Again, not how I’d write it now, as my understanding has changed. The ‘Counter’ or ‘Catholic Reformation deserves a lot more emphasis than I’ve given it here (not helped by the fact I’ve front balanced the 16th century to the early reformations). I’d also include more on women, not necessarily as driving forces in Reformation, but in how they experienced it and indeed lived it- more of a Social History approach. I do think, however, that for those in the SCA (like me) who have a 16th Century persona, the subtitle of the class is spot on. It really is the Elephant in the room.
Reformation: The 16th Century Elephant in the SCA’s Room
Don Antonio di Rienzo Ruspoli
The SCA has, as one of its few real rules, an edict against the mandatory performance of any act of religion. This is intended to limit any obligations to the actual ceremonies of any faith being compelled, but as is the nature of these things, it has somewhat slid, so that religion is generally viewed as an ‘off limits’ area for the society.
This is both a pity, and a problem, for without an understanding of religion as it had an effect on the lives of our personae, we really do not understand what life was like for them. At no time within our period is this more the case than in the 16th century, where the issue of the Reformation stands as a defining factor without whose presence, I would argue, we really do not do the 16th C justice. Now, time is limited, so I’m afraid this is only a whistle-stop tour, and will inevitably leave a whole lot of gaps.
Let me declare here my own religious background- I come from the setting of the Church of England, which at its best teaches a quietly devout, and very questioning faith. And at its worst preaches ineffectively and tries to helplessly see the good in everything. I hope you’ll forgive me if I let too much of either come into this class. The other warning I’m going to make is that this talk will circulate around the ‘Great Man’ theory of History, currently very unfashionable. I make no apology for my claim that without specific men (Great is sometimes too much of a claim), the Reformation would not have occurred in quite the same way. Unfortunately, they are almost all men. Women, whilst making some stylish cameo appearances in this story, are usually neglected in the theological and higher political fields.
So. It all begins with one man, nailing papers to the door of a church in Wittenb… no. It really doesn’t. As we saw from my Heresy class, it’s more complex than that.
It might start with 3rd or 4th century schisms in the Church, but we’ll begin it with one man, who some of you may have met in my last class on heresy. He was an Oxford Don, named John Wycliff, who came up (as others had before) with the idea that the Church was way too rich for a body who had been instructed to ‘go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me..” (Matthew 19:21), and was further too involved in secular politics, and wouldn’t it be great if reform dealt with these problems, driven by religiously educated secular people. Didn’t catch on, and he got told to shut up, and behave quietly in his country parish. But his ideas reached Bohemia, where another man, Jan Hus, agreed with, and preached them. He was summoned to an Imperial Diet under safe conduct, seized, put on trial for heresy, and burned at the stake. This is worth remembering, when we come to the Diet of Worms.
Allow me to set the scene as it stood in the years prior to Luther… (although the subject and the route to it, including a number of ‘wrong turns’ along the way, have been addressed already in my previous talk on Heresy). With the exception of the Bohemian Hussite Church, Western Christianity (and you will note I am consciously excluding the Orthodox or Eastern, the Syriac, the Ethiopian and the Nestorian varieties of Christianity here) was fairly homogenous. After a period where it was felt that supreme power in the church rested in councils especially towards the close of the Great Schism in the Western Church of the Latin Rite, (Concillism), power was increasingly centralised in the person of the Pope.
The dominant theology of the time included a very tidy structural element of the afterlife. The first element, of course, was heaven, the second hell, and for those neither saved (yet) nor damned, was Purgatory. This was (in general) a place of cleansing and penitence where sins were punished, but with a finite time limit- in this instance the Last Judgement. Purgatory was also the home for those babies who had died before Baptism, but also before they had a chance to sin, in the Limbus Infantorum, and similarly it was also home for the Old Testament Prophets, who living before Christ, were unable to be saved, but who had not merited Hell. Now, because the Pope had the authority of Christ (‘And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Matthew 16:19), he had a huge treasury of ‘surplus’ virtue on which to count, from Christ, and from the Saints (who by definition were already in heaven with a surplus of virtue). It would be miserly then if he didn’t share that good luck with people. Now, in theory penance was necessary to get hold of this virtue, but in reality it was achieved through one of three routes; good works, through the saying of masses for souls (mutual aid, since the souls in purgatory were assumed to be saying prayers for those who prayed for them), or through the purchase of an indulgence from the Pope or one of his representatives, which indicated the balance of payment had been released from heaven to forgive sins (although this was supposed to still be accompanied by confession and penance).
Now, the theologically acute will have noticed a fault with this- Augustine we agreed last class had said man was helpless, and could do nothing to help himself. So, what’s with penance and good works? Well, firstly, there was biblical justification for penance. John the Baptist had said, “Do penance, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3, Vulgate). This then was indication that penance was what good Christians should be doing. Secondly, the Church had got around the question of worthlessness. Yes, it agreed, human works were in themselves worthless, unless they were accepted as greater by God, much as say a temporary copper coinage issued by a Crown was to be accepted as worth the face rather than the true value. In the same way, Scholasticism argued, God accepted the fundamentally worthless Works of man as being worth an ‘attributed’ value. And thirdly, of course, Augustine’s own doctrine of obedience to the Church (see Donatists) resulted in him also supporting this doctrine of the Church.
This left a late medieval church with seven Sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, Ordination, Confession/Penance, Extreme Unction, the Eucharist), of which three were said to have scriptural basis (Baptism, Penance, and the Eucharist).
Then along came Erasmus (1466-1536), the most famous of the early Humanists. Now, this term merits a little explanation. It is not allied to the current humanism. Instead it is fundamentally not a belief system, but a set of techniques for textual analysis, and these new skills of critical reading were applied to a whole set of new documents, brought west after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Desiderius Erasmus (aka Erasmus of Rotterdam) was one of the ultimate non-people of the medieval world- the son of a priest. He was born in Holland, probably in 1466 or 7, and joined a monastery in 1492. This was disastrous- he fell in love with another of the canons, and was miserable. He got his escape by taking a ‘temporary’ role as secretary to the Bishop of Cambrai, and never looked back. He got permission to go to University in Paris. Leo X eventually regularised the situation with a dispensation from his vows. He became something of a roving European man of letters, moving around, including to England, where he was Professor of Divinity at Cambridge. Whilst in England he was impressed by the teachings of John Colet, who argued for a simpler Christianity, closer to that of the Church Fathers, and improved Erasmus’ Greek to the level he could study original sources. His resulting translation of the New Testament from the Greek, along with its source material “Novum Instrumentum omne” was the first Greek New Testament published in the West, and it raised a number of issues, not least because it cut away a number of previously solidly believed translations by St Jerome, the most important of which was that John the Baptist did not say, “Go and do penance.” He instead said, “Go and repent.” This was a massive difference, which undermined the theological basis for penance.
Which brings us to our second ‘Great Man’. Martin Luther (1483-1546) was in many ways a contrast to Erasmus. Born to a nouveau riche family in the mining industry in Saxony, he was originally intended for the Law, but after a near miss from a lightning strike during a thunderstorm, he became a monk (1505). Tortured by his own perceived sinfulness and lack of worth, he continued to be ordained (1507) and was appointed to the University of Wittenberg to teach theology (1508), being awarded his Doctorate in 1512, and being appointed to the faculty.
Archbishop Albert Hohnzollern of Magdeburg (1490-1545), wanted to be Elector Archbishop of Mainz in 1514, and needed lots of cash, not just for the usual hefty fees for taking up his second See, but also to get a Papal Indulgence to permit him to hold both Archbishoprics. Fine. Except he didn’t have lots of cash. So he needed a loan from the House of Fugger, and then needed some way to repay. So it was agreed with Pope Leo X (aka Giovanni de Medici, 1475-1521, r1513-21), that a sale of indulgences could occur. The Fuggers would get repaid from the half Albert got to keep, Albert got his 2nd archbishopric, and the Pope got the rest, to help in the construction of St Peters (1506-1626!). Albert acquired the services of Johan Tetzel, a particularly impressive Dominican Friar and salesman, who had a real flair for selling indulgences, coining phrases like, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / the soul from purgatory springs”.
Luther was understandably upset by this fundamental mis-statement (as he saw it) of Catholic dogma. And he laid out his objections carefully in 95 individual topics for discussion (theses) which he then posted on what passed for the University Bulletin Board- the door of the Castle Church. These points included the fairly uncontroversial (‘When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, he meant that the whole life of believers should be one of penitence”), but also the more inflammatory, (“Christians should be taught that, if the Pope knew the exactions of the preachers of indulgences, he would rather have the basilica of St Peter reduced to ashes, than built with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep”). Unfortunately, he also decided it would be good to let Archbishop Albert know what evils were being done in his name, clearly without his knowledge. Albert passed on the theses to Rome, whilst others translated the theses into German, and the resulting explosion was inevitable. But Luther’s arguments, at this point, were hardly revolutionary. They did not challenge Purgatory, the value of Works, and Penitence to a priest. Part of the problem was the copy sent up the theological chain of command, part the factional inter-Friar fights, between Dominicans supporting Tetzel, and Augustinians supporting Luther. This was fundamentally a conflict between Augustine’s doctrine of Grace, versus his doctrine of Obedience to the Church. The Augustines favoured the first, the Dominicans the second.
In October 1518, Luther, initially summoned to Rome to explain himself, in person, to the Pope, was permitted to meet the Papal Legate, Cardinal Cajetan, who was himself a humanist, and had also downplayed the theological origin of indulgences. This concession was at the request of Luther’s Prince, the Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony, who is one of the harder people to make out in this drama. Himself a very conventionally pious man, with a huge collection of relics, he nonetheless defended ‘his’ professor, and the realities of an Imperial election made the Elector worth listening to. Unfortunately the Cardinal was also a Dominican, and the meeting did not go well, with Luther slipping away from Augsburg in a hurry, and publishing a call for a general Council of the Church, a thing expressly forbidden by Pius II, in 1460.
In June 1519, Luther, and his colleague Karlstadt, arrived in Leipzig, to debate against Johann Eck one of the leading theologians of Central Europe, Eck performed brilliantly, pushing Luther on the subject of obedience from safe Concillar statements (‘Christ, not the Pope, is head of the Church’) to examination of the Hussites, and the statement that, “I am sure on this, that many of Hus’ beliefs were completely evangelical and Christian”. This meant, of course, that the Council of Konstenz which burnt him, had been in error! The following year, he was formally condemned for heresy in a Papal Bull, and in fairly typically ‘bull-ish’ Luther way, he publically burned the Bull. This is also the year he wrote three pivotal works.
Firstly, the ‘Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation’ showed Europe exactly where Luther felt his support would be coming from- if the Church could not reform itself from within, then the Secular nobility would have to do the job, and further, it was their duty to overthrow the Antichrist, who was Pope. He further argued that the Clergy had been made into a separate caste by ritual separation, such as celibacy. He argued this must go, and further, that even in the absence of an ordained priest, Christians could select their own pastor, whose sacraments would be as good as any others. Vitally this book was written in German.
His second book was ‘On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church’ this time written in Latin, for a more academic and clerical audience. Here he pointed attention to the subject of sacraments. Defining them as consisting of a divine promise marked by a divine sign, both of which are only to be found in scripture. By this test, only Baptism, Eucharist, and Penance survived- and he wasn’t sure about penance, eventually relegating it. Like the Hussites (Ultraquists) he argued that all should drink wine as well as eat the bread at communion. He also attacked Transubstantiation, not in the way that others later would, but by dismissing the attempt to understand by reason what he viewed as fundamentally a miraculous occurrence- ‘This is my body…. This is my blood’.
His third work, ‘The Freedom of a Christian’ tackled one of the fundamental issues of the theology of Grace. If nothing we can do affects our final fate, what is the point in being good? He argued that good works come naturally to the saved Christian, as an expression of gratitude and love to the God who saves them.
All strong stuff. Charles V, elected Holy Roman Emperor (aged 19) in the summer of 1519, felt something had to be done. Eventually, setting aside protests from the Pope, he exercised his own jurisdiction, and summoned Luther to a formal hearing at the Imperial Diet, in Worms. Again, Frederick the Wise was behind this. Luther was given a formal safe conduct to attend- and remember just what happened to Hus when he accepted such an offer! Luther arrived in April 1521, after a fairly triumphalist tour of Germany. He was confronted by a pile of his books, and asked if they were his. He confirmed it. Then he was asked if he recanted. And amazingly, he asked for a day to think about it! The following day, he gave his answer- some of his books, he said, were polemic against the papacy, but this reflected ‘the experience and complaint of all men’, and ‘if then, I revoke these books, all I shall achieve is to add strength to tyranny’. He explained that unless shown to be in error by plain reason, or from Scripture, he could recant nothing. It is here that we find the most famous words Luther never said, “Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders.’ (“Here I stand. I can do no other.”)
Now it was Charles V’s turn to take a day to think about what to do. He issued an edict declaring Luther a heretic and condemning him. But he honoured the safe passage. Luther left for Saxony, and as soon as within Frederick’s territory, he was kidnapped.
Luther’s disappearance was something of a shock to all concerned, but essentially, he was taken by deniable means to Fredericks castle at the Wartburg, to live for a while in disguise as ‘Junker Jorg’. He spent his time translating the New Testament into High German.
But back in Wittenberg, things had not stood still. In autumn 1521, Karlstadt put into practice arguments which were certainly present in Luther’s writings. He preached against clerical celibacy, and the ritual of the Mass. On Christmas day, he presided at Eucharist in a normal gown, rather than vestments, and gave both bread and wine to the laity. The next day he got engaged to a 15 year old girl. Over the next month or so, this drew more people into Wittenberg, including radicals from all over Europe, some rather more extreme than Luther, amongst others, would be comfortable with. Arguing that the bread and wine were just reminders of the sacrifice of Christ, and that every baptism in scripture involved a profession of faith- of which infants were incapable. These arguments found favour with Karlstadt, and he also argued for the destruction of religious art, which happened in January 1522. Frederick was furious. Luther had to return from the Wartburg, rather to the relief of Philip Melancathon, the Professor of Greek, who had been trying to keep Karlstadt in check. Luther basically reversed a lot of Karlstadts reforms, and expelled the most radical. He had no problem with religious art. It had no power. It was ‘for a witness, for recognition, for remembrance, for a sign’. He also firmly stated that infant baptism was staying- not least for reasons of realpolitik! (“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” Romans, 13:1). In support of this division, Luther and Melancathon came up with the ‘Two Kingdoms’ theory, in effect a restatement of Christ’s “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesars, and unto God that which is Gods.”.
Meanwhile, in Zurich, another revolt against the Church was taking place. But unlike Luthers, which was based on an objection to theological matters, the Zurich reformation was based around objections to how the Church was being run. The peoples pastor of the Grossmunster, Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531) had (he claimed) independently come to the conclusion, based on his Humanist education, and reading the works of St Augustine, around 1516, of the problems with the Churches policies. In spring 1522, he attended the Lenten meal of a Zurich printer and his 12 friends, who sat down to 2 sausages! Zwingli sat out the sausages, alone of the attendees, but when the story broke, he preached on why it was unnecessary to obey the Lenten restrictions, and published his sermon. Zwingli’s main point was that Lent was not in the Gospel- it was a rule of man, which might be obeyed, if desired, but if made compulsory, detracted attention from the commands of God. Soon after, Zwingli married, and in 1523, his supporters on the town council agreed to a series of disputation between Zwingli and the canons about his proposals for church reform. They didn’t acknowledge the right of the Council to do this, and failed to turn up, letting him win by default! Zurich’s churches were purged of images, and attention moved onto the Mass. Was this a form of idolatry? In April 1525, the Mass was banned in Zurich by the Town Council! Instead, Zwingli argued that the communion was a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice, and a sign of a communal membership of Christianity. So, what of Baptism? Luther had settled it basically by saying, ‘You just have to take this one on faith’. Luther had casually suggested a rather more persuasive argument, likening infant baptism to the circumcision of Israelite babies, which signified their covenant with God. Luther didn’t really develop this line, but Zwingli did, unfortunately not convincing everyone. In January 1525, a group of more radical spirits baptised each other, and broke bread and wine, and gave each other communion. This lead to another disputation, and in due course, to the execution (by drowning) of several of this group, now named ‘Anabaptists’ (rebaptisers).
At the same time, back in Saxony, religious houses had been being closed (and the funds sneakily absorbed by the State), resulting in a surfeit of ex-religiouses. Whilst most of the men could find occupations, this left the women. It was viewed then, as an act of charity, to marry them off, and arrangements were smoothly made. One aristocratic ex-nun, Katherina von Bora however indicated her displeasure with the choice suggested for her, and indicated that Dr Luther would do very nicely. They married in 1525. Luther continued developing his view of Grace, with a rather pessimistic view of mans capacity for self improvement, and this lead to his final break with Erasmus, and the latters statement that ‘I will put up with this Church, until I see a better one’.
So, how did these reformations take off, and why didn’t that of Wycliff. The main reason is the printing press. Luther was a prolific writer of books, but also of pamphlets, and hymns. This approach was widely popular, Argula von Grumbach (1492-1554) a south German noblewoman wrote a series of polemical letters and pamphlets calling people to the Evangelical cause.
All of this rather heated environment contributed to the ‘Peasants War’ in 1524-5, which Luther launched a diatribe against. He really did not want to lose the support of the Princes, and it shows. He was fortunate, however, that the advance of the Turks in the Balkans distracted Imperial attention at this vital period, as Princes started to join the Lutheran cause, starting rather surprisingly with the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, who declared himself instead Duke of Prussia! Johann, Frederick’s successor as elector of Saxony, also declared himself an Evangelical, followed in 1526 by Landgraf Phillipp of Hesse, whose marital problems were, in some ways, a prefiguration of Henry VIII’s. This is not to say that everything went the Evangelical way. In Bohemia, the Hapsburgs enforced the persecution particularly of Anabaptists, and this lead to an increasing emphasis in that branch of reform that the Godly must try and separate themselves from the ungodly. They upped sticks, and some moved to Moravia, where as ‘Hutterites’ they found much in common with some of the more radical Hussites, where a number of bizarre ‘proto-communist’ settlements were constructed.
In 1529, another Imperial Diet met, this time at Speyer, and here at last is where the Evangelicals get the name by which they are now generally known. Whilst a Catholic majority passed a number of resolutions, there was sufficient Evangelical support to get a formal ‘Protestio’ on record. Those who signed up to the Protestio were… Protestants. Realising the problems that would attend the minority, Philipp of Hesse invited the leading Protestant Theologians to his family castle, for a discussion on the subject of their disagreements, to find some sort of consensus. Sadly things were essentially doomed when Luther chalked ‘This is my body’ in Latin on the table, covered it with the tablecloth and said nothing further. This point was an insurmountable barrier to the uniting of the two protestant faiths, but did permit Melancathon to publish the combination of where agreement had been made, and the Lutheran position on the Eucharist, as the ‘Augsburg Confession’, which defined to the public precisely what Lutheran belief was.
Perhaps at this point it was still viewed as not impossible for this all to blow over, but increasingly the threat of military action became a reality, and the ‘Protestant Princes’ drew up a baldly religious mutual defence treaty- the Schmalkaldic League, named after the small town in Germany it was signed. Similarly, Zwingli drew together the Reformed cities of Switzerland and the upper Rhine into the Christian Civic Union and indeed fought a brief war against the Catholic cities of the Swiss cantons. This got Zwingli most of what he wanted- so the Swiss ‘mandated’ territories got to vote on an individual community level as to whether they would follow Catholicism or Reformed Protestantism. Unfortunately, the enemy of good is better, and Zurich imposed an economic blockade on some of the Catholic cities, and were then somewhat surprised to find an army marching upon them!
In the ensuing battle, Zwingli was killed. Luther, always a good holder of a grudge quoted, ‘Those who live by the sword, die by the sword’. But Zwingli’s work survived, largely due to his successor in Geneva, Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575). His theology differed slightly from his predecessor, and it is tempting to speculate that had it been he at the meeting with Luther, and agreement might have been forged, for whilst Zwingli saw the Eucharist purely as a memorial- a ceremonial ‘knot in the handkerchief’, Bullinger felt that alongside this, God reached out spiritually to the worshippers- perhaps not out of the range of compromise with Luthers spiritual presence. He also developed the idea of the ‘Covenant’ with ‘Gods People’, advancing them beyond Zwingli’s sole use in regard to infant baptism. This was to be of relevance to Calvin, later in the Reformations.
Another intermediary figure (both figuratively and literally) was Martin Bucer (1491-1551), originally a Dominican friar, until meeting Luther. Until 1549 he worked largely in Strasbourg, but also as he had a greater emphasis on the Love of God, and a rather sunny view of the difficult characters who surrounded him, he was much used as an intermediary. He came to the view that as he fundamentally agreed on the subject of the Eucharist with both Zwingli and Luther, then it followed that they must be in agreement with each other, if they could only be led to see it. Following the Schmalkaldic war, he was obliged to sign up to the Augsburg interim in 1548 (see later), and in 1549, he was exiled to England, as Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, dying before the Marian counterreformation.
All of these reformers, however, worked alongside the relevant powers in their Principalities or States, and hence they are referred to as the ‘Magisterial Reformation’. The same is most emphatically not true of the Anabaptists. Where the Magisterial reformers and the Catholics were united on the ‘correct’ early history of the church, particularly the great Councils of the Early Church (Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon), which were discussed at great length in my previous class, the Anabaptists increasingly felt that the alliance of the Church with the Empire of Constantine was a fundamental error, compromising the Church. This in turn led them away from the theology of St Augustine, to that of the pre-Concillar theologian Origen, which focused their thoughts back towards one of the major issues discussed at Nicea- the nature of Christ, and his position in the Trinity. Assuming the orthodox position was not taken, there were two precisely opposed views they could take- Christ was entirely divine, and any signs of suffering or humanity were merely an illusion; or that Christ was entirely human, and it is blasphemous to worship him in the same way to God the Father- a resurgence of the Arian controversy. Followers of this line of thinking included Miguel Serveto a Spaniard of Jewish antecidents, who fled Catholic Spain, and was executed for heresy by Protestant Geneva. Ecumenical cooperation, indeed! Another example was Melchior Hoffmann who declared Strasbourg the New Jerusalem, rather to the displeasure of the city council, who locked him up in 1533. It is unclearly precisely when he died- perhaps a decade later, still waiting for a 2nd coming, but he probably lived to see the results of the ‘New Jerusalem’ when it came, not in Strasburg, but in the north German city of Munster, of which Anabaptists took control (via the city council) in 1534, ejecting the Prince-bishop, with Jan Matthiasjzoon as leader. He was killed in an ill advised sortie (with 12 followers), and Jan van Leiden took over leadership. Conditions inside the besieged city deteriorated to a horrifying degree, all goods were held in common, and polygamy made mandatory Finally, the city was betrayed after a 17 month siege (by both Catholic and Protestant lords), and Jan and his followers underwent exemplary executions. The pincers used, and the cages used to display the corpses can still be seen. Anabaptistry as a violent force was spent, but the pacifist remnants of it remained around the Low Countries as Mennonites, and other similar groups. And in due course, they retreated to the New World, where we know them best as Amish.
Royal reactions to this Imperial set of problems varied- Henry VIII of England (1491-1547) wrote a famous attack on Luther Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (Defence of the Seven Sacraments) which Leo X rewarded with the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ in 1521, which British Monarchs still list amongst their titles. By 1532 the situation had changed somewhat for Henry- lacking a male heir, and convinced his wife could not bear a male heir, he sought an annulment of the marriage on the (to him) reasonable grounds that he’d married his brothers widow, and although a Papal dispensation had been granted, he argued that as it was expressly forbidden in the scriptures, no Papal word could permit it. Of course, the situation was also expressly commanded in the scriptures, but in this situation the position of the Pope as a near prisoner of Katherine’s nephew the Emperor was rather more pertinent. The result was the breach with Rome.
France initially tried tolerance… and indeed cynical political playing, allying themselves with the Schmalkaldic league, on the grounds that the Emperors problems were Frances benefit. Unfortunately public opinion did not permit this sort of knife edge to be walked, and a large number of protestants fled France, including most notably a young lawyer working in Paris, in 1533, who fled to Geneva. His name was Jean Calvin (1509-1564). In protestant Basel, he wrote the first edition of his incredibly influential work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, ‘Christianae Religionis Institutio’. Despite only 3 or 4 years of Reformed Protestantism, Calvins work already showed the pessimism which would characterise his approach- mankind could not feel anything other than shame on regarding themselves after contemplating God, and all mans efforts to redeem himself were doomed to failure. Part of the reason for this work was to distinguish ‘good’ Protestants from Anabaptists. In 1536, on his way from Basel to the Evangelical New Jerusalem of Strasburg, he was forced by war to divert by way of Geneva, where he got caught up in the reformation. It was not a success. In 1538 he clashed with the city authorities, and was firmly ejected in the direction of Strasburg. Once there, he had the opportunity of watching Bucer at work, and redraft his Institutes. In 1541, he had the satisfaction of being invited back to Geneva by the city authorities, who were worried about the increasing religious disorder, and saw in their austere (?calvinist!) guest the best chance of settling it down. And settle it down he did, although in a strict fashion, which drew out the logical, and terrible, end point of Luthers work on justification by Faith alone. If some were predestined to salvation, others must be predestined to damnation. This did not sit well with all in Geneva, or the wider Protestant community- Melancathon was drawing back from predestination, saying only that God ‘called’ the elect, and there is no mention of predestination in the Augsburg confession. But Calvin was assured in his view, in part by the disappointing uptake of Protestantism. As he states in later editions of the Institutio, ‘the covenant… is not preached equally amongst all men, and among those to whom it is preached, it does not gain the same acceptance.’
Gain acceptance though it did, in England, where, as Henry VIII died, and his son, Edward VI (1537-1553) came to the throne as a minor, educated by Reformed tutors, Archbishop Thomas Cramner (1489-1556) started moving the English Church away from a position which was broadly Lutheran in doctrine (although still hating Luther!), towards Calvinism. Unfortunately for him, in 1553, Edward died, and attempts to move the crown to the Protestant Gray family failed, with the accession of Mary I (reigned 1553-8). The counter-Reformation (Catholic Reformation) in England broadly echoed military victories which had been occurring in Germany, as Charles V smashed the Schmakaldic league, with war continuing until a compromise peace in Ausburg in 1555. Things were further compromised by massive Protestant uprisings in the Hapsburg lands in Hungary, and whilst these were defeated in time, in 1550, Charles was forced to concede to the Protestant Parliament of Moravia (which had not rebelled), a degree of toleration, which was to last through to 1618. The Augsburg compromise gave a new definition to German religion- cuius regio eius religio. Between Lutherism and Catholicism, the Prince defined what your official religion was (with varying degrees of tolerance for others).
From 1545 Catholicism had been undergoing its own Reformation, at the Council of Trent which was to run by fits and starts until 1563. Trentine doctrinal ‘clarifications’ included the statement that Divine Revelation came from two sources- scripture and tradition (in the keeping of the Church). It also rejected Luther (and the other protestant) beliefs about mans inability, saying ‘God does not demand the impossible’, and reaffirmed the identity of all seven sacraments.
The latter half of the century is traditionally defined in terms of the rivalry between the Spain of Phillip II (from 1556) and the England of Elizabeth I (from 1558), and the political aspects of religious stories have cast this also as ‘The victory of Anglicanism’- which Elizabeth set about re-establishing on Henrician lines after her position was secure. This misses an important question. If the first half of the century was the Emperor (and England) vs France, where now was France?
The answer is simple. Imploding. Whilst the Netherlands and England caused Protestant irritation for Catholic Spain, France was busy fighting the French. From 1563, France was racked by a series of bloody civil wars, with three distinct sides- the Hugenots (Reformed Protestants, occasionally aided by Elizabethan England, or Switzerland), The Crown, and the Catholic League, largely under the control of the de Guise family, and sometimes aided by Spain. From this point, until 1593, when the protestant Henri IV (1553-1610) finally decided that Paris was ‘worth a Mass’ there were 8 wars, with less than 10 years of peace, and the alliances and twists and turns are eye watering. Of especial note, however is the St Bartholemew’s day massacre of 1572, when the Crown connived at the attempted assassination of Admiral Coligny (1519-1572), one of the Hugeont leaders, in town for the wedding of Henri of Navarre (later Henri IV), which was designed as a moment of unity. When Coligny was initially only wounded, an attack on his house finished the job, and led to a widespread massacre of protestants in Paris and beyond- it is estimated that in total 5000 died in these attacks.
In summary, and to recap: The Reformations (Magisterial Protestant, Radical (Anabaptist) protestant, and Catholic) grew out of a return to circulation of old texts, and the development of new methods of their interpretation, and promulgated by the printing press. Their adoption, especially in France and Germany was patchy and piecemeal, and this would lead to extensive wars- in period in France, and not long post period in Germany. And these thoughts, and the actions which led from them, shaped and coloured the 16th century, and, I would argue, a lot of the world, all the way through to today.
Timeline of the Reformation (adapted from Marshal 2009)
1378-1417 The Great Schism (2-3 Popes)
1384 John Wycliffe dies
1414-18 Council of Constance including
1415 Execution of Jan Hus and Hussite Revolt
1453 Fall of Constantinople to Turks
1456 Gutenberg Bible
1483 Luther Born
1484 Zwingli born
1492 Granada conquered. Jews expelled from Spain. Something to do with America
1505 Luther becomes Augustinian Friar
1509 Calvin born, Henry VIII comes to throne
1517 Luther posts 95 theses in Wittenberg
1519 Luther (and Karlstadt) dispute with Eck in Leipzig. Charles V elected Emperor.
1520 Luther excommunicated and burns Papal Bull
1521 Luther attends Diet of Worms. Kidnapped by Frederick the Wise
1522 Luthers translation of the New Testament. Zwingli presides over Lent Sausage meal in Zurich. Luther leaves Wartberg, and reverses Karlstadt’s innovations
1523 2 Augustinian friars burned in Brussels- first martyrs of the Reformation
1524 Luther and Walter produce first ‘protestant’ hymn book
1523-6 Zurich reformation
1524-5 Peasants War in Germany
1525 Luther marries Katharina von Bora. Erasmus & Luther divide over Free Will
1526 Turks victorious at Mohacs. Hungarian nobles wiped out. Tyndale’s English New Testament printed.
1527 First Anabaptists executed by reformers (Zurich). Gustav Vasa declares independence from Rome
1529 Diet of Speyer. Protestatio gives name to ‘Protestant’. Luther and Zwingli meet at Marburg. Fail to agree over Eucharist.
1530 Augsburg confession
1531 Schmalkalden league. Zwingli dies in 2nd Swiss religious war.
1532-5 Henry VIII breaks with Rome
1534 Francis I cracks down on Protestants in France. Calvin flees. Ignatius Loyola founds Jesuits.
1534-5 Anabaptist Kingdom of Munster
1536 Calvin publishes ‘Instituitio’. Calvinist reformation in Geneva and Denmark. Pilgrimage of Grace against Henry VIII
1540 Jesuits recognised by Pope
1545-7 1st session of Council of Trent
1546-7 Schmalkaldic war
1547 Death of Luther. Lutheran princes defeated at Muhlberg. Death of Henry VIII. Reformed Protestantism in England
1548 Augsburg Interim reimposes Catholocism in Empire
1551-2 2nd session of Trent
1553 Servetus burned in Geneva. Mary I restores Catholicism in England
1555 Peace of Augsburg. Cuius region, eius religio.
1558 Mary I dies, Elizabeth accedes
1559 Henry II of France dies. Calvinist National Synod in Paris. Papal index of forbidden books
1559-60 Religious revolution in Scotland.
1562( intermit-1598) Religious Civil Wars in France. Toleration in Poland
1562-3 3rd Session of Trent
1563 Frederick III establishes Calvinism in Palatinate. 1st edition of Book of Martyrs
1564 Calvin dies.
1566-7 Iconoclasm in Netherlands, followed by Dutch Revolt
1568 Mary Stuart flees to England. Morisco revolt in Spain.
1570 Pius V excommunicates Elizabeth I
1572 St Bartholomew’s day massacre
1589 Henri III of France assassinated (protestant) Henri IV becomes king.
1593 Henri IV converts to Catholicism
1598 Edict of Nantes
MacCulloch D (2004) Reformation: Europe’s House Divided. Penguin, London
If you only read one book on the reformations, this should be it.
Lindberg C (2011) The European Reformations. Wiley. London
Marshal P (2009) The Reformation: A very short introduction.
McGrath AE (2011) Reformation Thought: An Introduction