By Adrian Kresnak
The Prologue: Problems in the Church and Early Attempts to Fix Them
The very name of the Holy Roman Empire shows how much religious and political power was intertwined. Considering the corruption that had grown in the church and the resulting conflicts between the Pope and... nearly everybody else, it is logical that there would be protests of some kind eventually.
John Wycliffe lived from c. 1320s - 1384. He advocated translating the Bible from Latin to the vernacular language. He was excommunicated after his death and his writings burned. His followers are called the Lollards. While these Wycliffites did something similar to Luther with nailing The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards to a cathedral, these conclusions were posted prior to Gutenberg's printing press and were not widely circulated.
Jan Hus, a Czech priest who lived from c. 1369-1415. Hus denounced several church teachings in his sermons. He was executed for heresy, but his followers, the Hussites, were successful in breaking away from the Church. While it is unfortunate that Hus was executed, the Foundation forbids going back in time to prevent this or similar events as the paradox rate rises exponentially with such a trip.
Early reformers pointed out many problems with the church's doctrine and practices, such as Papal authority and the materialism of priests. These issues, while helping create the circumstances of the Reformation, are not considered singular events that caused it. A more direct cause would be Pope Sixtus IV declaring that indulgences could be bought to be applied to the dead in purgatory. Agents of the Catholic Church were sent out to sell these indulgences and raise revenue. One in particular, Johann Tetzel, was especially aggressive in his salesmanship; he is referenced in Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses.
Martin Luther (1483-1546). Luther was a professor at the university of Wittenburg when he came across Tetzel. Luther was not impressed by the concept of indulgences and wrote the Ninety-Five Theses against them. He protested many other doctrines as well. He claimed that the man was saved by grace alone (sola gratia) through Christ's work (solus Christus), justified by faith alone (sola fide), and that the Scriptures were the only authority for Christian doctrine (sola scriptura), and that everything was to be done for God's glory alone (soli Deo gloria). He translated the Bible into the vernacular, though his was German as opposed to Wycliffe's English.
1521. Luther was brought to the Diet of Worms, an assembly of officials in the Holy Roman Empire, in order that he might recant his writings. Luther did not take back what he had written. To protect him, Prince Frederick III took him to Wartburg Castle. This is where Luther began translating the Bible.
Little did Luther know that he would be causing one of the greatest splits in history: the Catholic Church, and the Protestants, who... protested.
(Note: "Diet of Worms" sounds ridiculous in modern English. We know. That is no excuse to go back and try to convince the Pope to hold it somewhere else. It's an important event. Let it go.)
William Tyndale (1494-1536). He translated the BIble into English, virtually the only European language it had not already been translated to. He was executed for heresy; his last prayer was that the king's eyes would be opened. This was answered, for the king authorized an English translation two years later. Considering Tyndale had angered the king by opposing the latter's annulment to his first wife, this change of heart seems miraculous indeed.
Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), a Swiss pastor. His theology conflicted heavily with others, even other Reformers like Luther. In particular, he and Luther disagreed over the presence of Christ in the Eucarist; while Luther said that Christ was there miraculously, Zwingli said He was not there at all, as the Eucarist was only a symbol. Zwingli's theology was most influential in Switzerland. He later got into conflicts with the Anabaptists over the proper time to baptize a person.
He was a proponent of iconoclasm (the destruction of religious images), declaring them idolatry. Sometimes zealous Protestants destroyed them, but more often these cult images were removed peacefully by Protestant authorities.
John Calvin (1509-1564), a French Reformer whose influence can be seen in Reformed denominations such as the Presbyterians, Puritans, and the Dutch Reformed Church. He was also influential in the Geneva Reformation. His most famous doctrine is that of predestination: that is, that God has chosen those who are saved before they chose to be saved. His book, Institutes of the Christian Religion, explains Protestant theology.
John Knox (1513-1572). He was a Chaplain in the Church of England, but when Catholicism was restored as the state religion of England, Knox fled to Scotland. There he helped establish the Presbyterian church.
Causes of the Reformation's Success
These are the circumstances that allowed the Protestantism to take root:
The invention of the Gutenberg printing press and the increase of literacy, allowing the Bible and Protestant literature to be read widely.
Support by secular authorities breaking away from the Church allowed Protestants to thrive.
Conflict with the Ottomans prevented Catholics and Protestants from fighting with each other as much as they might have otherwise.
Effects of the Reformation: Religious
The Reformation caused the grand split in Christianity between the Catholic Church and the Protestant churches. While the Catholic Church stayed in one pieces, Protestantism divided and divided and divided and divided. Beyond the denominations that started with a disagreement on theology, there were also denominations created by the ruler of a state who wanted religious as well as political power. An example of this would be the Anglican Church, which was like the Catholic Church in many ways; it declared King Henry VIII its religious ruler so England could be completely independent of Europe.
With Reformed theology, non-clergy were encouraged to come to God without a human middleman. This respect for the individual allowed for changes in politics, the arts, and the economy.
Effects of the Reformation: Political
It would be difficult to explain the political effects without mentioning their religious influences.
The secular rulers and the Pope had been in conflict all over the Holy Roman Empire for years. When Protestantism became a worthy alternative, many monarchs declared their countries Protestant so that the wealth of the Catholic clergy could be added to the state's treasury. Monarchs that remained Catholic were threatened by rising numbers of Protestants in their territories.
Finally, the Peace of Augsburg was signed by the Holy Roman Emperor and a league of Lutherans. This treaty allowed the rulers of individual states to choose whether their countries would be Lutheran or Catholic. Individuals who did not practice the state religion would be given time to move to where their own religion was accepted.
By the 1600s, Calvinist groups were being persecuted in their home countries again. The French Huguenots were denied many rights that had been given to them by King Henry IV in the Edict of Nantes. King Louis XIV persecuted them mercilessly, exiling some and killing many. In England, Puritanism was becoming a problem as well: followers of this denomination wanted to purify the Anglican Church, but ended up leaving to start a new society in America.
By the late 1700s, the Americans decided to separate church and state so as to avoid the violent persecutions their ancestors had fled from.
Effects of the Reformation: Social and Artistic
While groups of early Protestants destroyed Catholic art, they did not do so because they hated art. As noted above, certain pieces were designated cult images, and they were destroyed because they tempted people into idolatry. Actual art -- art created soli Deo gloria, or to bring glory to God alone -- was valued and encouraged.
Lucas Cranach the Elder was an artist and a friend of Martin Luther and his family. He painted a lot of portraits of Luther. This painting, the Allegory of Law and Grace, is about a topic important to Protestant theology: how God's Law (the Old Testament) relates to Jesus' Gospel (the New Testament).
Rembrandt worked in drafting, painting, and printmaking. He was a master artist, as can be seen even from this self-portrait.
Quinten Massys was another Reformation painter. This piece, The Money-Changer and His Wife, shows the dignity and importance of everyday work. This reflects what would come to be known as the Protestant Work Ethic.
On the musical side of things, Johann Sebastian Bach applied Reformed theology to his composing. Because he believed art was meant to reflect God, he wrote complicated pieces and dedicated every one to God's glory.
Effects of the Reformation: Economic
Max Weber wrote of a phenomenon he called "The Protestant Ethic", known more specifically the Protestant Work Ethic. Before the Reformation, the Christian was encouraged to live ascetically on earth; for the Protestants, however, hard work and thrift were seen as signs of one's salvation. This work ethic allowed for capitalist systems to develop and thrive.
After the Reformation begins -- began? -- to grow widespread, the Catholic Church will -- did? Forget it, verb tenses are terrible for writing Chronology reports. The Catholic Church began its own response, called the Counter-Reformation. With the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the church affirmed and reaffirmed several doctrines that had been disputed.
It also began new religious orders to teach literacy to Catholics. The most famous of those still around today (Editor's note: when is "today"? I'm reading this in 2517) is the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits. The Society was founded by Ignatius de Loyola, a Spanish priest.
The art style known as Baroque art came out of the Counter-Reformation, as a way to prove the Church's superiority.
Doménikos Theotokópoulos was known as El Greco -- the Greek. His paintings are full of detail and color. This one, The Burial of Count Orgasz, shows the ascent of a man's soul.
Peter Paul Rubens was a major Baroque painter. His paintings are full of detail, whether portraits, landscapes, or paintings of historical events. Rubens was knighted by the king of Spain, but took commissions for art despite encountering the attitude that courtiers should not be artists.
Albrecht Dürer is most famous for his prints, such as Saint Michael Fighting the Dragon and Saint Jerome in His Study. He also wrote books on measurement and proportion. The first is about geometry, the second about anatomy.
The Baroque counterpart of Bach is George Frideric Handel. He wrote operas and canons and is one of the greatest composers of his time.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini was not, in fact, primarily known as a painter. This is his self-portrait, yes, but he was a sculptor and a great one at that. He made fountains, really.