4.6 Consequences of the Reformation
The Reformation had significant and far-reaching effects:
Three groups of Christians: Christianity was already divided between the
Orthodox East and the Catholic West, much before the 16th century.
During the Reformation, in the 16th century, the Catholic West further
split up into two groups; one that remained Catholic and the other that
took the new name of Protestant. The areas to which Catholic Christianity
remained confined included Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, the Southern
Netherlands, the forest cantons of Switzerland, southern Germany, Ireland,
Poland, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, most of Hungary, northern Yugoslavia,
South America, Central America, Mexico, most of the West Indies, Quebec
and the Philippine Islands. However, Protestant Christianity mainly
spread in northern and central Germany, Scandinavia, Finland, Esthonia,
Latvia, the Northern Netherlands, most of Switzerland, Scotland, England,
the United States, most of Canada, South Africa and Australia.
There were certain basic similarities between the Catholic,
Protestant and Orthodox countries. They were inspired by Jesus as
their founder, they magnified the Bible and upheld Christian morals and
However, there were several theological differences.
Protestants and those of the Orthodox Church did not agree with
the Catholics over the Pope’s claims and rejected his authority
and government. Protestants made important changes with regard
to the sacraments, rejecting the concepts of purgatory, invocation
of saints and veneration of relics. The Protestants asserted
that final authority rested in the Bible, while the Catholics and
the Orthodox claimed that it lay in the living institution of the
An immediate and unfortunate effect of the Reformation was intolerance,
which expressed itself in persecution and religious wars. Instead
of generating the true spirit of Christ, that is, the fatherhood of God
and the brotherhood of man, the Reformation made thousands suffer on account
of their religion. The subjects of the Spanish, Portuguese and Italian
monarchs, were forced to remain Catholic, or to suffer death or imprisonment
at the hands of the Inquisition. King Philip II of Spain, and ’Bloody’
Mary in England persecuted the Protestants. Similarly, the Protestant
princes of Germany punished their Catholic subjects.
Civil war broke out in Switzerland under Zwingli. In Germany, Lutheranism
resulted in civil strife until the Treaty of Augsburg restored peace in
1555. In France too, civil war broke out between the Huguenots who
were Calvinists, and those who preferred Catholicism followed by the French
monarchs. Many of the Huguenots had to leave France after suffering
badly. The Edict of Nantes issued by King Henry IV in 1598 restored
peace in France. These civil wars were a hindrance to security, material
prosperity and cultural advancement.
As a result of the Reformation, revolts and wars broke out, causing loss of life, property, prestige and power.
War between Spain and the Netherlands: A large number of Dutch people who had become Calvinists rose in opposition to Philip II, the ruler of the Netherlands. A terrible war took place and Holland was finally recognized as an independent state only in 1648, fifty years after Philip’s death.
The Anglo-Spanish War: During the rule of Elizabeth, Protestantism was re-established in England. Philip II then sent a vast fleet of warships, the Armada in order to carry out his will forcibly. However the valor of the English seamen as well as the violent storms, succeeded in repulsing and destroying the Armada.
In 1618, a war broke out in Germany between the Catholics and the Protestants, which lasted for thirty years. Hence it is known as the Thirty Years War. This soon spread like a great fire, into an international war being not only religious, but also political and economic. The various treaties of 1648 that brought the war to an end are called the Peace of Westphalia. It placed Calvinists on an equal footing with Lutherans and Catholics. Further all Church property would continue to be in the possession of those who owned it in 1624.
Owing to the Reformation, the hands of the rulers were strengthened against the Church. Thus it was a boon to rulers. In the name of the Reformation, Henry VIII deprived the Pope of any powers over the English church. The German princes were happy to be free from the control of the Pope. The kings of Europe could now build their countries according to the pattern of their choice. The spirit of nationalism was given a fresh impetus by the Reformation.
New ideas arose in the economic field where there were healthy changes. People were free from medieval ideas and the tyranny of the Orthodox Church. Thus, they could pursue certain economic activities such as money lending, which was criticized in the past. Owing to the Reformation old ideas were discarded and the moneylender was given a status in society.
By annihilating the economic power of the medieval Church, the Reformation paved the way for the rise of capitalism.
Though the Reformation was religious in nature, it had far-reaching effects in all fields. Thus it helped in the shaping of the modern world, along with other movements.
4.2 Importance of the Reformation
4.3 Causes of the Reformation
4.4 Spread of Protestantism
4.5 The Counter Reformation
4.6 Consequences of the Reformation
4.7 Dates & Events
4.8 Points to Remember