The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
Get the Book!

The Reformation

The Reformation was the term given to a series of events in the sixteenth century which led to the separation of western Christendom into two major blocks, the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. In a way the reformation was a protest against the papacy and its abuse of power. In another, the reformers believed, they were returning to the primal excellence of early Christianity.

The event which can be said to have triggered the whole reformation was the nailing of the "Ninety Five Theses" in 1517 by Martin Luther (1483-1546) to the door of the church in Wittenberg. In 1518, Pope Leo X declared Luther a heretic. Two years later Leo formally excommunicated the errant monk. Luther managed to survive this papal onslaught primarily due to the protection he got from the German princes.

The action by Leo burned the bridges for Luther, there was no turning back, In 1521 in the Diet of Worms, Luther declared that he will not recant. The support of the German princes led in 1529 to the Diet of Speyers where they issued the Protestio against the decree that no innovation in religion was permissible. It is from this Protestio that the word Protestant came about.

The Protestant princes formed the Schmalkald league which was recognized by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V (1500-1558) in 1532. Charles, who was a staunch Catholic, had initially declared Luther an outlaw, but eventually he saw that the only way to keep the allegiance of the Protestant princes was to grant a form of religious pluralism. And in the Diet of Augsburg in 1555, Charles officially recognized both the Catholic and Lutheran churches in Germany. The schism was thus complete and western Christendom was never again to be united. [1]

While Luther led the Reformation in the Germanic lands, another reform movement was starting in Switzerland. Huldreich Zwingli (1484-1531) led the reformation there which culminated in the acceptance of his sixty seven articles. These included demands for reforms in worship and the abolition of religious images. After Zwingli's death, the leadership of the Swiss reform movement was taken over by the Frenchman, John Calvin (1509-1564). In his major work, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536), Calvin provided the Protestant movement with a systematic exposition of their faith. [2]

The other great reform movement was not, strictly speaking, reform-minded at all. King Henry VIII (1491-1547) of England initiated a break with Rome that was initially political. He denied papal authority, seized the wealth of the monasteries and established the autonomous Church of England. [3]

Thus was established the Protestant churches in western Christendom: with Lutheranism influential in northern Germany and the Scandinavian countries, Calvinism successful in France, Holland and Scotland and Anglicanism dominant in the British Isles.

Back to the top


1.Livingstone, Dictionary of the Church: p431
Roberts, History of the World: p548-550
Rosenbaum, Desk Concord Encyclopedia: p1024-1025
Strauss, The Catholic Church: p97
Summerscale, The Penguin Encyclopedia: p485,503
2.Livingstone, Dictionary of the Church: p261
Rosenbaum, Desk Concord Encyclopedia: p1025
Strauss, The Catholic Church: p101
3.Livingstone, Dictionary of the Church: p431
Rosenbaum, Desk Concord Encyclopedia: p1025

Back to the top

[Home] [The Central Thesis] [Christianity] [The Bible] [Jesus] [Paul] [God] [History] [Pascal's Wager] [Bibliography] [Links]
© Paul N. Tobin 2000

For comments and queries, e-mail Paul Tobin
Hosted by