Religion: The Reformation in Europe “The reformation was merely one of the repeated and inevitable occasions when men agreed to differ about God, and killed one another to prove their sincerity.” Western Europe at the beginning of the 16th century had been Christian for over a thousand years. There was one church (Roman Catholic) and one spiritual leader (the Pope). This was occasionally questioned, but mostly accepted. That changed during the 16th century, when serious dispute occurred over religious matters. Several leaders arose who wished to reform the Church and the Papacy. This led to the period known as the reformation. The Catholic Church Catholic Popes were also powerful princes, deeply involved in the politics of Europe. They had their own lands, armies and palaces. Their sophisticatedcourt was maintained by immense revenues flowing in from all parts of Christendom. Thus life in theupper echelons of the Church was very difference from that of the ordinary Christian. Theworldliness, political intrigues and the splendour of the Papal court had resulted in the Churchhierarchy becoming remote from the people.The church had immense influence in the lives of the people: It ran the schools and universities, and so controlled knowledge. It could suppress ideas which were contrary to the teachings of the Church. For example in 1663 the scientist Galileo was forced to retract, under threat of torture, his teaching that the earth revolved around the sun. It guided relationships between people. It decided appropriate forms of worship, and so controlled the relationship between each person and god.But people were beginning to question the influence of the Church and the leadership of the Pope.This was due to more than just religious reasons. Some political leaders, for example, exploitedreligious differences for their own worldly purposes. The resulting wars would plunge Europe intodecades of carnage.The ReformersThere were several leaders amongst the people who protested against the Catholic Church (hence theterm „Protestant‟ – those who protested). The changes they made became known as the Reformation.In this section we will look at the two most prominent leaders.
Martin LutherLuther was born in Saxony (a northern German state) in 1483 andbecame a monk in 1505. In 1511 he became a professor at WittenburgUniversity and there began to criticise abuses of the church. Hisprinciple target was the sale of “indulgences” – papal pardons for anypast or future sins. In 1517 a friar named Tetzel came to Wittenburgselling indulgences to raise funds for his bishop. This infuriated Luthur, who denounced the practice in what came to be called his „ninety-five Theses‟. The Church refused to allow him to publish the document and so, in an act of defiance, Luther nailed the document to the door of his Church. This act launched the Reformation. For various reasons, many German people and princes were sympathetic to Luthur‟s stand against the Pope and the power of the Church. When Luther was excommunicated in 1520, he became something of a „national‟ hero and was given protection by Price Frederick of Saxony. Aided by political factors, religious sentiment and the newly invented printing press, Luther‟s LUTHER’S BELIEFS Luther taught that salvation could not be „earned‟, for example by doing good work on earth, instead he taught that: Salvation could only be achieved by FAITH ALONE – doing good works, buying indulgences or taking the sacraments of the Church would not help (as the Catholic Church taught). Since God was all-powerful and all-knowing, he therefore knew everything past, present and future. Thus he already knew who was saved and who was damned. This meant that everyone was predestined at birth for either salvation or damnation. Again, nothing done on earth could influence this. This was known as the doctrine of PREDESTINATION. This conflicted with the Catholic doctrine of „free will‟ – one could choose to be saved, for example by doing good works and taking sacraments. The Pope had NO AUTHORITY over the Church. He was merely the bishop of Rome. The source of the truth in religious matters was not the Pope and his Church, but the BIBLE. Thus the Bible should be translated from the Latin and made available to all. The increased emphasis on faith and the Bible made the priests and sacraments of the Church less important, thought BISHOPS were still retained to assist the Church government. He denied the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation p that the bread and wine were transformed during the Eucharist (Holy Communion) into the actual body and blood of Christ. (The „real presence‟ of Christ.) Instead, he preached CONSUBSTANTIATION – that the body and the blood of Christ were present “in, with and under” the bread and wine (that is, Christ was present, but with the bread and wine and not alone as in Catholic doctrine.) Much greater emphasis was given to PREACHING during the church service to improve the faith of the congregation. Sermons would explain the Word of God, unlike the Catholic practice where the congregation were largely spectators observing a mystery. We do not have the space here to explore the implications of these beliefs or of the massacres and political chaos which resulted in Europe.
beliefs spread across northern Europe.John CalvinWhile religious wars raged across Europe, a more radical Protestantism began to develop in the 1530s.This was led by John Calvin, a Frenchman who had migrated to Geneva in 1536 and by the 1540s he hadtransformed the city into a religious state.Calvin shared some of Luther‟s beliefs, but went further then Luther in other areas. CALVIN’S BELIEFS Calvin shared Luther‟s beliefs in: The BIBLE as the source of all truth Rejected PAPAL authority. Emphasised the important of PREACHING (i.e. the sermon) PREDESTINATION But unlike Luther he believed in: A church governed by elected assemblies of ministers and elders – NO BISHOPS Insisted upon PLAINNESS of worship – rejected vestments, ornaments, music and splendid buildings. Insisted on COMMUNION IN BOTH KINDS – both bread and the wine were given to the congregation during communion (unlike Catholic practice where only bread was given). He rejected any idea of the Real Presence of Christ in the Communion service, thus rejecting TRANSUBSTANTIATION and CONSUBSTANTIATION.As with the Lutheran beliefs, Calvanism soon spread beyond its founding place. Before long the ideasof the Reformation reached England, and there, it was the ideas of Calvin rather than Luther whichhad the greatest influence on the reformers.
Religion: The Reformation in EnglandKing Henry VIII of England had no sympathy with thenew faiths which were developing on the Continent. Hedenounced the works of Martin Luther, for which thePope granted him the title „defender of the Faith‟ – atitle which British monarchs retain to this day. The titlewould soon appear singularly ironic.Henry had married a Spanish princess, Catherine ofAragon, but she had failed in what was considered to bethe main duty of a queen – to produce a son. In 1527Henry asked the Pope to dissolve his marriage, so that hewould be free to marry another who might give him a son.The divorce would probably have been granted had not the Pope been under the influence of theEmperor Charles V, the nephew of Catherine of Aragon. Under pressure from the Emperor, the Poperefused to allow the divorce. Henry was enraged at being thwarted and sought a means of retaliationagainst the Pope. Thus began the Reformation of England. Beginning in 1529, a series of Acts ofParliament were passed which denied the authority of the Pope. The new laws gradually transferredthe control of the Church in England from the Pope to the King. Using the new powers bestowed onhim by Parliament, Henry divorced Catherine in 1533.Henry thus secured his original objective. But, urged on by his ruthless chief minister ThomasCromwell, Henry continued his reforms. These culminated with the Act of Supremacy in 1534. This ineffect created a new church – the Church of England – and named Henry as Supreme head of it. Thiscompleted the break with the Pope. (The doctrine of the new church, however, remained Catholic).Most of the nobles and gentry supported the new Church. This was largely because they stood tobenefit from it by acquiring Church land. But there had also been a lingering resentment of thecontrol which a foreign Pope could exercise over England. The gentry were rewarded in 1535-6 whenhundreds of monasteries in England were abolished and their land sold to the gentry.Apart from abolishing Papal control over the Church of England, the only religious reform permitted byHenry was the translation of the Bible into English. The „Great Bible‟ as it came to be called was amajor departure from Catholic practice which has always refused to allow translations. As in theProtestant areas of Europe, the ordinary people of England now had access to the word of God whichhas previously been confined to priests and scholars. The Calvinists Reforms When Henry dies in 1547, his heir was a boy of nine years old (from the third of Henry‟s six wives). Since Edward was too young to rule, England was governed by a Protector. The first Protector was the Duke of Somerset, a firm Protestant. Refugees from the religious wars on the Continent had brought the ideas of Luther and – especially – Calvin to England. These ideas found favour with Somerset and the men he had gathered around him. However, Henry‟s Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, remained in office under Edward. His views were not as radical as those of the Calvinists and this prevented the Church of England from becoming as extreme as Geneva.
Cranmer had been working for some time on an English Prayer Book. This would establish the doctrineof the Church of England, and lay down orders for conducting services in all churches. The firstPrayer Book was published in 1549 and remained largely consistent with Roman Catholic doctrine.But after this, Somerset was replaced as Protector by the Duke of Northumberland, a more radicalProtestant. A second Prayer Book appeared in 1552 and rejected all major points of Catholic doctrine.The most important change was the rejection of the doctrine of Transubstantiation. The new PrayerBook followed Calvin‟s belief that Christ did not become physically present during Communion service.Instead, Communion was merely a commemoration of Christ‟s sacrifice. The Catholic working used in1549 was: “The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve they body and soulinto everlasting life.”In the new version of 1552, the wording was: “Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ dies forthee, and feed on him in thy breast by faith, with thanksgiving.”The 1552 Prayer Book also contained the harsh „Blank Rubric‟ which stated that kneeling at communiononly indicated respect for, and not adoration, of the sacrament, “for that were idolatry to be abhorredby all faithful Christians”Such an uncompromising stand was bound to alienate that section of the nation which felt unable toabandon Catholic doctrine.The return of CatholicismEdward VI died in 1553, aged 15, and was succeeded by his eldestsister Mary, Mary was the daughter of Henry‟s first wife,Catherine of Aragon, and so has been brought up as a Catholic.She was determined to return England to the Catholic faith. Butthis was no easy task. For one thing, she was obliged to use herinherited power as supreme Head of the Church – which washeresy according to Catholic doctrine! For another, England couldonly be returned to Catholicism with the consent of Parliament.Curiously, the members of Parliament who had approved thereforms of Henry and Edward had few religious qualms aboutabandoning their new faith. They were, however, determined notto surrender the lands they had acquired from the Church. Thusthe return of England to Catholicism was delayed until the end of1554. Parliament only agreed to reunion with Rome after receiving an official assurance from the Popethat those who had acquired Church land would not be deprived of it.After this came the events for which Mary is chiefly remembered today – religious persecution. Justunder 300 heretics were burnt at the stake. This would earn for the Queen the nickname “BloodyMary”. (This may be considered unfair since Elizabeth, “Good Queen Bess”, killed far more than 300Catholics – through admittedly her victims were traitors rather than heretics.) Probably the mostcelebrated of Mary‟s victims was Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer had been promised that his life would bespared if he recanted (renounced Protestantism). He did so, but was burnt anyway. As the flamesrose around him, he withdrew his recantation and thrust the hand which had signed it into the flames.
For some people today religion is still an important matter. For others, it may be irrelevant or trivial.But we must remember that this was not the case in the 16th and 17th centuries. Salvation anddamnation were not matter of academic debate in those times – they were thought to be certainties.The wrong choice could result in eternal damnation – a terrifying prospect, as this description of helldemonstrates:Thus almost everyone felt a very deep concern about religious matters.Nor was it thought at that time that the state could function if its people were able to worship indifferent churches. It was thought that the ruler and the people had to be of the same faith. Thisintroduced a new dimension to the religious issue: to oppose the faith of the ruler meant that youopposed the ruler, and this was treason.When Mary died in 1588, she was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry‟ssecond wife. Unlike Mary, Elizabeth had been brought up as a Protestant. Due to the greatimportance of religion in the national life and in international affairs, people in England and all overEurope waited with considerable apprehension to see what Elizabeth would do.