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1.16 Legacy of the Reformation
1.16a Division of Christendom
The most obvious result of the Reformation was the division of western Christendom into a number of hostile sects. The unified structure of the Christian Church under the undisputed authority of the Pope collapsed. Germany and Scandinavian countries became Lutheran; England adopted a compromise Protestantism of her own; Calvinism triumphed in Scotland, Holland, and French Switzerland. In the vast dominion that once owed allegiance to the Pope only Italy, Austria, France, Spain and Portugal, Southern Germany, Poland and Ireland were left. Even in several of these countries aggressive Protestant minorities became a menace to the Catholic majority.
1.16b Religious Intolerance
The evil of religious intolerance accompanied the split in western Christendom. Both the Catholic leaders and Protestant supporters justified such intolerance. Catholic leaders felt that they were defending traditional Christian civilization against anarchical forces or rebellion. Protestant leaders argued that they were restoring the pure Gospel and safeguarding it against despotism, superstition and corruption. Catholics considered Luther, Calvin and all so-called ’reformers’ as heretics. For the Protestants, the Pope was the ‘anti-Christ.’
The fall-out of the religious intolerance was that the rulers of every state in central and Western Europe, whether they were Catholic or Protestant sought to base their political unity on the religious unity. Hence, they used their power to compel their subjects to adopt one official kind of Christianity. Since the time of Pope Leo X, who faced the Lutheran revolt, he and succeeding Popes banned Protestants and urged secular rulers to suppress heresy by force. On the other hand, Luther made an appeal to the secular rulers to use force against Catholics. Even Calvin, who was considered as an apostle of religious tolerance did not permit either Catholic or dissenting Protestants to reside in Geneva.
Kings of the Catholic countries, especially Spain, Portugal and Italy used every means to keep their countries free from Protestants. They used the Inquisition, the Index, spies and police to get rid of religious dissent. Protestant princes persecuted Catholic subjects and Catholic princes persecuted Protestant subjects.
The Reformation resulted in a series of religious wars that kept Europe in turmoil for many years.
The immediate result of the religious upheaval of the 16th century was religious intolerance, war and bloodshed. However, in the long run it helped to create a situation that was favorable to religious tolerance. The Reformation brought an end to ecclesiastical tyranny thereby promoting religious freedom. As the sects multiplied in various countries, it gradually became evident that no one of them could ever become strong enough to enforce its will upon the rest. Mutual tolerance was made necessary in order for any of them to survive. This was an incidental and long delayed result. But its importance cannot be underestimated.
1.16c Promotion of Individualism
The Reformation greatly encouraged the development of individualism. By asserting the right of an individual to have his own judgment and by simplifying ritual and organization, the leaders of the Protestant Revolution liberated man from the clutches of the Church. However, it would be wrong to assume that Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anglicans really believed at that time in genuine religious freedom. They did not tolerate any one who disagreed with their own respective orthodoxies. However, they set a precedent in challenging the authority and beliefs of a universal church. In this way they promoted self-assertion in the religious sphere.
1.16d Development of Education
The Reformation also gave an added momentum to the expansion of popular education. The Protestant leaders of that time usually favored education. Calvin made Geneva an important center of education. In Scotland John Knox set forth the ideal of ‘an elementary school for every city.’ This was true of the Catholic leaders as well. Reforming Popes and the Council of Trent favored the multiplication of educational institutions. The Jesuits became great educationalists, establishing universities and colleges in different parts of Europe.
1.16e Promotion of Nationalism
The Reformation had a great impact on politics and society of Europe. The rising sentiments of nationalism contributed to the Reformation, and the Reformation in turn promoted nationalism. In every country Protestantism appealed to national sentiments and decried the ‘foreign’ interference in their national life. Wherever Protestantism spread, National Churches were established. Lutheranism became a national Christianity for many Germans and for the Scandinavian peoples; Calvinism for the Dutch and the Scots; Anglicanism for the English. Similarly, Catholicism underwent a change towards a partially nationalizing evolution. The national character of the Church was evident in France, Portugal, Poland, Ireland and elsewhere.
1.16f Growth of Capitalism
As in the case of nationalism, the spirit of capitalism was the cause and consequence of Reformation. Princes and landlords, who were eager to get new sources of wealth, adopted the argument of Luther that the church property could be confiscated. Bankers, manufacturers and traders, who desired to make profit out of their business were happy with the interpretation of Calvin that the Catholic Church unjustly condemned the charging of interest. The Reformation crushed the power of the Church in the economic field, and created conditions for better economic development and growth of capitalism. Protestantism became popular in commercially and economically developed countries of the Baltic region in northern Europe.
1.16g Royal Absolutism
The absolutist aspirations of the kings and princes were greatly advanced by the Reformation. The confiscation of Church lands, repudiation of the papal authority, and effective control over the local clergy enabled the rulers of the Protestant countries to enhance their political power. Even in Catholic countries, the kings took advantage of the difficulties encountered by the Popes and secured such concessions, which enabled them to increase their power at the expense of the church. As the divine right of the Popes was denied or flouted, the divine right of kings was asserted. Following the Reformation movement the absolutism of kings and princes became a fact in the political history of most of the European countries.
1.16h Morals and Art
Reformation brought about other important changes as well. The religious upheaval was directed against the moral decline of the Church. As such the Reformation led to an emphasis on moral values. By their external conduct the Catholics and Protestants were expected to prove that their religion inculcated a higher moral standard than any other.
Reformation also had a significant effect on art. Throughout the Middle Ages, Christian art had flourished. At the beginning of the 16th century, the Popes were patrons of art and architecture. Even after Reformation, Popes continued to patronize art, and many of the Catholic countries imitated similar art forms. However, Protestants did not promote cathedral buildings as such huge structures were not required for their simple religious purposes. They denounced and discontinued ecclesiastical sculpture and painting and did away with religious images and pictures, altars and organs, crucifixes and stained glass windows. However, the pictorial and plastic arts continued to develop in Protestant countries. But these art forms were developed outside the churches and they dealt with secular rather than with religious subjects.