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The Protestant Reformation (In Ten Minutes)

Updated on January 14, 2015

What was the Protestant Reformation?

The Protestant Reformation was a division within Christianity, instigated as a movement in 1517 in Germany by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Protestants. These reformers took issue with many structural and doctrinal institutions within the Roman Catholic church and, spurred on by a diminishing faith in the Catholic church inspired by the Black Plague and the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire, broke off and after decades of conflict and warfare was responsible for the formation of many of the now common denominations of Christianity, including Protestantism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, Moravianism, and Methodism.

Portrait of Martin Luther
Portrait of Martin Luther

The Ninety-Five Theses

Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses rejects, among other things, absolution of sin and the sale as well as the concept of indulgences (the dismissal of punishment for absolved sins). They suggest that this commercial view of sin is not actual penance and afforded false assurance since sin could be forgiven only by God.

The Beginning of the Protestant Reformation

The Reformation was inspired by a series of attempts at reform prior to the primary movement under, among others, Jan Hus and John Wycliffe. Faith in the Roman Catholic Church had been on the decline for some time, and people across the continent were extremely receptive to a change.

Spurred on by alleged corruption within the Catholic church, particularly simony, the commerce centered around indulgences, and the absolving of sin, the Reformers saw the perversion of the Church as sinful and exploitative.

Though not the first reformer, Martin Luther is largely credited with starting the Reformation. On October 31, 1517 he posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Saxony. Shortly thereafter with the publication of the Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536, John Calvin became a pivotal figure in the movement as well. The Reformation was divided largely in two at this point, with one half following Calvin and the other following Luther, in spite of the many similarities in philosophy between the two.

Lutherstadt Whittenburg

The Puritan Movement

The Puritan Movement in England was a Calvinist movement who believed that the Church of England needed further reform and distancing from Catholicism. The most famous of these reformists were the "Pilgrims", who would immigrate to America and establish a colony at Plymouth.

The Reformation Across Europe

In addition to Germany, movements throughout Europe were breaking away from the Catholic church. In England there was the formation of the Anglican church under Henry VIII, which in turn inspired the English Civil War and the Puritan movement. In France, the Reformation took a political turn, gradually weakening the authority of the King and eventually having a direct hand in the instigation of the French Revolution. Scotland, Ireland, Poland, Hungary, Italy, and other countries also saw their own movements, soon seeing much of Europe's conversion to one form or another of Protestantism.

Luther's Ninety-Five Theses, on display in Whittenburg, Germany
Luther's Ninety-Five Theses, on display in Whittenburg, Germany | Source

The Thirty Years' War

The conflict between the Catholic church and the Reformists culminated in the Thirty Years' War, one of the single most destructive and longest conflicts in European history. Fought across central Europe, the conflicts began as religiously-motivated but quickly degraded into land-grabbing and political power-plays. Germany, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Sweden, Denmark and others saw the war decimate their populations and destroy large swathes of land.

The Thirty Years' War completely upset the balance of power throughout Europe. Spain fell quickly into decline, and Germany was divided and decentralized. The conflict continued until the signing of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which ended both the Thirty Years' War and the Eighty Years' War (between Spain and the Dutch Republic). This group of treaties established national sovereignty, a concept dictating that citizens of a given nation are subject first and foremost to the laws of the state in which they live rather than a foreign entity (such as religious institutions.)

Author's Note

This is by no means a complete history of the Reformation, only what I consider to be the highlights. I apologize if I left out anything that the reader considers important, and will happily add additional information or edit what I already have if demand dictates it.

I hope you enjoyed reading, and as always feel free to track me down on Facebook, or visit my home page for more concise summaries of extremely complex events.

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    • celafoe profile image

      charlie 3 years ago from Planet earth. between the oceans

      the " reformation " of luther was based on the false precept that catholicism is a Christian religion.

      Read about this man luther and you will see he was a very evil man. He killed people who stood in his way, more like a muslime than a Christian.

      The fruit of his "reformation" was and is many more denominations and other false Christian groups , many of which have become as apostate and evil as the catholic church.

      True Christianity is following the perfect Christ not an evil man or men. It is a personal relationship and is not anything that separates those that follow Christ as all denominations and many non-denominations do, but that brings all Christians together as required by scripture, True Christians do not answer to man, or groups of men but to God (Jesus). The Christian church has nothing to do with a structure , building or men following the "temple" plan. That is why the veil of the Holy of Holies was rent and God moved out of the building, no longer to be confined there. He came to us we do not have to go to where He is because He is always with us. We are not to have a man between us and God, we are to have a direct personal relationship with Him.

      The new testament "church" is simply God's people. When they do come together, the scriptures tell us ALL are to participate, not some self serving man. The purpose of leaders is to equip the saints (God's living church) for the "work of the ministry". Not to do the work but to teach others how.

      Eph 4:11-16 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ — 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

      God also did away with the clergy -laity which He hates.

      Any man that tells you you must have a man over you is deceived by his own self importance and does not understand the scriptures.

      1 Cor 11:3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ,

      2 Thess 2:9-12 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

      Read and study your bible it tells you all you should know. It will lead you into ALL TRUTH if you allow the Holy Spirit to show you the true understanding of it. If you continue to follow men you will also end up believing many things that are not of God and not believing many things that are of God and He will also send you the strong delusion so you are stuck in the lie.

      Martin Luther was not a Christian leader, he was a protester, he was an evil man and he "protested" but he did not show the way to the truth of God's word.

      There are men that did do that and even today there a few that still do but they are precious few.

    • JG11Bravo profile image
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      JG11Bravo 3 years ago

      This is not a topical debate on religion, it is an overview of historical events. I have no opinion whatsoever on the righteousness of Lutheran teachings, and my interest lies strictly with the history. Whatever anyone's opinions on the Bible and the numerous denominations of Christianity, they have no bearing on the fact that these events took place and that they changed the shape of the world.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 3 years ago

      JG11Bravo, I agree with your comment, and I think you have done a very good job of research and setting out historical facts. I haven’t checked your facts, but your writing skill leads me to trust them. Maybe it is my journalism training, but I can’t figure out why good a neutral article always gets under somebody else’s thin skin. Anyway, great job. I’ll make one more comment and then shut up: “Evil is like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder.” Voted up ++

    • JG11Bravo profile image
      Author

      JG11Bravo 3 years ago

      Well thank you very much. I'm truly glad you enjoyed it.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I found this very interesting. I really had none of that information except I know breaking away from the Catholic Church had something to do with the Moravian that landed in America and built up along the east coast and finally many making homes in the Yadkin River area not far from where I live on a large tract of land they bought. I studied the long preserved records of Anna Catherina telling so much of those early days and it was fascinating to see all the things they made it through while helping so may and teaching Christianity to early settlers and their children. America to them was freedom to worship Christ, the Son of God. I really never understood what their grievance was against the Catholic Church; or how they were preventing them from worshiping.

    • JG11Bravo profile image
      Author

      JG11Bravo 3 years ago

      Thank you. I'm glad to have provided a bit of information thatwas of use to you!

    • LaThing profile image

      LaThing 3 years ago from From a World Within, USA

      Interesting article, as you mentioned, from the historical point of view. Many People have used religion for their own advantages for many centuries. We can't pinpoint and talk about their real intentions but only look at the historical aspect. Great hub, and congrats on winning the Shining Star award :)

    • JG11Bravo profile image
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      JG11Bravo 3 years ago

      Thank you. As you say, it's impossible to nail down the real motives of the people who drove the movement, so I'm of the mind that the best answer is to simply look at the facts objectively.

      I'm glad you enjoyed it, and thank you to you and everyone who voted for this hub in the Rising Star Program.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Very interesting and informative! I think you did an exclent job in explaining and taking a historical look at the Reformation. There is really nothing I would add-it is well written and well read. I appreciate your answer to the first commenter. I enjoyed reading this!

    • JG11Bravo profile image
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      JG11Bravo 3 years ago

      Fantastic! Thank you so much for the compliments.

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