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Causes and Effects of The Christian Reformation 

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Christian Humanism was an intellectual movement in the late 1400s-early 1500s in Northern Europe. This outlook combined interests in classics from the renaissance with early christianity and the gospel. The Lollards were the group of followers of Wycliff. He advocated for a reform of the papacy and Catholic Church. He believed in grounding the church on what the Bible says, so he did not agree with sainthood or pilgrimages. Nepotism was an issue of bishops, priests, and popes appointing family members into positions in the church and was one of the many causes for the corruption of the Church.

While stuck in a life-threatening thunderstorm, Luther promised God he would become a monk if he survived. He survived and during his time at the monastery he realized he did not believe salvation was achieved through works, but by God’s grace alone. He was inspired by Renaissance humanists like Erasmus and Jan Wyclif who believed that the pope was not the final authority, but Jesus was. They also were adamant about translating the Bible into vernacular languages, so the average man could educate himself. Martin Luther did not stand for the Catholic Church, whose clergy was selling indulgences as a way of salvation and the overall corruption of the Church. This fundamental disagreement along with other conflicting opinions on the authority and administration of the Catholic Church, were what eventually led to Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg; this was the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation. He preached about the priesthood of all believers, “sola fide and sola scriptura” as the way to salvation which means “faith alone and scripture alone.” He denied the belief of transubstantiation and preached that the Eucharist did not change into the flesh and blood of Christ, but that Christ was still physically present during communion.

Zwingli was an important Swiss reformer who was the minister of Zürich. He put an end to relics and icons and many of the things Luther and Wyclif had denied in Zürich. His movement gained followers and they became the Zwinglians. Zwingli and Luther joined forces in order to gain strength to stand up against the Catholic Church. Zwingli did however disagree with Luther’s belief of consubstantiation and believed communion was strictly to remember and honor Jesus’s death. During battle, Zwingli was killed and his movement died but the Anabaptists, who focused mainly on his views of adult baptism, came from him. Anabaptism branched off from Zwinglism and started a movement that discouraged infant baptism, and encouraged baptism among people who made the decision to follow Christ. Throughout the centuries this group produced the Amish and Mennonite people. John Calvin, the man named the true founder of the Protestant church, followed in Martin Luther’s footsteps in the 1600s when he broke off from the Catholic Church, moved to Switzerland, and started the Calvinist movement. He broke away from the Catholic Church because he believed in justification by faith, similar to Luther, however he also believed strongly in predestination and other non-Catholic ideas like limiting papal power and the number of sacraments. Calvin moved to Geneva where he tested his ideas and brought them to life in the city. The church played all the roles the government would normally play. Calvinism spread to France, England, the Netherlands, Scotland, parts of Northern Africa and widely replaced Lutheranism except in countries like Germany where royalty was still Lutheran. Calvinism encouraged mutual love between a husband and wife, the importance of family, and collective prayer and worship.Calvinism lost popularity after its peak in the 1600s.

The Catholic Church leading up to the sixteenth century had become corrupt and poorly led by leaders who abused their power. Catholicism needed to be reformed as well as adapted to new European ideals like the growing movement of humanism which began during the Renaissance. The pope needed to be held to a higher standard, but like Erasmus believed, Jesus Christ was the one who should have been the highest authority. For years people were criticizing the Catholic Church and letting them know what they disagreed with, but little was done to make any improvements until the sixteenth century when slight adjustments were made. A new wave of mysticism arose in the Catholic Church. This was the belief that some person or their writings could be unified with God by prayer and surrender. Reforms were enacted to better the clergy and new popes came into power. New orders were formed like the Jesuits who were the “soldiers for God.” The Catholic Reformation brought many new members to the Catholic faith through missionaries and saints. The council of Trent was an effort made by Catholic Church leaders and theologians and moderate Catholic reformers to try and reach an agreement on reforms for the church but the conservative leaders made little to no compromises. The traditional doctrines of the Catholic Church were reinstated and the Church had a new sense of identity which strengthened the Church and eventually led to its growth. The Inquisition was a council that focused on attacking heretics and persecuting those who did not abide by the Church in the Catholic countries.

In France, Calvinism was one of the dominating Christian groups that was growing. French Calvinists were known as Huguenots and they were made up by all different classes. The rivaling group were the Catholics who were the majority and threatened the growth of Calvinism. This rivalry caused France to enter a civil war known as, the French Wars of Religion. Henry of Navarre who was a Huguenot, became the king of France but in order to do so he had to convert to Roman Catholicism. Once he was King, he ordered the Edict of Nantes in 1598, four years after he was crowned. This edict declared Catholicism as the official religion of France but still allowed Huguenots to practice their religion and run for political office. In Spain during this time King Phillip II revived Spain’s Catholic identity and planned to invade England to overthrow the Protestant queen, Elizabeth. This plan was known as the Spanish armada and it did not succeed, but it did start a war that lasted another decade and a half. The war finally resulted in an English victory, so England was still Protestant.

In conclusion, the Reformation shaped culture greatly by opening culture’s perspective on what it looked like to have different beliefs. This idea shaped the future and our country today. “One man, Martin Luther, took a stand that literally shredded the fabric of Europe. It changed theology, it changed politics, it changed society and it changed political boundaries. It gave us a revolution in education, in literacy. There are many, many manifestations of the Reformation”.

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