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4.4 Spread of Protestantism


Luther violently attacked the Pope and the Catholic Church in pamphlets which flooded Germany. The pious and religious supported him, as they were shocked by his portrayal of the abuses prevailing within the Church. He also received support from the patriotic Germans who resented the subordination of Germany to an Italian Pope. Further, the nobles and princes who found an opportunity to increase their wealth and power, at the expense if Church and the empire, also became Luther’s adherents. It appeared as if all the Germans were up in rebellion against the Catholic Church. However, the princes grew alarmed at the peasants’ rebellion against their rulers and also against the Church. In 1525, the Peasants’ Revolt was suppressed with great cruelty. A civil war broke out in Germany with the north supporting Luther and becoming Protestant, while the south rejected him and remained Catholic.

The protracted civil war in Germany was brought to a close by the so-called Religious Peace of Augsburg in 1555, in which Lutheranism was agreed to as the legal form of Christianity by the emperor. Though the German prince could choose the religion for his people, the people in each state had to conform to the religion of their ruling prince. This practice conformed to the autocracy of the times.


Luther gained popularity in Scandinavia, for Lutheranism was made the established form of Christianity by the king of Denmark and Norway, as well as by the king of Sweden. Thus most of the people in these countries and in northern Germany, became Lutherans after the 16th century.


Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) led a revolt against the Catholic Church in Switzerland. Since he did not agree with Luther on a few points regarding church organization as well as on sacraments, his church was styled the Reformed Church, as differing from Luther’s Protestant Church. Some of the states in Switzerland became Protestant, while others remained Catholic. A civil war broke out between the Catholic and the Reformed Cantons in which Zwingli was killed in the Battle of Kappel in 1531. After peace was signed, part of Switzerland became Protestant, while the rest continued to be Catholic.

Exhibit 4.2
John Calvin


John Calvin (1509-1564) was a young Frenchman who exerted a greater influence in shaping Protestant doctrines and organization, than Henry VIII or Martin Luther. After his break with the Catholic Church he took refuge in Switzerland, because he was regarded as a heretic in France. From 1536 until the time he died in 1564, Calvin’s teachings spread far and wide from Geneva. There were several reasons for the wide acceptance of his doctrines. Firstly, Calvinism appealed to those who were tired of autocracy, since it was more democratic than other forms of Christianity. Further, his doctrines clearly and concisely set down in a book called "The Institutes" which is a masterpiece of theology. The French Protestants called the Huguenots were Calvinists and so were many of the Swiss, the Hollanders and the Magyars. John Knox introduced Calvinism in Scotland, where it was called Presbyterianism because the management of the Church was in the hands of Presbyters or elders. The Pilgrims of New England as well as the Puritans were also Calvinists.


Wye had sown the seeds of discontent in England where the religious revolt was led by the King Henry VIII. The King was initially against Luther. However he later broke with the Pope who did not agree with King Henry VIII’s decision to divorce his wife Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. Thus in 1534 the King induced Parliament to pass the Act of Supremacy which substituted the king for the Pope as head of the Church in England. Under the reign of his son Edward VI (1547-1553), and that of his daughter Elizabeth (1558-1603), several changes were brought about. The Bible was to be regarded as the sole guide of faith. The Catholic doctrine of ’good works’ was declared as superstitious.

Changes were made in the sacraments and also in the prayer books which were translated from Latin to English. Though England re-allied with the Pope, under Henry’s daughter Queen Mary, the Church of England, or the Anglican Church was firmly established during the long reign of Elizabeth.

Thus many Protestant sects such as Lutheranism, Anglicanism and Calvinism arose in the 16th century. Followers of Menno Simons, called Mennonites sprang up in Switzerland and Holland, while the Quakers and the Baptists (who favored Baptism) became well known in England.

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4.0 Introduction
4.1 Meaning
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

Chapter 5


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