This material is taken from:
Thomas J. Kehoe, Harold E. Damerow, and Jose Marie Duvall, Exploring Western Civilization to 1648: A Worktext for the Active Student. (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., 1997) pp. 457 - 474.
MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546) entered the monastic order of the Augustinian Hermits in 1505. He became a professor of the Bible at the University of Wittenberg, which was within the Electorate of Saxony, a part of the Holy Roman Empire. No matter how hard Luther tried during his tenure as a monk or university professor, he could not find in his religious life the inner peace he sought. Whatever his good deeds, he did not think any of them adequate in the eyes of God to assure him of salvation. This quandary had perplexed him for a long time. Then he came upon a passage in the New Testament Epistle of Paul to the Romans (1:17) that pointed a way for him: “The just shall live by faith.” As he wrote of his revelation:
Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by his faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.[i]
This “justification by faith” merited by God’s divine grace rather than good works is one of the primary beliefs of Lutheran Protestants.
He stressed first of all that the grace of God bestows salvation freely on humans; believers no longer had to worry about salvation. To be saved one needed to believe, rather than to do good deeds. Secondly, the Bible is the only source of authority in religious affairs, not the pope, not a church council. Thirdly, every baptized Christian can be his or her own priest. There is no sacrament of Holy Orders; there is no hierarchy of priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals or a pope. (Is it any wonder why Luther was declared a heretic?) According to Luther’s understanding of the New Testament, which he wanted every Christian to be able to read for himself, there are only two sacraments: baptism and communion. Luther also felt Jesus was physically present in the bread and wine at the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper. This physical inherence of Christ in the bread and wine was called consubstantiation. The Catholic Church, in contrast, held the doctrine of transubstantiation—that the bread and wine were changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.
Because of Luther’s challenge to the blatant selling of indulgences by a Dominican friar, Johann Tetzel, in his hometown of Wittenberg, he set the ball in motion for a nationwide “protest” movement. On October 31, 1517, Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses (propositions) were supposedly tacked on the door of the castle church as an invitation to debate in the usual scholarly fashion. Disseminated throughout Germany via the printing press, the Theses declared that every Christian has a share in the blessings of Christ and the Church—without the sinner buying a pardon to release him from purgatory. Though he denied it, the Ninety-Five Theses were the opening salvo in what came to be Luther’s war challenging PAPAL AUTHORITY.
This controversy turned out to be more than a religious one; in fact, it
had political and social consequences. Luther
was excommunicated by the pope in 1520 and his doctrines were condemned. He
appeared before the Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521. When he
refused to recant his views, an edict was issued making Luther an outlaw in the
Holy Roman Empire. While Charles wished to enforce the ban against Luther, many
of the German princes opposed such action. Luther was hidden by his
patron, Frederick the Wise, the Elector of Saxony, in his castle’s basement,
where he translated the New Testament into German. Luther had appealed to the German nobility to take the lead in church
Indeed, after he alienated many peasants by his wholehearted condemnation
of the Peasants’ Revolt (1524-1526), Luther’s dependence on princely support
increased. Many nobles remained loyal to Catholicism, but other princes,
especially in the north, converted to Lutheranism. The impetus for conversion
varied. Nobles were attracted to Luther’s teachings from religious conviction,
from the wealth to be had by acquiring church property, and as a way of gaining
more political independence by weakening the power of the Catholic emperor.
The question is why didn’t the emperor act vigorously at once to crush
Lutheranism. The answer appears to be that Charles V was too consumed by affairs
outside the Holy Roman Empire and too much in need of the help of all the German
princes in his struggles with the French and the Turks. Charles alternated
between demands for religious conformity and attempts at reconciling conflicting
theological viewpoints within Germany. He hoped that a general council of the
church would meet and settle the religious dispute for him.
The threat of civil war became more obvious after the 1530 Diet of Augsburg at the end of which Charles had given the Protestants six months to reconsider their position or be suppressed by force. In 1531, the Lutheran princes and free cities joined together to resist the emperor in an alliance called the League of Schmalkalden. Facing a renewed threat from the Turks, the emperor backed down. It was not until 1546 that Charles actually took to battle against the forces of the League. Luther had died earlier in the year, but the Lutheran Church by that time included more than half of the Holy Roman Empire and four of the seven imperial electors. The imperial forces defeated the forces of the League at the Battle of Mühlberg in 1547. The subsequent peace left the Protestant side discontented, and the presence of Spanish and Italian troops in Germany offended many. Fighting was renewed in 1552 after the Schmalkaldic League had formed an alliance with Henry II of France. This time, the fighting went poorly for the imperial forces. At the subsequent Diet of Augsburg, Ferdinand, Charles V’s brother, was authorized to negotiate the PEACE OF AUGSBURG (1555), which settled relations between Catholics and Lutherans within the Holy Roman Empire. The Peace provided that each prince of the Empire could choose between Catholicism and Lutheranism and impose that choice on his subjects. People not willing to accept the ruler’s choice of religions were free to move to other territories. The Lutherans could retain all Catholic Church property that had been confiscated prior to 1552. If a Catholic churchman turned Lutheran later, he could not bring his titles or territories into the Lutheran embrace. The provisions of this peace did not apply to other Protestants, such as Calvinists. This failure to establish a more comprehensive peace contributed later to the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648).
The introduction of Lutheranism into Scandinavia was largely the work of the Swedish and Danish kings. In the 1520’s, the King of Sweden took over much church property and introduced Lutheranism in Sweden and Finland. In the 1530’s, the King of Denmark made Lutheranism the state religion, and established it in Norway. (These countries are still 95% Lutheran today.)
The revolt of Luther encouraged other reformers, among them Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) in Zurich, Switzerland, and Menno Simons (1496-1561) in Germany (Have you heard of the Mennonites?). But no other reformer was as successful as John Calvin (1509-1564), who was born in France, trained as a lawyer and humanist, experienced a religious conversion to Protestant Christianity in 1533, and accepted a call to help the reformed church in Geneva in 1536. Calvin was to stay at Geneva, except for a brief exile, until his death. He made the city a model of theocracy (a state ruled by church officials) for the Reformation in the rest of Europe. He was a much more systematic thinker than Luther and spread his influence especially through The Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536).
By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which He has decided in His own mind what He wishes to happen in the case of each individual. For all men are not created on an equal footing, but for some eternal life is pre-ordained, for others eternal damnation...[ii]
God in His infinite wisdom has already decided your future—Heaven or Hell—without regard to your good deeds. Only a few would be among the elect. How do you know if you have been chosen? You must act as though you are heaven-bound in this life, for you will not know until death. Thus free will was denied by Calvin. Humans could not choose their ultimate destiny, only God could.
Scripture was the final authority in religious matters. The sermon was the central focus of the service. The Church was to be purified (hence in England we have the Puritans) of anything not sanctioned by the Bible. Vestments, holy water fonts, statues of saints, and stained glass windows were out. An ideal Calvinist church had four bare walls, a pulpit, and a communion table. Only two sacraments remained for Calvin: baptism and the Lord’s Supper (communion), in which Jesus was present spiritually in the bread and wine, not physically.
Calvin’s “Ecclesiastical Ordinances” established the structure of a presbyterian form of church government. The local congregation was governed through councils of elected lay elders, thus setting a stage for a form of democracy. Above the congregations were assemblies called synods, where clergy and elders shared governance. This type of organization was ever so different from the Catholic Church’s hierarchy. Calvinists were required to attend church six hours on Sunday, as well as during the week. There were prohibitions, with forms and degrees of punishments, against adultery, blasphemy, speaking out against ministers, dancing, card playing, heavy drinking, theater attendance, etc. (Did the Calvinists have any fun?) However, they had an exemplary community where capitalism flourished and idleness was discouraged. The Calvinists became bankers and moneylenders engaging in all types of commercial activity. From this group, we get the Protestant work ethic. (“Idle hands are the Devil’s playground. By the sweat of your brow, you will earn your daily bread.”)
Calvinism spread under many guises to the rest of Europe and the colonies. Calvinism came to dominate Holland as the Reformed Church and Scotland as the Presbyterians. Calvinistic Huguenots were strong opponents of the established church and government in France, causing a series of religious wars. Supported by Spain, French Catholic kings attempted to suppress the Huguenots, but Protestantism survived as a minority religion even in predominantly Catholic France.
Economically, Calvinism has been credited with helping to foster
capitalism and, politically, with encouraging democracy. Certainly Calvinism was
been more successful at limiting the influence of the state on the church than
Lutheranism had been. By the middle of the sixteenth century, Calvinism was the
most militant form of Protestantism. Calvinists led in overthrowing the
authority of the king in the Netherlands in the sixteenth century and in
deposing two kings in seventeenth century England.
By 1527, Henry had decided to petition Pope Clement VII for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine on the grounds it was cursed since Catherine had previously been married to Henry’s brother. The Pope, who was fearful of offending Charles V, Catherine’s nephew, played a waiting game, hoping Henry’s passion for Anne Boleyn would cool. Instead, Henry, who eventually had six wives, proceeded to marry the seven-months pregnant Anne (1533) and appointed Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) as Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer annulled Henry’s marriage to Catherine. Parliament obliged the king by passing the Act of Supremacy (1534), which made Henry the head of the church in England. Another act gave the right of royal succession to Henry and Anne’s heirs; yet another dissolved the monasteries and their wealth was given to the crown. A few who resisted the King’s policies paid with their lives; Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher were executed in 1535. Most English people went along with the changes, for Henry’s religion was basically Catholic in services and doctrines; but now Henry was the head of the Church of England, not the Pope. Henry’s advisors, Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell, sponsored and enacted Lutheran reforms in the now state-controlled Anglican church service. However, it was not until the reign of Henry’s son Edward VI (1547-1553) that Protestantism made great advances. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer introduced the Book of Common Prayer (1549) and encouraged Protestant ministers to come to England. Forty-two Articles, adopting such Protestant doctrines as justification by faith and the sole authority of the Bible (now translated into English), received official sanction.
The reign of Henry’s much desired male heir, Edward, by his third wife,
Jane Seymour (c.1509-1537), did not last long. Edward VI died from tuberculosis
at age fifteen in 1553. Now the pendulum swung in the opposite direction.
Catholicism was restored with a vengeance. For next in line to the throne was
Mary Tudor (1553-1558), the daughter of Henry VIII by Catherine of Aragon, his
first wife. Mary earned the nickname of “Bloody Mary” (hence the tomato
juice and vodka cocktail) because she had over three hundred Protestants put to
death, including Archbishop Cranmer and other dissenters. Her reign became
increasingly unpopular not only because of the fiery executions, but also
because of her marriage to Philip II of Spain. The average person could cope
with a return to Catholicism, but not an alliance of England with Spain. When
Mary died, who do you think became the next reigning monarch? Another woman:
Elizabeth I (1558-1603), Mary’s half-sister and the daughter of Henry VIII and
Elizabeth’s religious policies were moderate, although she too had
dissenters executed. She desired religious conformity for the sake of political
unity. Repealing her predecessor’s acts, Elizabeth restored a revised version
of the Edwardian reforms. She became the “supreme governor” rather than the
“supreme head” of the church. Attendance at Church of England services on
Sundays was mandatory. The services were said in English by priests who were
free to marry. Although the liturgy itself closely resembled that of traditional
Catholicism, The Book of Common Prayer was brought back along with Thirty-Nine Articles
that embodied ambiguously phrased Protestant dogma (doctrine). Adopted by the
vast majority of English persons, this middle-of-the-road path, called The
Elizabethan Settlement, was a long-lasting success. The Church of England
survived the attacks of the Puritans during the seventeenth-century English
Revolution. The Church of England is still the official church today with
several churches in other countries as derivatives. Thus members of the Church
of Ireland in Ireland and of the Episcopalian Church in the United States are
Renaissance popes Leo X (1513) and Clement VII (1523-1534) were preoccupied with worldly concerns, including the latter’s captivity by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V’s army, and were both unable or unwilling to devote their energies to meeting the challenge of the Protestant Reformation. Pope Paul III (1534-1549), while capable of making his grandsons cardinals, saw the wisdom of appointing men of ability to high church office. (Remember the former practice of simony—the selling of church offices with incomes attached.) Paul III helped to initiate a movement of Catholic reformation, which is often called the COUNTER-REFORMATION. Several learned men became cardinals during his reign. The Inquisition to weed out heresy was instituted within the Papal States and the Council of Trent was called. The Papacy in the second half of the sixteenth century was filled by upright men who stressed virtue in making clerical appointments, thereby eliminating some of the former abuses that had gotten the Church into trouble.
The Council of Tent, which encountering
major disruptions because of religious and political disagreements, met
intermittently at an Italian town under the control of the Holy Roman Emperor
from 1545 to 1563. While it did not succeed in restoring the unity of Western
Christianity, it formulated important rules for reform. The sale of church
offices and indulgences were forbidden. The Council called for establishing
seminaries in every diocese for the education of priests, reiterated the
celibacy of the clergy, and emphasized preaching and instruction to lay persons.
Doctrinally, there was no compromising with the heresy of Protestantism; if
anything, Catholic dogma was more rigidly prescribed. For example, justification
by faith was denied. Transubstantiation (the miraculous transformation by the
priest of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ) was reaffirmed;
the sacraments, which remained at seven, were defined as indispensable to
salvation. The authority of the Pope was held to be indisputable, while Biblical
interpretation was held to be the sole prerogative of the Church authorities. As
you can see for yourself, Catholicism did not reconcile with Protestantism as
many reformers hoped, but it clarified its position, clearly delineating the
lines of doctrinal belief that had been fuzzy for decades and perhaps centuries.
A number of religious orders contributed to the Catholic revival. These included the Theatines for men established by Gaetano Thiene and Gian Pietro Caraffa (later Pope Paul IV) and the Ursulines for women founded by Angela Merici. But the most famous new order of the sixteenth century was the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, founded in 1540 by IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA (1491-1556).
A Spanish nobleman and soldier, St. Ignatius experienced a spiritual
conversion while recuperating with a shattered leg from a cannonball wound. His Spiritual
Exercises, a training manual
for spiritual development, helped motivate members of the Society for their
tasks. The Jesuits were called upon in the Exercises:
To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it, believing that between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride, there is the same Spirit which governs and directs us for the salvation of our souls.[i]
Chief among the goals of the Jesuits, who were organized along military lines, was missionary work in the areas of Europe that had turned Protestant and overseas, especially in India and Japan. Much of southern Germany, Poland, and Hungary were reclaimed for Catholicism. Success overseas was more limited. Besides serving as missionaries, the Jesuits (“the shock troops of the Papacy” as they were called) helped reinvigorate Catholicism through their work in education, by establishing colleges and seminaries, and as confessors to kings and queens. They indeed brought many converts back to the Church and prevented many more from leaving.
The Inquisition was a committee of Catholic churchmen with the power
to arrest, imprison, and in obstinate cases, call for the state execution of
those charged with heresy. There were really two Inquisitions in the sixteenth
century. The Roman Inquisition had its chief locus in the Papal States, whereas
the Spanish Inquisition affected Spain and Spanish possessions, such as Sicily
and Sardinia. Hearsay evidence, unidentified witnesses, and torture were tools
of the Inquisitions. Fortunately, the influence of the Catholic Inquisitions on
Europe as a whole was limited. Unfortunately, Protestant churches and states
also felt threatened by heresy and were willing to use similar methods to rid
themselves of the “treasonous” dissenters.
The Council of Trent had decided that certain books could not be used in religious services. The Index of Prohibited Books, first issued in 1559 by the Congregation of the Inquisition, was a list of books considered dangerous to the faith of Catholics and which should only be read with special permission. The Index was circulated in Catholic countries and underwent several revisions. Over the years some famed intellectuals made this list, including Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Interestingly, this Index was not abolished until the Second Vatican Council so decreed in 1965; thus, for over four hundred years it was an effective method of suppressing dissenting ideas.