The Protestant Reformation was a momentous event in human history. Initially, the Reformation was a 16th century religious movement aimed at reforming abuses in the Roman Catholic Church. During the late Middle Ages, people began to express their dissatisfaction with some of the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church. In particular, many people were against the selling of indulgences, which allowed people to "buy their way out" of being punished for their sins after death.
In the late Middle Ages, the authority and power of the popes was challenged. The papacy had immense spiritual and political power in Europe and emperors were often forced to follow papal policies. During the 15th century, various heretical movements threatened the authority of the Catholic Church. The Hussite movement, which was concentrated in Bohemia and Moravia, provided a clear example for the leaders of the Reformation. Its leader, Jan Hus, preached against the abuses of the Catholic Church and he argued that the congregation should be allowed to drink communion wine. In 1415, Hus was executed as a heretic, but criticism of the Catholic Church continued and it was released with renewed force in the Reformation.
The Reformation began in Saxony in 1517 by Martin Luther, who initially believed that reform was possible without a schism. Luther, who was the son of a miner from Saxony, was an Augustinian monk who was educated at the German university of Erfurt. His attack on the papacy and his refusal to recant led to his excommunication in 1521. The Augsberg Confession of 1530 defined Lutherian doctrine, of which the main points were justification by faith and the sovereign authority of the Scriptures in matters of faith. The German nobles adopted the new ideals, appropriated Church property, and challenged the authority of the emperor as members of the Schmalkaldic League. After Luther's death in 1546, Protestants were condemned by the Council of Trent and defeated in the Schmalkaldic War. The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 recognized the legal existence of Lutheranism in Germany.
From Saxony, Protestantism spread into Prussia and the Slavic provinces of the Baltic. It was also adopted in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland. In Switzerland, Zwingli was the most influential Protestant leader, and in France, John Calvin, added the doctrine of predestination to the Protestant ideals he preached.
Although the Reformation was a religious movement in origin, its course was greatly influenced by economic and political factors. By the end of the Middle Ages, many people were convinced that the Church needed reforming. Moreover, the Reformation occurred after the Renaissance, which encouraged a new critical spirit. The invention of the printing press helped to spread Protestant ideas.
The Reformation changed the way people viewed the church and religion in general. It shattered the power and influence of the Roman Catholic Church, the institution which had dominated the Christian world since the early Christian era. Moreover, the Reformation had enormous political consequences. It led to the rise of nationalism and the growth of towns and cities. It also resulted in the formation of the Protestant churches. However, the conflict later erupted in the Thirty Years War. The reaction of the Catholic Church to the Reformation was to launch a Catholic Counter Reformation.
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