Protestant Reformation

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This page forms part of a brief outline of some of the aspects of Christianity about which some readers of AWE may want to know more. It is written in a sequence that you may want to follow. The best place to start, if you want to follow the whole course, is Principal Christian Denominations. Many users of AWE will come to this group of articles only wanting to know more about one of the denominations mentioned, or by way of links from other places. You should of course read a larger book if you are taking a serious interest in the Christian religion - our articles are the merest sketches of what is a vast array of complex ideas.

The Protestant Reformation.

Throughout the Middle Ages virtually all Christians in Western Europe were members of the Roman Catholic Church, but in the fifteenth century anger at the corruption of the clergy and dissatisfaction with some of the Church's doctrines began to grow, and in 1517 Martin Luther (1483-1546), a German priest and professor of Theology at Wittenberg University, composed his Ninety-five Theses, a document demanding an end to a number of corrupt practices within the Church (such as the sale of indulgences, i.e., the practice of granting individuals exemption from punishment for their sins in return for payment). (Tradition has it that Luther nailed a copy of the Ninety-five Theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral, but many historians are sceptical of this tradition.) The Roman Catholic Church not only refused to meet Luther's demands but excommunicated him, which led to the foundation in 1521 of:

  • the Lutheran Church. Luther denied the Roman Catholic Church's claim to be the indispensable mediator between the individual Christian and God and to be the final authority in matters of religious truth and the interpretation of the Bible. He insisted that the individual Christian could approach God directly and, under God's guidance, could interpret the Bible by himself without assistance from the clergy or dependence on the traditions of the Church.

During this period (i.e., the first half of the sixteenth century) other Protestant Churches were established in Western Europe. For example, in England King Henry VIII's dispute with the Pope over his right to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, resulted in the establishment of

And in Switzerland John Calvin (Jean Chauvin, 1509-1564), the French reformer who settled in Geneva, formulated in his Institutes of the Christian Religion the theological doctrines, and in particular the doctrine of predestination, which provided the foundation for

In fact in the northern half of Western Europe for the last 500 years, although the Roman Catholic Church still has a significant membership, the majority of Christians have belonged to one or other of the Protestant denominations. (In the southern half of Western Europe (i.e., France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy) Roman Catholicism has maintained its dominance.)

This page is included in AWE's category:essentially contested concepts. This is designed to draw the reader's attention to the fact that there are some ideas that will always cause disagreement among the people who use them. For a fuller explanation, read the text at the head of the category.