The Birth of Protestantism: A History of the European Reformation in 6 Dates

The Birth of Protestantism

At the turn of the 16th century, the Catholic Church remained the most influential organization in Europe, possessing vast lands and wealth. Within the Church, corruption, debauchery and intolerance flourished during this period. At the very top of the Church hierarchy, the Christian populations of Europe witnessed the spectacle of a completely corrupt upper clergy - the Pope, bishops and cardinals. Around the same period, the Catholic Church began selling indulgences - in effect, selling "seats in heaven" and absolving any sins for a fee. An obvious crisis was brewing, and distrust of the Church was increasing. Since Christian society was deeply concerned with the question of salvation, the desire for reform of the Church was shared by broad masses from all social strata.

1517: Martin Luther

October 31, 1517, Wittemberg Cathedral, Germany. A young German Augustinian monk named Martin Luther has just hung his "95 Theses" against indulgences on the door of the chapel in Wittenberg Castle. This criticism was nothing new, as many influential theologians and thinkers had spoken negatively about the Church before him.

However, it was this event that was destined to turn the course, if not of world history, then of European history. Wishing only to reform the Church from within, Martin Luther's act set off a chain reaction that shook the whole of Europe and was later called the Reformation. The main idea of the "95 Theses" was to criticize the practice of indulgences and the right of the Pope to absolve all sins, and to affirm the Bible as the only spiritual authority in church life.

1521: Edict of Worms

It was not long before Martin Luther's pronouncements swept across Germany, shaking the country for 4 years. The new Holy Roman Emperor Charles V summons Martin Luther to the Reichstag (assembly) in Worms to defend his views before the Church and later to renounce them. On April 17, 1521, the members of the Reichstag demanded that Luther admit his guilt, to which the young monk replied that he would do so only when it was pointed out to him the contradictions of his statements with the Holy Letter.

To everyone's surprise, Luther was released. Nevertheless, in the same year, 1521, he was excommunicated from the Church, and Charles V banished him from the Empire. However, the ideas and principles he propagated found support among many Christians in the Germanic world, from ordinary believers to the princes of the Empire. Finding refuge in the castle of Frederick of Saxony, Luther spent a year translating the New Testament into German. At the same time he set about explaining his ideas, which were taken up with interest and passion by other thinkers and theologians in the Christian world.

1536: Jean Calvin

Jean Calvin was born in Picardy and educated at the University of Orleans. In the early 1530s, he was strongly influenced by the ideas of the Protestant Reformation. After becoming a pastor, he was accused of heresy because of his close ties to other influential preachers of the time and fled to Basel. There, under the influence of Luther, Melanchthon, Oecolampade, Zwingli, and Bucer, he wrote and published in 1536 Instructions in the Christian Faith, a theological treatise and foundational text of Protestantism that represents a synthesis of Reformed thought. The work was a great success and, after settling in Geneva, Calvin set about organizing French-speaking Reformed congregations. In keeping with the great Reformed principle of returning to Scripture alone and making it available to all, he supervised the translation of the Bible into French from the original Latin texts.

Following Luther's example and opposing indulgences for the sale of absolution, Calvin formulated the Lutheran concept of salvation: Sola fide (Latin for "Through faith alone"). Although Jean Calvin was one of the central figures of the Reformation, his teachings had their own distinctive differences and later became known as Calvinism. Its characteristics were a severe asceticism, which was supposed to bring the believer closer to the "apostolic faith", and the doctrine of absolute predestination - the idea that God had already chosen some people for salvation and others for eternal destruction.

the birth of Christian Protestantism

1534: Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy

In 1534, Henry VIII drafted the "Act of Supremacy," which made the king (and his successors) "the sole and supreme heads of the Church of England." In 1539 the Church of England was officially established, and in 1562 Elizabeth I promulgated the Church's Confession of Faith. However, it was not until 1559 that the religious situation in England stabilized and Anglicanism took real shape. At that time, sister churches were founded in Scotland and Ireland. Thus was born the Anglican Church, also sometimes called the Episcopal Church (especially in the United States).

The establishment of the Anglican Church was not a direct consequence of the Reformation, but rather the result of internal political and ecclesiastical processes in sixteenth-century England. Nevertheless, events in Europe provided a tangible impetus to break the relationship between the British monarch and Rome.

The new Church fully embraced the basic principles of the Reformation, but retained Catholic influence, especially in its liturgy. The cult remained impressive and the bishops were retained. The monarch became the head of the Church of England, and Anglicanism became the state religion. Simply put, the Anglican Church is somewhere between the doctrine of the Catholic and Reformed churches.

1555: Augsburg Religious Peace

The Peace of Augsburg Religious Peace was an important agreement made on September 25, 1555, in Augsburg, Germany, between the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and the Protestant princes. First, Lutheranism was recognized as an official religion on a par with Catholicism. Secondly, an important principle "whose country, whose religion" (cuius regio, eius religio) was developed, according to which princes could independently choose a religion for their territories.

The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 was evidence that Protestantism had become a serious force that could stand up to the Catholic Church. At the same time, however, this agreement did not bring a long peace, and soon the disadvantages of Protestants in Germany resumed. In France, on the other hand, the coexistence of a minority of Protestants and a majority of Catholics (with the exception of a few southern territories) remained a dream. Worse, it led to three decades of brutal civil wars that literally tore the country apart and will be remembered as perhaps the darkest years of French history.

1618-1648: The Thirty Years' War

The Thirty Years' War refers to a series of military conflicts that shook virtually all of Europe in the first half of the seventeenth century. Initially, the Thirty Years' War began on purely religious grounds - a confrontation between the so-called Catholic League (the Holy Roman Empire and others) and the Evangelical Union (the Lutheran states), but over time it developed into a political conflict to seize land and expand influence.

As a result of the conflict, representatives of Catholicism and Protestantism were finally equalized in rights, and the era of the Reformation and religious wars ended with the signing of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the Thirty Years' War.

In conclusion, it is worth saying that the era of the Reformation became one of the key in history and largely determined the subsequent development of European society. In addition to creating a new direction of Christianity, the Reformation led to the political reorganization of Europe and profound social and economic changes. Today, Protestantism remains an influential movement that is even strengthening its position in some regions of the world.


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