The Reformation - Religion and Ethics
The Reformation (1517-1648)
A rebellion by Protestants against the Roman Catholic Church.
Why was Martin Luther important?
Martin Luther (pictured right), a German monk, triggered off the Reformation
by nailing his religious grievances (his Ninety-Five Theses) to the church door in
Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31st 1517.
Why did it happen?
The popes from 1492 to 1521 were immoral and corrupt:
People (including Martin Luther) particularly attacked the church’s sale of indulgences to
shorten people’s stay in purgatory before going to heaven.
Anyone who challenged the Roman Catholic Church was punished by its inquisition.
The Spanish Inquisition (1483-98) burned around 2,000 people.
In 1633 the great Italian scientist and astronomer, Galileo (pictured right), was forced to publicly withdraw
his support for Nicholas Copernicus’s idea that the earth orbited the sun.
Johannes Gutenberg’s (pictured right) invention of Europe’s first printing press around
1440 meant that people could:
- read Bibles in their own language.
- make up their own minds on religion without relying on the Church.
Luther’s German translation of the Bible first appeared in 1522.
Politicians, businessmen and rulers (like in Germany) backed the Protestants to:
- increase their prosperity and power.
- stop paying money to Rome.
Although he remained loyal to the Catholic Church, Henry VIII (pictured right above)
started the English Reformation by replacing the pope as the head of the Church of England to
allow his divorce of
Catherine of Aragon (pictured right below).
The Reformation’s key theologians
1. Martin Luther
The German who started the Reformation by:
- attacking the Church’s power and privileges.
- emphasizing a personal relationship with God based upon faith and the Bible (see
2. John Calvin
The Frenchman who:
- created a strict Christian community in Geneva
- greatly influenced the Puritans (see below).
- settled in America in the 1620’s and 1630’s.
- defeated King Charles I (pictured right) in the English Civil War.
3. Ulrich Zwingli (pictured
Leader of the Reformation in Switzerland.
4. John Knox
Leader of the Reformation in Scotland.
The Reformation’s key ideas
1. Justification by faith alone
People get to heaven by faith in God, not:
- money given to the Church.
To support this, Luther quoted a verse from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (4:5):
To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as
2. The Bible’s supremacy
- obey the Bible (not the pope).
- be free to interpret it in their own way (without interference from the
3. Personal God
People can have a direct personal relationship with God without the Church’s help.
Everything that happens to you is pre-planned by God.
This doctrine of John Calvin (pictured right) was opposed by other Protestants who
believed that people controlled their own lives with God’s help.
5. Attack on Catholicism
Protestants rejected the Roman Catholic belief in:
- the pope’s supreme authority.
- the miraculous conversion of Communion bread and wine into Jesus’s body and blood (called
- the worship of the Virgin Mary and the saints.
This is the idea (proposed by the Dutch scholar, Erasmus, pictured right), that people can
control their lives through their own thought and actions.
Results of the Reformation
The following countries became Protestant:
- Germany (with Catholics in the North).
The following remained Roman Catholic:
2. The Counter Reformation (the Catholic version of the Reformation)
The Roman Catholic Church was forced to become holier and less corrupt, so stopping the spread of
These reforms were:
- led by the Spaniard, Ignatius Loyola, pictured right (who founded the
Jesuit order of monks).
- put into action by the Council of Trent (1545-63), set up by the pope, Paul
3. The “Protestant work ethic”
A term coined by the German sociologist, Max Weber (pictured
right), to describe the Protestant capacity for:
4. Intellectual freedom and creativity
Without the intellectual restrictions of the Catholic Church, Protestants were encouraged to discover new
knowledge, ideas and products.
Persecution and executions happened on both sides. For example:
Thomas More (pictured right) was executed in England for refusing to:
- accept Henry as head of the Church instead of the pope.
Queen Mary of England (known as Bloody Mary) executed 280 Protestants
They included the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer ( pictured right).
1572 (23 & 24 August)
St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, when more than 3,000 French Protestants (called
Huguenots) were killed in Paris.
Erasmus laid the egg and Luther hatched it.
- popular 16th century saying about the Reformation.
Here I stand, I can do no other.
- Martin Luther (at the Diet of Worms in 1521, defending his anti-Catholic beliefs).
A man with God is always in the majority.
- John Knox, pictured right (supporting the Reformation’s idea of a personal relationship with
God without church interference).
God is our refuge and strength, a very help in trouble
- Psalm 46.
(the opening line on Luther’s tomb in Wittenberg, Germany).