Introduction | The Protestant Reformation | Literature | Bibliography

The Protestant Reformation

The Reformation was a movement of Christian reform that eventually led to different branches of Christianity being created. It began in 1517. This was the year that Martin Luther (pictured to the left by Lucas Cranach [1529]) nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the doors of the Castle Church of Wittenberg. This bulletin was soon translated and spread around with the help of the new printing press. Though the document spread quickly, the Pope was slow to respond. After three years, the official statement was released which stated that Luther was a "drunken German" who would soon change his mind. Martin Luther was a German monk who lived from 1483 to 1546. He was an educated man; a theologian and professor. His beliefs were that the Bible was the only true source of information, as opposed to other figures such as the Pope. He translated the Bible into a language that the common man could read for themselves and thus made people less reliant on the word of their religious superiors. Before his break from it, Luther had been a Roman Catholic. At this time, it was acceptable to challenge policies in a way such as he did. However, many of his views were so radical, and he had so many of them, that it sent shockwaves through the Catholic church. His main points were that the Pope was too powerful and that the church was corrupted. He felt that the sale of indulgences, or the church selling salvation, was not just and went against what Christianity should stand for. He felt that people should have a more direct connection with God and Jesus, as opposed to everything being funneled through the papacy.
Luther stayed in Wittenberg, speaking to crowds of interested people and writing books and papers on the same subject. Eventually, when the spread became of concern to the Catholic church, Luther was ordered to remove 41 sentencs from his publications. This included his Ninety-Five Theses. When Luther refused to retract some of his more sensational statements, he was excommunicated.
However, though the church continued to threaten him, he refused to change any of his writings or teachings. Those who listened to him talk and read his writings often agreed with him and split from the Catholic church. These people became known as Protestants or Lutherans. Luther's influence on Christianity was great in scale. He was the first to encourage the congregation to sing hymns during mass. He also had a wife, Katharina von Bora, which was something not allowed for Catholic monks. Eventually, the Catholic church morphed and changed and today there aren't a huge amount of differences between Lutheranism and Roman Catholocism, with certain exceptions such as belief in the authority of the Pope.

Some of these new Protestants destroyed works of art in churches. They smashed stained-glass windows, bashed in statues, destroyed paintings, and in some cases burned down the churches themselves. Though Luther did not actually approve of this destruction, his followers had gotten out of hand in some cases. Their reasoning was that this art depicted all the things that Luther was fighting. Bribery, the papacy, and the skewed and corrupted depictions of Christianity. They felt that by destroying it, they were not only hurting the Catholic church, but preventing the messages of wrongdoing from being taught to others. Kenneth Clark argues that this destruction may have been, in some ways, a good thing. Art at this time was arguably in a bit of a slump, and out of destruction comes rebirth. True, at first the new civilization that came about was at first one of printing and not art, everything eventually comes around full-circle and art does make a revival in due course.

John Calvin (pictured right by an unknown artist) was a French theologian who lived from 1509 to 1564. He started Calvinism which is an approach to Christianity that teaches that God rules over everything. He was trained as a lawyer but he converted to Protestantism. When in France there was a violent uprising against his newfound faith in 1536, he fled to Switzerland. There, he published a book called Institutes of the Christian Religion. He was brought to Geneva in hopes of spreading the reform movement there, but it was rejected and he left there as well. Next, he moved to Strasbourg and became a minister. He was married, and helped French refugees. Though he had left Geneva years earlier, his ideas eventually took hold there and he was invited to go back. When Michael Serventus, a Spanish heretic, came to the city, Calvin denounced him and the city council executed him. Calvin became the unquestioned ruler of the church. He continued in Luther's path, spreading reformation across Europe in this way, spreading the views of predestination and the belief that God is all-ruling.
He helped to cement this splitting of Christiandom across Europe which Kenneth Clark calls tragic.

Sir Thomas More (left, portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger [1527]) was an English lawyer who lived from 1478 to 1535. He was a humanist scholor and author, and had a many-faceted political career. He was strongly against Protestantism of any kind, and had several people beheaded for heresy. While in continental Europe the movement was towards Lutheranism, More kept Lutheran texts for the most part out of England. There, the Reformation they experienced was due to the King. The most important part of his career was his time as Chancellor of England. When King Henry was unable to have a male heir with his wife, he wanted to divorce her and marry another woman. A letter was sent to Sir Thomas More in 1530 asking permission for this, and More denied. it. In 1931, he was forced to declare Henry to be Supreme Head of the English Church. He asked for permission to resign from his position after this, and was not allowed to. He asked again in 1532, saying that he had medical issues. Finally, he was allowed to resign. He refused to attend the coronation of the new Queen as he remained friends with the old Queen. The King continued to press various charges against him, most of which he could technically avoid sentencing on but he refused to comprimise his values. He was finally found guilty of treason in 1535 and beheaded.