The Protestant Reformation was a Christian reform movement in Europe. It is thought to have begun with Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses and may be considered to have ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The movement began as an attempt to reform the Catholic Church. Many western Catholics were troubled by what they saw as false doctrines and malpractices within the Church, particularly involving the teaching and sale of indulgences. Another major contention was the practice of buying and selling church positions (simony) and what was seen at the time as considerable corruption within the Church's hierarchy. This corruption was seen by many at the time as systemic, even reaching the position of the Pope.
Martin Luther's spiritual predecessors included men such as John Wycliffe and Johannes Hus, who had attempted to reform the church along similar lines. The Reformation can be said to have begun in earnest on October 31, 1517, in Wittenberg, Saxony (in present-day Germany). There, Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the All Saints' Church, which served as a notice board for university-related announcements. These were points for debate that criticized the Church and the Pope. The most controversial points centered on the practice of selling indulgences and the Church's policy on purgatory. Other reformers, such as Ulrich Zwingli, soon followed. Beliefs and practices under attack by Protestant reformers included purgatory, Particular Judgement, devotion to Mary (Mariology), the intercession of and devotion to the saints, most of the sacraments, the mandatory celibacy requirement of its clergy (including monasticism), and the authority of the Pope.
The reform movement soon split along certain doctrinal lines. Spiritual disagreements between Luther and Zwingli, and later between Luther and John Calvin, led to the emergence of rival Protestant churches. The most important denominations to emerge directly from the Reformation were the Lutherans, and the Reformed/Calvinists/Presbyterians. The process of reform had decidedly different causes and effects in other countries. In England, where it gave rise to Anglicanism, the period became known as the English Reformation. Subsequent Protestant denominations generally trace their roots back to the initial reforming movements. The reformers also accelerated the Catholic or Counter Reformation within the Catholic Church. The Protestant Reformation is also referred to as the German Reformation, Protestant Revolution or Protestant Revolt.
History and Origins
All mainstream Protestants generally trace their separation from the Catholic Church to the 16th century. The origin of mainstream Protestantism is sometimes called the Magisterial Reformation because the movement received support from the magistrates, the ruling authorities (as opposed to the Radical Reformation, which had no state sponsorship). Older Protestant churches, such as the Unitas Fratrum (Unity of the Brethren), Moravian Brethren or the Bohemian Brethren trace their origin to the time of Jan Hus in the early 15th century. As it was led by a majority of Bohemian nobles and recognized for a time by the Basel Compacts, this was the first Magisterial Reformation in Europe. In Germany, a hundred years later, the protests erupted in many places at once, during a time of threatened Islamic Ottoman invasion ¹ which distracted German princes in particular. To some degree, the protest can be explained by the events of the previous two centuries in Europe and particularly in Bohemia.