The Reformation was a political and religious movement in Europe that began in the 1500’s and lasted for roughly 150 years. It is difficult to pinpoint exact starting and ending dates for the Reformation, but we can point to two events that seem to begin and to culminate the Reformation era: 1517 (Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and his protest against the indulgence system of the Roman Catholic Church) and 1648 (The Peace of Westphalia, treaties that ended both the Thirty Years’ War and the Eighty Years’ War and thus put an end to most of the civil disruption caused by the religious movement).
1. Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses (October 31, 1517)
It has been argued that the importance of Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg is often overestimated, since all public disputations were promoted in this manner. Furthermore, it is evident from the 95 Theses that Luther’s decisive break with Rome is not yet clear. He upholds the indulgence system, papal authority, and the existence of purgatory. Yet, this crucial event deserves to be at the forefront of any discussion on important Reformation events because it is the spark that led to the flames of revolution. Luther’s 95 Theses were published, printed, and disseminated into Europe, and the publication ignited a religious fervor that exploded across Germany and beyond.
2. The Marburg Colloquy (1529)
Luther and Zwingli’s discussion of the theology of the Lord’s Supper may seem an odd choice for the 2nd most important Reformation event, but the political and religious consequences of their failure to come to agreement on the Eucharist set the course for a split which has lasted almost 500 years. Because the Reformers could not agree on the Lord’s Supper, the political alliance between Reform-minded countries was severely hindered. The religious implications forced the Lutherans and the Reformed to go separate ways, creating an animosity that precluded religious unity and led to even more splintering of Protestantism into differing groups.
3. Publication of Luther’s Translation of the New Testament (1522)
Luther’s publication of the New Testament into common German was a watershed moment for the Reformation in Europe. He was followed by William Tyndale’s work on the New Testament in 1526 and by a host of other common-man translations in other countries. The translation of the Bible into the language of the people allowed the Reformers to base their criticism of the papacy on biblical grounds and led to the common man being able to search the Scriptures for himself without relying solely on the Church’s authority.
4. The Act of Supremacy (1534)
Henry VIII’s institution of the Church of England and his positioning of himself as the head of the Church was the beginning of a long and checkered history of Reformation in England, in which the institution of Reformed theology from the top-down brought its own set of problems.
5. The Edict of Nantes (1598)
This event was one of the most hopeful signs that the Reformation would eventually end with different religious groups coexisting peacefully. This innovative act of tolerance formed the basis for the modern-day secular society of freedom of religion.
6. The Council of Trent (1545-63)
The Roman Catholic declarations following the Council of Trent eliminated virtually any hope for reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Protestant movement. The enormity of this council’s output served to codify Roman Catholic theology for the next four centuries, forming the Tridentine period of Roman Catholicism.
7. Calvin’s Institutes (1559)
John Calvin’s systematic theology The Institutes of the Christian Religion formed the basis for the adoption of Reformed theology in Europe and America. His theology is important because it was a visionary exposition of theology, whereas the other Reformers’ theologies were reactionary in nature, being forged in the midst of conflict.
8. Martin Luther’s Three Treatises (1520)
Martin Luther’s three treatises to the German people in 1520 (Appeal to the German Nobility, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and The Freedom of the Christian) served as a fervent call to reformation of the church, influencing the Protestant movement in Germany and beyond for years to come.
9. St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572)
The Catholic mob violence against the Huguenots that lasted for several months claimed the lives of thousands of French Protestants. This event was a turning point in the French Wars of Religion, as it radicalized the Huguenot movement.
10. The Peace of Augsburg (1555)
The first religious war of the century ended, as rulers allowed territories to choose their religion. This was the beginning of religious toleration in Europe, which formed the foundation for the Edict of Nantes and the Act of Toleration.
written by Trevin Wax © 2007 Kingdom People blog