The Protestant Reformation
During the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation was a major European movement that mainly focused on reforming the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Along with religious meanings, there were political rulers who wanted to extend their power and control, at the expense of the Church. The Reformation ended the unity imposed by medieval Christianity and, in the eyes of many historians, signaled the beginning of the modern era. A weakening of the old order was already under way in Northern Europe, as evidenced by the emergence of thriving new cities and a determined middle class. This reform was led by Martin Luther whose original intentions were to reform the church, but resulted in a split between Protestant and Catholic.
In 1517, Martin Luther (1483–1546), a German Augustinian monk, posted 95 theses on a church door in the university town of Wittenberg. These theses were Latin propositions opposing the manner in which sins or indulgences were being sold in order to raise money for the building of Saint Peter's in Rome. The act of posting manuscripts on the church’s door was common academic practice of the day and served as an invitation to debate. Luther's propositions challenged some portions of Roman Catholic doctrine and a number of specific practices. Although he had hoped to spur renewal from within the church, in 1521 he was summoned before the Diet of Worms and excommunicated. Sheltered by Friedrich, elector of Saxony, Luther translated the Bible into German and continued his output of vernacular pamphlets.
When German peasants, inspired in part by Luther’s empowering “priesthood of all believers,” revolted in 1524, Luther sided with Germany’s princes. By the Reformation’s end, Lutheranism had become the state religion throughout much of Germany, Scandinavia and the Baltics. The movement quickly gained...