CHAPTER THREE: THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION AND THE WARS OF RELIGION
Erasmus of Rotterdam
Holy Roman Empire
Diet of Worms
Book of Common Prayer
Diet of Speyer
Peace of Augsburg
Henry of Navarre
Edict of Nantes
Swiss Pike Phalanx
Maurice of Nassau
Council of Trent
Society of Jesus
Thirty Years War
Treaty of Westphalia
What were some of the background conditions that set the stage for the Protestant Reformation?
What were some of the major problems within the Catholic Church, and how did the different reformers address them?
How did conflicts over religion become conflicts over politics during the Reformation?
In addition to the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Discovery, the Protestant Reformation was another big even that dramatically changed the ways people in Europe understood their own world and looked at the rest of the world around them. Before we can get to the Reformation, however, we should pause to look briefly at some precursors to the Reformation.
Rebirth of the Classical World
The European Renaissance is a phenomenon you might associate with painting and other modes of visual art – and this would not be wrong – but there is more to it than that. The Renaissance was an intellectual, political, artistic, literary, and even religious event in the 14th and 15th centuries, where people in Europe rediscovered their own ancient history. This was not a popular event – an event where everyone took part – but it was a project among educated elites to study the history of the ancient world, in order to discover long-lost knowledge that would help them improve the present-day. For a number of reasons, during the medieval period, European peoples mostly lost consciousness of the ancient Greeks and Romans but the Renaissance was when they suddenly decided that this ancient learning was important and could unlock secrets for the present-day.
One of the big intellectual movements associated with the Renaissance was humanism. Humanism was the practice of studying (that is, closely reading and working to understand) writings of the ancient world, in hopes of discovering the knowledge and wisdom of that era. The goal was not simply education for its own sake but rather to glean information about literature, about politics, about art, about music, about history, about anything else that could be used to improve the practice of that subject in the present-day. This is kind of a basic idea for us in 2020 – you are taking a history class, at least in part, because there are supposed to be valuable pieces of information from the past that will help you do something better today in 2020. This is a version of humanism, but these concepts were mostly absent from the way Europeans thought about the world during the medieval era.
Spread of Information
The Renaissance as an event mostly took place in Italy. This was where most of the scholars leading the movement were located, and this was (not coincidentally) were most of the ruins of the ancient world were located, at least the ones Europeans knew about then. However, gradually in the 15th century the ideas of the Renaissance moved north across the Alps into western and northern Europe. By the early 16th century, Renaissance ideas had swept through the rest of Western Europe. This mostly happened as students from northern Europe travelled to Italian universities to study law and medicine, or other disciplines, and then returned home, bringing their knowledge of humanism with them. At the same time, merchants from other parts of Europe traveled and traded in Italy, and they were also conduits of this transfer of knowledge.
Eventually, the printing press developed by Johann Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany in 1447 would make this transfer of knowledge even more efficient. Before this time, printing had been a very time-consuming process in which books were hand-copied by monks. The paper used in this process was known as vellum that was made from calfskins and sheepskins. This was very expensive. For example, to produce a copy of the Vulgate Bible (the Bible in Latin) it required 300 sheepskins (170 calfskins). Aside from the cost, what was another downside of hand-copied books? Errors due to the copyist. When books were copied over and over by hand, errors would occur. Over time, printing had gone from hand-printing to making woodcuts, in which an entire page would be carved on a piece of wood, which was inked and then the image was pressed onto a piece of vellum. While you were able to make multiple copies from the same woodcut, this was still time consuming and expensive. In the early 15th century, copyists began to substitute paper made from linen rags for the expensive vellum skins, which brought the cost down considerably.
The real revolution in printing came in 1447 when Johannes Gutenberg invented of movable metal type in Mainz Germany. Movable type already existed in Asia, but unaware of this Gutenberg created the first movable metal type in the west, along with a mold to hold the type for printing. He used a converted wine press to press the image onto the paper. Gutenberg became famous in 1455 for the publication of his Bible. The invention of movable type along with creation of cheaper paper brought the cost of reproducing books down considerably. It also led to a flood of printing presses being established throughout Europe pouring out both religious and secular books. By 1500, printing presses had been set up in at least 60 German cities and in more than 200 cities throughout Europe. It is estimated that 500,000 books on various titles had been printed by 1500. Without the creation of the printing press, the ideas of the Renaissance might have remained confined to Italy and the ideas of the soon-to-be Protestant Reformation would also not have had the impact that they had by spreading throughout Europe like wildfire.
This Northern Renaissance (that is, the Renaissance in Northern Europe) took a somewhat different shape than the main event in Italy. While the Northern Renaissance found scholars and artists doing things very similarly to their peers in Italy, their central concerns were different. If scholars in Italy were trying to study the classical world of Greece and Rome to find ways to improve life in their present-day, Northern Renaissance scholars were studying the writings of the early Church fathers, to improve the practice of Christianity in the present-day. These “Church fathers” meant both the earliest available copies of the New Testament of the Bible (written in first several centuries CE), as well as other writings of early leaders of the Christian Church in Late Antiquity. In either case, the goal of these Christian Humanists was to correct mistakes in the present-day practices of the Christian Church. (Note: before the Protestant Reformation – see below – Northern and Western Europe were nearly universally Roman Catholic, so “Church” should be understood as “the Roman Catholic Church” at this time.)
These Christian Humanists, or Northern Humanists, felt that the Church needed reforming, and this was why they looked to the past for guidance. We should be clear, however, that these Christian Humanists were not aiming to split the Church into rival camps, only looking for answers as to how they could become better Christians and make their church a better church. This drive for improvement was one thing that the Christian Humanists had in common with their Italian brothers (besides the impulse to study the past). As such, Northern Humanists pushed for education, both clergy and the laity. They felt that through education, people could become better Christians. Christian Humanists were especially interested in the education of women. Humanists in Northern Europe helped found schools for girls and they advocated teaching them the same subjects as boys. Sir Thomas More, the leading English Christian Humanist and a friend of Henry VIII, raised his daughters to be among the educated elite of England. They were known throughout Europe for their learning.
One of the major projects undertaken by these Christian Humanists was the Bible. That is, they wanted to correct mistakes in the Vulgate Bible in use by the Church. The Bible 21st century Christians might be familiar with looked quite different from its 14th century (or even 4th century) predecessors. The Old Testament of the Bible came from the Torah (the Holy Scriptures studied by Jews). The Torah was written in Hebrew but early eventually translated it into Greek (this was called the Septuagint). The New Testament was assembled over the course of the first couple of centuries of the Church’s existence, written in Greek. Eventually, Latin became the language preferred by the Church leaders in Rome (they were, after all, trying to preach to the Roman Empire), so the Bible was translated from Greek into Latin for this purpose. Of course, one Bible was not enough – church leaders needed many copies so that each little church out in the middle of nowhere could have a copy for the priest to use. Thus, for over 1,000 years, priests, monks, and others working for the Church had been copying this Vulgate (Latin) Bible over and over, by hand, meaning there were inevitably errors in them due to this incessant hand-copying that had taken place over the centuries. Christian Humanists wanted to fix these mistakes, so they searched for ancient copies of the scripture and the writings of the early church fathers and applied the new techniques to them to ascertain which copies were the most authentic and had the fewest errors.
Just as the Italian humanists’ most important achievement was the discovery and preservation of ancient texts by Greek and Roman authors, the most important achievement of Christian Humanists scholars were the translation and preservation of Christian texts. Christian Humanist scholars skilled in Greek, Latin and even Hebrew, prepared new editions of the books of the bible and the writings of the early church fathers. One of their greatest achievements was the Polyglot Bible in 1522. This was a new translation of the Bible, produced by a team of scholars at the University of Alcala in 1522, after fifteen years of work. They gathered copies of all known biblical manuscripts and compared them. When they found inconsistencies in the Latin texts, they looked back to the older Greek texts for help. If the Greek texts offered no help, they looked back to the even older Hebrew texts. The result was a six-volume work that allowed biblical scholars to read the three different versions and decide for themselves. The Old Testament was printed in three parallel columns in which the scriptures appeared in the Hebrew, Latin, and Greek forms. The New Testament was printed in both Greek and Latin.
Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) was probably the leading Christian Humanist. Erasmus was very interested in reforming the church by restoring Christianity to its early simplicity that had been taught by Christ and his disciples. He wanted to get back to basics and he felt that the Medieval Church had many problems. Erasmus, like many of his contemporaries, believed that the Vulgate Bible could not be entirely trusted, since it was a translation and had been repeatedly recopied- which made errors possible. Erasmus labored to make the Ancient Christian sources available in their original versions. He both edited the writings of the Church fathers and undertook to come up with a new edition of the New Testament, based on the earliest Greek manuscripts available. This New Testament was published in 1516 and made a big impact throughout Europe. The work of Erasmus and the other Christian Humanists are indicative of the feeling among many loyal Catholics who wanted major reforms in the Catholic Church long before the Reformation. The Christian Humanists like Erasmus wanted to reform the church from the inside- they did not want to break up the church or start a new religion.
60-second Quiz #1. What were some of the background conditions that set the stage for the Protestant Reformation? Which of the following statements is NOT true?
The Renaissance encouraged people to look to ancient sources of information to find knowledge that would improve the world
The Northern Renaissance encouraged people to look to early Christian sources of information to find knowledge that would improve the church
The Guttenberg Press made printing books and spreading information quicker
The Scientific Revolution made more people interested in secular sources of information, and skeptical of the Catholic Church
The Protestant Reformation
Problems within the Church
We have noted above there were problems with the translation and hand-copying of the Bible that affected the way Church leaders instructed their parishioners. However, there were also a great many problems with the Church and how its officers carried out their jobs, which we need to survey here, before we can understand what the Protestant Reformation was trying to accomplish. Even before the advent of Erasmus and Christian Humanism, there was a wide-spread feeling throughout Western Europe that the Roman Catholic Church needed reform. What were some of the problems with the church that the Christian Humanists and others felt needed to be fixed?
Worldliness of the clergy
Many of the clergy had become very worldly during the Middle Ages. That is, they were not living up to the obligations the promised to uphold when they took their offices. For instance, priests who were supposed to be celibate (never have sex) often had concubines whom they lived with openly. Many of the higher clergy were also guilty of this as well as being greedy and overly concerned with material wealth. The Papacy had become a very political office in which Popes ruled as a temporal Prince over the Papal States (lands given to the Church by powerful rulers in Italy, and over which the Pope reigned as more-or-less a king) and were constantly intertwined in the political affairs of Italy and all of Europe. Many Popes, who were supposed to be Christ’s successors on Earth, went against Christ’s teachings of love for your neighbor by engaging in wars with other countries.
Another problem was that by the time of the Renaissance, church offices, especially those of bishop and archbishop, were often put up for bid. Whoever, had the most money could buy these offices to obtain the revenue coming in. The occupants were often-times unsuited to lead the church in their diocese or archdiocese. What was more, many offices would be held by the same person- which is called pluralism. Of course, if the same person held three or four bishoprics, he might be getting the revenue from these, but would not be able to do the job the same as if he only had one. Obviously, one person cannot be in more than one place at the same time. So, pluralism was a big abuse in the church during this time. Another abuse that went together with pluralism was non-residency (sometimes called bishopric absenteeism). Many of the church offices were held by people who never go to occupy their places. If you are a bishop, you are supposed to live in your diocese and oversee all the churches in that area. However, many of the Bishoprics were held by people who lived off someplace, usually in Rome, and they may never even visit their dioceses. This was a problem. From the perspective of the parishioners, if there was a problem with the local church that needed the bishop’s intervention to solve, and the bishop was never here because he was always at his other office, things could not get done.
Clergy uneducated, sometimes illiterate
The worldliness of the clergy was one problem. Another was that the clergy, in many instances, were ill-educated and were oftentimes illiterate. Many could not read Latin, which is of course meant that they would not be able to read and understand the Vulgate Bible. (Even the Polyglot Bible mentioned above was still usually read in Latin.) How could a priest conduct a Mass without being able to read and speak Latin? So, there was a feeling that the education of the clergy had to be investigated.
Superstition, pilgrimages, relics
Something else that reformers attacked were some church practices which bordered on superstition. Included in these was the making of pilgrimages to religious shrines and holy places and the worship of relics. Relics were items that in many cases had been sold by the church during the Middle Ages and were supposed to have special powers. These would be bones supposedly either from the body of Christ himself or from the disciples and early church fathers. One of the favorite relics of the Middle Ages were splinters supposedly coming from the cross that Christ was crucified on. There were so many of these that a joke of the time was that if the splinters of the true cross were joined together it would make a full load for a freighter, whereas the Lord carried his cross himself. People were led to believe that by owning these relics that they would be protected, and their sins would be forgiven.
Finally, another church practice that increasingly came under criticism was the selling of indulgences. What were these?
The basic tenets of Christianity hold that people do things that God does not like, and these are called sins. Christians must obtain forgiveness for their sins from God or else their souls will spend eternity in Hell (after they die), suffering for the sins they have committed. Christians who do obtain this forgiveness will have their souls spend eternity in Heaven, in paradise with God and the saints. The chief way that Christians would obtain this forgiveness would be by confessing their faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ as the son of God, who had died as a sacrifice on behalf of all Christians, to earn forgiveness for their (not his own) sins.
However, during the Middle Ages, the Church also expected Christians to do additional tasks to ensure they were on the right path to Heaven. One of these tasks was to attend confession, where the believer would confess to a priest the sins that they (the believer) had committed. The priest would then grant the believer absolution (forgiveness). However, just confessing the sins did not do enough – the priest would assign penance that would have to be performed before you would be truly forgiven and be free from having to spend eternity in Hell. Penance might include prayer, fasting, almsgiving, pilgrimages etc. This practice of expecting Christian believers to perform certain actions or works to be sure of their entrance to Heaven is referred to by historians and theologians as the doctrine of works-righteousness.
This is where indulgences come in. Indulgences were instruments issued by the Papacy that forgave a person of their sins so that they would not have to perform penance. The first indulgences were issued to by the Papacy to Crusaders going off to fight the infidel in the Holy Land in the High Middle Ages. If they died in battle, their sins were forgiven, and they went on to heaven. This was a concern because they might die before having a chance to go to confession and confess their most recent sins. Besides Heaven and Hell, the Church also taught that believing Christians who were going to go to Heaven because they had confessed their faith in Jesus Christ, but who had also committed more sins on Earth before they died without confessing those, would have to take a detour into Purgatory. Purgatory was this sort of temporary holding area where believers’ souls would have to suffer a bit for their unconfessed sins, before being allowed on into Heaven. So, it was not as bad as Hell, but it was still bad. Those Christians who died before having a chance to confess all their sins would be sure to suffer a while in Purgatory, which was the point of the indulgence – it let that person skip Purgatory and go straight into Heaven.
So, whereas the original purpose of the indulgence was to prevent holy warriors from having to suffer in Purgatory, beginning in 1343, the church began selling indulgences to ordinary people. That is, a Christian did not have to perform an extraordinary action on behalf of the Church (like going to war against non-believer); all they had to do was give money to the Church. So those with more money to spare could get in the front of the line for Heaven, as it were. Additionally, indulgences were originally conceived of as a way for an individual Christian to secure their own quick entry into Heaven. That is, a person had to purchase the indulgence before they died, since only then would they need it. Yet by the 14th century, the Church was willing to let Christians also purchase indulgences for other people (usually relatives) who had already died and were theoretically currently suffering in Purgatory. And since a person could never be sure, maybe it was better to go ahead and purchase an indulgence for your relative who might still be suffering, to get them out of Purgatory and on int Heaven. So, as you can imagine, by the early 16th century, the church was doing a great business in indulgences.
As it turned out, indulgences were the straw that broke the camel’s back, in terms of the Reformation. This brings us to Martin Luther.
In 1517 Pope Leo X issued a special indulgence whose proceeds were to go to the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In the Archbishopric of Mainz in Germany, a powerful preacher named Johann Tetzel was hired to preach to the people and get them to buy the indulgences. This raised the ire of a Professor of Theology at Wittenberg University named Martin Luther (1483-1546). Luther responded by posting his famous Ninety-Five Theses against the selling of indulgences on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on October 31st, 1517. In posting these, he was specifically protesting the impression created by Tetzel that indulgences remitted sins. He felt that Tetzel and the church in general were making salvation into something that could be bought and sold. What Martin Luther did was in keeping with Medieval Church practice. That is, when theological questions arose, or questions about other church matters, they would be openly discussed or debated by church leaders. In posting his ninety-five theses, Luther was presenting topics, or theses, for debate and was challenging anyone who wanted to come forward to debate these topics in a public forum.
What changed the ninety-five theses from an invitation for an academic debate into a firestorm that started a new religious confession was the fact that the theses were immediately printed using the new printing technology and spread quickly throughout the Holy Roman Empire. When Luther’s theses fell into the hands of indulgence purchasers, they got very angry. They felt that they had been duped by the Church, by the priests who took their money and by the Italian pope. Overnight Luther became famous throughout the Holy Roman Empire. The church quickly realized that they must act against Luther and his theses.
Before looking further at the Church’s reaction to Luther, it would be a good idea to explore a little bit into Luther’s background. Martin Luther was the son of a successful miner from Saxony. He was a good student as a young man and his father sent him to the best schools in preparation for a career in law. He was preparing to follow his father’s wishes and enter law school when in 1505, he got stuck out in the middle of a lightning storm and, while praying for help, he promised to enter a monastery if he survived. When he survived the storm, he entered an Augustinian Monastery.
After being ordained into the clergy in 1507, Luther continued his religious studies. In 1510, his eyes were opened to the real need for reform in the church when he traveled to Rome on business for the Augustinian Order. When he got there, he found justification for the many criticisms of the church that he had heard in Germany. Apparently, he had to bribe his way into the Vatican to see the Pope. When he got into the papal chambers, he was shocked. There was a play being performed. There were nude portraits on the wall. He was so stunned that he fell to the floor.
In 1511, he moved to the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg and earned his doctorate from the University of Wittenberg in 1512 and started teaching there. However, despite having a doctorate in theology and being an ordained priest, Luther was tormented with the fear that nothing he had done nor could do would be sufficient to merit salvation. It seemed to him that no amount of good works could overcome his feelings of guilt for his sins. Apparently, while reading a verse from Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, on which he was lecturing to his university students, he came across the phrase, “the just shall live by faith.” This phrase seemed to set him free – in this passage Paul was stating that it wasn’t performing good works, fasting, making pilgrimages or even observing the seven sacraments that was important to salvation- all that was needed was faith. (Sacraments refer to the seven special actions the Church taught that all believers needed to perform as part of their religious duties: Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Reconciliation/Penance, Marriage, Holy Orders, Anointing the Sick.) In other words, Luther now believed that, if a person simply had faith and believed in God, their sins would be forgiven and they would be saved from going to Hell (thus entering Heaven immediately upon death, without Purgatory or Indulgences). Thus, Luther’s doctrine of the “Justification of Faith” (sola fide, or “faith alone,” in Latin) emerged between 1513 and 1518.
Confrontation with the Church
Luther became so irate about indulgences. In his eyes, the church was saying that salvation could be bought, while he believed that salvation was a gift freely given by God to those who believed. Luther argued that since faith alone was all that was needed for salvation, a priest, monk, or even a pope could not achieve a higher level of spirituality than an ordinary citizen. He believed that there was an equality of all believers – he felt that preachers were valuable in teaching God’s word, but that ordinary men could intercede with God themselves without a priest. This idea is referred to by theologians as the “priesthood of the believers.” Essentially, Luther was arguing that the Catholic Church had built itself up over the centuries as a gatekeeper that stood between the ordinary Christian believer and God – Christians had to go through the gateway of the Church if they wanted to reach God, there was no other option. Luther was rejecting this idea. It should be pointed out that, at least at first, Luther’s goal in posting his Ninety-Five Theses was the same as that of the Christian Humanists – to reform the church from within. He did not start out with plans to break away from the Roman Catholic fold.
Politics of the Holy Roman Empire
So why did the Protestant Reformation take off as it did? The answer lies partly with the Church’s reaction to Luther but also with the politics of the Holy Roman Empire.
The Holy Roman Empire was the name of the collection of about 300 or so large- and small principalities that together made up the German lands and parts of Italy. That is “Germany” and “Italy” did not exist as unified states currently. The Holy Roman Empire was the name given by the Pope to Charlemagne’s empire back in the year 800 or so, as Charlemagne was the first king since the fall of the Roman Empire to unite that much territory under one throne. And since Charlemagne was a Christian, and because he forced the people be conquered to convert to Christianity or die, the Pope blessed this political achievement. The Holy Roman Emperor was henceforth both the emperor of these territories but also played the special role of protector of the Catholic Church and the Papacy. Over the following centuries, Charlemagne’s enormous empire was broken up into smaller pieces, and the title of “Holy Roman Emperor” was not used continuously. However, powerful kings who attempted to unite these disparate territories back together into one large kingdom would often seek the Pope’s blessing and be granted this title.
From a practical point of view, the title did not necessarily grant that much power. This is because, after 1356, it was not the Pope who decided the Holy Roman Emperor, but the seven most powerful princes of the seven most powerful German territories. These Electoral Princes got to elect the next Holy Roman Emperor when the old one died. Yet at the same time, these Electoral Princes (and the less-powerful minor princes beneath them in rank) were for the most part independent rulers of their smaller states. On a day-to-day basis, the Emperor did not usually wield that much power. Nonetheless, when an Emperor came to power who did want exercise strict control over his Empire, these German princes usually tried to resist. This brings us back to Luther.
While the Church was figuring out what actions to take against Luther, the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, died in January of 1519. This helped Luther by turning the attention off him (momentarily) and onto the election for a new Emperor. In June of 1519, Charles I, King of Spain, and grandson of Maximilian I, was elected as the new Holy Roman Emperor. (Charles was henceforth called Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.) However, once Luther started developing his ideas and spreading them (via the printing press), his new understanding of the role of the Catholic Church and the Pope – that they were not as powerful as people thought found a slightly different audience. To be clear, Luther was initially making a religious argument but his ideas could easily be turned into a political argument – Luther was arguing that the Church had too much power over the lives of Christian believers, and that there were no special powers wielded by the Pope that other, regular, Christians did not have. If you were a German prince who was taking orders from the Holy Roman Emperor, and suddenly Luther appeared to be arguing that the Catholic Church and its Pope were nothing special, then maybe you could also argue that the Holy Roman Emperor was nothing special, too. If nothing else, Luther appeared to offer a rationale for ignoring the Pope and ignoring the Emperor, which would give these German princes a way to preserve their political independence from the Catholic Church.
Dividing the Church
Luther did not sit idly by waiting for the Pope to act. He worked hard and honed his beliefs. In 1520, he published three famous pamphlets that helped spread his message to others. The first was The Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, in which he called upon those German princes to take the reform of religion into their own hands. His second pamphlet was the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, which attacked the seven sacraments of the church and said that only two (baptism and the Eucharist [the Lord’s Supper]) were biblically rooted. Third came Freedom of a Christian, where Luther put forth his new idea of “Justification by Faith.” Following the publication and spread of these pamphlets, there was no longer any hope for compromise that would prevent a schism in the church.
In 1521, Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther and Emperor Charles V ordered him to appear before the Imperial Diet at Worms to answer charges. In April of 1521, Luther set forth his views before the Diet of Worms and was ordered to recant. Luther refused and in late May he was placed under imperial ban and in effect made an outlaw in terms of church and state. Fortunately, Luther by this time had attracted powerful supporters from among those German princes who were eager to preserve their political independence from the Emperor. Most notably, Luther’s own ruler was Prince Frederick the Wise of Saxony, who was one of the seven powerful Electoral Princes. Before Luther could be arrested by the Diet, Frederick had Luther taken to his castle at Wartburg and was kept there for a year for his own safety. During his year at Wartburg, he put his time to good use and translated Erasmus’s Greek version of the New Testament into German. (He later translated the Old Testament in 1532).
Founding of the Lutheran Church
When he returned to Wittenberg in 1522, Luther took up the work of leading the reformation. In the Lutheran Church, as his church would become called, a good deal of Catholic doctrine was retained, but many large changes were made. Of course, at the core of Lutheran doctrine is the Justification by Faith- so the Catholic doctrine that good works are crucial for salvation was thrown out. All the sacraments were thrown out except for the two mentioned in the Bible: baptism and the Eucharist. All pilgrimages, veneration of Saints, and the worship of relics were abolished. In accordance with his idea of the priesthood of all believers, Luther allowed his priests to marry (since everyone was now equal) and live the lives of ordinary men. The monastic orders were entirely dissolved. Luther himself married a former nun, fathered children, and lived out his life happy with his wife. The control of the Lutheran church was put into the hands of the state governments. That is, the individual princes of the individual German states – large and small – were responsible for overseeing the church in their areas.
By the late 1520’s the Holy Roman Empire was divided between cities and states that accepted Lutheranism and those that adhered to Roman Catholicism. Printing presses, traveling merchants and students spread the ideas of Luther outside of Saxony just as they had spread the ideas of the Renaissance outside of Italy. Lutheranism also took root outside of Germany, specifically in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. There were several reasons why Lutheranism spread within Germany and outside. As pointed out above, a great number of the German Princes were attracted to Luther’s teachings. Many were attracted due to sincere religious conviction. However, there were many secular reasons as well that appealed to the German leaders. First was the fact that they had long suffered under the burden of tithes being sent to the Italian-dominated Papacy. Luther’s call for the princes to lead their own churches was attractive because it meant that they could keep the revenue themselves that was flowing to Rome.
Also, with the dissolution of the monasteries, the princes were able to seize monastic and church properties, which also brought them a lot of revenue. Luther’s teaching of the equality of all believers also appealed to the princes and leaders in Germany. This meant that they were on the same footing with the Pope, which was a big boon for them since the Papacy had become increasingly active in secular affairs. Lutheranism took root especially quickly in the German cities. The reason for this was also partly economic – the church owned a lot of property in towns and both the church property and the clergy themselves were exempt from taxes and from civil control. They converted to Lutheranism partly so they could seize much of this church property and bring it once again under their control.
Before moving on to other reformers, we should pause and say a word about Martin Luther’s conservativism. We might read his ideas as championing the “little guy” against the big, bad Catholic Church but he is more complicated than that. Luther saw the role of ordinary Christians as challenging the Catholic Church, yes, but not resisting all forms of authority. He still believed in institutions (like churches), and in the power of kings to control the masses. This was rooted, at least in part, in his reliance on the German princes to support his reformation (and keep him alive). Therefore, when the German Peasants War broke out in 1524-1525, those peasant leaders who expected Luther to take their side against the feudal lords were grossly mistaken. Instead, Luther wrote a pair of pamphlets highly critical of the rebellious peasants, eager to cleanly separate conversations over reforming the practice of Christianity away from would-be discussions of upending the social order.
Less well-known than Luther and Calvin (see below) was Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), a Swiss Reformer and contemporary of Luther’s. Preaching in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1519, Zwingli made many of the same criticisms of the Catholic Church as Luther, arguing against indulgences, against superstitions, against clerical celibacy, against fasting, against relics, against venerating the saints, against performing pilgrimages, and against most of the sacraments. Similarly, to Luther, Zwingli essentially attacked the Catholic Church for teachings that had no basis in Scripture. Historians have argued over the degree to which Zwingli was influenced by Luther’s ideas (since Zwingli began preaching his message after Luther), or the degree to which Zwingli came to similar conclusions as Luther but did do independently.
One big difference between Zwingli and Luther was their understanding of the Eucharist, or communion (sometimes also called “the Lord’s Supper”). This was one of the few rituals from Catholicism that both reformers thought should remain in their respective congregations. In the Eucharist, a priest (or pastor, in the reformed traditions) blesses bread and wine to share with the congregation, as a way of reenacting the Last Supper as told in the Bible. According to the scriptures, Jesus asks his disciples to “do this in remembrance” of Jesus and his teachings, shortly before Jesus is arrested and executed. According to Catholic traditions, when the bread and wine were properly blessed by the priest, they literally became part of Jesus’s body and blood (this is how Jesus describes the bread and wine in the Bible). Thus, a miraculous transformation took place. Luther clung to this explanation, teaching that there was indeed a “real presence” of Christ’s body in the bread, whereas Zwingli believed there was only a “symbolic presence” in the bread. The Eucharist was one of the only two ritual (the other being baptism) that Luther and Zwingli both still thought were crucial to Christians receiving salvation, so this disagreement was a big deal to them and their followers.
Other differences between these two branches of the Reformation lay in church organization, where Luther was more hands-off than Zwingli. Zwingli believed that members of his church needed to be supervised (or policed, as it were) for their daily actions taken in furtherance or, or in contradiction to, the teachings of Christianity. This means a sort of religious court was established where church members could be put on trial for breaking church laws, and the magistrate (the city or state authorities) would then enforce the punishments handed down by the church authorities. Luther never developed something quite as complex, although he was firm in his directions that believers should obey the laws of their government and follow social customs already established. Similarly, to the way Luther’s teachings remained mostly in the German and Scandinavian lands, Zwingli’s teachings never really spread outside of Switzerland (which, itself, remained partly Catholic, and partly Reformed).
John Calvin (1509-1564) was another Swiss Reformer, originally from France but forced to flee religious persecution here, who settled in Switzerland and began preaching slightly later than both Luther and Zwingli, and whose message ultimately reached a much broader audience. Whereas Luther’s area of influence was limited mostly to the German lands and Scandinavia, Calvin’s ideas spread across the continent and beyond. Like Luther, Calvin was critical of many practices within the Church and was concerned over how Christians secured their entry into Heaven after their Earthly lives ended. Yet in his 1536 book, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin arrived at a much different answer. Human beings, argued Calvin, were so far removed from the power and majesty of God, that there was no action humans could take that would cause God to extend salvation to them and allow them entry into Heaven. Instead, those believers who did ultimately make it to Heaven must have been able to do so through no action on their own – only because God had chosen them.
This was the doctrine historians and theologians call predestination, the idea that God had made up his mind at the beginning of time whom to bring to Heaven and whom to send to Hell. Calvin was arguing that Christians could not take an action (whether expressing their faith or performing a good work) that would lead to either outcome, they could not change God’s mind. Those lucky few who were predestined to reach Heaven were the “Elect,” and those damned to Hell were the “Reprobate.” This marks a decisive difference in theology --- whether one agreed with Luther or with the Catholic Church, both of them understood Christian salvation to be an effect that the believer could cause to be secure, through faith or through good works, respectively. (To be fair, Luther did agree that those Christians who eventually gained entrance to Heaven would be known to God at the beginning of time; thus, they were pre-destined, but Luther rejected the idea of predestination to Hell.) Calvin was proposing an understanding of salvation that was radically different – only God knew what would happen, as the believers were powerless.
It was not all hopeless, however. This was because Calvin also taught that Christians who lived their lives according to a very drastic, stringent code of conduct, might be able to demonstrate that they were, indeed, members of the Elect. So Reformed Christians (as Calvinists were called) who refrained from dancing, drinking, wearing brightly colored clothing, singing, and similar actions; Reformed Christians who attended church regularly, who prayed, who studied the Bible, who worked hard at their trade or profession, who maybe enjoyed financial rewards or other material blessings on Earth due to their hard work – those were most likely to be the Christians who would make it into Heaven. (But they could never be sure.) Since people could never be sure, they needed to live their lives in a manner pleasing to God at all times, which meant not just governing their own choices but also trying to shape society around them to be pleasing to God, too.
Another big difference between Calvin and Luther was their respective ideas about the role of the Church in the world and how it should be organized. Calvin did not necessarily want princes or kings to oversee the Reformed Church (which is what Luther envisioned). Instead, Calvin set up a complex model of church governance, whereby local churches set up their own boards of governors (called presbyters), local churches chose their own pastors, and churches elected members to a consistory, which was a sort of morality court that could enforce discipline on church members for sinful actions. When it came to discussing questions of doctrine or the like, churches would send representatives to a synod, where questions affecting all the churches in this or that kingdom would be debated and decided. Churches would be organized into local, regional, and national synods. When Calvinist churches were in lands where most people were Calvinist, they would often rely on state authorities to enforce this discipline. In those places where Calvinism was a minority movement, these congregations could act on their own, and sometimes in defiance of their state authorities, with the conviction that they had a holy mission to carry out.
In addition to the movements inspired by Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin – who were each chiefly interested in clarifying questions of proper Christian belief and practice as it related to worshipping God and earning salvation, there were also protestants in the German lands who took Luther’s notion of the “priesthood of the believers" – the idea that all Christians were equal in the eyes of God – to its logical conclusion. This was the idea that all Christians should be the same on earth, just as they would be in heaven. Thus, political distinctions, economic disparities, notions of honor or social prestige, all of this should disappear. One group who espoused such ideas were the Anabaptists. These were mostly poor peasants who also believed that Christian believers should be re-baptized as adults, after they made a conscious decision to embrace the Christian faith. These Anabaptists sought to abolish all forms of hierarchy on earth, which included the notion of private property and even monogamous marriage. These radicals took over the German city of Münster in 1534 but only briefly, as the Prince of Hesse led an army to retake the city and crush the Anabaptists, killing many of their number.
English Reformation (Henrician Reformation)
The Protestant Reformation also spread to England, but it took quite a different course there. When Luther started writing and preaching his message, English King Henry VIII (1491-1547, r. 1509-1547) was staunchly opposed to those ideas and was even recognized by the Pope as a “Defender of the Faith.” While there had been several religious dissenters appear in England during the Medieval Era, who preached messages like Luther’s, the Protestant Reformation in England was primarily a political event that only later spurred religious effects. In fact, some historians prefer to call the Reformation of King Henry VIII less of a “reformation” and more of a “break with the Church in Rome.”
The issue at hand was not indulgences or abuses of power but royal succession. Henry the VIII needed a son to inherit his kingdom and was not successful having a son with his wife, Catherine of Aragon. Catherine of Aragon was a Spanish princess, whose brother was Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. Henry wanted the Pope to annul the marriage, since the Church did not permit divorce. Annulment would be a huge embarrassment for Catherine, and would anger Charles V, the Pope’s main protector, so the Pope did not go through with it. But this meant that Henry could not get married to another woman and have a son.
So, Henry tried to work around the Pope and asks the English Parliament to pass a series of laws to sever the legal relationship between the English government and the Catholic Church. This allows Parliament to create the Church of England, with Henry as its head (not the Pope). This, in turn, allows Henry to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn. Henry married her in secret before the break with the church was even finished. Ultimately, Henry did not get a son from this union, either, and famously had four more wives before ultimately dying and leaving his kingdom to his son, Edward VI. Parliament went along with this monumental change to support Henry’s dynastic goals, in exchange for Henry’s seizure of property belonging to the Catholic Church in England, which he then sold cheaply to members of Parliament. It was only after Henry’s death in 1547 that the English Reformation took on a more religious tone.
Edward VI (1537-1553. R. 1547-1553), Henry’s son introduced the Book of Common Prayer, which brought more Reformed (Calvinist) ideas into the Church of England. Up to then, the Church of England had remained more-or-less Catholic in its teachings and practices. Yet Edward only ruled for a short while, and when he died the throne went to his oldest half-sister, Mary. Mary Tudor (1516-1558, r .1553-1558) was the daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, which meant Mary was Catholic. So, England was thrust back to Catholicism, which included persecution of Calvinists, who were growing in number in England. Hence the moniker, “Bloody Mary.”
Mary only ruled until 1558, and when her half-sister Elizabeth (1533-1603, r.1558-1603), daughter of Henry and Anne Boleyn, ascended to the throne, England went back to Protestantism. Elizabeth tried to reconcile Catholics and Protestants in England through the “Elizabethan Settlement,” which reaffirmed the separation between the Church of England and Rome, and also offered a degree of toleration and inclusion of Catholicism and Catholics within the ranks of the Church of England congregations. Over time, more and more Reformed (Calvinist) teaching would inform the Church of England. Parallel to these changes, Catholic Scotland adopted Calvinist teachings through the reformation efforts of John Knox, a student of Calvin, who would create the Presbyterian Church in Scotland.
60-second Quiz #2. What were some of the major problems within the Catholic Church, and how did the different reformers address them?
The Catholic Church taught that faith alone was necessary for Christian salvation, and Luther argued that Good Works were necessary, too.
The Catholic Church taught the doctrine of predestination, and John Calvin taught the doctrine of indulgences instead.
The Catholic Church was hierarchically organized, and radical Protestants preached that all Christians were equal in the eyes of God, and should be equal on earth, too.
The Catholic Church allowed divorce, but Henry VIII of England opposed this teaching.
Wars of the Reformation
Local Confrontations in Germany, France, and elsewhere
It might seem hard for us to comprehend in 2020 but these questions of proper Christian belief and practice were a big deal in the Early Modern Era, so much so that they routinely sparked wars. Although, to be fair, there were plenty of political reasons for these wars hiding behind the religious ones. In Germany, Luther’s reformation ideas found a supportive audience among the German princes who were eager to promote their independence from the Holy Roman Emperor (see above). In 1523 some of these reform-minded princes gathered and issued a demand for Charles V to allow these princes and their territories leave the orbit of the Catholic Church and practice Lutheran Christianity. Under this plan assembled at the Diet of Speyer in 1526, these princes would technically still be vassals to the Holy Roman Emperor but would be allowed to take charge of the new (Lutheran) churches in their lands, including appointing officials to church offices and collecting revenues. At this point, the Holy Roman Emperor did not routinely exercise great power over these vassal princes anyway, so leaving the Catholic Church simply increased these rulers’ local authority.
In 1529 these princes went a step further and issued a “protest” to Charles V for not formally granting their request. (This is why we call the movement “Protestantism.”) Charles V did not support these princes’ wishes but was essentially too busy fighting wars in other places to deal with the princes. In response to this inaction, the princes formed the Schmalkaldic League, which was a military alliance among these Protestant princes, to be prepared to fight a war against Charles V. If Charles V could tolerate their religious protestations, he could not sit idly by while these vassals took up arms against him. The two sides fought from 1546 to 1547, with Charles V defeating the princes and appearing ready to destroy the Reformation while re-exerting authority over these German lands.
This political threat led some Catholic princes to now join their Protestant brethren, hoping to stave off an energized Holy Roman Emperor from encroaching on the customary independence of the local German princes. After a new round of war in 1551, Charles V negotiated a peace settlement in 1555, the Peace of Augsburg. The major concession in this peace treaty was the principle of cuius regio, eius religioso (“he who rules shall choose the religion). This principle established that the Protestant Reformation was not a temporary phenomenon but an established fact, and that these local rulers could not switch their religious alliances if they desired. (Note that this right to choose one’s religious preference was not available to regular peasants or even nobles – only the ruler of each country. Everyone else was compelled to follow their ruler’s choice.)
The Protestant Reformation also unleashes political strife in Spain, or at least the wider Spanish Empire. The Spanish provinces in the Netherlands adopted Calvinism and when Philipp II (1527-1598, r.1556-1598) became King of Spain, he attempted to reassert Catholicism and his own monarchical authority. This means increased taxes and bureaucracy, as well as attempts to root out heresy and Protestantism. The Dutch Netherlanders revolt in 1566, a struggle that did not end until 1609, but one that saw Dutch nobles and middle-class merchants receive assistance from Queen Elizabeth I of England (also Protestant, see above). This is the reason for the famous battle between the English navy and Spanish Armada in 1588. Philipp’s plan was to sail his armada up the English Channel, land in the Netherlands to pick up Spanish infantry, and then sail across the Channel to invade England. Quite the opposite transpires, as the English navy defeats the Spanish, which in turn begins a slow decline in Spanish power and the long rise in English naval power.
So, too, did the Protestant Reformation impact French politics. France had a special relationship with the Catholic Church, thanks to the Concordat of Bologna from 1516. This was an agreement that let the French kings receive taxes on Catholic Church property in France, as well as nominate French officials for senior Church positions in France, who would be then named to those position by the Pope. Thus, the French kings were keen to protect the position of Catholicism in France, to get the greatest advantage out of these special powers.
Yet by the 1540s, Calvinism has become somewhat popular in France. While far from a majority religious movement (only 7% of the French population embraces Calvinism), about 40% of the French nobility do so. In France, these Calvinists are called Huguenots, the propensity of nobles to convert to this Reformed faith is troubling to the French king. This is because the French kings had been trying to whittle away the powers of French nobles for centuries. This meant chipping away at rights and privileges left over from feudalism and adding to the power of the growing Absolute monarchy. If the nobles want to stick a thumb in the eye of a king whose power they resent, converting to Protestantism seems like an easy way to do it.
This tension does not add up too much until 1669, when then-king Henry II of France (1519-1559, r.1547-1559) died while his son was too young to take the throne. This situation looked like a good opportunity for those resentful French nobles to take power back from the monarchy, which leads to the French Civil War (1559-1589). This conflict is thus fought between different factions of French nobility who are on opposite sides of the Protestant Reformation (some are Catholic, others are Protestant), and who are at odds with the monarchy over how much power the monarchy should have over the nobility. The violence is brutal and only ends in 1589, when the French King (a different one – Henry III) dies and the next closest relative in line is Henry of Navarre, a Huguenot. To take the throne, Henry of Navarre (now referred to as Henry IV) converted to Catholicism, then issues the Edict of Nantes. This order grants religious toleration and equality under the law to Huguenots, while keeping Catholicism as the official religion. To keep themselves safe, Huguenots could retain several fortified cities and weapons, in case the violence returned.
These arguments over religious belief and practice, and their overlap into political rivalries and disagreements, coincided with the system of drastic changes in how Europeans conducted land warfare, often referred to as the “military revolution.” The introduction of gunpowder into European armies produced wide-reaching changes in offensive and defensive warfare, many of which were first applied during these wars of religion described above and below.
Gunpowder came to Europe from China. The Chinese developed it in the 11th century, and it appeared in Europe by the 13th century, although historians disagree over exactly how it travelled there. Siege warfare was impacted quickly by this new technology. During the medieval era, siege warfare (encircling an opponent’s castle with your own army, then waiting for them to starve or surrender) was common but the fortifications developed to defend against the medieval siege (high, thin walls to keep people out) were very poorly suited to defending against cannon. Once European armies had gunpowder, they could begin experimenting with deploying cannon against their rivals’ castles. The earliest cannons took a variety of forms, but the basic principles were either lobbing projectiles over the walls to kill enemies on the inside, or firing projectiles at the walls to penetrate them, allowing your army inside to kill the enemy.
As cannons became more widely adopted, European rulers had to modify their fortresses or develop new ones entirely. Besides being easily penetrated by cannon balls, medieval castle walls were also unsuited to holding cannon on their ramparts to (defensively) fire back at their attackers. Around the year 1500s, after the French army invaded and conquered much of Italy using cannon, northern Italian city-states develop new fortifications that had the appearance of a star pattern. These “star forts” or trace italienne forts (the more common name) involved walls laid out at irregular angles, to provide overlapping fields of defensive fire against approaching enemies from all sides. They also featured bastions large enough to hold defensive cannons to fire back, and the walls themselves were lower, thicker, and backed by extensive earth works. This last feature meant that even if the walls were breached, the earth behind them would absorb the shock of cannonballs and hold the wall up, preventing the breach from opening further and allowing enemy infantry into the fort. And of course, the army defending the fortress would likely deploy gunpowder weapons (cannon or muskets) to their troops on the ramparts, to prevent the enemy from scaling the walls.
Gunpowder made a huge different on the open battlefield, too, of course. Before gunpowder weapons, the heaviest, deadliest element on the European battlefield was heavy cavalry. These were the knights on horseback from the medieval era and they did not change much over the centuries. Basically, the heavy cavalry would charge the enemy’s infantry and either trample them, lance them, or cut them down with their swords. That is, of course, if the enemy’s infantry did not break ranks and run away first. By the 1500s, European armies had figure out how to defend their infantry against heavy cavalry: the Swiss Pike Phalanx. The Swiss developed this tactic from defending themselves against outside invaders in the late 15th century. Essentially these are square formations of pikemen trained to hold their pikes at the prober angle in the face of charging horses and armored men with swords and lances. Either the cavalry would disengage, or they would impale themselves on the pikes. Some Swiss commanders added halberds (large axes with hooks opposite the axe-head), with the pikemen stopping the horses and the axe men killing the horses, pulling the cavalrymen off their horses to kill them, or both. The entire pike phalanx would be trained to march around the battlefield, allowing them to respond to the enemy cavalry’s movements as needed.
These pike formations were a logical place to find gunpowder on the battlefield. European armies experimented with different types of gunpowder muskets deployed adjacent to the lines of pikes. The pikes could still provide protection from cavalry but now the muskets could engage that cavalry (or other enemy units) from range. This becomes known as the pike-shot block, with the “shot” being the musketeers on the outside of the square, who could fire then retreat inside the pike lines when threatened by cavalry. This worked well defensively but the pike formations were unable to catch the cavalry and defeat them on the battlefield. A breakthrough was the development of the countermarch in 1594 by Maurice of Nassau (1567-1625), the Dutch commander leading their war against the Spanish (see above). This innovation was a way of training the musketeers to line up, fire, then turn and march to the back of their rank while reloading, allowing the musketeers to deliver a continuous volley of fire against the enemy, preventing them from charging their cavalry. These musketeers would still be protected by pikemen and both would spend hours drilling (practicing their movements) to be able to perform like a precision machine on the battlefield. By the late 17th century, the pikes would be replaced by socket bayonets mounted to the ends of the muskets, meaning the musketeers could function as both shot and pike at the same time.
This countermarch system of pike and shot would be used to great success, along with mobile field artillery and cavalry, by Gustavus Adolphus in the Thirty Years’ War (see below). These changes in warfare would mean armies and wars themselves suddenly became much more expensive. This is because the equipment and training required for the infantry, as well as the purchasing of cannons and construction of enormous new fortifications. Thus larger, wealthier states would be those most able to shoulder the costs, which enhances the powers of such states. At the same time, gunpowder armies would become much larger, as they needed more soldiers to fill out all the roles and to be able to lay siege to the new (larger) trace italienne forts. This meant that these larger armies would be much more damaging to countryside, seizing more food, plundering more wealth, threatening more civilians. Thus, warfare would exact a much higher cost on soldiers and civilians alike in the gunpowder age.
The church Responds: Catholic Reformation and Counterreformation
You may be wondering about the actual Catholic Church – how was it responding to the threat posed by Protestantism? Periodically during the Middle Ages, a heretic would pop up and begin preaching against the pope his authority. The popes usually dealt with such challenges by having these individuals seized and burned at the stake (or something similar). Yet in the 1520s, Pope Leo X was so caught off-guard by Luther’s movement that he was not quite sure what to do with Luther (besides brand him a heretic).
The Catholic Church did try to shore up its position in those areas of Europe where Protestantism seemed absent or, at least, unpopular. This meant that the Church looked to Spain and France to help defend the faith and stop the spread of Protestantism. And yet, by the 1530s, there were leaders within the Church who called for reforms to address those areas of the Protestants’ critique(s). The result was the Council of Trent.
Council of Trent (1545-1558)
The Council of Trent was a large, long, deliberative meeting of bishops, cardinals, and some lay (i.e. non-clergy members) intellectuals within the Catholic Church. During this conference, these Church leaders denounced Protestantism, declared the correctness of Catholic Doctrine, but also tried to find areas where the Catholic Church could actually benefit from some reforms that would prevent disgruntled Catholics from fleeing to the Protestant churches. While the Council of Trent defended the concept of Good Works as a way for Christian believers to attain salvation, they also defended the doctrine of papal supremacy, they defended the seven sacraments, and they denounced predestination.
At the same time, the Council of Trent also issued some new rules to try to correct those areas of abuse or aggravation that was causing (in their eyes) Catholics to turn to Protestantism. Here is a partial list of some of the more important changes to come out of this Council:
Ending the sale of appointment to church offices (also called simony),
Increasing the level of training and education for clergy members (so they could perform their duties more effectively),
Discouraging clergy from leading worldly lives (usually meaning being more concerned with attaining riches and luxury than with serving the church),
Ending bishopric absenteeism,
Teaching a new catechism (which is a statement of the basic elements of Catholic faith; this was meant to better communicate to Catholic believers what the Church taught),
Encouraging a deeper level of commitment to following the Church’s teachings in everyday life, for both clergy and for the laity,
Ending the sale of indulgences (although the Church still granted indulgences)
So, the Council of Trent was, in essence, a series of reforms handed down from the senior levels of the Catholic Church to the rest of the Church, meant to re-establish discipline and unity in the face of the Protestant Challenge. However, there were also other reform movements within the Catholic Church that grew from the lower levels upward to the top.
Society of Jesus (Jesuit Order)
The Jesuits were a religious order created by Spanish noble Ignatius Loyola in 1540, also as a response to the challenge of the Protestant Reformation. Loyola had been a soldier, but an injury ended his military career. He turned his attention to religious service and founded this order of priests and writing a book, Spiritual Exercises (1541), which was a sort of guidebook for these priests (but also other readers, even lay people) to find a closer, more emotional, relationship with God and with the Catholic Church. Thus, the Jesuit Order turned out to be an organization of priests who were intensely loyal to the Papacy, and who would travel about and fight back against the forces of Catholicism. This usually meant fighting metaphorically, like debating with Protestant theologians. The Jesuits were highly education and well-trained, which complemented their intense loyalty to the Catholic Church and the Papacy such that the Jesuits were an effective force in containing the spread of Protestantism in the late 16th century.
Thirty Years War
The Thirty Years' War was a religious war fought between 1618 and 1648, principally on the territory of today's Germany, and involved most of the major European continental powers. Although it was from the outset a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics, the rivalry between the Habsburg dynasty and other powers was also a central motive, as shown by the fact that Catholic France (under the de facto rule of Cardinal Richelieu) supported the Protestant side in order to weaken the Habsburgs, thereby furthering France's position as the pre-eminent continental power. This increased the France-Habsburg rivalry which led later to direct war between France and Spain.
Why do they have a conflict, you might ask? After all, hadn’t we figured all this out back in 1556 with the Peace of Augsburg? Well, as it turns out, the Peace of Augsburg recognizes only Lutherans. But Western Germany (Palatinate) is Calvinist and Prince of the Palatinate is an Electoral-Prince. So, we have yet more religious division, affecting politically important rulers and territories. Beyond the Calvinists getting involved, the Reformation generation of 1555 was replaced by a MUCH more militant generation who were not interested in compromise. Once again, we see the formation of military/defensive alliances on confessional grounds. Now it’s the Protestant Union led by the Prince Elector of the Palatinate, Frederick IV (with Dutch, French and English support) versus the Catholic League, led by the Prince of Bavaria, Duke Maximilian (with Spanish and HRE support).
In 1617-1618, the Calvinist nobility in Bohemia (present-day Czech Republic but part of the HRE at that time) feared that a strong HRE Ferdinand II (Charles V’s brother) would try to roll back Calvinism and consolidate political control over the German lands. This fear led these nobles to revolt and reject Ferdinand II as their Emperor, setting off a conflict. The infamous moment was the “Defenestration of Prague,” where the Bohemians threw Ferdinand’s ministers out of a window. It sounds silly, but it has enormous consequences. Ferdinand declared null and void the consensus of 1556 by invading and conquering rebellious German territories, seizing lands, and expanding Catholicism by force of arms. In 1629, the Edict of Restitution outlawed Calvinism and restored to the Catholic Church all lands taken from it by Protestant princes and cities over the past 75 years. This prompts Swedish, Danish, and eventually, French Intervention to stop the Habsburg HRE from undoing the Reformation and its religious settlement.
The fighting in the Thirty Years War was in some ways a showcase for those changes brought by the “Military Revolution” (see above). Both sides primarily used mercenary armies who had little concern for anyone's rights or property, and there was a much higher than normal death rate among the civilian population, as episodes of widespread famine and disease. During the war, Germany's population was reduced by 30%; in the territory of Brandenburg, the losses had amounted to 50%, while in some areas to an estimated 67%of the population. Germany’s male population was reduced by almost half. The Swedish armies alone destroyed 2,000 castles, 18,000 villages and 1,500 towns in Germany, the number represented one-third of all German towns.
The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) ends the war. What do they decide? They end up back where they started with the Peace of Augsburg. The principle of “cuius region, eius religioso” is reaffirmed but now extended to include Calvinism. Also, the peace party allows all princes to conduct their own foreign policy. So, this is really the end of the myth of the “Holy Roman Empire,” and the end of any dream of a consolidated Germany (until the 19th century). Furthermore, princes are now more firmly in control of their own foreign affairs, and no longer realistically expected to take orders from the Papacy on how to react to international crises. In fact, the Pope is not even invited to the peace talks, meaning that religion was becoming separated from politics, a trend that would continue into the modern era.
Pause for 60-Second Quiz #3. How did conflicts over religion become conflicts over politics during the Reformation? Which of the following statements is NOT true?
Protestantism challenged the basis of the Holy Roman Empire and its ruler’s authority
Protestantism gave a rationale for political revolts in certain contexts
Catholic leaders promoted peaceful acceptance, but Protestants attacked them
Political disagreements gave a rationale for conversion to Protestantism, in some contexts.
Key for 60-second Quizzes:
D. the Scientific Revolution took place after the Protestant Reformation
C. the opposite was true: Henry VIII wanted a divorce, but the Catholic Church would not permit it.
C. while some Catholics may have preferred peace, most Catholic rulers were no less inclined to militant advocacy for their faith than were Protestant ones.
Primary Source Exercise
After you have read the two primary sources listed above (as well as Chapter 4), answer the following questions, based on what you have learned so far:
What do you think is important to know about the author of these two texts? What can you learn from the words each wrote on their pages? What can you infer or piece together from the background information in the textbook chapter? Why is this important?
What were each author’s goals in writing their texts? To whom did they address them? What purpose did they serve? Can you point to one or more examples to support this analysis?
What, if any, hidden assumptions can you detect in each text? That is, can you find word choices, phrasing, innuendo, or other examples of the authors’ (explicit or implicit) bias with regard to the subject matter? Does this bias (or these assumptions) affect how you understand and react to the authors’ words? Why or why not?