The Reformation

Martin Luther (CC)
The Protestant Reformation started with a German priest named Martin Luther. He was upset with some of the practices that the Catholic Church was taking part in, particularly the selling of indulgences. Luther wanted to show his displeasure with the Catholic Church. He created the 95 Theses. The 95 Theses is a list of wrongs that he felt the Catholic Church was committing. On October 31, 1517 he posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg for all to see. Thus, a desire to reform the Roman Catholic Church was publicly sparked.

For some background information on Martin Luther's life before the Reformation click here.

The Renaissance was a time of change. Almost everything in Europe changed; the social life, economy, politics, art, science, and government. The only thing that had not yet changed was the Church. The Black Death had begun to deteriorate the people's belief in the Church, but the Church still had all the wealth and power. As humanism spread throughout Europe, however, the people began to realize that they did not need the Church as much as they had previously believed. They began to believe that they could have a direct relationship with God and that they didn't need a middleman (the clergy).

The Reformation was an attempt to change how the Catholic Church worked. The problems with the Church as seen by many, were the following:
1. Priests and bishops were not seen as religious anymore.
2. The Pope was so involved in politics that he neglected his religious duties.
3. The Church was too rich because they did not pay taxes.
4. The people believed that they could have their own connection with God, without the Church.
5. The people wanted to be able to live their lives on Earth, instead of just preparing for the afterlife.
6. The sale of indulgences.

The sale of indulgences was the money the Catholic Church said you had to pay to get your family out of purgatory.

95 Theses Posted to Door (CC)
For some background information on Martin Luther click here.

When Johann Tetzel was sent to Erfurt (a town that Luther had lived in) to sell indulgences (see Luther Movie Clip) for the reconstruction of Saint Peter's Basillica, Martin Luther was compelled to write his 95 Theses. The 95 theses is a list of things that Luther felt the Catholic Church needed to change. His followers printed many copies of this paper and even posted this list on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany (Real Door). When the Church denied his theses, he continued to protest against the Church. Thus, he inadvertently began a whole movement for change in the Church, called the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther then became the main leader of the Reformation. To see part of the Luther movie and 95 theses, click here.

When Martin Luther did not recant (take back) the things he said about the Church, he was excommunicated. Later that same year, Martin Luther was called in front of the Diet of Worms (A trial for heretics, not food). This was a general assembly of the estates of the Holy Roman Empire, that took place in a town called Worms. Here, Luther was presented with copies of his writings. He was then asked if he was the author, and if he still stood by their contents. Luther admitted to being the author, and he said that he still stood by the contents of the writings: "I CANNOT RECANT".

Luther at the Diet of Worms (CC)
The Diet of Worms (youtube clip) then declared Luther an outlaw, banned his literature, and demanded his arrest. The Diet of Worms also declared that it is a crime for anyone in Germany to give Luther food or shelter, and that anybody can kill Martin Luther without legal consequences. However, instead of being arrested, Luther managed to escape. On his way home he was kidnapped by Friedrich the Wise. For the next several years, Luther continued to fight against the Catholic Church, hiding in Friedrich the Wise's Castle in Germany. Here he copied the bible into the local language and published books on his ideas. These books were spread around the country and his ideas caused others to join the movement.

Five years after his visit to the Diet of Worms, Luther began organizing his very own church, a branch of Christianity separate from the Catholic
Blue shows Protestant Gains and then loses during Counter Reformation (CC)
Church. His new Christian sect was called Lutheranism.

Some people started to follow Martin Luther’s ideas about leaving the Catholic Church, like John Calvin. John Calvin used his new religion, Calvinism, to take political and religious power in Switzerland. This is called a Theocracy. Another person who followed Martin Luther was King Henry VIII of England. He wanted a divorce from his wife, but the Catholic Church denied it. So, he decided to make his own church. This religion was called the Church of England or the Anglican Church. This new branch of Christianity allowed him to divorce his wife. The map to the right, shows the change from Catholic Areas, to Protestant areas. Many people continued to want a "different topping on their pizza" (see video at bottom of page) and over the years thousands of new protestant churches have been created (see some here).

Today, there are three main branches of Christianity; Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Catholicism still being the largest of the three with today with about 1.2 billion followers.

Catholic Church's Reaction--The Counter Reformation!
At first, the Catholic Church just ignored the Reformation. They ignored the Protestant Reformation, hoping that it would die down by itself. When Martin Luther and the others continued to protest, however, the Church had to do something. So, they began using violence. The Church would put anybody who opposed the Church in a trial for heresy. Most people would then be sentenced to death or torture (most likely leading to death). However, the Church never killed Martin Luther, because he would then be a martyr, and more people would join the Reformation. A martyr is a person killed because of their religion or other beliefs. The use of violence slowed the Reformation, but did not stop it. The Church finally decided to change some of its ways, but by then it was already too late. People had begun to break away and form their own branches of Christianity.

Effects--PP on this topic
The effects of the Protestant Reformation were large, long lasting and in some cases, still in our world today. Some of these effects were:
Heretics Being Burned (CC)

1. Political conflicts-- Religious Unity of Europe is shattered and people took up arms against fellow countrymen.
2. Division within Europe The north countries became Protestant (England, German, Sweden and others), while southern Europe (Italy, Spain, France, and others) remained Roman Catholic.
3. Religious wars: Two Main examples: French Huguenots and Thirty year war (Germany).
Catholics vs. Huguenots in FR (CC)

4. Social changes - Bible now in local languages: People can read the bible and not depend on the Church to interpret the scriptures. People also began to believe they come to G-d without the middle man of the Church or Clergy. Luther called this the Priesthood of the Believers. It also saw the social classes push for social change.
5. Federalism- Starts in the Church and the protestants believed power should be shared between leaders and the people, this is unlike the power inside the Catholic Church. The sharing of power between local government and a strong central government. For example, the United States's strong central government shares power with fifty state governments and thousands of local governments.
6. Treaty of Westphalia- a treaty to stop the religious war between the Catholic French and the Protestants or the Huguenots (French Protestants). The treaty was written because the French king was Catholic and banned the Protestant religion.
7. Creation of Protestantism--it spreads and with protestants being persecuted in Europe, it spreads to the new world and a land that will be called America.


The Protestants challenged the Catholic Church. Catholic leaders adopted religious reforms to preserve the Church's influence. The religious changes of the Reformation led to conflict and social changes. The Protestant Reformation was a statement that the people also have power and that no longer will they spend their whole lives thinking about religion.

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Stop Motion by Maria, June 2012.


Created by David and Stephen June 4, 2009
Revised by Reid and Bagatur May 1, 2011
Links added by Maddie May
Links added by Jack 2012