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Saturday, 9 December 2017

World History: The Reformation

Martin Luther
Earlier this year the 500th anniversary of one of the most important events in European and religious history. The Protestant Reformation was not the first schism in the history of Christianity (when we looked at the Byzantine Empire we briefly looked at an earlier schism) but it greatly changed history. Most of Europe became divided between Catholics and Protestants in a schism which would shape European politics for centuries, and continues to influence European politics (and that of their former colonies). However, the Reformation is often portrayed in the media as one congruent movement led by Martin Luther but in reality it was a diverse movement where the Catholic church was also affected. Early modern historians have argued that this event helped influence the creation of the modern state with it influencing the divorcing of the state and religion (to an extent).

Earlier Attempts at Reformation
The Jan Hus Memorial in Prague
The Protestant Reformation was not the first schism in Christian history - the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western Churches springs to mind - and it was not the only attempt to change the Western Church. We'll look at two attempts today. The first is a movement led by John Wyclif in late-fourteenth century England. Wyclif was a theological professor at the University of Oxford and he criticized papal authority, in particular rejecting the idea of transubstantiation - that the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ by a priest during the Eucharist. Wyclif's criticisms gained traction immediately with his followers being called Lollards; so popular was Lollardy was that it helped influence one of the key English texts of the Medieval period in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. One part of The Canterbury Tales even has the selling of indulgences portrayed negatively. In 1378 Wyclif's ideas were declared heretical and Lollards were either executed, converted back to Catholicism, or went underground. Patrick Collinson places the English Reformation as starting with Wyclif's ideas being declared heretical. The other important movement was under Jan Hus in Bohemia. Like Wyclif, Hus was a theologian in the employment of an university, Charles University in Prague, and targeted in particular indulgences. For those who do not know Catholicism believes in the idea of Purgatory; if not damned enough to be sent to Hell, or not pure enough to go to Heaven, a soul would be sent to Purgatory where they would eventually be sent to Heaven. An indulgence could be bought to reduce the time you, or a family member, spent in Purgatory. Hus believed indulgences were useless and corrupting. As indulgences could be sold for profit this is why he saw them as corrupting. Unlike Wyclif who kept preaching despite being granted safe-conduct by the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire Hus was tried, condemned, and executed as a heretic at the Council of Constance in 1415. The pope and emperor constantly fought Hus' followers until they decided that it was easier to grant recognition to the Hussite church in Bohemia and Moravia in the 1430s. If you go to Prague's very beautiful Old Town Square there is a large memorial to Hus built in 1915 on the anniversary of Hus' execution.

The Reformations
Throughout the World History series I've tried to avoid Great Man History but it's difficult when looking at the Reformation as it was influenced by individuals at times. There were many different Reformations and many of the Protestant denominations found their origins in the Reformation. As a result we'll look at three regions where the Reformation took route: Germany, Switzerland, and England.

Luther nailing his theses
With the German Reformation this was largely dominated by Martin Luther and Lutheranism. Like Wyclif and Hus Luther was a university theologian. Euan Cameron has described him as being 'a figurehead who showed unheard-of tenacity in a daunting situation.' Luther was originally from Saxony and was a law student at the University of Erfurt until he was caught in a thunderstorm in 1505. Apparently he yelled 'Help St. Anne! I'll become a monk!' and that is what he did enrolling in an Augustinian monastery where he was constant torment about his sinfulness and holiness. In 1512 he accepted a position to become a theologian at the University of Wittenberg. Luther was extremely angry about the situation of the Church; in particular focusing on Johann Tetzel who had become famous for selling indulgences to earn a profit. Apparently Tetzel said: 'As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs.' Also, there was an issue with Archbishop Albert of Mainz who was in charge of the church in Wittenberg. He wanted to become bishop of some more areas but needed a special dispensation from Pope Leo X so he would borrow from the wealthy Fuggers family to afford this. Meanwhile, Leo X was offering special indulgences in order to fund the construction of St. Peter's basilica. Albert would give some of the profit from indulgences, raised often by Tetzel, to Leo and use the rest to pay back the Fuggers. 

On October 31, 1517 Luther made his '95 theses,' called Disputation against Scholastic Theology, and sent them copies to his friends at Nuremberg and to the theologian Johann Maier of Eck of Ingolstadt, and quite possibly nailing them to the door of the Wittenberg church. Within two weeks they had been circulated around Leipzig, Magdeburg, Nuremberg, and Basle. He publicly denounced Albert and his ideas soon spread around via his writings, sermons, and university lectures. One of his followers was the professor of Latin and Greek at Wittenberg, Philip Melanchthon. Luther rejected many aspects of Catholicism believing that the pope and priests were unneeded, instead people could find faith through themselves; indulgences were wrong; rejected transubstantiation; by reading the Scripture one can find God; and believed that 'we are not made righteous by doing righteous deeds; but when we have been made righteous we effect righteous deeds.' On June 15, 1520 a papal bull, called the Exsurge Domine, condemned Luther and forty-one tenets ordering that if he did not recant he would be excommunicated. He refused. Then the newly elected Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who wanted rigid orthodoxy, summoned Luther to the Diet of Worms in 1521. Although it is debated if he actually said this Luther said, 'Unless I am convinced of error by the testimony of Scripture and plain reason I cannot, and will not, recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.' Luther might have faced the same fate as Jan Hus if not for the fact that he had made the Elector of Saxony, Friedrich III, a follower. Freidrich secretly had Luther abducted near Altenstein on May 4 and placed under protective custody in the castle of Wartburg.

The Swiss Reformation can be exemplified in two figures: Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin. Zwingli had attended the Universities of Vienna and Basel where he had become heavily involved in Renaissance humanism. Zwingli arrived in Zurich to be the city's 'people's priest' (Leut priester) in the city's main church, the Grossmunster. At the time the Swiss cantons were deeply involved in the mercenary trade which Zwingli was deeply critical of. In 1522 Zwingli came to prominence when he criticized fasting during Lent. He attacked indulgences; said that saints and religious images should not be venerated; was against clerical celibacy; said that Scripture was most important; and started translating the Bible into Swiss German. He went further than Luther calling for a more iconoclastic service wanting no liturgy, church decorations, or music other than the singing of psalms. A split between the 'Protestants' emerged as Luther and Zwingli disagreed vehemently over the Eucharist: supporters of Zwingli became known as Evangelicals and Luther's became known as Reformed
John Calvin
John Calvin was a French Protestant who fled from France to Geneva in 1533. Like Wyclif, Hus, Luther, and Zwingli he had a university education. Upon arriving in Geneva Calvin published Institutes of the Christian Religion which set out several key doctrines: God is infinite in power and sovereignty; humans are sinful and can only be saved by Christ; redemption and union with Christ are free gifts from God; and there is no free will, instead God has decided our fates in an idea named predestination. Despite having no free will Calvin argued that thrift, piety, hard work, and good moral conduct could serve as signs that one was among the 'elect' chosen for salvation. Geneva had recently expelled the bishops so had asked Calvin to set up new structures. He believed that the church and state should act together where church leaders should have ultimate authority. As a result the Consistory was formed made up of pastors and lay-elders (presbyters, which is why Calvinism is in areas called Presbyterians). The Consistory banned theater, drinking, gambling, and card games as well as punished religious dissenters (some of the worst anti-semitism during the Reformation was in Calvinist regions), adulterers, drunkenness, family fights, profanity, absence from church, gambling, premarital sex, and dancing. Calvinist thought spread into Germany, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Scotland and England. In Scotland Calvinism was introduced by John Knox as he had studied with Calvin in Geneva. Upon returning to Scotland he worked with the Scottish state to set up the Kirk of Scotland, and later Scottish settlers introduced Calvinism to Ireland.

A depiction of the dissolution of the monasteries
As mentioned earlier Patrick Collinson placed the English Reformation as beginning with Wyclif, and the writings of Luther made its way into the universities of England. Henry VIII and his lord chancellor, Thomas Wolsey, were very keen to suppress Lutheran and Protestant ideas. By 1527, Henry VIII had started to believe that God was displeased with his marriage to Catherine of Aragon as they had only produced one child, a daughter who would become Mary I. Henry started courting Anne Boleyn, a court lady-in-waiting, and asked Pope Clement VII for an annulment - not a divorce as it has been portrayed in British media. An annulment means that the marriage never happened. However, the army of Charles V were at Rome and he happened to be Catherine's nephew, so an annulment would make his cousin a bastard. Angry at the refusal Henry arrested Wolsey on the accusation of treason and appointed Thomas Cranmer instead as archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer divorced Henry and Catherine so Henry could marry Anne in 1533. Henry threatened to withhold taxes unless the pope accepted Cranmer, so the pope excommunicated Henry. Following this Henry's principal minister, Thomas Cromwell, started enforcing a new branch of Christianity, Anglicanism. Cromwell oversaw the closing of the monasteries, transferring their assets to Henry and his followers, and ensuring that office holders had to agree that Henry was the 'supreme head of the Church of England.' However, the English and Welsh citizens did not entirely take the Reformation lightly. In 1536 discontent over dissolving the monasteries combined with rising taxes led to a revolt by priests and nobles, beginning in north England, called the 'Pilgrimage of Grace.' As mentioned earlier although Anglicanism became the dominant Protestant sect in England many others emerged including Quakers, Anabaptists, and Calvinists, just to name three, arrived or emerged in England. Despite a brief return to Catholicism under Mary Protestantism remained dominant with Elizabeth I requiring officials, clergy, and nobles to swear allegiance to her as the 'supreme governor of the Church of England.' Part of this change in wording was due to Elizabeth believing that it would be improper for a woman to be a 'head' but also as a way to create a loophole to let Catholics swear allegiance to her. Only after the Glorious Revolution of 1688/9 was Protestantism properly secured in England.

How the Reformation Spread
A printing press
There are many reasons why the Reformation became so widespread so quickly. The main reason why is print. By 1450 Johannes Gutenberg created a new printing press which involved a mechanical movable type which allowed quick and mass printing. Few people were literate but information could easily be disseminated through public reading sessions or town criers. It is quite telling about European society at the time that the first mass printed book was the Bible, and has since been called the Gutenberg Bible. The Reformation heavily used printing to copy and distribute the writings of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and other theologians. As mentioned earlier within two weeks of first releasing his theses Luther's words had been distributed to cities across Germany and by 1518 it had traveled across Europe. The strongest centers of Protestantism were always from cities with universities: Oxford, St Andrews, Nuremburg, Geneva etc. Most literate people would be located in universities and most universities were near, or in, cities. Mass publication with people to read and disseminate the ideas of the Reformation. It is noted that both Luther and Zwingli chose to translate the Bible from Latin to German; this allowed people to understand, or read, the Bible themselves without the need of a priest or bishop to do it for them. In 1549 in England the Book of Common Prayer was produced doing the same but in English. Mass printing allowed these translations to be widely distributed. 

Political authority helped as well. When Luther and others arrived on the scene papal authority was being challenged; the pope had sided with France during the War of the League of Cognac which had seen mutinous troops of Charles V sack Rome. How could the pope truly be the unchallenged voice of God if his power was being challenged? Areas where anti-Reformation rulers were in power could strangle Protestantism early on. Frederick III of Saxony protected Luther, the Protestant Swiss Cantons harbored Zwingli and Calvin, and the Scottish state actively used John Knox to install Calvinism. Meanwhile, the French state persecuted evangelicals resulting in a series of civil conflicts, and the Spanish Inquisition - set up 1478 to persecute Muslims, Jews, and conversos when it was feared that converted Muslims and Jews would reconvert - ruthlessly crushed Protestant thought early on. In the Netherlands, where Spanish rule was weaker and where trade with Protestant regions was larger, Calvinism soon became dominant. 

Propaganda Wars
A Catholic image of Luther being played by the Devil
As said earlier most people in Europe could not read so propaganda and art was issued by both Catholic and Protestant leaders. Again, using the Gutenberg printing press woodcuts, prints, and at times books were published to convert the masses. Although writing was often featured with these publications they were largely picture based using imagery which the public would recognize. For literate people pamphlets were produced; Luther himself printed 3,183 printings of which 2,645 were printed in German, not Latin. Even here Luther was printing for a more general audience rather than the Latin speaking elite, although Luther did loathe the masses. Catholic propagandists were not as initially successful as Protestants where the four most prolific ones produced 247 prints together. However, an interesting war of propaganda emerged where images of Luther being played like a trumpet by Satan were produced by Catholics, while Protestants had images presenting the pope as a demon.
The Pope portrayed as a demon in a Protestant image

The Catholic Reformation
Reading about the Reformation you might see the term 'Counter-Reformation' which was a term coined in the nineteenth century. Over the last sixty years 'Catholic Reformation' has been more widely used as Counter-Reformation implies that the Catholic Church only tried to counteract Protestants instead of reforming itself. Between 1545 and 1563 the Council of Trent, overseen by Pope Julius III and Pius IV, which vowed to limit the spread of Protestantism, reaffirm the power of the papacy, and reform Catholicism to remove corruption. New religious orders were also formed, of which the most famous was the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1534. Writing in Spiritual Exercises he said that through a program of meditation and contemplation in order to develop spiritual discipline and to meld one's spirit with God. Loyola stressed individual will to lead to holiness and self-control. In 1540 Pope Paul III officially recognized the Jesuits which allowed them to open universities and schools where Loyola's Spiritual Exercises was taught over a four week period. They also sent missionaries out of Europe, Francis Xavier being one of the most famous ones, to Brazil, West Africa, India, China, Japan and Indonesia. The Kangxi emperor in China was particularly fond of the Jesuits for their astronomy skills.
Ignatius Loyola
One of the interesting aspects of the Catholic Reformation was the return of local level devotional life. In urban parishes, and some villages, confraternities of lay people were founded, often limited to men. These organised funerals, donations to charity, held feats and processions, and practiced flagellation. In Venice, 120 confraternities existed in 1500 which rose to 400 by 1700. Capuchin houses were also formed across Catholic, and some Protestant, provinces. In Ancona, Italy by 1596 there were 50 Capuchin houses with each housing 486 Capuchins.

Men, Women and Marriage
Marriage and the positions of men and women greatly shifted thanks to the Reformations. Protestants started preaching that marriage was the greatest role for someone in life instead of celibacy; in fact Luther married a former nun, Katharine von Bora, and Zwingli married a Zurich widow, Anna Reinhart. Marriage was seen as being reflected in spiritual equality of the husband and wife which has led some historians to argue that this ensured that women did gain greater roles. This was not entirely the case, and the 'equality' was not actually an equality which we might see it. It is important not to be anachronistic with this, what we might see as not being equal is not what a sixteenth century observer would see as equal. Women were advised to be cheerful in their housework as it showed a willingness to follow God's plan, and in return men had to be kind and considerate to their wives. However, men had to show authority over women, sometimes with physical coercion - an English marriage law said that a husband could beat his wife with a stick as long as it was thinner than his thumb. Protestants argued that marriage was made by God to remedy human weakness so bad marriages could reasonably be divorced to allow remarriage, and marital courts in Scandinavia, Germany and Switzerland soon allowed divorce. It is important to note that divorce was very rare although it was more common than in Catholic, and Anglican, states. Thanks to the Council of Trent marriage records had to be held by priests in their parishes, and for a marriage to be legal it required witnesses, one of which had to be a parish priest.

One of the key parts of the Catholic Reformation was the role of women. The Protestant Reformation has seen as limiting the role of women: opportunities were limited with the closing of nunneries and wives being submissive was emphasized. The Jesuits actively involved women. In 1580 a Jesuit mission formed by Robert Parsons and Edmund Campion was set up in England which Catholic women attached themselves to as often the law overlooked them. However, the Jesuits themselves disapproved of women involving themselves; when Isabel Roser asked Paul III in 1581 for the permission to form a women's association it was rejected and Loyola was horrified about the idea of women being in regular contact with lay people. Angela Merici did receive permission to form the Company of St. Ursula which aimed to improve girls' education, but again many Ursulines were pressured to become cloistered nuns. This later shift is reflected in how many women were made saints. In the fifteenth century 27.7% of saints were women compared to 18.1% the next century.

Wars of Religion
I won't go into too much detail about the Wars of Religion as I intend to do a World History post just on them. In these wars a variety of factors came together and caused clashes between Protestants and Catholics. These wars started around 1524 and ended around 1651, but it is debatable if later wars were also Wars of Religion. One of these wars, the Second Kappel War, even cost the life of Zwingli. One such war, the German Peasants' War of 1524-6, started as an uprising about fishing in a forbidden stream which escalated in the largest mass rebellion in European history until the French Revolution. These peasants soon started using Lutheran doctrine to express some of their concerns, such as the community having the opportunity to elect or dismiss pastors to ensure the 'pure gospel' would be preached. Luther, however, did not support these revolts writing in Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants (1525) urged rulers 'as God's sword on earth to knock down, strangle, and stab the insurgents as one would a mad dog.' One recurring theme of these wars was the result: increased toleration for other religions. The treaties would offer toleration to certain Christian sects, antisemitism meant this was never expanded to Jews except in one case and often other Christian sects were ignored. For example, in 1555 the Peace of Augsburg allowed rulers in the Holy Roman Empire to be either Lutheran or Catholic, but it was not extended to Calvinists. Following the English Civil War Oliver Cromwell allowed Protestant sects to proliferate and he reversed Elizabeth I's ban on Jews, but he ruthlessly persecuted Catholics, especially in Ireland. Despite the clear limitations some historians have argued that the Wars of Religion were key in forming the present-day European state. For the most part today's states in Europe are secular and some have argued that the treaties allowing some religious toleration offered the first step towards this secularization.

The Reformation was one of the most influential events to shape European history, and it still affects the world today. We can see this on a small scale. Glasgow has a very divisive football culture with the two main teams being divided on sectarian lines, Rangers being Protestant and Celtic being Catholic. Meanwhile, the Protestant/Catholic divide has caused Ireland to remain divided to this day, and Northern Ireland's politics are clearly defined by religion. The Reformation shaped how people viewed the world and themselves for centuries, and the wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries helped bring about some limited religious tolerance. However, all this was possible thanks to the spread of literature and images through the printing press. The ideas of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin spread across Europe, and later the Americas, thanks to the printing press so they did not remain regional movements as Wyclif or Hus were. In a world where ideas and information are easily disseminated through the internet we can see clear connections to the past.

Thank you for reading. Next time we will be looking at the Wars of Religion, how they affected Europe, and how a myriad of reasons led to them. The sources I have used are as follows:
-Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789, (Cambridge, 2006)
-Euan Cameron, The European Reformation, (Oxford, 1991)
-Mark Greengrass, The European Reformation, c.1500-1618, (London, 1988)
-David Englander, Diana Norman, Rosemary O'Day, and W.R. Owens, (eds.), Culture and Belief in Europe 1450-1600: An Anthology Series, (Oxford, 1990)
-Bob Scribner, R. Porter, and M. Teich, (ed.), The Reformation in National Context, (Cambridge, 1994)
-John O'Malley, Trent: What Happened at the Council, (Cambridge, MA, 2013)

Thank you for reading. For other World History posts we have a list here. For other blog posts we have a Facebook or catch me on Twitter @LewisTwiby.

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