Protestant Reformation

Luther's 95 Theses

The Protestant Reformation was 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, Heraldry Zwingli, Martin Luther and John Calvin saw the corruption, and tried to stop it. This led to a split in the church, into Catholics and various 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 copies (about 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 at Wittenberg is seen as the start of the Protestant Reformation. This happened in the year 1517. John Knox brought Luther's ideas to Scotland and founded the Presbyterian Church. The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 recognized Protestants, and is generally seen as the end of this process.


In the beginning of the 16th century, many events led to the Protestant reformation. Clergy abuse caused people to begin criticizing the Catholic Church. The greed and scandalous lives of the clergy had created a split between them and the peasants. Furthermore, the clergy did not respond to the population's needs, often because they did not speak the local language, or live in their own diocese. The papacy lost prestige.

However, the split was more over doctrine than corruption. The main points of criticism were:

  • The Bible was only printed in Latin, and not in the local language. And printing was controlled by the church by a system of censorship. Catholic Mass, the Church's chief religious service, was also in Latin. This meant the people could not check whether what the priest said was actually correct doctrine.
  • 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)
  • Religious posts 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 the things had little to do with what was written in the Bible.

In 1515, the pope started a new indulgence campaign to raise money for the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica, a church in Rome. This was the last straw for Martin Luther, a Catholic monk from Germany. On October 31, 1517, he sent his 95 theses to the local archbishop in protest. It is said he nailed a copy to the door of the Wittenberg chapel. 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 recent invention of the printing press helped spread awareness of the Church's abuses, coordinate a response, and a start was made in translating the bible into various local languages. For example, John Wycliffe and William Tyndale worked on translating it into the English language. Much of Tyndale's translation was used in the King James version of the Bible.


In 1524-1525, millions of peasants rebelled against the nobles in the name of equality of the humanity in front of God. Many countries in Europe followed the trend of Protestant reformation and Europe was divided by religion. This brought religious wars such as the French Wars of Religion. For a short 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 Protestants to practice their religion.

The Pope reestablished the inquisition to combat heresy. 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 made the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a list of banned books. It had a big influence in its first centuries and was not ended 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]


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. Protestant colonists saw this as one of the Intolerable Acts. In later centuries, many Protestant churches were established in the province of Quebec despite Britain's failure to do so.

Related pages


  1. "The Reformation". History Channel website: A&E Television network. 1996–2014. Retrieved 11 February 2014.CS1 maint: Date format (link)
  2. "Les Réformes protestantes" (in French). Département de philosophie, UQÀM. 2010. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  3. Laville, Christian & Simard, Marc. 2010. Histoire de la civilisation occidentale. Ville Saint-Laurent, Erpi, 3e edition, p. 175 to 191.