Protestant Reformation in one Page
During the Medieval Age and through the Renaissance, the Catholic Church was the dominant power
politically, economically and, of course, religiously. Although many people had tried to change the church,
none succeeded because they had no political support and the Pope’s power over the people was
Martin Luther changed that in 1517 when he posted the 95 theses and then in 1521 when Frederick of
Saxony chose to protect Luther against the Pope (Leo X) and the Emperor (Charles V) after the Diet of
Worms. Lutheranism was formalized with the Confession of Augsburg in 1530 and many Princes joined
Lutheranism because of the political and economic benefits they would reap from abandoning the Catholic
Church. Lutheranism split from the Catholics over “faith versus works”, corruption of the Papacy and the
Priests, and the 7 Sacraments. Luther sought a church founded on faith, with a dedicated, honest leadership
and the only 2 Sacraments mentioned in Scripture by Jesus (Baptism and Communion).
Ulrich Zwingli agreed with Luther at first but then split from Luther over the Holy Communion.
Transubstantiation and Consubstantiation divided Zwingli and his followers from Luther and began the
many splits that would continue to be a part of Protestantism today.
The next split came over baptism. The Ana-Baptists (again-Baptists) staked their claim on adult Baptism
as a prerequisite for going to Heaven. Because they also advocated a social and economic interpretation of
the Luther’s “freedom for the soul”, both the Catholics and the Protestants attacked and destroyed the heart
of the Ana-Baptist movement. Those who remained had to go underground and many abandoned their
faith to save their hide and joined the Catholics or the Protestants in Germany.
Unlike the other reformers, Henry VIII’s motives were personal and political. His desire to divorce
Catherine and marry Anne led to his break with the Catholic Church. Henry VIII created the Anglican
Church and made the monarch the head of the new Church. At first, the Anglican Church was little
different than the Catholic Church. When Henry VIII died however, his only son Edward VI took over at
age 10. His advisors pushed the church farther toward Calvinism. Six years later Mary I (daughter of
Catholic Catherine, Henry’s 1st wife) became Queen and she returned England to Catholicism. She also
married the Catholic King of Spain Philip II. When she died, her Protestant sister Elizabeth became queen
and returned England to Anglicanism. She believed a person’s loyalty to their country was more important
than their religion and so was relatively lenient so long as the person was loyal to England.
John Calvin split Protestantism again over the Free Will (Luther) versus Predestination (Calvin) question.
Calvin followers believed that if God was really omnipotent then He must know who was and who was not
going to Heaven. On earth, they theorized, those headed for heaven would act as if they were going to
heaven and so the key to convincing people you were going to heaven was to behave perfectly. Any
deviation from perfection and you were gone. With this strategy, Calvin and his followers settled in
Geneva and created a perfect city. Soon, many people left Geneva and spread the ideals of Calvinism
around Europe. In France the Calvinists were called Huguenots, Knox formed the Scottish
Congregationalists, and Puritans formed in England and then later moved to the Netherlands and America.
The Catholics responded in what is often called the Counter-Reformation. Their first response was to
ignore the problem in hopes that it would go away. They had bigger problems. The Turks invading
Eastern Europe had to be stopped. The French were invading Rome. The Spanish were conquering (and
converting) most of South and Central America. They had a lot going on and a monk in Germany didn’t
make their high priority list. When Protestantism caught hold in Germany, Catholics responded in several
ways. The Pope restarted the Inquisition, created the Index which banned anti-Catholic books and called
the Council of Trent which decided that no doctrine should be changed. Instead, Catholics should be better
educated, held accountable for their actions and encouraged to more carefully follow the precepts of their
faith. Spain, the bastion of Catholicism, sent missionaries around the world as they explored. Ignatious
Loyola founded the Jesuits as a Catholic educational force that started grammar schools and universities all
over the world. The Jesuits also acted as the Popes soldiers and “encouraged” many people across Europe
to go back to the Catholic fold. In Germany, France, the Netherlands, and England, Catholics and
Protestants fought Civil Wars for religious and political control of their countries. The whole big mess was
finally settled with the 30 Years War that ended in 1648.