Nov. 25: Reformation and Counterreformation

I. Protestant Reformation

Martin Luther

Spread of Protestantism


•Anglican Church


•II. Catholic response

Council of Trent








The last several weeks, we have been talking about changes on every level in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries CE

Intellectual change: first with the Italian Renaissance:  revival of classical art/ learning and rebirth of secularism

Technological change, with the gunpowder, new sorts of ships, and so on

Geographical change – with the discovery of the Americas, and the beginnings of direct contact with subSaharan Africa, India, and China.


TODAY, I’m going to talk about another change of the 16th century – the Protestant Reformation - that ended unity of western Christianity



         Justification by faith alone - vs. both works and faith

         priesthood of all believers - vs. priesthood of clerics

         scripture only source of true doctrine - vs. scriptures and authority (fathers, councils, pope)

         No heavenly intermediaries btwn  man and God - vs. Mary, saints, angels

         No sacred images / icons - vs. images to assist belief

         two sacraments (baptism, Lord's supper) vs. 7 sacraments




The story of the Protestant Reformation usually begins with one man

-Martin Luther

Martin Luther was a German monk, living in the university town Wittenberg.

In 1517, he posted 95 theses on the door of a church (Castle Church in Wittenberg).



In these 95 theses, he attacked Catholic indulgences – an indulgence was the remission of the punishment of sin. 

The Catholic church had initially only given them to Crusaders, but by the 16th century was selling “letters of indulgence.”

Luther (and many others)  objected – believing the salvation could not be bought or sold.

Soon after he began to publish more pamphlets, attacking a wide number of Catholic practices

         - He argued that man obtained salvation through faith alone, not through works or the mediation of priests.

         - He claimed that there were only two sacraments – Baptism and the Eucharists – .

             He condemned the other sacraments lke confession and absolution.

         - He promoted the princely leadership of the church (instead of papal)

                  urging the princes (magnates) of Germany to take over the job of reforming the Catholic church 


In 1520, the pope of Rome condemned Luther as a heretic, and excommunicated him.

In response, Luther, in public, burned the papal letter (bull) which had excommunicated him.

Then the Holy Roman emperor (Charles V) – who presided over these little principalities of Germany – gave Luther a chance to recant at (Diet of Worms)

         Luther's answer:

         "Since, therefore, your Serene Majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it with neither horns nor teeth, in this manner: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or evident reason (for I trust neither popes nor councils alone, since it is commonly agreed that they have often erred and contradicted themselves) I am subject to the scriptures I have quoted. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I am unable to recant, nor do I wish to recant, anything; for to act against conscience would be neither safe nor sane." [Luther's response to Charles V]

(We can see in this quote some of effect of Renaissance secular humanism:  what church tells you to believe no longer enough; people want to understand - use reason - see the evidence - for their beliefs)


The emperor wasn't pleased with Luther's answer, and outlawed him.

Luther hid from the authorities, finding protectors in princes (esp. this guy)

In the end, he gave up on the idea of reforming the Catholic church- instead he set up a new church: what we call the Lutheran church, with married ministers (instead of celibate priests), and no obedience to Rome


The Reformation had begun – the religious movement which would break the Christian church into Catholics and Protestants, end of the domination of the pope in Rome, and start a series of religious wars in Europe which will last for centuries.


But why was Luther so successful?

People had been criticizing the church for centuries (just read Chaucer's Canterbury Tales)

What about the 16th century made Europe ready for the Protestant Reformation? - to split church up into little pieces and throw Europe into civil war?





It is important to understand that Martin Luther sparked the Reformation because Europe was ready for it, not because of what he said was completely new.

People had been criticizing the Pope, indulgences, and so on for quite a while, and with reason.

Some of your readings from Kishlansky for this week give you taste of why many Europeans were unhappy with the church.



It is difficult to read a piece of literature written in the 15th and 16th centuries without finding stories written about the clergy (compare our own obsession with crime)


Sexual misdeeds of the clergy:

One big theme is the sexual exploits of priests and monks.

For example,

Reynard the Fox (1498):  German "animal epic" - stories where animals behave like people (Winnie the Poo)

In middle of Reynard the Fox, Reynard starts saying how difficult it is for him to keep from sinning when the clergy sin so lightheatredly:

         "There is hardly a parish where the priest does not have a concubine, living in sin and shame, producing children like husbands in normal wedlock.

         "He invites us to give our money to help build and maintina the church in exchange for indulgences….but his ideals are sumptuous garments, pretty women, rich food and wines.." (Reynard the Fox, From Manifestations of Disconentent, ed. Strauss, 92-93.


This is just one literary complaint among many.


Spanish novel Lazarillo de Tormes

         - at end of novel, archpriest gets the hero - Lazarillo to marry one of his female servants, so that he keep her as his mistress living next door.


Marguerite de Navarre, a sister of the king of France and king of small kingdom Navarre near Spain, is credited with stories which are often hostile to the Catholics.

In one story, the friars – mendicants vowed to celibacy -  tried to rape a woman when she was travelling with them in boat


Were these criticisms just?

Catholic church probably no more corrupt than it had been before (in fact perhaps somewhat less so)

But people believed that it was:

         (compare our own beliefs about crime:  going up or down? - down)

         (but how portrayed in popular media?)


How did Protestant like Luther seek to solve problem of immoral clergy?

         The Protestants would advocate a married clergy –

 they thought that priests were more likely to keep their hands of other people’s wives if they had their own.

Luther set the example by marrying a nun himself.



As we saw with the Magna Carta, one thing that prevented kings from becoming too powerful was the power of the church (coupled with power of nobility)

Many kings and lesser princes suppored Luther and other Protestant reformers because they let the king be the head of the church, not the Pope

We'll talk about this more later one with example of Henry VIII



So one big reason Luther was such a hit is that people were already convinced (rightly or wrongly) that priests / monks were corrupt.; second reason, kings wanted to get control over national churches

Third reason Protestants were so successful was growing literacy of Europeans.

because of…

Luther's most important ally:  the printing press

Thanks to invention of printing press by Gutenberg in 15th century, books were affordable.

More people could buy them; more people learned how to read them; a literature in the vernacular:  French, German, English (instead of just Latin) began to be produced.

The Catholic church (with some important exceptions) was afraid of the implications of this new technology:

Today we're afraid of people getting the instructions for making bombs over the Internet.

The fear in the 16th century?

that people might read the Bible for themselves:


Catholic prohibition on vernacular Bibles 


Many Catholic clerics (and the Pope) thought that people needed to prevented from interpreting the Bible for themselves - they were likely to get it wrong.

Lay people needed to have someone trained in interpreting the scriptures – a friar or priest – explain the Bible to them.

The church had made it illegal to translated the Bible into the vernacular, into the languages people actually spoke:

(should only be in Latin, Greek, Hebrew)

So you have this situation where a growing number of people could read in the vernacular;

         the church wouldn't let them read the Bible in the vernacular

         They suspected that the church merely wanted to keep a monopoly on the word of God - that in fact that if people read God's word for themselves, they wouldn't need priests or friars

God would speak to them directly.'


Luther’s translation of Bible into German

The Protestants fed this desire for direct access to the Bible.

The first thing Martin Luther did when he was hiding from the emperor was translate the New Testament into German.

Luther was a wonderful translator;  his translation of the Bible was almost immediately printed – with the new printing presses.

Every German Protestant who could read – and many who could not – bought a Bible

People read it out in the streets;

 the German language itself took a standard form based on Luther’s Bible, instead of being separated into many different dialects.

Protestants in other countries translated the Bible into their  vernaculars – French, English.

Now even peasants began to memorize God’s word – and this was indeed dangerous.


Not only Luther’s Bible, but his 95 theses and his eloquent pamphlets all were immediately printed, and distributed.

The Protestants became masters at propaganda - leaflets, posters - aimed against the Catholic church.


Signficance of Reformation

Fragmented western Christianity (Catholic v. Protestant, added to Catholic vs. Orthodox)

Increasing emphasis on individualism, even among Catholics (w/ a religious basis; emphasis on each persons "conscience" as a guide, rather than the Church)

Increase in vernacular literacy: reformers encouraged people to read the Bible, which they had translated into the vernacular languages; consequently, schools were established and other forms of vernacular literature that could be used to teach people to read were developed





So for all of these reasons, the Protestant reformation succeeded much more than any previous anticlerical movement


German principalities

The German princes were Luther’s first supporters.

These princes were trying to become more independent from their overlord – the Holy Roman emperor, who considered himself the defender of Catholicism.

But soon Protestantism spread out of the German states to other parts of Europe.


John Calvin – Switzerland

Switzerland – a Frenchman John Calvin, developed Luther’s doctines into a new form of Protestantism.

studied law at Paris at same time as Ignatius Loyola

after conversion to Protestantism, went to Geneva

 produced the Institutes of the Christian Religion (first edition in 1536)

several versions; most systematic expression of the new Protestant faith (what Calvin lacked in charisma he made up for with his mind)

He emphasized the sinfulness of man – a sinfulness so deep that only God’s grace could save him, not anything man could do.

         God saves men not because of any good behavior on the part of humans or because of the help of any priest, but because God had chosen to (his grace)

         Calvinists hoped for a direct experience of God’s grace – a sort of direct communication from God to soul, the experience of being saved – which Protestants today still seek.\


Calvin established the Genevan Academy, which trained pastors who returned to preach in their native Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Scotland, England, Eastern Europe


Protestantism spreads to England

Lutheran and Calvinist ideas and preachers were making their way into England by the 1530's.

Henry VIII

At the time, England was being ruled by a royal dynasty called the Tudors.

The king was Henry VIII, known mostly for his may wives.

Henry at first fiercely opposed the Protestants:

- declared Defender of the Faith in 1525;

- wrote treatise against Luther, was granted the title by the Pope


But they Henry has problem with Pope (1527)

He wanted to get rid of the first of his wives, Catherine.

Catherine had given birth to a daughter, but no live male heir which Henry desperately wanted.

Henry had also fallen in love with a woman called Anne Boleyn.

The pope refused to grant him the annulment (remember divorce was illegal in Europe).

(and Catherine had powerful friends:  daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, and aunt of HRE Charles V (who had occupied Rome and taken the Pope prisoner in 1527, just prior to Henry's request

So King Henry simply declared himself the head of the Christian church of England.

1534, Act of Supremacy (by Parliament) makes Henry the supreme ruler of the Church in England

         He executed his chancellor -  Sir Thomas More – when he objected.

martyrdom of a number of monks who refused to take the Oath of Supremacy

Henry didn’t have any theological quarrel with the Catholic church, he just wanted his annulment.

Henry had absolutely no sympathy with Martin Luther or John Calvin –

But now that England was separated from Rome, Protestant ideas began to penetrate it, esp. in the late 16th century.



Calvin’s harsh Protestant doctrine was adopted by English Christians who called themselves the “pure ones “ – Puritans.

The Puritans had a rather hard time of it in England, since the kingdom had stayed Catholic in theology, only Protestant in authority.

They were only able to form their “pure” communities successfully in the New World – in North America, where they were the earliest English colonists to what is now the United States.


II. Catholic church reform


The Catholic church took the accusations of corruption more to heart than it did Martin Luther and John Calvin's doctrinal innovations. (discipline not doctrine)


A. Council of Trent, 1545-1563


- Church council called by Pope Paul III to address challenge of Protestants

the Council of Trent asserted a very conservative sort of Catholic doctrine.

         - that the Eucharist was really (and physically) Christ's body and blood

         - that the saints and their relics existed

         - that  priests (and celibate) were necessary to intercede between god and man

         - and that the authority of the church (esp. pope) determined correct faith - not just the Bible

So in matters of doctrine, the Catholic church did not budge in response to the Reformation.


But in matters of church discipline, the Council of Trent set out to reform the church.

         Bishops were required to live in their dioceses – (they couldn’t just travel around living like nobles on church revenues).

         Clerics should live simply - not in luxury.

         Each diocese should have seminaries – schools – to train priests properly (remember one of demands of peasants of Swabia was trained pastors to teach them properly)


B.  The Jesuits

So after the Council of Trent, the Catholics began to reform church discipline.

But they were still at a distinct disadvantage to the Protestants in terms of teaching ordinary Christians about their faith:

         Luther translated the Bible into German - and with the new printing press, it became an instant best-seller.

         (before the Reformation, it had been illegal to translated the Bible into vernacular)

         Luther had set up primary and secondary schools in Germany - paid for by the cities  - to teach people how to read the Bible.

         (In Catholic Europe, schools were few and expensive)

So to keep up with the Protestants the Catholics needed to become better educators.

The Jesuits filled this need.


Origin of Jesuits


The Jesuits were founded by a Spaniard, Ignatius of Loyola, in 1540 AD.

Ignatius, of aristocratic birth, had started out as a soldier.

He got hit by a cannon ball in one of the wars between Spain and France.

When recuperating from the wound, he began to study religious books (the only thing around to read).

He converted to the religious life and went back to school - to learn Latin.

After only several years at university, he began to teach people:

. He would gather students and adults to explain the Gospels to them and teach them how to pray

This teaching got him in trouble with the Inquisition:

      The Inquisition put Ignatius of Loyola into jail for 42 days

. (In the eyes of Inquisitors, anyone who was teaching and was not ordained was suspect.)


But Ignatius had better luck getting the reforming popes on his side.

In 1540, he got pope Paul III (same pope who called the Council of Trent) to recognize his small band of followers as a new monastic order, the Society of Jesus.

Within a century, the Jesuits grew from a small group of 10 to a order of more than 15,000, scattered throughout the world.

The goal of the Jesuits was threefold:

         To reform church through education

         To preach Gospel to non-Christians

         To fight Protestantism (through words, not the sword)


Jesuit schools  (educated pope Urban VIII)

The Jesuits founded schools.

By late 16th century, Jesuits had opened schools in Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Poland and India.

         These were secondary schools and colleges open to non-Catholics as well as Catholics

In their schools –  they adopted the Renaissance humanist teaching techniques 

 learning ancient and modern languages (including Asian languages like Chiness)

critical reading of texts

even sciences and technology  - like astronomy, gun making (the Chinese welcomed the Jesuits because they taught them how to make better cannons)


And the Jesuits didn’t just try to teach Europeans – but the entire world  (Hunt 532 - missionaries)

Jesuits went to Japan, China, Africa,  the Americas as missionaries.

They claimed to have converted over 100,000 Japanese to Christianity in the 16th century (before Japan closed its borders to outsiders in 17th century).

Often the non-Europeans welcomed the Jesuits to learn other things besides religion - like how to make cannons or clocks.


Because of missionaries like the Jesuits, Catholic missionaries will lead new conversions to Christianity, not the Protestants.


C.  Poland and religious tolerance

Poland is the best example of how Jesuits helped stem tide of Protestantism without violence.

Now Polish Commonwealth in the 16th century, was the largest state in Europe in area;

as large in population (10 million) as Italy and Iberia, twice as big as England.

Most of its population was Catholic, but Poland's rulers had long practiced religious toleration:

( remember the Jews fled to Poland/Lithuania after being driven out of most of rest of Europe in 14th and 15th centuries)

When the Protestant Reformation began in the 16th century, a large portion of the upper classes of Poland got interested (esp. Calvinism)

         By 1550's, a majority of the Polish Parliament (the Seym) were Protestants.

         Even radical Protestants - like the Anabaptists and Memmonites were allowed into Poland.

The Catholic bishops of Poland responded to this influx of Protestants with toleration.

         Some shared their churches with Lutherans.

         Some let people indulge in whatever religion they wanted as long as they paid their church taxes:

                  The bishop of Krakow - "I don't care if you worship a goat, as long as you keep paying your tithes"

In one famous case, a man (an Arian) was brought before the Polish Parliament for stamping on the Eucharist during a Catholic procession.

The Parliament decided that if God was offended, God should be the one to punish him.


In 1539 - king declared freedom of the press at main university of Poland (Jagiellon) - at a time when no other state in Europe allowed freedom of the press.

Even the new scientific ideas were tolerated in 16th century Poland. (Hunt 527)

         Nicolaus Copernicus was a Polish clergyman  in 16th century.

         With support of a Polish archbishop, he studied astronomy.

         Copercinus figured out that the earth revolved around the sun - instead of the sun revolving around the earth (as in Ptolemy and the Bible).

         (A generation later, Galileo would get thrown into prison by the Inquisition for the same idea in Italy)


OK, so you have this large powerful kingdom allowing freedom of thought and religion in the 16th century, and letting a large portion of its population become Protestant, Orthodox Christian, and so on.

And yet,  by the late 17th century, most people of Poland are Catholic again.


The reason that Poland remained Catholic is above all the Jesuits.

         Jesuits arrived in 1564.

They began to publish books and found schools.

         They had founded 40 colleges by 17th century - they didn't charge tuition and allowed people of all faiths to enter them.

         By the 17th century, they were the main educators of the upper classes of Poland.

         The Jesuits also got the Polish peasantry on their side  -  preaching that they shouldn't be oppressed.

         By the mid 17th century, the Catholics were fully in charge of Poland - other religions were still tolerated - but Catholics were favored for getting governmental posts and serving in Parliament.


Poland is the best example of peaceful means being used to change or maintain people's religion.

It practiced  religious toleration largely because its kings were weak


But Poland was the exception in Europe, not the rule.

In rest of Europe, Protestants and Catholics spent a good portion of the late 16th and 17th centuries killing one another.