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Reformation,religious revolution that took place in Western Europe in the 16th cent. It arose from objections to doctrines and practices in the medieval church (see Roman Catholic ChurchRoman Catholic Church,
Christian church headed by the pope, the bishop of Rome (see papacy and Peter, Saint). Its commonest title in official use is Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
..... Click the link for more information. ) and ultimately led to the freedom of dissent (see ProtestantismProtestantism,
form of Christian faith and practice that originated with the principles of the Reformation. The term is derived from the Protestatio delivered by a minority of delegates against the (1529) Diet of Speyer, which passed legislation against the Lutherans.
..... Click the link for more information. ).
The preparation for the movement was long. Opponents of orthodox views had asserted themselves over centuries, and in the 14th cent. John WyclifWyclif, Wycliffe, Wickliffe, or Wiclif, John
, c.1328–1384, English religious reformer. A Yorkshireman by birth, Wyclif studied and taught theology and philosophy at Oxford.
..... Click the link for more information. had led a dissident movement. His ideas were amplified later by John HussHuss, John
, Czech Jan Hus , 1369?–1415, Czech religious reformer. Early Life
Of peasant origin, he was born in Husinec, Bohemia (from which his name is derived). He studied theology at the Univ. of Prague, was ordained a priest c.
..... Click the link for more information. in Bohemia, who was burned (1415) at the stake by order of the Council of Constance. After his death his followers in Bohemia upheld his cause in the long and bitterly fought Hussite WarsHussite Wars,
series of conflicts in the 15th cent., caused by the rise of the Hussites in Bohemia and Moravia. It was a religious struggle between Hussites and the Roman Catholic Church, a national struggle between Czechs and Germans, and a social struggle between the landed
..... Click the link for more information. . These dwindled into compromise, but Huss's challenge to the orthodox view of the Eucharist and the revolutionary effect of the wars did not disappear.
New forces fanned discontent with the church and the medieval order of society. There had long been outcries against abuses in the church, especially the blatant worldliness of some of the clergy, the emphasis on money, and the oppressiveness, not only intellectual but economic, of members of the church hierarchy. In the 15th cent. the conciliar movement (i.e., the attempt to establish the superiority of the ecumenical council over the pope) heralded the growing internal church dissent. Although the movement failed, the number of those wishing reform nevertheless grew steadily.
The desire for change was increased by the appearance of humanismhumanism,
philosophical and literary movement in which man and his capabilities are the central concern. The term was originally restricted to a point of view prevalent among thinkers in the Renaissance.
..... Click the link for more information. and the spirit of the RenaissanceRenaissance
[Fr.,=rebirth], term used to describe the development of Western civilization that marked the transition from medieval to modern times. This article is concerned mainly with general developments and their impact in the fields of science, rhetoric, literature, and
..... Click the link for more information. . Study of the ancient Greek and Hebrew texts concentrated attention on the Bible and evoked a new critical spirit, exemplified in such men as Lorenzo VallaValla, Lorenzo
, c.1407–57, Italian humanist. Valla knew Greek and Latin well and was chosen by Pope Nicholas V to translate Herodotus and Thucydides into Latin. From his earliest works, he was an ardent spokesman for the new humanist learning that sought to reform
..... Click the link for more information. and Johann ReuchlinReuchlin, Johann
, 1455–1522, German humanist and lawyer, a scholar of Greek and Hebrew, b. Baden. He taught jurisprudence at Tübingen. In 1492 he began the study of Hebrew, and his Rudimenta Hebraica (1506) was the first Hebrew grammar written by a Christian.
..... Click the link for more information. . The Renaissance also tended to develop an emphasis on the individual. The later humanists were outspoken in their attacks on the abuses in the church; Desiderius ErasmusErasmus
or Desiderius Erasmus
[Gr. Erasmus, his given name, and Lat., Desiderius=beloved; both are regarded as the equivalent of Dutch Gerard, Erasmus' father's name], 1466?–1536, Dutch humanist, b. Rotterdam.
..... Click the link for more information. was, perhaps, the most prominent, but there were many others, including the humanists at Oxford. The intimate connection between the new learning and the Reformation itself is shown in the pursuits of men who were to be prominent in the Reformation in central Europe; Ulrich von HuttenHutten, Ulrich von
, 1488–1523, German humanist and poet, partisan of the Reformation, an outstanding figure in German political history. Hutten's career as poet was launched by his participation in the famous Episculae obscurorum virorum
..... Click the link for more information. and Philip MelanchthonMelanchthon, Philip
, 1497–1560, German scholar and humanist. He was second only to Martin Luther as a figure in the Lutheran Reformation. His original name was Schwarzerd [Ger.,=black earth; "melanchthon" is the Greek rendering of "black earth"].
..... Click the link for more information. were outstanding figures in humanism, and Huldreich ZwingliZwingli, Huldreich or Ulrich
, 1484–1531, Swiss Protestant reformer. Education of a Reformer
..... Click the link for more information. arrived at opposition to the church mainly through the study of Greek and Hebrew. The very founding of the Univ. of Wittenberg, which was to be the center of revolt, was part of the urge to humanism.
The introduction of printing in Western Europe allowed more widespread dissemination of criticism. Printing was to hasten the Reformation, and the Reformation in turn was to spread printing further. In secular matters the opposition between church and state was centuries old, but it had begun to take a new turn with the building of strong nations. In Germany this opposition to the power of the church was coupled in the minds of many princes with opposition to that other supranational body, the Holy Roman Empire, and the princes were to play a decisive part in the ecclesiastical rebellion.
The rise of the cities and of the power of merchants and the middle class generally not only upset the old medieval order of things but created much discontent with the scholastic views on finance and economic affairs that fettered the enterprise of the men in search of wealth. The economy of Europe was expanding and forcing cracks in the more or less rigid walls of the system. Scholars of the 20th cent. have put a great deal of emphasis on the connection between the new modes of religious thought and economic change (i.e., the connection between Protestantism and capitalism) as a major force in the Reformation. There were, however, many influences at work, and the field was well prepared by 1517. Nevertheless, it was with suddenness and surprise that the Reformation began.
The Influence of Martin Luther
Martin LutherLuther, Martin,
1483–1546, German leader of the Protestant Reformation, b. Eisleben, Saxony, of a family of small, but free, landholders. Early Life and Spiritual Crisis
Luther was educated at the cathedral school at Eisenach and at the Univ.
..... Click the link for more information. , a professor of theology at the Univ. of Wittenberg, had been stirred to action by the campaign for dispensing indulgencesindulgence,
in the Roman Catholic Church, the pardon of temporal punishment due for sin. It is to be distinguished from absolution and the forgiveness of guilt. The church grants indulgences out of the Treasury of Merit won for the church by Christ and the saints.
..... Click the link for more information. being launched under Johann TetzelTetzel, Johann
, c.1465–1519, German preacher, b. Pirna, Germany. He joined the Dominicans. He became a well-known preacher and was made inquisitor general of Poland at the instance of Cajetan.
..... Click the link for more information. in Germany. He protested. On Oct. 31, 1517, he posted on the door of the castle church at Wittenberg his 95 theses, inviting debate on matters of practice and doctrine. Luther's action was not as yet a revolt against the church but a movement for reform within. It was, however, much more than an objection to the money-grabbing and secular policies of the clergy. Luther had already become convinced that in certain matters of doctrine the purity of the ancient church had been perverted by self-seeking popes and clergy.
His disagreement with the church on matters of doctrine soon became apparent. In 1519 Luther in a dispute with Johann Eck openly espoused doctrines that were implicit in his theses, and he denied the authority of the church in religious matters. In 1520 the pope issued a bull of excommunication against Luther, and the Holy Roman emperor, Charles VCharles V,
1500–1558, Holy Roman emperor (1519–58) and, as Charles I, king of Spain (1516–56); son of Philip I and Joanna of Castile, grandson of Ferdinand II of Aragón, Isabella of Castile, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and Mary of Burgundy.
..... Click the link for more information. , thundered against the rebel. Luther defied them, publicly burned the bull of excommunication, and issued vigorous pamphlets assailing the papacy and the doctrine of the sacraments. The breach was thus made in 1521, and the meeting of the Diet of Worms (see Worms, Diet ofWorms, Diet of,
1521, most famous of the imperial diets held at Worms, Germany. It was opened in Jan., 1521, by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. After disposing of other business, notably the question of the Reichsregiment, the diet took up the question of the recalcitrant behavior
..... Click the link for more information. ) not only failed to produce a compromise but forced many doubters into the camp of the rebels. Luther was declared an outlaw, but the threat was empty; under the protection of the powerful Frederick IIIFrederick III
or Frederick the Wise,
1463–1525, elector of Saxony (1486–1525). At Wittenberg he founded (1502) the university where Martin Luther and Melanchthon taught.
..... Click the link for more information. , elector of Saxony, he was spirited off to the safety of the Wartburg.
Economic, Spiritual, and Political Motives
The revolt was spreading with incredible speed over central and N Germany and almost immediately extended beyond the German borders. All the elements of discontent and rebellion coalesced. The learned, such as Luther himself, Melanchthon, and Martin BucerBucer or Butzer, Martin
, 1491–1551, German Protestant reformer born Martin Kuhhorn. At 14 years of age he joined the Dominican order, and he studied at Heidelberg, where he heard (1518) Luther in his public
..... Click the link for more information. , saw the opportunity to express and expand their own views. The nobles were enabled to cast off allegiance to the Holy Roman emperor and to enrich themselves by seizing the immense landed estates of the church. Too much can be—and has been—made out of this economic motive, however, for many of the princes belonged to the intellectual group that had been stirred to critical rejection of church doctrines, and they were perhaps better aware than the common people of the venality and money-mindedness of many of the clergy. Many of the pious, increased in number by a spontaneous religious revival in the late 15th cent., drank the doctrine of a new spirituality with pleasure, for Luther's doctrine of justification (i.e., salvation) by faith alone and not by sacraments, good works, and the mediation of the church placed humans in open and direct communication with God. The new insistence on reading the word of God in the Bible placed a greater responsibility on the individual.
Those who were feeling the first and welcome experience of nationalism were anxious to shake off the hand of Rome. Absolutist rulers, particularly in Scandinavia, welcomed the opportunity to end the interference of the church in state affairs; by creating national churches they were able to escape outside influence. Merchants and capitalists found the air of individual freedom exhilarating. The peasants, chafing under the old restrictions of feudalism, lifted up their heads in hope that the new dispensation would take away their burdens.
Ferment, Division, and Warfare
In Zürich, Switzerland, Huldreich Zwingli had developed his own brand of dissent. In 1529 in the Colloquy of Marburg, Luther and Melanchthon on the one side and Zwingli and Johannes OecolampadiusOecolampadius, Johannes
, 1482–1531, German Protestant reformer, associate of Huldreich Zwingli in the Reformation in Switzerland. He was in 1516 a preacher at Basel, where he worked with Erasmus on his New Testament.
..... Click the link for more information. on the other discussed the nature of the sacrament of the Lord's SupperLord's Supper,
Protestant rite commemorating the Last Supper. In the Reformation the leaders generally rejected the traditional belief in the sacrament as a sacrifice and as an invisible miracle of the actual changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ
..... Click the link for more information. (the Protestant form of the Catholic EucharistEucharist
[Gr.,=thanksgiving], Christian sacrament that repeats the action of Jesus at his last supper with his disciples, when he gave them bread, saying, "This is my body," and wine, saying, "This is my blood." (Mat. 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; 1 Cor. 11.
..... Click the link for more information. ) but failed to come to an agreement. The fundamental principle that every man could arrive at truth by study of the Bible also led many to more radical conclusions than those that Luther adopted. The preacher known as CarlstadtCarlstadt,
, or Karolostadt
, c.1480–1541, German Protestant reformer, whose original name was Andreas Rudolph Bodenstein. As early as 1516, Carlstadt presented theses denying free will and asserting the doctrine of salvation by grace
..... Click the link for more information. (from the place of his birth) argued for a more thoroughgoing dismissal of old practices and doctrines in Wittenberg itself and caused Luther to emerge from his retirement to halt the progress of radicalism. The Peasants' WarPeasants' War,
1524–26, rising of the German peasants and the poorer classes of the towns, particularly in Franconia, Swabia, and Thuringia. It was the climax of a series of local revolts that dated from the 15th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. (1524–25) showed plainly the rifts within the ranks of the rebels, and Luther, forced to choose between the revolutionary peasants and their opponents, the princes, chose the princes and orderly governance. The lower classes then in large measure followed more revolutionary social leaders, such as the communistic Thomas MünzerMünzer or Müntzer, Thomas
, c.1489–1525, radical German Protestant reformer. During his studies at Leipzig (1518) Münzer fell under the influence of Martin Luther.
..... Click the link for more information. and John of LeidenJohn of Leiden,
c.1509–1536, Dutch Anabaptist leader. His original name was Beuckelszoon, Beuckelzoon, Bockelszoon, Bockelson, Beukels, or Buckholdt. John of Leiden was attracted to the extreme left of the early Reformation movement through the influence of Thomas
..... Click the link for more information. . After their revolution had been brutally put down and the leaders tortured and executed, many of the revolutionary peasants returned to Roman Catholicism, but many continued to foster more radical sects, such as the AnabaptistsAnabaptists
[Gr.,=rebaptizers], name applied, originally in scorn, to certain Protestant sects holding that infant baptism is not authorized in Scripture and that baptism should be administered to believers only.
..... Click the link for more information. .
In general the princes were able to dictate what religion should prevail in their territories, and they opposed vigorously the attempt of the Holy Roman emperor to force them back into the old church. The Knights' War (1522–23), led by Franz von SickingenSickingen, Franz von
, 1481–1523, German knight. Placed under the ban of the Holy Roman Empire because of his profitable forays along the Rhine, he served King Francis I of France and then made peace with Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, whose service he entered.
..... Click the link for more information. against the ecclesiastical princes, ended in failure, but the determination of Charles V to extirpate Lutheranism ultimately ended in even more abject failure. The imperial Diet of Speyer in 1526 found no answer to the division of the empire, and when a new Diet of Speyer in 1529 ordered that the emperor's ruling against the heretics should be enforced, the Lutheran princes issued a defiant protest (from which the term Protestant is derived). The Diet of Augsburg in 1530 was equally fruitless in producing a compromise between Catholic and Lutheran princes, but it did produce the Confession of Augsburg (see creedcreed
[Lat. credo=I believe], summary of basic doctrines of faith. The following are historically important Christian creeds.
1 The Nicene Creed, beginning, "I believe in one God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and
..... Click the link for more information. ), which was drafted by Melanchthon and became the official statement of Lutheran faith.
The conflict in the empire led the Protestant princes to form a defensive union against the emperor in the Schmalkaldic League, in which the chief figures were Philip of HessePhilip of Hesse
, 1504–67, German nobleman, landgrave of Hesse (1509–67), champion of the Reformation. He is also called Philip the Magnanimous. Declared of age in 1518, he helped suppress the Peasants' War.
..... Click the link for more information. and John Frederick IJohn Frederick I,
1503–54, elector (1532–47) and duke (1547–54) of Saxony; last elector of the Ernestine branch of the house of Wettin. Like his father, John the Steadfast, whom he succeeded, John Frederick was a devout Lutheran.
..... Click the link for more information. of Saxony. The league was put down in the Schmalkaldic War (1546–47), which did not, however, in the least solve the problem. Emperor Charles V, in an effort to prolong the uneasy peace, proposed to the Protestants that there be an interim agreement against change until a general church council could legislate on the dispute. This was the so-called Augsburg Interim (1548), which did not take effect because it was rejected by the Protestant princes. The confusion that political considerations brought to the religious issue is perhaps best seen in the career of MauriceMaurice,
1521–53, duke (1541–47) and elector (1547–53) of Saxony. A member of the Albertine branch of the ruling house of Saxony, he became duke of Albertine Saxony during the Protestant Reformation.
..... Click the link for more information. , duke of Saxony, who fought first on one side, then on the other.
A sort of peace of exhaustion and compromise was reached in the Peace of Augsburg (1555; see Augsburg, Peace ofAugsburg, Peace of,
1555, temporary settlement within the Holy Roman Empire of the religious conflict arising from the Reformation. Each prince was to determine whether Lutheranism or Roman Catholicism was to prevail in his lands (cuius regio, eius religio).
..... Click the link for more information. ). The settlement was at best uneasy and was not to endure except in principle. The conflict was merged with many other issues in the later Thirty Years WarThirty Years War,
1618–48, general European war fought mainly in Germany. General Character of the War
There were many territorial, dynastic, and religious issues that figured in the outbreak and conduct of the war.
..... Click the link for more information. (1618–48).
Calvin and the Spread of Protestantism
The message of the Reformation spread quickly throughout Europe (except Russia). The Scandinavian countries became firmly Protestant under Gustavus IGustavus I
, 1496–1560, king of Sweden (1523–60), founder of the modern Swedish state and the Vasa dynasty. Known as Gustavus Eriksson before his coronation, he was the son of Erik Johansson, a Swedish senator and follower of the Sture family.
..... Click the link for more information. of Sweden and Frederick I of Denmark and Norway; later attempts to win them back to Catholicism failed. Geneva had become in 1536 the headquarters of John CalvinCalvin, John,
1509–64, French Protestant theologian of the Reformation, b. Noyon, Picardy. Early Life
Calvin early prepared for an ecclesiastical career; from 1523 to 1528 he studied in Paris.
..... Click the link for more information. , who is considered by many the greatest theologian of Protestantism. His Institutes of the Christian Religion, published at Basel in 1536, marked a new era in thought. He differed from Luther principally in the doctrine of predestination (the foregone choosing by God of the elect to be saved), in the austerity of the life of the godly, and in the emphasis on theocratic government (see CalvinismCalvinism,
term used in several different senses. It may indicate the teachings expressed by John Calvin himself; it may be extended to include all that developed from his doctrine and practice in Protestant countries in social, political, and ethical, as well as theological,
..... Click the link for more information. ). His influence was immediate and enormous. France, which had hardly been touched by Lutheranism, was fired by Calvinist doctrine, and the Protestant minority, called the HuguenotsHuguenots
, French Protestants, followers of John Calvin. The term is derived from the German Eidgenossen, meaning sworn companions or confederates. Origins
Prior to Calvin's publication in 1536 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion,
..... Click the link for more information. , waged fierce battle against the Catholic majority in the Wars of Religion until toleration was won when the Huguenot leader Henry of Navarre turned Catholic, became King Henry IV, and issued (1598) the Edict of Nantes.
Calvinism superseded Lutheranism in the Netherlands, where the religious revolt was coupled with revulsion at the policies of Charles V and his successor, Philip IIPhilip II,
1527–98, king of Spain (1556–98), king of Naples and Sicily (1554–98), and, as Philip I, king of Portugal (1580–98). Philip's Reign
..... Click the link for more information. of Spain. Through bloody wars independence and Calvinism gained the upper hand in the N Low Countries. Calvinism conquered Scotland, too, through the victory of John KnoxKnox, John,
1514?–1572, Scottish religious reformer, founder of Scottish Presbyterianism. Early Career as a Reformer
Little is recorded of his life before 1545. He probably attended St. Andrews Univ.
..... Click the link for more information. in his long duel with Mary Queen of ScotsMary Queen of Scots
(Mary Stuart), 1542–87, only child of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise. Through her grandmother Margaret Tudor, Mary had the strongest claim to the throne of England after the children of Henry VIII.
..... Click the link for more information. . It spread also to Hungary and Poland and took root in parts of Germany.
It proved quite impossible to reconcile the finely wrought theology of Calvinism with Lutheran doctrines, for Lutheranism rejected predestination and clung to part of the sacramental system (see Lord's SupperLord's Supper,
Protestant rite commemorating the Last Supper. In the Reformation the leaders generally rejected the traditional belief in the sacrament as a sacrifice and as an invisible miracle of the actual changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ
..... Click the link for more information. ). Calvinist thought did greatly influence the course of the Reformation in the British Isles and the present United States. There was also a conflict of Lutheranism and Calvinism with the more radical and emotional groups, and the enthusiasm of preachers who interpreted Scripture in their own way met with a cool reception among the Calvinists.
The divisions within Protestantism were from the beginning sharp, and attempts to reconcile Calvinist, Lutheran, and other doctrine had only partial success. Moreover, in England the Reformation went its own course. It was there much more closely connected with the conflict of church and state than was the Reformation on the Continent. The conflict of King Henry VIIIHenry VIII,
1491–1547, king of England (1509–47), second son and successor of Henry VII. Early Life
In his youth he was educated in the new learning of the Renaissance and developed great skill in music and sports.
..... Click the link for more information. with Rome led to the Act of Supremacy (1534), which firmly rejected papal control and created a national church (see England, Church ofEngland, Church of,
the established church of England and the mother church of the Anglican Communion. Organization and Doctrine
The clergy of the church are of three ancient orders: deacons, priests, and bishops.
..... Click the link for more information. ). Currents of Calvinistic thought were, however, strong in England. The Reformation was begun with the creation of a state church and the dissolution of the monasteries. It was given Calvinist touches under Edward VI, suffered a complete reversal under Mary I, and reached a sort of balance under Elizabeth I with some persecution of both Catholics and Calvinists. The process was to work itself out slowly later in the English civil warEnglish civil war,
1642–48, the conflict between King Charles I of England and a large body of his subjects, generally called the "parliamentarians," that culminated in the defeat and execution of the king and the establishment of a republican commonwealth.
..... Click the link for more information. , just as the fierce hatreds between Protestant and Protestant as well as between Catholic and Protestant were to be worked out later on the Continent.
The burning of ServetusServetus, Michael
, 1511–53, Spanish theologian and physician. His name in Spanish was Miguel Serveto. In his early years he came in contact with some of the leading reformers in Germany and Switzerland—Johannes Oecolampadius, Martin Bucer, Wolfgang Fabricius Capito,
..... Click the link for more information. was a sample of the internal strife within Protestantism itself. The divisions within the churches of the Reformation also served to forward the Counter ReformationCounter Reformation,
16th-century reformation that arose largely in answer to the Protestant Reformation; sometimes called the Catholic Reformation. Although the Roman Catholic reformers shared the Protestants' revulsion at the corrupt conditions in the church, there was present
..... Click the link for more information. within the Roman Catholic Church, which rewon Poland, Hungary, most of Bohemia, and part of Germany. The end of the Thirty Years War in the Peace of Westphalia (see Westphalia, Peace ofWestphalia, Peace of,
1648, general settlement ending the Thirty Years War. It marked the end of the Holy Roman Empire as an effective institution and inaugurated the modern European state system.
..... Click the link for more information. ) in 1648 brought some stabilization, but the force of the Reformation did not end then. It has continued to exert influence to the present day, with its emphasis on personal responsibility and individual freedom, its refusal to take authority for granted, and its ultimate influence in breaking the hold of the church on life and consequent secularization of life and attitudes.
See T. M. Lindsay, History of the Reformation (2 vol., 1906–7; repr. 1971); E. M. Hulme, The Renaissance, the Protestant Revolution, and the Catholic Reformation in Modern Europe (rev. ed. 1917); P. Smith, The Age of the Reformation (1920, repr. 1962); A. Hyma, The Christian Renaissance (1924); R. H. Murray, The Political Consequences of the Reformation (1926, repr. 1960); R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926); M. Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (tr. 1930); C. Hopf, Martin Bucer and the English Reformation (1946); R. H. Bainton, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (1952, repr. 1965) and Studies on the Reformation (1963); G. G. Coulton, Art and the Reformation (rev. ed. 1958); H. S. Lucas, The Renaissance and the Reformation (2d ed. 1960); O. Chadwick, The Reformation (1964); D. Weinstein, The Renaissance and the Reformation, 1300–1600 (1965); H. J. Grimm, The Reformation Era, 1500–1650 (rev. ed. 1965); G. R. Elton, Reformation Europe, 1517–1559 (1966); A. G. Dickens, Reformation and Society in 16th-Century Europe (1966), The English Reformation (1967), and The Reformation in Historical Thought (1985); N. Sykes, The Crisis of the Reformation (1967); H. J. Hillerbrand, The World of the Reformation (1973); L. W. Spitz, The Protestant Reformation, 1517–1559 (1984); P. Collinson, The Reformation (2004); D. MacCulloch, The Reformation (2004).
a broad sociopolitical and ideological movement of the 16th century, which was complex in its social content and in composition and which took the form of a religious struggle against Catholic doctrine and the church. Fundamentally an antifeudal movement, the Reformation spread through most of Western and Central Europe. In a narrow, literal sense, the Reformation entailed the implementation of Protestant religious reforms.
The most general, most profound causes of the Reformation were associated with the disintegration of the feudal mode of production, the origin of capitalist relations and classes, and the exacerbation of sociopolitical contradictions. The Reformation was the first blow against feudalism. Because of the religious character of medieval ideology, the first attack on feudalism was directed against the church, which provided a religious sanction for the feudal structure, of which it was an integral part. F. Engels wrote: “The existing social relations had to be stripped of their halo of sanctity before they could be attacked” (in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 7, p. 361). In many respects the humanistic movement of the Renaissance, with its critique of the medieval world view and its affirmation of the principles of bourgeois individualism, laid the ideological foundation for the Reformation. The medieval heresies were an equally important source of Reformation ideas. Tenets that anticipated many of the ideas of the 16th-century Reformation were formulated in various heretical doctrines, especially those associated with the acute social conflicts of the 14th-15th centuries—the ideas of J. Wycliffe and the Lollards in England and those of Jan Huss and later, the Calixtins and Taborites in Bohemia.
The ideologists of the Reformation formulated the doctrine that the mediation of the church (in the Catholic sense) was not necessary for the salvation of sinners’ souls. Salvation is achieved not through an outward manifestation of religiosity (good deeds) but through the inner faith of each person in the redemptive sacrifice of Christ (justification by faith). This point of view eliminated the necessity for the Catholic Church, with its hierarchy headed by the pope, and the necessity for the clergy as a special stratum which, according to Catholic doctrine, is alone capable of transmitting divine grace to men and guaranteeing the salvation of their souls. In addition, the ideologists of the Reformation rejected the Catholic doctrine of the treasure-house of good deeds, which was associated with indulgences. The reformers declared the “holy scriptures” to be the only source of religious truth, rejecting “sacred tradition.” The repudiation of the feudalized Catholic Church led to the repudiation of the church as a large-scale feudal proprietor. Everywhere, the Reformation was accompanied by the secularization of church properties, especially the vast landed properties of the Catholic Church. The monasteries, monasticism, the church tithe and other levies, and the elaborate, sumptuous rites of the Catholic Church were also repudiated.
Various classes and social groups took part in the Reformation, imparting diversity to the critique of the Catholic Church. The burgher-bourgeois orientation in the Reformation was most clearly manifested in the teachings of M. Luther, H. Zwingli, and J. Calvin. As expressed by them, the demand for the abolition of the complex church hierarchy, elaborate rites, statuary and saints, and numerous religious holidays was essentially a demand for an “inexpensive” church that would correspond more closely to the interests of bourgeois thrift. The burgher-bourgeois current in the Reformation included a moderate burgher wing and a radical bourgeois wing. Led by Luther, the moderate wing compromised with feudalism and kept its focus on theology. Calvinism, the most consistent expression of the radical bourgeois current in the Reformation, provided the bourgeoisie with an ideological weapon and an organizational form (republicanism) for the revolutionary struggle against feudalism, as well as with a religious justification of bourgeois ethics (the doctrines of absolute predestination, the secular calling, and secular asceticism).
The popular current in the Reformation expressed the interests of the peasantry and the urban plebeians. For the masses of the people, the beginning of the struggle against the Catholic church served as a signal for an uprising against the foundations of the feudal system. Turning to the Bible and demanding the reestablishment of the early Christian equality among members of religious communities, rejecting the church hierarchy and landownership by the church, the most radical ideologists of the popular Reformation concluded that it was necessary to eliminate all ecclesiastical and secular authorities and establish social equality and community of property. The radical ideologists viewed the Reformation as a social and political revolution in the interests of the working people and as the establishment by the insurgent people of the kingdom of god on earth, a system of social justice. The ideas of the popular Reformation were important in the antifeudal struggle of the popular masses, which developed everywhere. The Anabaptists and the left wing of the Polish Brethren were among the currents associated with the popular Reformation, whose greatest ideologist and activist was T. Münzer.
In Germany the Reformation was exploited by individual princes, and in Scandinavia and England, by members of the feudal class, who launched the royal princely Reformation, or the Reformation of the elite, to strengthen the economic and political influence of the royal power. The elite Reformation was accompanied by the confiscation of church lands, which favored the secular power. The new churches, which had broken away from Catholicism, were completely subordinate to the secular power. In some countries, such as France, the feudal aristocracy used the Reformation to further its aims in the struggle against royal absolutism.
The center and source of the Reformation was Germany, which, owing to the characteristics of its socioeconomic and political development, saw the opening of the bourgeois revolution in Europe in the first quarter of the 16th century. In Germany, one of the principal tasks of the antifeudal revolution was to overcome feudal fragmentation and establish a unified state. Under these conditions, opposition to the church assumed particular importance, because the church, which had been unimpeded in its exploitation of the fragmented country in the interests of the papacy, had become an object of general hatred. A broad social movement was launched by Luther’s appearance on Oct. 31, 1517, in the Saxon city of Wittenberg with 95 theses attacking the trade in papal indulgences. At first, the movement united various strata of the opposition: the burghers, the peasant and plebeian masses, the knights and some princes. However, by 1520–21, the various classes and groups affiliated with the Reformation in Germany were becoming sharply delineated.
The popular Reformation was manifested in the Peasant War of 1524–26, the culmination of the popular movement. As a result of the Peasant War, the moderate conservative circles of German burghers, whose ideologist was Luther, compromised with the feudal princely camp. The radical burgher current of the Reformation, represented by Karlstadt and M. Bucer, was not able to assume the leading position in Germany. The popular movement, which was manifested in the Peasant War and later, the Münster commune (1534–35), was suppressed, making it possible for the German princes to use the Reformation for their own purposes. In implementing the Reformation on their own territory, the princes of Saxony, Mecklenburg, Pomerania, Brandenburg, Hesse, Pfalz, and Braunschweig appropriated all of the wealth of the church for themselves. A protracted struggle between the Protestant princes and the Catholic princes, who united around the emperor, ended in the religious Peace of Augsburg (1555), only to flare up with renewed force during the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48).
Reformation ideas spread through Denmark during the reigns of Christian II (1513–23) and Frederick I (1523–33). The greatest representative of the Danish Reformation was H. Tausen. In the 1530’s the Reformation in Denmark gave rise to a popular movement that was intertwined with a struggle in the ruling class, the Counts’ War (1534–36). Suppressing the movement, Christian III carried out a royal Lutheran Reformation (1536), which he used to further his own political aims. The Lutheran Reformation was imposed with violence in Norway (1536) and Iceland (from 1540), which were subject to Denmark, in order to strengthen Danish rule. The implementation of the royal Reformation in Sweden, which freed itself from Danish rule under Gustavus Vasa I, contributed to the consolidation of an independent royal regime and the Vasa dynasty. The most outstanding representatives of the Swedish Reformation were the brothers O. Petri and L. Petri. In Sweden the Reformation was legally formalized and legislatively consolidated by the Riksdag of Västerås (1527 and 1544) and the Swedish church council of 1529 in Örebru. The Reformation also spread to Finland, which was subordinate to Sweden. The most outstanding representative of the Finnish Reformation was M. Agricola.
In Switzerland the economically developed cantons and cities, including Zurich, Bern, Basel, and Geneva, became the centers of the Reformation. Backward, forested cantons, such as Schwyz, Uri, and Zug, supported the feudal Catholic reaction, as did the nobility. They resisted the spread of the Reformation and the aspirations of the urban cantons for a centralized state. In Zürich (the center of Zwinglianism), Berne, Basel, and other cities, the Reformation, which was carried out in the 1520’s, was initially dominated by Zwingli. At the same time, a peasant and plebeian movement emerged under the leadership of the Anabaptists. Failing to gain support from the burghers, it was suppressed shortly after the defeat of the Peasant War of 1524–26 in Germany. In the 1540’s progressive burgher elements, most of whom were “new townspeople” (émigrés from France and other countries), came to power in Geneva. Subsequently, Calvinism, a new Reformation current, developed and soon acquired importance throughout Europe, providing the nascent bourgeoisie with an ideology that substantiated its claims for political rule.
The first preachers of the Reformation in France were J. Lefèvre d’Étaples and G. Briçonnet, the bishop of Meaux. During the 1520’s and 1530’s, the Lutheran and Anabaptist religions spread among the wealthy townspeople and the plebeian masses. A new, Calvinist upsurge took place in the French Reformation during the 1540’s and 1550’s. In France, Calvinism provided the ideological leadership not only for social protest by the plebeians and the nascent bourgeoisie against feudal exploitation but also for the opposition of the reactionary, separatist feudal aristocracy to a stronger royal absolutism. To strengthen its power the French monarchy used not the Reformation but Catholicism, at the same time asserting the independence of the French Catholic Church from the papacy (royal Gallicanism). The opposition of various strata to absolutism was expressed in the Wars of Religion in France, which ended in the victory of royal absolutism and Catholicism.
In Hapsburg territory (Austria, Bohemia, and parts of the Kingdom of Hungary) the Reformation provided the leadership for the antifeudal struggle of the masses and for the liberation struggle against national oppression. For some members of the nobility, sympathy with the Reformation was an expression of opposition to the Hapsburgs’ aspirations toward centralization.
In Poland the Reformation was used primarily by feudal lords, both magnates and gentry, as a pretext for seizing church lands.
In its radical forms the Reformation posed a serious threat to the feudal system. The Counter-Reformation, a reactionary movement, emerged in the mid-16th century. Led by the papacy, it resulted in the suppression of the Reformation on Hapsburg territory and in parts of Germany and Poland. Weak Reformation movements in Italy and Spain were cut short by the Counter-Reformation.
In the Netherlands and England, the economically advanced countries of 16th-century Europe, the Reformation was more successful. Calvinism became the ideology of the Dutch bourgeois revolution of the 16th century, spreading not only among the bourgeoisie and some members of the anti-Spanish nobility but also among the peasant and plebeian masses. The Calvinist consistories preached the ideas of the Reformation and provided the masses with organizational and political leadership. The Reformation was carried out in the northern provinces of the Netherlands, where the bourgeois revolution was victorious. The property of the Catholic Church was gradually confiscated, and Calvinism replaced Catholicism as the official religion (1573–74).
In England the Reformation had several distinctive features. The 16th century was marked by the strengthening of English absolutism, which had entered into a sharp conflict with the papacy. The outcome of this conflict was the Act of Supremacy (1534), under which the king was declared the head of the English church. The Anglican Church became the state church and the bulwark of absolutism, and Anglican worship was declared compulsory. However, the English Reformation, which was carried out by the state, was halfhearted and incomplete. For example, the episcopacy and episcopal lands were preserved, as were many elements of Catholicism, especially the elaborate ritual. Consequently, the growing opposition to absolutism, as well as the exacerbation of the social struggle, owing to economic progress, was accompanied by demands for the deepening of the Reformation. From the second half of the 16th century Calvinism spread throughout England, where its adherents were called Puritans. During the English bourgeois revolution of the 17th century, which, like the bourgeois revolution in the Netherlands, was led by the Calvinists, the Puritan opposition disintegrated into several independent parties, including the Presbyterians, the Independents, and the Levelers. By the late 17th century, Calvinism had ceased to be a political current in England, and its role was limited to religious and ideological concerns. Anglicanism remained the official state church.
The Reformation was an important stage in the struggle against feudalism. In many countries the bourgeois revolution of the manufactory period was carried out under the Reformation. The Catholic Church lost its monopoly on religion in Western Europe as a result of the Reformation. In parts of Germany and Switzerland, in the Scandinavian countries, in England and Scotland, in the Netherlands, and in parts of the Kingdom of Hungary, where the Reformation triumphed in a religious sense, new, Protestant churches were established. The secularization of church lands undermined the economic power of the Catholic Church. Wherever it triumphed, the Reformation simplified church organization and made it less expensive. The Reformation provided a divine sanction for the norms of bourgeois practice and ethics. In countries where the Reformation was victorious, the churches were largely dependent on the state, enjoying less power than did the Catholic Church in countries dominated by Catholicism. The subordination of church to state promoted the development of science and secular culture. The cultural and intellectual dictatorship of the church was destroyed. The Reformation was the last great anti-feudal movement to assume a religious form. The subsequent stage of the struggle against feudalism was dominated by progressive forms of secular ideology, such as Enlightenment thought.
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A. N. CHISTOZVONOV and N. N. SAMOKHINA