the protestant reformation is widely known for martin luther’s publication of his 95 theses or disputation of the power and efficacy of indulgences and marks a second schism of sorts for the catholic church in reality the reformation of western christianity was long in the making and martin luther was not its only leader.
while many view the start of the protestant reformation as having been in 1517 following the publication of martin luther’s theses the actual date of its beginning is somewhat unclear there were essentially three main reformation movements one in germany one in england and one in switzerland with all of them occurring around the same time in the 16th century the german reformation led by martin luther is generally the movement that most people think of when the topic is discussed martin luther prior to the reformation was actually a professor of theology and a priest during his time.
as such luther was sent to represent the observant german augustinian monasteries in rome between the fall of 1510 and spring of 1511 where he came to notice a lack of spirituality throughout rome that left a lasting negative impression on him this pessimistic view of the church only worsened after luther discovered a dominican friar johann tetzel who preached that sins could be forgiven by the purchase of a letter of indulgence approved by the pope allowing for one soul to skip time.
in purgatory before entering heaven the money from these indulgences was being put toward the rebuilding of saint peter’s basilica in rome which luther bravely claimed should be paid for by the wealthy pope himself in response to this indulgence controversy luther wrote his 95 theses which was supposed to inspire a debate about the issuance of indulgences with the assumption that his concerns would be heard and understood copies of the propositions were sent out to a few friends and to archbishop albert of mainz.
who was tetzel’s superior accompanied by a request for the friar’s preachings to be stopped luther’s grievances were not met with the reaction he anticipated and his disapproval of the church began to expand into growing theological disagreements by 1518 luther had come to believe that the view of the church which stated that salvation came from both the grace of god in addition to good works and human actions to earn reconciliation was utterly false and that humans were unable to earn salvation.
it was simply an act of god’s forgiving grace furthermore luther came to the conclusion that the bible itself should be viewed as the only reliable source of information and authority as opposed to the teachings of the church and the pope having that role since the printing press had recently been discovered this gave luther a vast advantage as new translations of the bible could now be printed and provided to anyone with the ability to read so that they could learn from the bible themselves instead of relying on priests and other clergy members.
in switzerland a reformation paralleling luther’s began around 1522 under the guidance of holdreich’s fingley william farrell and later john calvin svingly a priest taught similar ideas to what martin luther was preaching in germany but on an even more radical level beginning in zurich zvengli’s movement quickly took a strong hold in the city and by 1526 farrell a fellow reformer began to assist him in spreading the message to the french-speaking parts of switzerland giving sermons in different cities including geneva in 1536 farrell met john calvin.
who authored the institutes of the christian religion doctrine and would help pharaoh to organize the reformed church of geneva additionally martin luther was not the only reformer to translate the bible into vernacular for the masses to read themselves as the swiss did the same the reformation also spread rapidly in switzerland and calvin’s work reached as far as scotland to the west and transylvania to the east as both calvinism and lutheranism gained traction.
throughout europe england fell into its own reformation in the far west king henry viii prompted the third simultaneous reformation for both religious and political reasons mainly the monarch was outraged by pope clement vii denial of an annual mint for henry’s marriage to catherine of argonne in 1534 the english king declared that he should from then on be the only final authority.
on all matters within the english church thereby establishing the anglican church and the start of a new reformation movement king henry also insisted that the bible be made available for the people demanding that every parish obtain a copy and additionally requiring that liturgy be prepared in english paralleling henry’s changes scotland also joined the reforms thanks to the inspiration john knox received from john calvin back in switzerland knox now formed the presbyterian branch of protestantism.
eventually though shamefully late the catholic church formulated a systematic response to the growing protestant reformation in the form of what is simply called the counter-reformation although some steps were taken to address the reformers earlier on such as the ex-communication of martin luther back in 1521 the catholic church as a whole failed to do much at the start the first major move taken by the church was under pope paul iii who called for the council of trent in 1545.
the three-part series of councils held between 1545 through 1563 not only addressed the challenging of catholic doctrine by the protestants but also established decrees of self-reform in the first council the bishops in attendance were divided as to whether full-out reform was needed or simply a clarification of catholic doctrine many issues were discussed such as the creed of nicaea and Constantinople which was confirmed as the foundation of the catholic faith the number of sacraments which should be seven traditions.
which was accepted as a source of faith as well as other subjects that had been challenged by martin luther in particular which subsequently led to the decision to formally deny the reformers idea that humans had no ability to earn salvation through behavior such as good works political discord put the progress of the council on hold until the next period of talks began in 1551.
as the second part started a growing number of protestants mainly from germany began to assist upon a re-evaluation of what had been decided upon by the council back in 1545 but nothing of the sort was done and the council continued on this time one of the main subjects addressed was the sacrament of eucharist which the catholic church confirmed to include that the bread and wine were believed to truly transform into the body and blood of christ although not in appearance this assertion was of course in direct contradiction to the reformists.
which came as no surprise further doctrine was solidified before the council was interrupted by political disputes yet again when pope paul iv took over the whole concept of the council came under serious doubt due to his direct opposition to the notion finally in 1562 pope pius iv decided to reinstate the council and the bishops regathered during the last leg of the meetings updated statements and decrees were made concerning mass holy orders purgatory matrimony indulgences saints and again more details concerning eucharist reforms were also made for the morals of clerics and much of the corruption and abuses that had inspired the protestant reformation.
such as the clerical overspending and favoritism within appointments made to the church office were soon resolved allowing the catholic church to regain a large amount of its support throughout europe still it was too late to reverse the break within the western church and protestantism was on an upward path of growth at a fast pace to combine the spreading protestant theology the roman inquisition put a heavy focus on the prosecution of anyone deemed a heretic such as the protestants themselves.
while the roman inquisition was drastically milder than the previously established spanish inquisition it was famously known for putting galileo on trial in 1633 furthermore the effects of the protestant reformation’s popularity triggered wars of religion all throughout europe with one of the first being fought in france between the catholics and protestants and ending in the regaining of france for the catholic church though also providing a level of tolerance for the protestants.
in the area the 30 years war broke out in 1618 as well mainly in modern day germany and is said to have potentially wiped out 40 to 60 percent of their population other wars with catholic versus protestants undertones would include the scottish jacobite rising the scamall caldec war the dutch revolt and many more even wars that were not solely based on religious conflict were fueled by the disconnect between catholics and protestants today.
though the relationship between the western churches is remarkably better than it once was there is still a sharply clear schism between the beliefs of protestants and catholics and some disputes and even violence have only recently died down or still remain today in small pockets of the world the history and existence of the protestant reformation not only stands as a vastly significant event due to its contribution to the creation of today’s protestant christian denominations but it also shows the true uniqueness of the catholic denomination.
which had clearly survived the great schism only a few centuries prior now around the world we have thousands of smaller christian branches or denominations divided mostly into the catholic orthodox protestant anglican assyrian and restoration denominations undoubtedly the protestant reformation more than helped to shape modern christianity.