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The Protestant and Catholic Reformations


The Protestant and Catholic Reformations had an enormous impact on Europe, not only in the religious realm, but additionally in the political and social structures, during the 16th and 17th centuries. The consequences of these religious confrontations were a series of bloody wars throughout Europe. Every stratum of society, religious, military and political suffered division and the creation of new religious organizations such as Lutheranism and Reformed churches. But, like every important break point or change in history, we have to understand that there was a background of confrontation between the Church and different groups and leaders that preceded Martin Luther, the central figure or leader who triggered one of the most significant changes in the history of the Western civilization society. The purpose of this paper is to understand the causes of Reformation in Western Civilization and the birth of new religious concepts and ideas.

How could the Roman Catholic Church´s authority be challenged in such an unprecedented way?

Religious feuds started and, after all these centuries, still last. In a certain way, the Church’s role as an intermediary was not needed anymore. The grace of God could be approached through a more personal bond with him. Many no longer saw the Pope as God’s right hand and, instead, started to see him as an exploiter. Worshipers from every social stratum thought that Rome was more an institution that cared about making money, than leaning to the spiritual necessities of his disciples. All over Europe- the Electorate of Saxony, small stets of central Europe, Switzerland, England- the masses started to believe less in the Church and Christian unity was broken.

Even religion itself was questioned. This anticlerical feeling spread quickly throughout Europe. In response to the newfound spiritual awakening experienced by many, Europe began to see the birth of new religious teachers and groups all over. Names like John Calvin, Erasmus, Sir Thomas More, among others, became familiar to many. There is a significant paradox in the whole Reformation/Roman Catholic confrontation. Despite the fact that Roman Catholic Church was powerful, Martin Luther and John Calvin were the only two men who were able to ignite a wick that is still burning today. Throughout this paper, we will try to demonstrate the causes that led to such an enormous religious, political and social upheaval.


For my paper about the causes of the Reformation in Europe, I will be using bibliographic sources mainly from our Sawyer History database, and I also plan to use proven Internet sources. I have been browsing through different journals, books and articles for the American Sociological Association, Cambridge Histories Online, Monergism.com, the Andrews Studies in Reformation History, World History in Context and the History Guide. I have chosen individual sources based, first, on a broad historical view of the causes of Reformation and the context of its historical, religious and political moment. Other sources will give me a more detailed aspect of the thesis.

I had a first look through the history of Reformation between the periods of 1520-1600.  I also ran through the expansion of the Reformation and the history of Christianity from XVI to XVII century. In order to understand what happened, I was interested in reading something related to the uprising: the strata involved, who were the insurgents and how it developed. I also wondered what role young people had those days; whether the students had something to do with this turning point in history. For this idea, I found and interesting article in the American Sociological Association.

I have been frothing through the web and also found  fascinating materials in IIIM Magazine Online or Preservearticles.com that focus on more detailed facts such as the economics in those days or even aspects like a certain melancholy in the society of the XVI century that could also work as a matter of booster to change the religious, political and social system of Europe and the world.


Europe’s societal structure in the time of reformation was characterized by differences in terms of religious lines caused by the growing protests against the Roman Catholic Church. European politics before the time of reformation was a preserve of the Roman Catholic Church which drew a way forward for the Europe’s societies and governments at that time. England under the kingship of Henry the VIII used to observe the papacy of the Catholic Church. The answerability of Henry’s kingship to the Catholic Church took a drastic turn when the papacy refused Henry’s intention to divorce his wife-Catherine and be allowed to remarry because she could not bear him a son who becomes his heir. The move therefore led to the crackdown of the Catholic Church in England; following the king’s directives, Catholic Church’s wealth and possessions were impounded by the king. In the quest to have a church that will not deny him to divorce and remarry, king Henry the VIII formed the Church of England which became the church of choice for the English society.

German society was not spared either by the sweeping wave of change against Catholicism; Martin Luther an iconic figure led the pack of reforms throughout Germany. Just like the English, the German structure was characterized by the leadership of Catholicism. Luther’s role in Germany did not only lead to the shock waves across German Catholic structure. The infamous 95 theses published by Luther became the genesis and the cause of widespread protestation against the Catholic structure. The main concern raised by Luther was the issue of paying the money to the Catholic Church so as to be forgiven the sins through the intervention of the papacy, which Luther interpreted as going against the principles of the doctrines (Keller 123).

Luther further noted that the central authority in which Christians ought to observe and obey is the Bible – the scriptures rather than the interpretations or the leadership of the pope. The differences sparked a lot of protests which later led to the killings of almost 40% of German citizens. The two main opposing sides included: those against the Catholic Church inspired by Luther’s position about the church, and also those who led the reformation of the Catholic Church. The protests prompted the Catholic Church to reform under the papacy of Pope Paul III. The church sought to absolve itself from the allegations of corruptions and papacy lusts (The Cambridge History of Christianity Volume 6: Reform and Expansion 1509).

In the move to achieve this, the Catholics came up with the Society of Jesus, or simply the Jesuits (1534) their main aim was to counter the reformation of the church. The Jesuits became the main body which undertook persecutions of reformers and retaliation; they were also killed by the reformers. The Jesuits also constituted the missionaries who were sent out by the Catholic Church to undertake the missionary work around the world. Swiss and France societies were not spared by the strong wave of reformation across Europe, in Switzerland; Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) and John Calvin through the inspiration of Disiderius Erasmus (1456-1536) teachings and also Luther’s doctrine of 1541 spread the word of reformation throughout Switzerland and Scotland.

The strata for the reformation were witnessed through the splinter groups that emerged as a form of protest against the Catholic Church. The stratum began with the emergence of Lutherans under the leadership of Luther, and then the Church of England formed by the English king then, King Henry VIII, other significant protestants of the time were the reformed church, Anglicanism, Methodism, Adventism, Pentecostalism and orthodoxies. The emergence and these splinter groups led to the spread of Christianity throughout the world. The changes that the reformers portray include: the removal of Mary as a saint or simply a call for the intercession of saints; the Bible was recognized as the only central authority in which the sermons are made and preached; and also the fact that they do not recognize is that there has to be a saint to intercede for a Christian, but every Christian can reach to God direct without having to seek for anybody’s intervention (Hyo 77).


Religious: In the dispensation of change the church suffered from a number of ungodly systems that significantly threatened the good church standing and the church members. The whole structure of the church right down from the priests up to the Pope was involved in impropriety and corruption. They took the keen interest on politics while neglecting their diocesan call of service. A number of the clergymen had amassed enormous material possession and were living a luxuri­ous life.

The clergymen often involve themselves in hunting activities and dissipating parties and completely overlooked their primary duties, the call to serve. In brief the Church consisted of ‘unholy individuals in holy orders’. Usually, the clergy traded using the church.. They had come up with a number of deeds for this determination. Thus, the ordinance office was overtly sold and quite conflicting men were designated as leaders.

The clergymen tried to make significant money as practicable and issued indulgences liberally or forgivement certificates against payment. This system of issue of indulgences adversely brought criticism and was labelled as the ‘payment for warrant to commit sin’.

Masses were also unhappy and dissatisfied with the leadership of the Pope and church. This proved that they were completely unhappy with the unending corrupt practices in the church and also the critical grounds for which the church taxed helpless innocent men but also condemned its intervention in the materialistic reasons.

This led them to earnestly look for individual to provide them with a reason for a demonstration of revolt against the leadership of the church. The other leaders extremely stayed unhappy with Pope’s patronage and vehemently protested against Papal intermeddling in the issues of politics affecting their countries. Hence their willingness to give assistance to any movement that was propelled against the authorization of the Pope.

Economic Causes:

The coming up of powerful middle classes also significantly hastened reformation process. Protests against the old church domination entirely made up of the upper class of people continued by the middle class church goers. The upper classes primarily administered the old church in a way to protect their own interests. People who were artisans, lawyers, merchants, doctors and other professionals in the middle class received cold welcome form these clergy.

Further, the so called intermediate levels greatly never liked the practice of taxation by the clergy. They had no option other than to pay their taxes thereby sparing the church leaders of the time. The middle class hoped to separate the church from the wealthy class and lead it in the right direction without looking down upon anyone at all. In their desire, they hoped to care for both the weak and strong across all classes. Also all European royalties are not happy of the way the pope lead the religious group and claimed their outlay of revenue in a considerable manner. Besides, the ordinary people were uninterested with the clergy who ate into their pockets through burdensome demands and hardly exchanged anything for the contributions.

Political Causes:

The emergence of new States and kingship that majored in establishment of their kingdoms absolutely contributed to significant reformation. Various Monarch representations like Henry VII viewed church dominance as a severe check on their authority because it was in differently working outside their authorities and the church property was spared from taxation by the royals.

Further still, Bishops provided the administration of equity in the ordinance in according to the Canon Law. Flowing of vast sums of wealth from the country’s revenue reserves into the treasury of the papal administration was their own conviction. This is the greatest reason for the leaders to utilize the chance offered by pedagogies of Martin Luther, Wycliffe and other reformers challenging the church’s influence with a particular view of strengthening their power in the country.

Protestant churches were established in several municipalities of the Germany and people were told to respect its authority. Their leaders accepted to respect other authorities especially the political ones. Areas where the protestant churches were planted included many German principalities, in Holland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and England.

New Learning and Spirit of Enquiry

The spirit of learning and inquiry was renewed and set in rolling by the Renascence also significantly contributed to the Rehabilitation. Assertively, people began to acquaint themselves against blind beliefs and dysfunctional religious rituals and commenced.

Additionally, their reasoning made them critically thoughtful of their prevailing practices and selling their indulgences in terms of pardon certificates, non-enforcement morality codes among the known clergy, papacy interferences in the affairs of the secular nature.

Schism in Church:

Schism in the church during the fifteenth century in a significant manner lowered their prestigious lifestyle. Instead of electing one pope to lead the church, they began electing two. One was elected by the French cardinals whereas another one got elected by the Italian cardinals.

As a result, the pope’s prestige greatly got undermined and the physiques lost faith and veneration for the divine institution. Could the people really serve two gods? The things were more hampered when the Cardinals in 1409 through a common convening decided to select a third Pope. This is supported as the Great Schism of Western.

Undoubtedly, this Schism was joined when the Constance Council dethroned all the existing popes and elected a Pope in a fresh manner. However, the new developments certainly weakened the church powers and prestige.

Considering the fact that the leadership of the reform during the 16th and 17th centuries was predominantly young: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and Disiderius Erasmus among others, the personalities began their protests against the Catholicism. They also were learned, given that they were scholars and professors of various universities. It can, therefore, be concluded that through their representation, young people in the time were centrally involved in the reformation of the church. Counter reformers, popularly known as the Jesuits who were majorly involved in the missionary work of the reformed Catholic Church, also constituted the youth (Arnold 110). They took part in the erection of schools, health facilities and churches in several parts of the world.


From the historical revisit that the paper has presented, it is right noting that the protestations and Catholic reformations are far from over. The events witnessed in the mid-16th centuries and the whole of 17th century culminating to insurgencies and killings that took place in the early 18th century show that the protestation and reformation is an ongoing processes. The insurgency witnessed in the 18th century that sent the shock wave of killings happened simply due to the different ideas raised by Luther claiming that Catholics, and more specifically the papacy, were antichrist. This has an implicative translation even to the modern churches that still have reservations about the Catholic papacy.

Works Cited

Arnold, Jack L. The causes and result of Reformation.March 14, 1999. IIIM Magazine Online.

Web. 9 March 2015

Hyo Jung Kima and Steven Pfaff. Structure and Dynamics of Religious Insurgency:

Students and the Spread of the Reformation, April 2012. American Sociological

Review. Web. 9 March 2015

Keller, Adolf. American Society of Church History, Cambridge University Press. Web. 10


  1. Holt, Mack. The Social History of The Reformation. 2003, Journal of Social History (133-

144) Web. 10 March, 2015

Protestant Reformation.Renaissance, 2004, World History in Context. Web. 19, Feb.


The Cambridge History of Christianity Volume 6: Reform and Expansion 1500–1660, 2007.

Cambridge Histories Online. Web. 9 March 2015.

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