At the beginning
of the sixteenth century, the Catholic church, modeled upon the bureaucratic
structure of the Holy Roman Empire, has become extremely powerful, but
internally corrupt. From early in the twelfth century onward there are
calls for reform. Between 1215 and 1545 nine church-councils are held
with church reforms as their primary intent. The councils all fail to
reach significant accord. The clergy is unable to live according to church
doctrine, and the abuse of church ceremonies and practices continues.
In the first half of the sixteenth century western Europe experiences
a wide range of social, artistic, and geo-political changes as the result
of a conflict within the Catholic church. This conflict is called the
Protestant Reformation, and the Catholic response to it is called the
Counter-Reformation. The Reformation movement begins in 1517 when a German
Augustinian friar named Martin Luther posts a list of grievances, called
the "Ninety-Five Theses", against the Roman Catholic Church.
As the spirit of reform spreads other leaders appear: Ulrich Zwingli in
Switzerland, French-born John Calvin who settles in Geneva, and John Knox
who carries Calvin's teachings to Scotland.
In the Roman church a series of powerful popes including Leo X and Paul
III will respond to reform demands in various ways. Mendicant orders such
as the Jesuits are formed to reinforce Catholic doctrine, and the Church
will continue to be supported by the major European monarchies. Ultimately,
the Reformation creates a north-south split in Europe. In general the
northern countries becomes Protestant while the south remains Catholic.
The Reformation and Art
reject the use of visual arts in the church. A wave of iconoclasm sweeps
through the north. Stained glass windows are broken, images of the saints
are destroyed, and pipe organs are removed from churches. The Catholic
churches respond to this iconoclasm with an exuberant style of art and
architecture called the baroque. The baroque ideologically opposes Protestant
severity. Not until the Neoclassical style of the eighteenth century will
there be an effective attempt to resolve this dichotomy. The theatrical
designs of Saint Peter's and the Gesł in Rome are a triumphant symbol
of the Roman Catholic church's belief in itself and its history. The plain
churches of the north are reminders of Protestant beliefs.
A wide - ranging
movement of religious renewal in Europe concentrated in the sixteenth
century but anticipated by earlier reform initiatives, e.g., by Waldensians
in the Alpine regions, Wycliffe and Lollardy in England, and Hussites
in Bohemia. Although inseparable from its historical context, political
(the emergent nation - states and the tactical interplay of forces and
interests in Imperial Germany and in the loose Swiss Confederation), socio
- economic (particularly urban growth, with expanding trade, the transition
to a money economy, and new technologies, notably printing, promoting
a new assertive middle class, alongside persistent peasant discontents),
and intellectual (chiefly the Renaissance, especially in the Christian
humanism of northern Europe), it was fundamentally religious in motivation
It was not
so much a trail blazed by Luther's lonely comet, trailing other lesser
luminaries, as the appearance over two or three decades of a whole constellation
of varied color and brightness, Luther no doubt the most sparkling among
them, but not all shining solely with his borrowed light. The morning
star was Erasmus, for most Reformers were trained humanists, skilled in
the ancient languages, grounded in biblical and patristic sources, and
enlightened by his pioneer Greek NT of 1516. Although Luther in Wittenberg's
new university in rural Saxony had a catalytic effect felt throughout
Europe, reform was astir in numerous centers.
in origin was Zwingli's radical reform in Zurich, provoking the thoroughgoing
Anabaptist radicalism of the Swiss Brethren. Strasbourg under Bucer's
leadership illustrated a mediating pattern of reform, while Geneva, reformed
under Berne's tutelage, had by midcentury become an influential missionary
center, exporting Calvinism to France, the Netherlands, Scotland, and
elsewhere. Much of Germany and Scandinavia followed Luther's or perhaps
Melanchthon's Lutheranism, while England welcomed a welter of continental
currents, at first more Lutheran, later more Reformed, to energize indigenous
target may be generally described as degenerate late medieval Catholicism,
over against which they set the faith of the apostles and the early fathers.
Some central target areas may be specified.
proliferating abuse, theological and practical, connected with penance,
satisfactions, and the treasury of merit. These practices were the basis
of indulgences, to which were directed Luther's Ninety - five Theses with
their pivotal affirmation that "the true treasure of the Church is
the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God." Luther's anguished
quest had taught him the bankruptcy of an exuberant piety that never lacked
exercises for the unquiet conscience, vows, fasts, pilgrimages, masses,
relics, recitations, rosaries, works, etc. The Reformation answer, to
which Luther's new understanding of Romans 1 brought him through many
struggles, was justification by God's grace in Christ alone received by
righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and
sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith." Christ's righteousness credited
to the believer gave him assurance before God, while he never ceased to
be sinful and penitent, for "the whole life of the Christian is one
of penitence." Jesus said "Be penitent" (Greek), not "Do
penance" (Latin Vulgate). Luther's theology of the cross was a protest
against the "cheap grace" of a commercialized, fiscal religion.
Foundations of Papal Authority
exposure of the forged Donation of Constantine combined with fresh biblical
and historical study to undermine papal pretensions. The rock on which
the church was built was Peter's faith, and in the early centuries the
Roman bishop enjoyed no more than a primacy of honor. While most Reformers
professed a readiness to accept a reformed papacy that served to edify
the church, so resistant did it prove to even moderate reform that Antichrist
seemed a deserved designation.
Captivity of the Word of God
papal magisterium, church dogma, or the sophistries of schoolmen, canonists,
and allegorists, this was a leading target of Luther's "Reformation
Treatises" of 1520. In 1519 he had denied the infallibility of general
councils. The Reformers liberated the Bible, by vernacular translation
(notably Luther's German Bible), expository preaching (recommenced by
Zwingli), and straightforward grammatichistorical exegesis (best exemplified
in Calvin's commentaries). Disputations, often critical in the pacing
of reform, operated like communal Bible studies. Thus were the Scriptures
enthroned as judge of all ecclesiastical traditions and the sole source
of authentic doctrine, as well as experienced as the living power of God
in judgment and grace.
of the "Religious" Life
maintained a tireless polemic against monasticism, one of the most prominent
features of Latin Christianity. They rejected the distinction between
the inferior life of the secular Christian and the higher "religious"
world of monk and nun. The Reformation was a strident protest against
this distorted set of values. Luther and Calvin both stressed the Christian
dignity of ordinary human callings of artisan, housewife, and plowman.
Reformers almost insisted on clerical marriage, by their own example elevating
the importance of family life. From another angle they objected to clerical
intrusion into civil affairs, e.g., the administration of marriage and
divorce, and regarded political office as one of the most significant
Priesthood and Usurped Mediation
of Mary (though not necessarily her perpetual virginity) and the intercession
of the saints were denied alike by the Reformers. Christ alone was exalted
as man's advocate before God and God's appointed priest to bear our sins
and minister to our frailty. By rejecting all but two, baptism and Lord's
Supper, of the seven medieval sacraments, the Reformation liberated the
faithful from the power of the priesthood. The church lost its indispensable
role as sacramental dispenser of salvation. Transubstantiation was refuted,
along with the sacrificial character of the Mass except as the response
of thankful hearts and lives. In accordance with NT usage all believers
were declared to be by baptism a royal priesthood, free to fulfill a priestly
service to others in need of the Word of life.
Captivity of the Church
to allegations of innovation and disruption of the church's long - lived
unity, the Reformers claimed to be renovators, restorers of the primitive
face of the church. Such a church was not dependent on communion with
the papacy or hierarchical succession but was constituted by its election
and calling in Christ and recognized by faithfulness to the word and sacraments
of the gospel. Although several Reformers experienced doubts about infant
baptism, and both Luther and Bucer hankered after a closer congregation
of the truly committed, in the end all stood by the baptism of infants.
A major factor was their fear of dividing the civil community which by
common baptism could be regarded as coterminous with the visible church.
Although the distinction between the church visible (seen by human eyes)
and invisible (known only to God) was used by the Reformers, it was not
their customary way of acknowledging the mixed character of the church.
of Divine and Human
theology was strongly theocentric, and clearly reasserted the distinction
between Creator and creation. Confusion between the two blighted medieval
doctrine in various spheres, Eucharist, church, papacy, and made its influence
felt in other areas, such as mysticism and anthropology. With a starkly
Augustinian understanding of original sin (qualified somewhat by Zwingli),
the Reformers asserted mankind's total spiritual inability apart from
the renewal of the Spirit. On unconditional election the Reformation spoke
almost as one voice. If Calvin related predestination more closely to
providence and directed all his theology to the goal of the glory of God,
Luther no less saw God's sovereign Word at work everywhere in his world.
of the Reformation
from the varying hues and shades of their theologies, which owe much to
different intellectual and religious formations as well as to temperament,
sociopolitical setting, and conviction, the Reformers were not agreed
on all issues.
they parted company on the Lord's Supper. For Luther the solid objectivity
of Christ's presence was created by his word ("This is my body")
and could not be vulnerable to the recipient's unbelief. (His position
is wrongly called "consubstantiation," because this implies
that it belongs to the same conceptual order as "transubstantiation.")
Others, even the mature Zwingli, stressed faith's spiritual eating of
Christ's body and blood, and Calvin further focused on communion with
the heavenly Christ by the Spirit. In reform of worship and church order
both Lutherans and Reformed adopted respectively conservative and more
radical approaches. A significant difference lay in attitudes toward the
Mosaic law. Whereas for Luther its primary function is to abase the sinner
and drive him to the gospel, Calvin saw it chiefly as the guide of the
Christian life. Again, while for Luther Scripture spoke everywhere of
Christ and the gospel, Calvin handled it in a more disciplined and "modern"
manner. Overall, "careful Calvin orchestrated Protestant theology
most skillfully, but fertile Martin Luther wrote most of the tunes"
(J I Packer).
must be paid to the orthodox Anabaptist Radicals whose Reformation was
more sweeping than the "new papalism," as they called it, of
the magisterial Reformers. Believers' baptism identified and safeguarded
the bounds of the church, the gathered community of the covenanted band.
Discipline was essential to maintain its purity (a point not lost on influential
Reformed circles). The church's calling was to suffering and pilgrimage,
and to total separation from the world. By its accommodation with the
empire of Constantine the church had fatally "fallen." The restitution
of the apostolic pattern in all particulars entailed the renunciation
of the sword and of oaths. By advocating toleration, religious liberty,
and separation of church and state, such Anabaptists were ahead of their
time, and suffered for it. As Christendom dies out in the West, the attraction
of the Radical Reformation option appears in a clearer light.
e.g., c. 1540 in Germany, it seemed as though reform - minded Catholics
might prevail. Rome thought otherwise, and in theology the Catholic reforms
of Trent were in large measure counter - Protestant reaction. If renewal
was more evident elsewhere, in the new Jesuit order, the Spanish mystics,
and bishops like Francis of Sales, not until the twentieth century and
Vatican Council II did the Roman Church take to heart the theological
significance of the Reformation.
A C Cochrane, Reformed Confessions of the Sixteenth Century; B J Kidd,
Documents Illustrative of the Continental Reformation; H J Hillerbrand,
The Reformation in Its Own Words; H A Oberman, Forerunners of the Reformation:
The Shape of Late Medieval Thought; W Cunningham, The Reformers and the
Theology of the Reformation; B M G Reardon, Religious Thought in the Reformation;
H Strohl, La pensee de la Reforme; G W Bromiley, Historical Theology:
An Introduction; H Cunliffe - Jones, ed., A History of Christian Doctrine;
S Ozment, The Age of Reform, 1250 - 1550; H J Grimm, The Reformation Era
1500 - 1650; A G Dickens, The English Reformation; I B Cowan, The Scottish
Reformation; G H Williams, The Radical Reformation; F H Littell, The Anabaptist
View of the Church; G F Hershberger, ed., The Recovery of the Anabaptist
Vision; P E Hughes, The Theology of the English Reformers; P D L Avis,
The Church in the Theology of the Reformers.
The Protestant Reformation had a major effect on Europe
in many ways, especially in political, social, economic, and religious
ways. Many people decided that the Pope, the head of the Catholic
Church, was not worth following because of many reasons, including the
Babylonian Captivity and the Great Schism. To many European citizens,
the Church seemed too concerned with worldly affairs. Practices
within the Church were questioned for their integrity. Some of the
people who opposed the Churchs practices became religious reformers,
who created their own religions in order to improve on Catholicism.
Many rulers outside of Italy, especially in Germany, decided to support
the reformers of the Catholic faith so that they could keep the tithes
within their own country instead of giving them to the Pope.
Many practices within the Catholic
Church drew criticism. Three of these practices: simony, indulgences,
and nepotism, were brought up in the 95 Thesis of Martin Luther, a German
monk who later started the Lutheran faith. Simony is when people
who contributed vast amounts of money to the church would be able to get
a relative into a position in the church. An indulgence is when
priests in the church would sell the forgiveness of sins. Nepotism
is when a member of the Catholic Church would be able to get a relative
into a high position in the church. All three of these things where
practiced in the Catholic Church, and all three of these things brought
criticism with them.
There were many religious reformers
for Catholicism. Five of the most important religious reformers
were Martin Luther, John Calvin, Henry of Navarre, Henry VIII, and Ignatius
(Ignacius?) Loyola. Martin Luther brought about the Lutheran faith
after the Diet of Worms. His 95 Thesis argued about the problems
in the running of the Catholic Church, mainly in simony, indulgences,
and nepotism. John Calvin created the Puritan faith, known to Americans
as the Presbyterian faith. He believed in predestination and that
you were either predestined to go to heaven (the Elect) or predestined
to go to Hell (the Damned) when you were born. Your actions in life
proved if you were one of the Elect or one of the Damned. He wrote
a book, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, and he created
a theocratic (non-secular) state. Henry of Navarre, the King of
France, was a Huguenot, a French Puritan, who gave religious freedom to
Huguenots with the Edict of Nantes. In return for this religious
freedom, he became a Catholic. He took up the title, Henry IV.
Henry VIII was the King of England, and he founded the Anglican Church,
otherwise known as the Church of England, due to the fact that the Catholic
Church would not grant him a divorce. Ignatius Loyolas mission
was to bring people back to the Catholic Church. He created Jesuits
to spread the Catholic Doctrine, and he created the Inquisition to get
rid of heresy.
One problem leading to the reform
of the Catholic Church was the Great Schism. In 1378, two competing
Popes were elected, one in Avignon and one in Rome. It lasted until
1417. Finally, a Church council ended the crisis. It elected
an Italian Pope to rule from Rome and persuaded the French King to support
the new Pope. During the Great Schism, the Catholic Church lost
much of its political power.
The Protestant Reformation brought
about an end to religious unity in Europe by breaking apart the roots
of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Counter Reformation actually
hurt the Catholic Church because it forced pain upon those who were suspected