The Reformation and Wars of Religion--1

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Optional Enrichment site: Eugen Weber's The Western Tradition-- scroll down to "The Reformation" (#27)
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Scroll down to about 17:20 where Professor Weber introduces Luther
The Bangles: Martin Luther
Cloud Biography of Martin Luther < >

The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century shook Western Europe to its very foundations, affecting religious institutions, beliefs, and practics. It shattered the fabric of political and social life. Challenging the Catholic Church's monopoly on salvation, its claim to "no salvation outside the Church" and "no salvation without the sacraments," Luther*--and all early Protestants--based their religions on the BIBLE and FAITH: these two comprised the pillars of Protestantism. The Reformation ignited a century of religious and political warfare, after which Western Europe was never the same.

*Euro students--take note of the role that thoughtful theologians like Servetus
played in the lead-up to 1517, as well as the commercial-financial back story
to 16th century politics and society.


Erasmus of Rotterdam, a Christian Humanist of the North, was himself offended by the abuses of Renaissance popes such as Alexander VI, Julius II, and Leo X. He used his pen and the printing press in his influential In Praise of Folly to mock the abuses and the abusers. He called upon the Church to reform itself. He never intended an attack on the faith or doctrine; he did not intend to destroy the Roman Catholic Church; he did not support Luther in his determined efforts to do all of the above. However, Erasmus, as some historians like to quote, "laid the egg that Luther hatched." By drawing attention to the abuses in the Renaissance Church's highest echelons, Erasmus focused attention on them and prepared the way for Luther.*

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*see Palmer, et al., 10th or 11th edition, p. 72

The Reformation began when Martin Luther posted the "Ninety Five Theses" in Wittenburg, Saxony, Holy Roman Empire. According to legend, he tacked his ninety-five criticisms on the door of the Castle Church on the Eve of All Saints' Day, that is, October 31, 1517. According to the story, he knew that the entire village or congregation of Wittenburg would attend religious services on All Saints' Day. Apparently historians now believe that this legend, like that of George Washington and the cherry tree might be a myth. However, when I visited Wittenberg in the summer of 2005, the local guide pointed out the door and insisted that the event really happened. In any event, Luther's attack on the sale of indulgences opened the floodgates to a deluge (avalanche?) that would sweep across the continent. Luther began the Protestant Revolution.*

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*see Palmer, et al. 10th or 11th edition, pp. 79-80 for Luther's theology
"justification by faith" and "sanctification by grace"
p. 81 for confrontation with Leo and Chas. V
For more than you probably want to know about Luther:
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In the 2003 movie, Luther, starring Joseph Fiennes, you may see the scene
where the corruption of Renaissance Rome offended Luther

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Tetzel and indulgences < >


For a millennium prior to Luther's "bombshell," the Roman Catholic Church offered Europeans salvation and provided the ethical, moral, spiritual glue that held society together. An institution of enormous influence, wealth, power, and prestige, the Church also oversaw charitable and educational activities; it sanctioned the feudal relationships; it gave Western Europe its fundamental unity. By the 16th century, in the heyday of the Renaissance, men of deep religious faith and conviction competed with men of secular and political ambition for high-ranking positions in the Church, such as Bishop, Archbishop, Cardinal, Pope. In 1517, Pope Leo X* (né Giovanni d'Medici) authorized the sale of a papal indulgence to finance the construction of the dome on the basilica of St. Peter's in Rome. Dominican Friar Johannes Tetzel, arrived in Saxony selling these indulgences, that is, offering salvation for a financial donation. ( left, Raphael's portrait of Leo X)


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*see Palmer, et al., 10th or 11th edition, pp. 55, 74, 80-81
Ref. seminar will address Leo v. Chas V as well as Leo v. Luther
Leo v. Luther < >


Father Tetzel arrived in Saxony selling the indulgences, offending Luther's deep religious faith by, literally, offering salvation for money. He even had a catchy little slogan, "When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs." Luther was outraged; Tetzel's sales' trip was the catalyst that launched his religious revolution!

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Meanwhile, Luther found personal salvation in the Bible and Faith, without the Church, though he himself took holy orders as a young man. The arrival of Tetzel, selling a papal indulgence to finance the renovation of St. Peter's basilica, led Luther to "go public" and nail his "Ninety Five Theses" on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg.

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Luther's ideas--justification by faith, sanctification by the grace of God, priesthood of the individual Christian--galvanized a generation of northern Europeans into demands for first reform of and then destruction of the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time, peasants, paying taxes to Church and state erupted in rebellion all across central Europe, committing acts of violence and vandalism against Church buildings and Church personnel. The Duke-Elector of Saxony, Frederick the Wise--Luther's patron--used the religious upheaval both to declare for Lutheranism and to wage war against his political overlord, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. It was Duke Frederick who rescued Luther, holding him in protective custody where he could translate the New Testament into German while civil war wracked the land.

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In a Lutheran church, hymns based upon Biblical sources, are sung: Luther
composed the words to "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," a kind of battle hymn of the Reformation.

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If you want to know more about Martin Luther, visit PBS website
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Before the Pope acted or the Church took action to discipline the "heretic monk," Holy Roman Emperor Charles V summoned the Diet of Worms in 1521 to proceed against "the notorious heretic" and traitor, Martin Luther. Ruling over a vast, diverse, heterogeneous hodge-podge of peoples, Charles V saw Catholicism as the "glue" to bind his lands and peoples into one seamless whole. The more Charles V worked to enforce Catholicism over HRE, the more princes like Frederick of Saxony turned to Lutheranism--for both spiritual (salvation) and secular (political) reasons.

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See youtube clip (below) for movie version of Luther at the Diet of Worms
Joseph Fiennes stars as Luther in the film Luther and confronts accusers at Worms:
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Diet of Worms, Palmer, p. 81 and Ref. seminar
For more on Chas V. and Hapsburg problems, Palmer, p. 76

HRE erupted into religious and political civil war between Protestants and Catholics. It raged for a generation, engulfing almost all of continental Europe. Charles V (right) led the Catholic forces; French Catholic King Francis I (left) led the Protestant forces (!) The Catholic Popes, Leo X and his Medici cousin Clement VII, initially sided with France. Thus, the Protestant Princes (Duke/Elector Frederick of Saxony) had Catholic allies, though they were fighting Catholic HRE and Spain. Both France and the Popes feared Charles politically although they agreed with his militant Catholicism religiously. Think about that for a few minutes! Charles V (of the Holy Roman Empire [HRE]) and Spain (only two of his many crowns) faced off against Catholic Francis I* and his Protestant allies.

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*Euro students--remember that Francis I pretty much controlled the
French Catholic church after a papal deal, the Concordat of Bologna, 1515.

Hapsburg domains
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For thirty years, the "Protestant Princes" (led by Catholic France) waged religious and political war against the Catholic-Hapsburg-Imperial Absolutism of Charles V. Charles relied on specie from his Spanish galleons to finance his wars; the Protestant Princes could count on allies who also feared a Catholic/Hapbsurg "universal monarchy." Catholic France sided with the Protestant Princes out of fear of being squished between Hapsburg Spain/Netherlands and Hapsburg HRE. The leader of the Protestant "gang," as noted above, was Francis I of France. In these Wars of Religion, Suleyman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire, also feared Charles V; he, the leading Islamic prince and caliph, sided with the Protestant Princes and Catholic France. The Wars of Religion (phase I) ended in 1555 with the Peace of Augsburg according to which each HRE prince could choose--between Lutheranism and Catholicism--what would be the sole religion of his principality. This religious compromise weakened Charles V politically as he had no "glue" to hold his diverse territories/subjects together. After thirty years of warfare, both sides compromised at Augsburg in the interest of peace. Three generations later, the sides formed up again in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648.) The princes still got to choose, but Calvinism was added as a choice at the Peace of Westphalia, 1648.

image source left/Francis I < >
image source right/Suleyman < >

While Charles V battled the Protestant Princes of HRE on both spiritual (religious) and secular (political) fronts, the Reformation spread to other parts of Europe. In France, John Calvin*, extended and expanded Lutheran ideas with his new Protestant faith, Calvinism. Calvin's main ideas--Predestination, the Elect, and Theocracy--expanded on some of Luther's ideas and further undermined the political order. Calvin published his ideas in the Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536. The Catholic kings of France drove Calvin and his supporters out of the land; Calvin set up his religious utopia in the friendlier (!?)** environs of Geneva. Think about how ironic this is, considering that the French kings were all Catholic. Their policy boiled down to support of Catholicism inside of France; support of Protestantism outside of France.

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*Palmer, 85-86
**Geneva did not seem friendly to Servetus! Calvin sent Servetus to the stake in 1553.
Cloud Biography John Calvin < >

Calvinist churches or meetinghouses, even though many of them were converted from former Catholic churches, had a bare, stripped down interior with minimal visual decoration to detract the worshipper from hearing the word of God. The pulpit, from which the minister delivered his sermons, was in a prominent location. The Congregationalist chapel depicted (right) is in Massachusetts. You will recall from APUSH that English Calvinist puritans built their "shining city on the hill" in Massachusetts Bay.

image source < >

Contrast the Calvinist meeting house with Bernini's flamboyant Baldocchino in the Basilica of St. Peter's in Rome
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Soaring sacred music, often derived from the Book of Psalms in the
Old Testament, became part of the worship service. A Calvinist favorite was
"Old Hundred," which praised the Lord and blessed His name. Below is
the version from the King James Bible:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
 Serve the Lord with gladness: come before
His presence with singing.   
Know ye that the Lord He is God, it is He
that hath made us, and not we ourselves,
we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
and into His courts with praise:
be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.
For the Lord is good: His mercy is everlasting;
and His truth endureth to all generations.
Psalm 100

Now listen to it being performed
you may recognize the music as the Doxology;
the opening words of the hymn are a variation of the psalm above,
"All people that on earth do dwell..."
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Optional additional resource
John Calvin (French, as you recall) and Geneva
as narrated by Ken Curtis of the Christian History Institute

Advance cursor to 1:30
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it continues
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In France, the Calvinist nobles called Huguenots battled the Catholic kings for their own thirty years of religious and political civil war. Like the Protestant Princes in HRE, the Huguenot nobles interpreted the religious choice in a political context. The kings (François I, Henri II, François II, Charles IX, Henri III) enforced religious uniformity: one king, one faith, one law. Unable to practice their religion freely, the Huguenots saw royal policies as political oppression, not unlike the Pilgrims who fled England a generation or so later. In 1589, the French Wars of Religion ended as the throne literally fell into the lap of Henri Bourbon*, King of Navarre, a staunch Huguenot. King Henri IV, looked at his blood-drenched land, that was, in addition, overwhelmingly Catholic. With the quip, "I do not want to be king over a graveyard," and "Paris is well worth a mass," he converted to Catholicism (1593) and announced the Edict of Nantes (1598.) Like Charles V's Peace of Augsburg, he compromised. The Edict of Nantes established Catholicism as the official religion of France but allowed Huguenots to practice their religion without interference and guaranteed their rights as French citizens. Henri IV did not want to "peer into men's consciences." He, like his great contemporary, Elizabeth, was a politique, a practical man of the world rather than one of deep religious conviction. (sounds like O-P-U-P+S to me.)

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*Palmer, 40, 132, 133-134

Henri IV, reigned 1589-1610
Edict of Nantes, 1598

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For a discussion of the English Reformation, follow link
[ English Reformation ]

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