Keys to the Past



This was a series of major religious reforms and counter-reforms of the 16th century AD. It divided the Christian church into Catholic and Protestant traditions - originally in Germany and Switzerland, but later spread worldwide. There was no single protest movement to the church, no single leader, no defined objectives and no single controlling organisation. It was a series of parallel movements, with different people, with differing perspectives - who have been linked together by period.

By the 16th century, people such as Martin Luther (1483-1546AD) had found the church no longer answering their questions about faith. Money could buy indulgences - pardons from sins committed. It was irrelevant about the sins committed, rather the amount of money you had whether you would go to heaven or hell. It was also thought that the Church was too interested in secular affairs - sometimes appointing Bishops from members of family to gain more power, making wars and ignoring the principles of Christian monasticism - such things had been noted before, which had given rise to the reforming Cistercians and Premonstratensians in the 12th century AD.

Luther published his beliefs widely trying to reform the church from within as he was an Augustinian. However, the Dominicans that made money from the sale of indulgences - the major criticism of Luther - persuaded the Pope that Luther was a heretic. Replies to Luther were also published. Further people who wanted reform, such as Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531AD), corresponded with Luther - sometimes agreeing, sometimes not. Rebellions and risings took place in Germany and Switzerland as the areas divided into Catholic and Protestant areas. There was religious destruction, iconoclasm, and loss of life on both sides with neither gaining the advantage.

In England, there was a different form of Reformation. King Henry VIII originally wrote against Luther. The published ideas of Luther and others had reached Britain - where some supported them in the 1520s AD. Henry later broke from the Catholic church when refused a divorce by the Pope in the 1530s AD. This led to the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry acting as the head of the church in England. The ideas of the reformers were used as justification for the separation. Henry's son Edward VI (who reigned from 1547-1553AD) carried on the reforming spirit - revising the mass - in The Book of Common Prayer in 1549AD. It was now that there was English iconoclasm. Further simplified prayer books were written in 1552AD, whilst the 1553AD The Forty Two Articles set out reformed beliefs for a fore-runner of the Church of England.

There was a Catholic interlude under Queen Mary I (who reigned from 1553-1558AD). There were about 280 Protestant reformers burnt - seen by some as martyrs. Authority in the church was put in the care of the Rome Popes - some short-lived monasteries re-started as Catholic clergy returned, from Europe and Scotland.
However, under Queen Elizabeth I (who reigned from 1558-1603AD) there was a vigorous re-establishment of the Protestant reforms - now developed in The Thirty Nine Articles in 1563AD setting out the Church of England position as the established church. This document trod an ambiguous path between the Catholic and Protestant traditions. The Thirty Nine Articles did not go as far some would have wished, and the Church of England has a spectrum of opinions due to it. Catholics were persecuted at this time - again some being martyrs for their religion.

There are several reformed churches of The Reformation period and later, some called are Lutherian churches after Luther. See specialised entries for Church of England and Presbyterian in particular.

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