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Protestant Reformation

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Luther's 95 Theses

The Protestant Reformation is a term used to describe a series of events that happened in the 16th century in the Christian Church. Because of corruption in the Catholic Church, some people saw a need to change the way it worked.

People like Erasmus, Thomas More, Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Luther and John Calvin saw this corruption, and acted to stop it. This led to a schism in the church, into Catholics and a number of Protestant churches.

Martin Luther was the first person to translate the Bible into German. He could print copies, because Johannes Gutenberg had invented a way to print a number of copies (approximately 50-100) at a relatively low price. The Protestant reformation triggered the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

In general, Martin Luther's posting of the 95 theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg is seen as the start of the Protestant Reformation. This happened in the year 1517. The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 recognised Protestants, and is generally seen as the end of this process.

The causes

In the beginning of 16th century, many events occured that lead to the protestant reformation. Clergy abuse caused people to begin criticizing the Catholic Church.

The central points of criticism were the following:

  • The church sold tickets of indulgences (forgiveness) from sins for money. This suggested that the rich could buy their way into Heaven while the poor could not - quite the opposite of what the Bible says. (See Gospel of Matthew 19:24)
  • Most people did not understand the sermon, because it was in Latin. The sermon is that part of the service where the priests teaches people things from the Bible. Because of this, ordinary people did not know very much about Christianity.
  • Religious positions were often sold to whoever was willing to pay the most money for them. See Simony. This meant many priests did not know much about Christianity. So they told the people many different things. Some of those things had little to do with what was written in the Bible (The Holy Book of Christianity).

The greed and scandalous lives of the clergy had created a split between the peasants and the clergy. Furthermore, the clergy didn’t respond to the population needs because they didn’t speak the local language, or live in their own diocese. The papacy lost prestige. The recent invention of the printing press helped spread awareness of the Church's abuses, and coordinate a response. In 1515, the pope started a new indulgence campaign to raise money for the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica, a fancy church in Rome. this was the last straw for Martin Luther, a Catholic monk from Germany. On October 31, 1517, he nailed 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg chapel in protest. Luther, who appeared as an enemy of the pope, was excommunicated. In the beginning, Luther had not planned to separate from the Catholic Church or to create a new religion; he wanted to reform the Catholic Church.[1]

The consequences

In 1524-1525, millions of peasants rebelled against the nobles in the name of equality of the humanity in front at God. A lot of countries in Europe followed the trend of protestant reformation and Europe was divided by denomination and it created religion wars. For a short period of time, protestant and catholic had managed to live with one another and with the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. [2] This Peace recognized the confessional division of the German states and gave the right to the protestant to practice their religion.

The Pope reestablished the inquisition to combat heresies. The Catholic Church responded to the protestant reformation with the counter-reformation. Force was not entirely successful, so the Pope created new religious orders like the Jesuits. These new religious orders were charged to combat Protestantism while educating the population to Catholicism. The Pope instituted an Index or catalog of banned books and texts. This Index had a big influence in its first centuries and was maintained until the 1960s. The Catholic Church used baroque art to touch the religious feeling of the faithful and bring them to the Catholic religion.[3]

The impact

Protestant denominations have multiplied in different forms, especially in Protestant countries. Catholic countries such as Spain and Mexico for a long time forbade Protestants to immigrate, and Protestant countries sometimes forbade Catholics. Protestants are influential in the United States and the English Canada. After the Seven Years War the British imposed the Quebec Act granting freedom of religion in Quebec, hoping it would become Protestant. In later centuries many protestant churches were established in the province of Quebec despite Britain's failure to do so.


  1. "The Reformation". History Channel website: A&E Television network. 1996-2014. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  2. "Les Réformes protestantes" (in French). Département de philosophie, UQÀM. 2010. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  3. LAVILLE, Christian, SIMARD, Marc. Histoire de la civilisation occidentale, Ville Saint-Laurent, Erpi, 3e edition, 2010, p. 175 to 191


  • LAVILLE, Christian, SIMARD, Marc. Histoire de la civilisation occidentale, Ville Saint-Laurent, Erpi, 3e edition, 2010, p. 175 to 191