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The Reformation 1517–1648

Class Recording

By the 1400’s it had become evident that the Roman Catholic Church was in trouble. Countries had began to emphasize nationalism over religion and were often times at war with one another. The Church had become quite corrupt and the office of the Pope had become a political prize to be won.

The Renaissance had brought great changes to the culture.

There was a larger emphasis on education and faith which lead to less emphasis on the Sacraments.

Desiderius Erasmus published his book Praise of folly, which was a satirical criticism of the Holy Roman Church. He also published a Greek New Testament.

Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press allowed the bible and other books to be printed and made available to the masses.

There were three aspects to the reformation:

Classical reformation – These are the people that we think of when we think of Reformers, Luther, Knox, Calvin. They maintained the union of Church and State. 

Radical reformation – (Anti-Baptists) They separated the church from the state.

Counter reformation – (Roman Catholic Response) The internal cleaning that they tried to do in the church.

Feudalism is on the decline

The King was in control. He owned all the land in the country and decided to whom he would lease land. However, before they were given any land they had to swear an oath of loyalty to the King at all times. The men who leased land from the King were known as Barons, they were wealthy, powerful and had complete control of the land they leased from the King.

The Barrons established their own system of justice, minted their own money and set their own taxes. In return for the land they had been given by the King, the Barons had to serve on the royal council, pay rent and provide the King with Knights for military service when he demanded it. They also had to provide lodging and food for the King and his court when they travelled around his realm. The Barons kept as much of their land as they wished for their own use, then divided the rest among their Knights.

Knights were given land by a Baron in return for military service. The Knights kept as much of the land as they wished for their own personal use and distributed the rest to peasants.

The Peasants were given land by Knights and in return they had to provide free labor, food and service whenever it was demanded. They had no rights, could not leave the Manor and had to ask their lord’s permission before they could marry.

The Outliers in this scenario was the priest. The Priest spoke with the authority of God and therefore carried a tremendous power. The only hope that a peasant had to escapee their station in life was to become a priest or monk. Being a priest or monk often meant that your life was in jeopardy. Because you can only become a priest, if the position is open. More often than not the priests were not educated, or trained. Therefore the people began to trust the priesthood less and less.   

John Wycliffe

Wycliff was an English clergyman who studied and taught at Oxford for most of his life. He began to notice that the Roman Catholic Church owned most of the property in England and Europe. He believed that the Clergy were nothing more than immoral and dishonest land owners who put a heavy burden on the people.

In 1376 he wrote Of Civil Dominion and declared that there needed to be a moral basis for ecclesiastical leadership. (All priests should be good men). He also wrote that land ownership was the root of the problem.

After 1379 Wycliffe began opposing Catholic teachings.

Authority of the Pope. He insisted in writing that the Pope was not the head of the church, Christ was!

That there were only two orders of officers in the church: elders and deacons.

The Bible, NOT THE CHURCH, was the sole authority for man.

The church should re-model itself after the pattern of the N.T.

John (Jan) Hus

Bohemian (Prague) pastor of Bethlehem chapel and rector of the university of Prague. One of his students introduced him to the teachings of Wycliffe and the need to rely on the authority of Scriptures.

1409 he began the National Bohemian Party in an effort to bring about reform. He was excommunicated by both the archbishop and the pope, and later the Council of Constance condemned him as a heretic. His radical teachings were: Remanence which teaches the bread and wine in the Eucharist retain their material substance, and that the Scriptures are to be the sole source of Christian doctrine.


Martin Luther

He was born to a poor family, that was religious but also very superstitious. They were a huge believer in icons. He attended a Latin School in Germany and he was introduced to a small group of Hussites.

After his graduation Luther made plans to enter the field of Law.  While walking through a field he is trapped in a thunderstorm.  A lighting bolt strikes the ground near him and he cries out to Saint Ann to save him. He promised if she would then he would become a Monk. The storm subsided, Luther emerged unscathed and, true to his promise.

He joined the Augustine Monastery and was very dedicated.  He denied himself food, and comfort in order to become the best type of monk he could be. He would confess his sins for hours, to the point that his monk became tired of it. Since Luther clearly did not have peace with God, his monk promoted Him to the role of theology professor at the new Wittenberg University. It was an effort to make him study and leave the monastery.

At the university he would spend a majority of his time teaching from the Psalms and Romans. he began to teach that someone could have a personal relationship with God instead of the relationship through the church, which was seen as false teaching.

He writes that his conversion happened in 1515 while he was studying Romans 1:15-16: That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. Luther would write later that his conversion came when he realized that we are saved by faith alone, not the works he had been doing all of his life.

Luther began to see the cracks in the Churches foundation, when he struggled to reconcile two practices:

Simony - the purchase of an office in the church. (Named after Simon the Sorcerer, who offered Peter money for the power to confer the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:9-24)

It had grown up in the church as the feudal system came into being. The ecclesiastical vacancies were sold to the highest bidder. The most unsuitable persons became bishops and abbots

Indulgences - The payment of money to receive a certificate that will take years off of your time in purgatory. Basically it’s the ability to purchase a license to sin.

The Catholic Church introduces the practice of indulgences in the 3rd century, and the practice evolved. By the 1500’s the church is selling indulgences in an effort to raise money to build churches and pay for other items the Catholic Church believed were necessary. Luther participated in this at first but as time wore on it began to bother his conscience.  In 1516 he preached 3 sermons against indulgences.

In 1517 Pope Leo X set out to build Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The intention was to fund the building by the selling of indulgences. John Tetzel, a Dominican friar, was sent into Germany to sell the indulgences, and given permission to go through all of Germany with the only exception being Wittenberg, Luther’s pastorate.

One night Luther was walking through the city and noticed one of his parishioners lying in the gutter, drunk. Luther began to chastise this drunken man, who responded It’s okay brother, I have an indulgence. Luther discovered that his members were going across the river to buy indulgences. 

Committed to the idea that salvation could be reached through faith and grace only, Luther wrote “The 95 Theses,” which were a list of questions and propositions for debate. Popular legend has it that on October 31, 1517 Luther defiantly nailed a copy of his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. The reality was probably not so dramatic; Luther more likely hung the document on the door of the church to announce the ensuing discussion.

In November 1517 someone printed and distributed the Thesis without his permission, causing a stir throughout the Catholic Church. The Pope condemned him in 1520 but all that did was make Luther more radical. Although his writings made Luther the philosophical leader of the Protestant Reformation, they also increased the pressure on him to recant. The Holy Roman Emperor found him guilty of heresy at a religious trial at the city of Worms, but when Luther refused to back down, he became the Reformation's moral leader as well.

Over the years his desire to recant the abuse of the sell of indulgences evolved into a desire to reform the entire Roman Catholic Church by 1521.

At first he believed that the Pope was ignorant of what was going on in Germany and was a good man but by 1521 he calls the Pope the Antichrist. 

At first he was against indulgence abuse but by 1521 he rejected the authority of the Pope, of the church, of the counsel, and the Apocrypha.

At first there was no intention of breaking from the church by 1521 he was excommunicated from the church and banned from the Holy Roman empire.

Doctrines Luther would spend the rest of his life building what he believes is the true church.  (The result was a set of principles that all Protestants believe to this day.)

Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone

Sola Fide - Faith Alone, no works.    

Sola Sacerdos – Only one priest, Christ.

Sacraments – Only two, the Lords Supper and Baptism. (maybe three with Confession but he never made this declaration.)

Infant baptism – He allowed this, but when he was challenged on the faith issue, he said that the baby has faith, much like the faith you posses while asleep. 

Lord’s Supper – He did not believe that the priest was able to transform the elements to the Body of Christ, but Christ is present at the elements.


John Calvin

Calvin’s father was a secretary to the Bishop. His father wanted him to be a priest. But Calvin wanted to purse a law career.  1523 he enters the university of Paris, and received his MA when he was 18 years old. His father died when he is 25 and he is introduced to followers of Luther and Zwingli. Calvin was hesitant to explore new beliefs or thoughts while his father was alive.

Calvin was a second Generation Reformer and held a mixture of beliefs from Luther and Huldrych Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer. (Zwingli railed against the custom of fasting during Lent, corruption in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, attacked the use of images or icons in places of worship, and promoted marriage for priests and monks)

Calvin took their ideas and expanded them. His Doctrines were:

Sovereignty of God – His main idea.  God is absolutely sovereign and is not to be questioned.

Depravity of man - Thus man who is not sovereign then he must be totally depraved.

Election – God would not allow a depraved man to decide when he was to be saved. Thus God gives Irresistible grace, to the saints that man can not resist that grace.

Perseverance – Thus the saints would preserver.


The Thirty Years War

In 1555 The Holy Roman Emperor Charles the V signed the Peace of Augsburg in an effort to stop the fighting between the Lutherans and the Catholics in Germany. Basically it promised that the German Princes could choose whether they were Lutheran or Catholic. You became what your state chose, so if you lived in a state that had chosen Lutheranism or Catholicism you were not allowed to change their religion.

In 1619 The Holy Roman Emperor, Matthias died. Since he died childless His throne was given to Ferdinand II who desired to enact Roman Catholic absolutism taking away the the religious rights granted to the princes by the Peace of Augsburg.

Ferdinand II sent a delegation of two Catholic councillors to Prague so that they could run the government while he ascended to the position of Holy Roman Emperor.  When they arrived in Prague, the Bohemian Hussites took them, put them on a mock trial, and threw them out of the palace window which was 20 feet off the ground. Remarkably, they survived the fall without being hurt. The Catholics said that angels appeared and carried them to safety, while the Protestants said that they landed in a pile of manure which saved their lives.

The Thirty Years War One was of the longest and most destructive conflicts in human history. When the war ended there were an estimated eight million fatalities not only from military engagements but also from violence, famine and plague. Residents of areas that had been devastated not only by the conflict itself, but also by the numerous crop failures, famines, and epidemics began to attribute these calamities to allegations of witchcraft against neighbors and fellow citizens. The sheer volume of trials and executions during this time would mark the period as the peak of the European witch-hunting phenomenon.

A war that started between various Protestant and Catholic states in the fragmented Holy Roman Empire, it gradually developed into a more general conflict involving most of the European powers. By 1648, both sides were exhausted and bankrupt. A peace treaty was signed, called the Peace of Westphalia. It simply said that the old system set up by the Peace of Augsburg would be restored.

The 30 years War had a great effect on Europe and the Church. It severely weakened the Holy Roman Empire and the feudal system. Religiously, there was still a great divide between Catholics and Protestants, but Europeans began to believe that the religious differences could not be solved by war. And Political power began to replace the power of the church as the great prize.

We need to be mindful of our history, and how far we have veered from the original intent of the Kingdom. When Jesus established the Kingdom, He said the greatest commandments were to love God and to love people. Those are commandments that are worthy of giving our lives to pursue. But as you can see in the first 1600 years of the church it had moved from a movement based and love, compassion and inclusion, to a movement based on war and political power.

Dr. Richard C. Halverson served as a chaplain to the U.S. Senate is credited for saying: “In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next it moved to Europe where it became a culture, and, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise.



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