his death, his followers in Bohemia strove to pursue the course he had fought for with his life (Rafferty, 7). Between 1420 and 1413, they engaged in the bitterly fought Hussite Wars against the Roman Catholics. Although the wars resulted in a compromise between the two factions, the Huss challenge to the traditional views of the Eucharist did not diminish.

Luther later adopted some teachings of Huss. Some of these are the futility of salvation by human works, discontentment of the papal authority, and the use of the vernacular language in preaching. Luther’s acknowledgment that he had embraced the teachings of Huss accelerated his breakage from the Catholic Church.

The urge for a reformation was also spurred by the emergence of humanistic philosophies and the spirit of the Renaissance, which drew increased attention to the teachings of the Bible and had the tendency of putting more emphasis on the individual.

The ideas of such men as Lorenzo Valla induced a fresh way of thinking that led to the attacks of the abuses of the church. One prominent personality of the humanistic views was Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam who, through studying ancient literature, held that true religion cannot be achieved by outward adornments. This and other views he held greatly laid the foundation for Luther.

The discovery of printing during this period played a pivotal role in extensive distribution of information. Printing was to accelerate the ecclesiastical rebellion. In secular aspects, there were a number of disagreements between the Catholic Church and the state, which had remained unresolved for a long time. As states became stronger, this tension started to take a new turn. In Germany, several princes were to support the revolt because of their opposition to the authority of the church.

The increase in economic development made people to get upset about the old medieval order of performing tasks. The scholastic ideas on finance and economic affairs were increasingly gaining ground. Historians of the twenty-first century have suggested that the relationship that existed between the new modes of worship and economic changes were central influences towards the Protestant Revolt. These, together with other factors, were central influences in the start of the religious revolt.

Martin Luther, a theologian at the University of Wittenberg, instigated the Reformation by pinning the ninety-five theses at the entrance of the Castle Church, in Wittenberg, with the intention of calling for a discussion on aspects of norms and policies that were being embraced by the Roman Catholic Church.

His disagreements with the church did not begin as a rebellion against it. He intended to spark a reformation from within the church itself. Nonetheless, his actions were more than an opposition to the practice of giving indulgences and secular aspects of the ancient church. At the time of publishing the theses, he had already been convinced that the Roman Catholic Church was no longer preserving the sanctity of the Word of God since its authority was largely based on the selfish desires of the clergy and the popes.

Luther’s opposition to the teachings of the church soon became obvious. In 1519, in a disagreement with Johann Eck, he opposed the malpractices of the church that were against the Bible. In 1520, the Roman Church leadership gave out an order to outlaw the instigator of the reformation, which he publicly disobeyed and gave out numerous leaflets attacking the pope and the unbiblical practices of the church.

He also disregarded another similar order, which was issued by the Holy Roman emperor, Charles the Fifth. When the instigator of the Revolt failed to renounce his position at the Diet of the Worms one year later, his action made many people join the camp of the rebels. Thereafter, he was banned from taking part in the activities of the church. However, the threat was empty and Luther continued to spearhead the Reformation with support from German princes, magistrates, as well as ordinary men and women.

Parallel to the situation in Germany, the Protestant Reformation was going on in other parts of Europe. Although their were internal disagreements within the Reformation, their objections were similar in most cases; that is, against the historic papal abuses, the false foundations of the papal authority, the ecclesiastical captivity of the Word of God, the superiority of the “religious” life, perverted priesthood and usurped mediation, and the hierarchical captivity of the church.

In Switzerland, led the Reformation and since he shared a lot of printed information with Luther, they quickly agreed in most issues. Zwingli’s ideas included humanistic criticism of the ancient Church. However, a small number of Zwingli followers thought that the Revolt was too conservative. After the Roman Catholic Church had outlawed Luther, the messages of John Calvin became very significant in the course of the Revolt.

Calvinist doctrine superseded Lutheranism in France (under the movement by the Huguenots), Scotland (under the leadership of John Knox). It was difficult to reconcile some aspects of the teachings of Luther and those of Calvin. For example, while the Calvinists embraced the doctrine of predestination, Lutheranism did not accept it. Lutheranism also clung to some aspects of the sacramental system.

Calvinism also conquered the Netherlands, Hungary, as well as parts of Poland. In the Netherlands, Protestant immigrants from different parts of Europe accelerated the Revolt. Most Hungarians converted to Protestantism during the sixteenth century because of the inability of their government to protect them.

All the Scandinavia countries embraced the doctrines of Luther during the course of the sixteenth century. This is because the monarchs of Denmark, who also ruled other neighboring countries, converted to the new faith. In England, the disjointing of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, starting from 1529 to 1536, made England to enter into a different course from the Reformation that was happening in other countries in Europe.

King Henry VIII led the English Reformation. After a series of religious wars were fought between the Roman Catholic House of Habsburg and the Protestant princes of Germany for a period of about thirty years, the Reformation ended in 1648 with the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia.

Since the Protestant Reformation was entrenched in greater processes, which consisted of the surfacing of national states, establishment of links with other areas in Europe, and deep social-economic changes, it cannot be viewed as a single disagreement between Martin Luther and the Roman Catholic Church.

The formation of other churches during this period represents the crucial function of religion in the lives of the early modern Europeans. The breakdown of religious unity as well as doctrinal and ceremonial shifts had important consequences in all aspects of the society. The effect was felt in family life, gender responsibilities, politics, as well as in artistic expressions and philosophical views. These effects are still evident in our current society.

Works Cited

Morison, John. The Protestant Reformation in all countries. London: Fisher & Son, 1843. Print.

Rafferty, Patrick. A short history of the Protestant Reformation: chiefly selected from Protestant authors. Pittsburgh : Johnson & Stockton, 1831. Print.

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