The Protestant Reformation was a reform movement in Europe that began in 1517, though its roots lie further back in time. It began with Martin Luther 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 Jan Hus, who had attempted to reform the church along similar lines, though their efforts had been largely unsuccessful. 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 Luther's lead. Church beliefs and practices under attack by Protestant reformers included purgatory, particular judgment, 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, Protestant Revolt, and, in Germany, as the Lutheran Reformation.
The Council of Constance confirmed and strengthened the traditional medieval conception of Church and Empire. It did not address the national tensions, or the theological tensions which had been stirred up during the previous century. The council could not prevent schism and the Hussite Wars in Bohemia.
Historical upheaval usually yields much new thinking as to how society should be organized. This was the case leading up to the Protestant Reformation. Following the breakdown of monastic institutions and scholasticism in late medieval Europe, accentuated by the "Babylonian Captivity" of the Avignon Papacy, the Great Schism, and the failure of the Conciliar movement, the sixteenth century saw the fomenting of a great cultural debate about religious reforms and later fundamental religious values (See German mysticism). Historians would generally assume that the failure to reform (too many vested interests, lack of coordination in the reforming coalition) would eventually lead to a greater upheaval or even revolution, since the system must eventually be adjusted or disintegrate, and the failure of the Conciliar movement helped lead to the Protestant Reformation in Europe. These frustrated reformist movements ranged from nominalism, devotio moderna (modern devotion), to humanism occurring in conjunction with economic, political and demographic forces that contributed to a growing disaffection with the wealth and power of the elite clergy, sensitizing the population to the financial and moral corruption of the secular Renaissance church.
The outcome of the Black Death encouraged a radical reorganization of the economy, and eventually of European society. In the emerging urban centers, however, the calamities of the fourteenth and early fifteenth century, and the resultant labor shortages, provided a strong impetus for economic diversification and technological innovations. Following the Black Death, the initial loss of life due to famine, plague, and pestilence contributed to an intensification of capital accumulation in the urban areas, and thus a stimulus to trade, industry, and burgeoning urban growth in fields as diverse as banking (the Fugger banking family in Augsburg and the Medici family of Florence being the most prominent); textiles, armaments, especially stimulated by the Hundred Years' War, and mining of iron ore due, in large part, to the booming armaments industry. Accumulation of surplus, competitive overproduction, and heightened competition to maximize economic advantage, contributed to civil war, aggressive militarism, and thus to centralization. As a direct result of the move toward centralization, leaders like Louis XI of France (1461–1483), the "spider king", sought to remove all constitutional restrictions on the exercise of their authority. In England, France, and Spain the move toward centralization begun in the thirteenth century was carried to a successful conclusion.
But as recovery and prosperity progressed, enabling the population to reach its former levels in the late 15th and 16th centuries, the combination of both a newly-abundant labor supply as well as improved productivity, were 'mixed blessings' for many segments of Western European society. Despite tradition, landlords started the move to exclude peasants from "common lands". With trade stimulated, landowners increasingly moved away from the manorial economy. Woolen manufacturing greatly expanded in France, Germany, and the Netherlands and new textile industries began to develop.
The invention of movable type would lead to the Protestant zeal for translating the Bible and getting it into the hands of the laity. This would advance the culture of Biblical literacy.
The "humanism" of the Renaissance period stimulated unprecedented academic ferment, and a concern for academic freedom. Ongoing, earnest theoretical debates occurred in the universities about the nature of the church, and the source and extent of the authority of the papacy, of councils, and of princes.
The protests against Rome began in earnest when Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and professor at the university of Wittenberg, called in 1517 for a reopening of the debate on the sale of indulgences. Luther's dissent marked a sudden outbreak of a new and irresistible force of discontent which had been pushed underground but not resolved. The quick spread of discontent occurred to a large degree because of the printing press and the resulting swift movement of both ideas and documents, including the 95 Theses. Information was also widely disseminated in manuscript form, as well as by cheap prints and woodcuts amongst the poorer sections of society.
Parallel to events in Germany, a movement began in Switzerland under the leadership of Ulrich Zwingli. These two movements quickly agreed on most issues, as the recently introduced printing press spread ideas rapidly from place to place, but some unresolved differences kept them separate. Some followers of Zwingli believed that the Reformation was too conservative, and moved independently toward more radical positions, some of which survive among modern day Anabaptists. Other Protestant movements grew up along lines of mysticism or humanism (cf. Erasmus), sometimes breaking from Rome or from the Protestants, or forming outside of the churches.
After this first stage of the Reformation, following the excommunication of Luther and condemnation of the Reformation by the Pope, the work and writings of John Calvin were influential in establishing a loose consensus among various groups in Switzerland, Scotland, Hungary, Germany and elsewhere.
The Reformation foundations engaged with Augustinianism. Both Luther and Calvin thought along lines linked with the theological teachings of Augustine of Hippo. The Augustinianism of the Reformers struggled against Pelagianism, a heresy that they perceived in the Catholic church of their day. In the course of this religious upheaval, the Peasants' War of 1524–1525 swept through the Bavarian, Thuringian and Swabian principalities, leaving scores of Catholics slaughtered at the hands of Protestant bands, including the Black Company of Florian Geier,a knight from Giebelstadt who joined the peasants in the general outrage against the Catholic hierarchy.
Even though Luther and Calvin had very similar theological teachings, the relationship between their followers turned quickly to conflict. Frenchman Michel de Montaigne told a story of a Lutheran pastor who once claimed that he would rather celebrate the mass of Rome than participate in a Calvinist service.
The political separation of the Church of England from Rome under Henry VIII, beginning in 1529 and completed in 1536, brought England alongside this broad Reformed movement. However, religious changes in the English national church proceeded more conservatively than elsewhere in Europe. Reformers in the Church of England alternated, for centuries, between sympathies for Catholic traditions and Protestantism, progressively forging a stable compromise between adherence to ancient tradition and Protestantism, which is now sometimes called the via media.
Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli are considered Magisterial Reformers because their reform movements were supported by ruling authorities or "magistrates". Frederick the Wise not only supported Luther, who was a professor at the university he founded, but also protected him by hiding Luther in Wartburg Castle in Eisenach. Zwingli and Calvin were supported by the city councils in Zurich and Geneva. Since the term "magister" also means "teacher", the Magisterial Reformation is also characterized by an emphasis on the authority of a teacher. This is made evident in the prominence of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli as leaders of the reform movements in their respective areas of ministry. Because of their authority, they were often criticized by Radical Reformers as being too much like the Roman Popes. For example, Radical Reformer Andreas von Bodenstein Karlstadt referred to the Wittenberg theologians as the "new papists".
The major individualistic reform movements that revolted against medieval scholasticism and the institutions that underpinned it were: humanism, devotionalism, (see for example, the Brothers of the Common Life and Jan Standonck) and the observatine tradition. In Germany, "the modern way" or devotionalism caught on in the universities, requiring a redefinition of God, who was no longer a rational governing principle but an arbitrary, unknowable will that cannot be limited. God was now a ruler, and religion would be more fervent and emotional. Thus, the ensuing revival of Augustinian theology, stating that man cannot be saved by his own efforts but only by the grace of God, would erode the legitimacy of the rigid institutions of the church meant to provide a channel for man to do good works and get into heaven. Humanism, however, was more of an educational reform movement with origins in the Renaissance's revival of classical learning and thought. A revolt against Aristotelian logic, it placed great emphasis on reforming individuals through eloquence as opposed to reason. The European Renaissance laid the foundation for the Northern humanists in its reinforcement of the traditional use of Latin as the great unifying cultural language.
The polarization of the scholarly community in Germany over the Reuchlin (1455–1522) affair, attacked by the elite clergy for his study of Hebrew and Jewish texts, brought Luther fully in line with the humanist educational reforms who favored academic freedom. At the same time, the impact of the Renaissance would soon backfire against traditional Catholicism, ushering in an age of reform and a repudiation of much of medieval Latin tradition. Led by Erasmus, the humanists condemned various forms of corruption within the Church, forms of corruption that might not have been any more prevalent than during the medieval zenith of the church. Erasmus held that true religion was a matter of inward devotion rather than outward symbols of ceremony and ritual. Going back to ancient texts, scriptures, from this viewpoint the greatest culmination of the ancient tradition, are the guides to life. Favoring moral reforms and de-emphasizing didactic ritual, Erasmus laid the groundwork for Luther.
Humanism's intellectual anti-clericalism would profoundly influence Luther. The increasingly well-educated middle sectors of Northern Germany, namely the educated community and city dwellers would turn to Luther's rethinking of religion to conceptualize their discontent according to the cultural medium of the era. The great rise of the burghers, the desire to run their new businesses free of institutional barriers or outmoded cultural practices, contributed to the appeal of humanist individualism. To many, papal institutions were rigid, especially regarding their views on just price and usury. In the North, burghers and monarchs were united in their frustration for not paying any taxes to the nation, but collecting taxes from subjects and sending the revenues disproportionately to the Pope in Italy.
These trends heightened demands for significant reform and revitalization along with anticlericalism. New thinkers began noticing the divide between the priests and the flock. The clergy, for instance, were not always well-educated. Parish priests often did not know Latin and rural parishes often did not have great opportunities for theological education for many at the time. Due to its large landholdings and institutional rigidity, a rigidity to which the excessively large ranks of the clergy contributed, many bishops studied law, not theology, being relegated to the role of property managers trained in administration. While priests emphasized works of religiosity, the respectability of the church began diminishing, especially among well educated urbanites, and especially considering the recent strings of political humiliation, such as the apprehension of Pope Boniface VIII by Philip IV of France, the "Babylonian Captivity", the Great Schism, and the failure of Conciliar reformism. In a sense, the campaign by Pope Leo X to raise funds to rebuild St. Peter's Basilica was too much of an excess by the secular Renaissance church, prompting high-pressure indulgences that rendered the clergy establishments even more disliked in the cities.
Luther borrowed from the humanists the sense of individualism, that each man can be his own priest (an attitude likely to find popular support considering the rapid rise of an educated urban middle class in the North), and that the only true authority is the Bible, echoing the reformist zeal of the Conciliar movement and opening up the debate once again on limiting the authority of the Pope. While his ideas called for the sharp redefinition of the dividing lines between the laity and the clergy, his ideas were still, by this point, reformist in nature. Luther's contention that the human will was incapable of following good, however, resulted in his rift with Erasmus finally distinguishing Lutheran reformism from humanism.
While there were some parallels between certain movements within humanism and teachings later common among the Reformers, the Reformation's principal arguments were based on "direct" Biblical interpretation. The Catholic Church had for several centuries been the main purveyor in Europe of non-secular humanism: the Neoplatonism of the scholastics and the neo-Aristotelianism of Thomas Aquinas and his followers had made humanism a part of Church dogma. This was of course due to the Catholic Church's use of historic, religious tradition (including the Canonization of Saints) in the forming of its liturgy. Thus, when Luther and the other reformers adopted the standard of sola scriptura, making the Bible the sole measure of theology, they made the Reformation a reaction against the humanism of that time. Previously, the Scriptures had been seen by some as the pinnacle of a hierarchy of sacred texts, and on par with the oral traditions of the Church.
The Protestants emphasized such concepts as justification by "faith alone" (not faith and good works or infused righteousness), "Scripture alone" (the Bible as the sole inspired rule of faith, rather than the Bible plus tradition), "the priesthood of all believers" (eschewing the special authority and power of the Catholic sacramental priesthood), that all people are individually responsible for their status before God such that talk of mediation through any but Christ alone is unbiblical. Because they saw these teachings as stemming from the Bible, they encouraged publication of the Bible in the common language and universal education.
Part of the revolt was an iconoclasm, seen in Huldrych Zwingli, but particularly amongst the radical reformers. Iconoclastic riots took place in Zürich (in 1523), Copenhagen (1530), Münster (1534), Geneva (1535), Augsburg (1537), and Scotland (1559). John Calvin took a more moderate stance to Zwingli and the Anabaptists, but preferred a more simple aesthetic, to the excesses of the Middle Ages. The Reformation did not happen in a vacuum, as there were movements for centuries calling for a return to Biblical teachings, the most famous being from Wycliffe, Jan Hus, and the Waldensians. It is no surprise that their teachings were later found in the Reformation, as they imbibed from the same source.
While it is true that there were calls for religious, doctrinal, and moral reformation within and without the institutional church for centuries, apparently it was the invention of the printing press which allowed quick broadcasting of ideas, the rise in nationalistic fervor, the increasing availability of the Bible to the public, and popular discontent at the moral corruption in the church to coalesce in support for a reformation as never before.
Many unskilled laborers had been squeezed from the countryside into the cities and suffered from the over-crowding and high prices that can follow such a quick and voluminous influx of new citizens. Discontented and morally righteous, the lower classes embraced the most radical theological options opened up by the religious revolution and were ready to follow leaders rising within their ranks, who urged them to band together against immorality and decadence. The Drummer of Niklashausen and later the Anabaptist preachers railed against landowners who took control of increasing areas, kings centralizing control, and princes looking for increased tax revenues to fund their growing states.
The Anabaptists and other radical leaders were condemned by the Lutherans and nationalistic Germans. Nearly every country in Europe saw a flare-up of failed peasant revolts motivated by religious concerns and executed according to religious doctrine. The Hungarian Peasants' War (1514), the revolt against Charles V in Spain (1520), the discontent of the lower classes in France with the excessive taxes levied by Louis XI, and the secret associations which prepared the way for the great Peasants' War of the lower classes in Germany (1524), show that discontent was not confined to any one country in Europe.
A Lutheran understanding of the Eucharist is distinct from the Reformed doctrine of the Eucharist in that Lutherans affirm a real, physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist (as opposed to either a "spiritual presence" or a "memorial") and Lutherans affirm that the presence of Christ does not depend on the faith of the recipient; the repentant receive Christ in the Eucharist worthily, the unrepentant who receive the Eucharist risk the wrath of Christ.
Luther, along with his colleague Philipp Melanchthon, emphasized this point in his plea for the Reformation at the Reichstag in 1529 amid charges of heresy. But the changes he proposed were of such a fundamental nature that by their own logic they would automatically overthrow the old order; neither the Emperor nor the Church could possibly accept them, as Luther well knew. As was only to be expected, the edict by the Diet of Worms (1521) prohibited all innovations. Meanwhile, in these efforts to retain the guise of a Catholic reformer as opposed to a heretical revolutionary, and to appeal to German princes with his religious condemnation of the peasant revolts backed up by the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, Luther's growing conservatism would provoke more radical reformers.
At a religious conference with the Zwinglians in 1529, Melanchthon joined with Luther in opposing a union with Zwingli. There would finally be a schism in the reform movement due to Luther's belief in real presence—the real (as opposed to symbolic) presence of Christ at the Eucharist. His original intention was not schism, but with the Reichstag of Augsburg (1530) and its rejection of the Lutheran "Augsburg Confession", a separate Lutheran church finally emerged. In a sense, Luther would take theology further in its deviation from established Catholic dogma, forcing a rift between the humanist Erasmus and Luther. Similarly, Zwingli would further repudiate ritualism, and break with the increasingly conservative Luther.
Aside from the enclosing of the lower classes, the middle sectors of Northern Germany, namely the educated community and city dwellers, would turn to religion to conceptualize their discontent according to the cultural medium of the era. The great rise of the burghers, the desire to run their new businesses free of institutional barriers or outmoded cultural practices contributed to the appeal of individualism. To many, papal institutions were rigid, especially regarding their views on just price and usury. In the North, burghers and monarchs were united in their frustration for not paying any taxes to the nation, but collecting taxes from subjects and sending the revenues disproportionately to Italy. In Northern Europe Luther appealed to the growing national consciousness of the German states because he denounced the Pope for involvement in politics as well as religion. Moreover, he backed the nobility, which was now justified to crush the Great Peasant Revolt of 1525 and to confiscate church property by Luther's Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. This explains the attraction of some territorial princes to Lutheranism, especially its Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. However, the Elector of Brandenburg, Joachim I, blamed Lutheranism for the revolt and so did others. In Brandenburg, it was only under his successor Joachim II that Lutheranism was established, and the old religion was not formally extinct in Brandenburg until the death of the last Catholic bishop there, Georg von Blumenthal, who was Bishop of Lebus and sovereign Prince-Bishop of Ratzeburg.
With the church subordinate to and the agent of civil authority and peasant rebellions condemned on strict religious terms, Lutheranism and German nationalist sentiment were ideally suited to coincide.
Though Charles V fought the Reformation, it is no coincidence either that the reign of his nationalistic predecessor Maximilian I saw the beginning of the Reformation. While the centralized states of western Europe had reached accords with the Vatican permitting them to draw on the rich property of the church for government expenditures, enabling them to form state churches that were greatly autonomous of Rome, similar moves on behalf of the Reich were unsuccessful so long as princes and prince bishops fought reforms to drop the pretension of the secular universal empire.
In Sweden the Reformation was spearheaded by Gustav Vasa, elected king in 1523. Friction with the pope over the latter's interference in Swedish ecclesiastical affairs led to the discontinuance of any official connection between Sweden and the papacy from 1523. Four years later, at the Diet of Västerås, the king succeeded in forcing the diet to accept his dominion over the national church. The king was given possession of all church property, church appointments required royal approval, the clergy were subject to the civil law, and the "pure Word of God" was to be preached in the churches and taught in the schools—effectively granting official sanction to Lutheran ideas.
Under the reign of Frederick I (1523–33), Denmark remained officially Catholic. But though Frederick initially pledged to persecute Lutherans, he soon adopted a policy of protecting Lutheran preachers and reformers, of whom the most famous was Hans Tausen. During his reign, Lutheranism made significant inroads among the Danish population. Frederick's son, Christian, was openly Lutheran, which prevented his election to the throne upon his father's death. However, following his victory in the civil war that followed, in 1537 he became Christian III and began a reformation of the official state church.
In England, the Reformation followed a different course than elsewhere in Europe. There had long been a strong strain of anti-clericalism, and England had already given rise to the Lollard movement of John Wycliffe, which played an important part in inspiring the Hussites in Bohemia. By the 1520s, however, the Lollards were not an active force, or, at least, certainly not a mass movement. The different character of the English Reformation came rather from the fact that it was driven initially by the political necessities of Henry VIII. Henry had once been a sincere Catholic and had even authored a book strongly criticizing Luther, but he later found it expedient and profitable to break with the Papacy. His wife, Catherine of Aragon, bore him only a single child, Mary. As England had recently gone through a lengthy dynastic conflict (see Wars of the Roses), Henry feared that his lack of a male heir might jeopardize his descendants' claim to the throne. However, Pope Clement VII, concentrating more on Charles V's "sack of Rome", denied his request for an annulment. Had Clement granted the annullment and therefore admitted that his predessecor, Julius II, had erred, Clement would have given support to the Lutheran assertion that Popes replaced their own judgement for the will of God. King Henry decided to remove the Church of England from the authority of Rome. In 1534, the Act of Supremacy made Henry the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Between 1535 and 1540, under Thomas Cromwell, the policy known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries was put into effect. The veneration of some saints, certain pilgrimages and some pilgrim shrines were also attacked. Huge amounts of church land and property passed into the hands of the crown and ultimately into those of the nobility and gentry. The vested interest thus created made for a powerful force in support of the dissolutions.
There were some notable opponents to the Henrician Reformation, such as Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher, who were executed for their opposition. There was also a growing party of reformers who were imbued with the Zwinglian and Calvinistic doctrines now current on the Continent. When Henry died he was succeeded by his Protestant son Edward VI, who, through his empowered councilors (with the King being only nine years old at his succession and not yet sixteen at his death) the Duke of Somerset and the Duke of Northumberland, ordered the destruction of images in churches, and the closing of the chantries. Under Edward VI the reform of the Church of England was established unequivocally in doctrinal terms. Yet, at a popular level, religion in England was still in a state of flux. Following a brief Roman Catholic restoration during the reign of Mary 1553–1558, a loose consensus developed during the reign of Elizabeth I, though this point is one of considerable debate among historians. Yet it is the so-called "Elizabethan Religious Settlement" to which the origins of Anglicanism are traditionally ascribed. The compromise was uneasy and was capable of veering between extreme Calvinism on the one hand and Catholicism on the other, but compared to the bloody and chaotic state of affairs in contemporary France, it was relatively successful until the Puritan Revolution or English Civil War in the seventeenth century.
The success of the Counter-Reformation on the Continent and the growth of a Puritan party dedicated to further Protestant reform polarized the Elizabethan Age, although it was not until the 1640s that England underwent religious strife comparable to that which its neighbours had suffered some generations before.
The early Puritan movement (late 16th century-17th century) was Reformed or Calvinist and was a movement for reform in the Church of England. Its origins lay in the discontent with the Elizabethan Religious Settlement. The desire was for the Church of England to resemble more closely the Protestant churches of Europe, especially Geneva. The Puritans objected to ornaments and ritual in the churches as idolatrous (vestments, surplices, organs, genuflection), which they castigated as "popish pomp and rags". (See Vestments controversy.) They also objected to ecclesiastical courts. They refused to endorse completely all of the ritual directions and formulas of the Book of Common Prayer; the imposition of its liturgical order by legal force and inspection sharpened Puritanism into a definite opposition movement.
The Reformation Parliament of 1560, which repudiated the pope's authority, forbade the celebration of the mass and approved a Protestant Confession of Faith, was made possible by a revolution against French hegemony under the regime of the regent Mary of Guise, who had governed Scotland in the name of her absent daughter Mary Queen of Scots (then also Queen of France).
Harsh persecution of Protestants by the Spanish government of Phillip II contributed to a desire for independence in the provinces, which led to the Eighty Years' War and eventually, the separation of the largely Protestant Dutch Republic from the Catholic-dominated Southern Netherlands, the present-day Belgium.
In the more independent northwest the rulers and priests, protected now by the Habsburg Monarchy which had taken the field to fight the Turks, defended the old Catholic faith. They dragged the Protestants to prison and the stake wherever they could. Such strong measures only fanned the flames of protest, however. Leaders of the Protestants included Matthias Biro Devai, Michael Sztarai, and Stephen Kis Szegedi.
Protestants likely formed a majority of Hungary's population at the close of the sixteenth century, but Counter-Reformation efforts in the seventeenth century reconverted a majority of the kingdom to Catholicism. A significant Protestant minority remained, most of it adhering to the Calvinist faith.
Though he was not personally interested in religious reform, Francis I (1515–47) initially maintained an attitude of tolerance, arising from his interest in the humanist movement. This changed in 1534 with the Affair of the Placards. In this act, Protestants denounced the mass in placards that appeared across France, even reaching the royal apartments. The issue of religious faith having been thrown into the arena of politics, Francis was prompted to view the movement as a threat to the kingdom's stability. This led to the first major phase of anti-Protestant persecution in France, in which the Chambre Ardente ("Burning Chamber") was established within the Parlement of Paris to handle with the rise in prosecutions for heresy. Several thousand French Protestants fled the country during this time, most notably John Calvin, who settled in Geneva.
Calvin continued to take an interest in the religious affairs of his native land and, from his base in Geneva, beyond the reach of the French king, regularly trained pastors to lead congregations in France. Despite heavy persecution by Henry II, the Reformed Church of France, largely Calvinist in direction, made steady progress across large sections of the nation, in the urban bourgeoisie and parts of the aristocracy, appealing to people alienated by the obduracy and the complacency of the Catholic establishment.
French Protestantism, though its appeal increased under persecution, came to acquire a distinctly political character, made all the more obvious by the noble conversions of the 1550s. This had the effect of creating the preconditions for a series of destructive and intermittent conflicts, known as the Wars of Religion. The civil wars were helped along by the sudden death of Henry II in 1559, which saw the beginning of a prolonged period of weakness for the French crown. atrocity and outrage became the defining characteristic of the time, illustrated at its most intense in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of August 1572, when between 30,000 and 100,000 Huguenots were killed across France. The wars only concluded when Henry IV, himself a former Huguenot, issued the Edict of Nantes, promising official toleration of the Protestant minority, but under highly restricted conditions. Catholicism remained the official state religion, and the fortunes of French Protestants gradually declined over the next century, culminating in Louis XIV's Edict of Fontainebleau—which revoked the Edict of Nantes and made Catholicism the sole legal religion of France. In response to the Edict of Fontainebleau, Frederick William of Brandenburg declared the Edict of Potsdam, giving free passage to French Huguenot refugees, and tax-free status to them for 10 years.
The Reformation led to a series of religious wars that culminated in the Thirty Years War. From 1618 to 1648 the Catholic Habsburgs and their allies fought against the Protestant princes of Germany, supported by Denmark and Sweden. The Habsburgs, who ruled Spain, Austria, the Spanish Netherlands and most of Germany and Italy, were the staunchest defenders of the Catholic Church. The Reformation Era came to a close when Catholic France allied herself, first in secret and later on the battlefields, with the Protestants against the Habsburgs. For the first time since the days of Luther, political and national convictions again outweighed religious convictions in Europe. Following the Peace of Westphalia, the major denominations now lived in relative peace on the continent.
The main tenets of the Peace of Westphalia were:
The treaty also effectively ended the Pope's pan-European political power. Fully aware of the loss, Pope Innocent X declared the treaty "null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, empty of meaning and effect for all times." European Sovereigns, Catholic and Protestant alike, ignored his verdict.
documents from the Reformation (Protestant perspective)