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Thursday, 20 July 2017


The Protestant Reformation in Christianity is a term used to describe a series of events that happened in the 16th century. Because of corruption within the Roman Catholic hierarchy, some people saw a need to reform the church.

The Reformation movement was anticipated from the 12th century by the Waldenses, Lollards and Hussites. They attacked the corruption of the clergy and stressed the importance of Scripture.

The movement became effective in the 16th century when the new centralized absolute monarchies gave support to reform by challenging the political power of the papacy and confiscated church wealth.

During the early 16th century, the papacy was earning a good income by the indulgences system that allowed Christians to purchase remission from penance in purgatory. In 1515, Pope Leo X started a new indulgence campaign to raise money for the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica, a church in Rome.
Appalled at this Martin Luther, a Catholic monk from Germany, nailed up on the church door at Wittenburg, his 95 Theses, (the standard way of raising issues for debate), arguing that a Christian has had a full pardon from God and no need of indulgences.

Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses

A reformed movement arose in Zurich, Switzerland in 1521 led by merchant Conrad Grebel and theologian Ulrich Zwingli. The adherents emphasized to a large extent the study of the Bible and belief in its supreme authority.

Around the same time, Nicholas Storch found the Abecedarian Anabaptist sect in Germany. Driven from Wittenburg by Luther, Storch traveled through Germany preaching the equality of all men and claiming that as knowledge of the Scriptures is communicated directly by the Holy Spirit, it is wrong to learn to read. He also attacked infant baptism and as a consequence his movement was attacked by both Catholics and Lutherans.

By the mid 1520s, millions of peasants were rebelling against the nobles in the name of equality of the humanity in front at God. Thomas Müntzer, a learned associate of Nicholas Storch, over-enthusiastically encouraged and guided a huge peasant revolt against the army of the princes. Müntzer was particularly inspired by Daniel 2:44, which outlines how the everlasting kingdom of God would consume all other kingdoms.

The revolt was crushed at Frankenhausen and Muntzer was captured and tortured to death on May 27, 1525.

Contemporary portrait of Thomas Müntzer.

Luther opposed their peasant war, lashing out at them in a paper Against the Murdering and Thieving Hordes of Peasants.

Many countries in Europe followed this trend of reformation and the continent was divided by denomination. Though not personally interested in religious reform, King Francis I of France initially maintained an attitude of tolerance, in accordance with his interest in the humanist movement.

After Francis was defeated at the Battle of Pavia in 1525 and his subsequent capture, the French Parliament took advantage of the French king's absence and passed such anti-Lutheran laws as banning translations of the Bible into French.

By the turn of the 1530s, the name Protestants was in general use ending the religious unity of Western Europe

By Ernio48 -  Wikipedia Commons

The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V did not wish to see Spain or the rest of Habsburg Europe divided, and in light of continual threat from the Ottomans, preferred to see the Catholic Church reform itself from within. He persuaded Pope Paul III to inaugurate a Catholic Counter-Reformation to counter activities of the Reformation.

The Council of Trent was convened on December 13, 1545 as a reaction to the Protestant Reformation and it proceeded to meet intermittently for eighteen years. On adjourning, Pope Pius IV ratified all its decrees and definitions, which enjoined strict obedience upon all Roman Catholics. The decrees also stressed some points of faith that the Protestants' objections had put in danger such as the reinforcement of the seven sacraments and their beliefs on transubstantiation.

By the mid-17th century the present European alignment had been reached, with a separation of the Catholic and Protestant churches. The Peace of Westphalia of May 15, 1648 recognized Protestants, and is generally seen as the end of this process.

The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster, (1648) by Gerard ter Borch
Source Hutchinson Encyclopedia

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