The sixteenth-century and seventeenth-century was a time where people were trying to find where they fit in with their beliefs. The Roman Catholic Church was at a point where there was corruption, greed, and power within the church. Many people didn't agree with how the church was being run or how the Catholic positions of power, such as the Pope, were treating the people of the land. The church started becoming more focused on how powerful they could be and less focused on God and salvation. Gonzalez states that "As the fifteenth century came to a close, it was clear that the church was in need of profound reformation, and that many longed for it. The decline and corruption of the papacy was well known." So who were the ones to lead the Reformation of the church, the ones with all the radical ideas and the ones brave enough to fight against the oppression and corruption of the church of their age? There are four phases that will be introduced in this short analysis of the four different reformers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The Lutheran Reformation was one of the first large reformations of this time that needs to be
introduced. Martin Luther played such a strong role on Christianity, that it is difficult to not bring him up in and conversation about the early church reformation. Martin Luther had a rough life early on and went from trying to find where he fit in to being one of the most renowned men in history. Martin Luther bounced around from ideal to ideal, such as self-mutilation (or monasticism) to practicing mysticism. It was not until Martin Luther started teaching on Romans around 1515 that he started realizing the true love of God and what that really meant. He had been advised in so many different directions and told so many untruths, now he started figuring things out for his own. Gonzalez states "Luther came to the conclusion that the "justification of God" does not refer, as he had been taught, to the punishment of sinners. It means rather that the "justice" or "righteousness" of the righteous is not their own, but God's." After this, Luther began writing and teaching on what he had found. He ended up writing the Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences where he started attacking the ideals of the church. The church was at a point where they were selling things just to make sure their pockets were satisfied, and this caused Martin Luther to write the Theses. The Theses ended up having more popularity that he had originally thought, and it started to take off. McGrath states that "Strictly speaking, the Lutheran Reformation really began in 1522, when Luther returned to Wittenberg from his enforced isolation in the Wartburg. Luther had been condemned by the Diet of Worms in 1521." This was after the famous nailing of his thesis to church door in Wittenberg challenging the church and challenging what they supported. The church was supporting John Tetzel, who would sell indulgences to people to help raise money for the church. In 1517, Martin Luther marked the start of the Protestant Reformation on the Eve of All Saints, and would be banished by the Council of Worms." Luther began to make his beliefs knows in saying that he didn't believe in private masses or private communions. He wanted the church to be opening their doors for people to become involved in the church activities. Luther also believed in infant baptism for the reason being to not believe it would be to "fall into the error of believing faith to be a human work, something we must do, and not a free gift of God." So Luther was one of the first to stand up to the church and their corruption, but there are others who follow.
Ulrich Zwingli was like Luther in many ways. Zwingli and Luther had different outlooks on religion, but they had a lot of the same ideas and beliefs. Zwingli followed a lot of Luther's teachings but differed in many ways. One of the things that Zwingli believed that Luther didn't was Predestination. While both men both believed in the theory of predestination and saw it as Biblical, Zwingli thought that since God is all knowing, than God will know all who will go to Heaven. Luther and Zwingli also held different beliefs on the sacraments such as Zwingli refused to place any claim on sacraments, for it would limit the power of the Holy Spirit on people. The differences between Luther and Zwingli would ultimately provide two separate reformations; the Lutheran and the Reformed. Part of the Reformed Reformation leads to the Anabaptist movement. The Anabaptists came to be known for not baptizing infants, and becoming baptizes after showing faith in God. While Zwingli would not himself support these claims, or help baptize this group, he was one that helped this reformation come into existence. The Anabaptist movement started becoming more of a taboo to the church and people in positions of power, and many people early on would discard the Anabaptist beliefs. Weaver states "The Anabaptists encountered many more enemies than friends in high places. Several thousands surrendered their lives rather than their wills to the established churches." Not until later in the until after the time of Revolutionary Anabaptism did new leaders of the movement start following the cause. Bigger names such as Menno Simons, who started the Mennonite movement, started writing theses and starting supporting those who followed Anabaptism.
While Zwingli might have been the start to the Reformed Reformation, it was really John Calvin that made the Reformed Reformation what it is and what we know it to be today. Walker says "His place chronologically, and, to a large extent, theologically, is among the heirs rather than the initiators of the Reformation." John Calvin grew up in an educated environment and it wasn't until after the death of his father that he started getting into the religious reforms. John Calvin came out with a short copy of the Institutes of Religion in 1536 and at the time was so small it could fit in a pocket for people to carry a copy around. The Institutes of Religion offered a small taste to Calvin's belief on religion as he saw it. While the Institutes is strong on discrediting the papacy, or papists in his words, he also offers many insights into subjects such as salvation and the Holy Spirit. While many credit Calvin with ideals in the Predestination field, that was not the main concern of Calvin's beliefs. Calvin had strong opinions on the communion of the church more than on the predestination. Many of the reformed churches at the time believed in a sort of predestination, they just supported different reasons for it. So Calvin didn't have to say much on that subject. Another subject that Calvin was took a firm stance on was the Trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Helm says that "For Calvin, God is essentially Trinitarian and this trinitarianism plays a fundamental role in his theology. He underlines this role by expounding it as an integral part of our knowledge of God the Creator. God is not only an immeasurable, spiritual being, but He is a trinity of distinct but indivisible persons." This was a cause for the church to be an uproar. John Calvin later went from making the Institutes of Religion to a four volume book that you definitely cannot keep in your pocket. (Believe me, I have a copy.)
The last part of the reformation to be explored is the English Reformation. The time of the English Reformation was an incredibly bloody time. The English Reformation started around the time King Henry VIII was king. To understand this era, we have to understand that the majority of royalty followed the ways of the Roman Catholic Church and not the way of Protestants. There were some supporters of the Protestants along the way, but the majority kept the Catholic ways and were usually devout Catholics. While the English royalty practiced Catholicism, they persecuted Protestants. Of course, the Protestants don't deal well with opposition, so this created many bloody times. Everything was changing with the Reformation, and with change comes opposition. Shagan states "These changes represented an incursion of religious innovation into English culture without necessitating that the people who actualised them did so systematically, and without requiring the sorts of epiphanies that we associate with conversion narratives." This in other words means that the conversion process of the people during the English Reformation may not have been done in the most of tactful ways.
While this is a short study of different times and periods of the Reformation, there is much more that can be discussed. The Reformation had a bloody past, but as a church today we have gathered much information and have a guideline to follow. Many of our beliefs today as a church come from the early beliefs of one of these reformers. I, for one, don't believe that the Reformation was done in tactful ways. There was a lot of ego being thrown around, and deciding who was right, but in the meantime, many were killed for just believing something different; from both sides.
Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story Of Christianity Vol. II. New York: HarperCollins. 2010.
Helm, Paul. John Calvin's Ideas. Oxford: Oxford Publishing Group. 2004.
McGrath, Alister. E. Reformation: An Introduction. Hoboken: Wiley Blackwell. 2011.
Shagan, Ethan H. Popular Politics and the English Reformation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2003.
Walker, Williston. John Calvin: The Organizer of Reformed Protestantism 1509 to 1564. Kessinger Publishing. 2006. (Reprint)
Weaver, Denny J. Becoming Anabaptist: The Origin and Significance of Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism. Scottdale: Herald Press. 1987.