The holy Roman Catholic Church, in the time of Martin Luther and John Calvin, had been in power for a thousand years and owned a third of the land in Europe. The Pope, the cardinals and the bishops came exclusively from the aristocratic elite of Europe. Because of this, the clergy already wielded an incredible amount of wealth and influence. As heads of the church, they were practically opposable. If an external power presented a problem, the church could often summon forces from various kingdoms of Europe, by influence caused by a direct link of the Pope and his family with the government in question, or by the threat of excommunication and condemnation of their king. . Against the threats of domestic problems, criminals were branded as heretics, witches or other undesirables, and the various branches of the inquisition dealt with them quickly, or slowly and terribly. Even after the breaking of the monopoly of knowledge by the churches at that time, they still had full control over salvation.
The church knew how to extract every last drop of wealth from this monopoly. Between church donations, heavy papal taxes, and indulgences, the church was draining its followers and everyone it could. The ecclesiastical hierarchy was stagnant with corruption. The list of discontents was long, but until the reformation no one was fit for the task of opposing the church, but now the situation was correct.
Martin Luther was to be a lawyer, but during an intense electrical storm he vowed to become a monk if he was saved. He became a monk and eventually a professor of theology at the suggestion of a priest. During this time he came to revelation and the belief that salvation was based solely on faith, rather than faith and an endless series of good works. He saw the complete observance of God’s commandments and laws as impossible, and the numerous rituals and works as inadequate to achieve salvation. Only God in his infinite glory and mercy could give salvation to the unworthy, who were all. Many historians consider that the reform began in 1517 when Martin Luther published ninety-five theses objecting to the indulgences, beginning his separation from Rome.
For hundreds of years, the church had rewarded its followers with indulgences, which were treated as good works and extra works, which could be reassigned to sinners. Indulgences were originally given to those who participated in the crusades, but with the continuing degradation of the church, they were now given in exchange for monetary donations. Indulgences were used to reduce the amount of time spent in purgatory, which was the place where one spent time paying for sins before going to heaven. You could spend thousands of years in burning pits of torture before being allowed to ascend. The church eventually sank to the level of selling indulgences, bringing dead relatives out of purgatory.
During the entirety of this practice, there were monks, priests, and others who opposed it, but there were some key differences that made Luther a success. He had written his theses in the scholastic language of Latin, as it was written for his colleagues, but it was taken and translated into local German, and then printed and distributed to the public. So, unlike most of those who came before him, his word was heard by many and spread.
Normally, Luther would have been quickly dealt with by the church, and even his direct attacks on the Pope may have been little, but we cannot forget the disgruntled nobility, the Germans in particular. Pope Leo X had sent a bull to Luther ordering him to recant, which Luther threw into a bonfire, along with all the laws of the church, in front of a crowd. Now the church saw him as a heretic, if they hadn’t seen him before. His lay lord, Frederick the Wise of Saxony, was German and therefore had an underlying bitterness towards the church, so he decided not to burn Luther as a heretic for not having a fair hearing. Later, Luther was summoned to the city of Worms to be tried by a council of the princes of the Holy Roman Empire. The head of this council was the emperor of the empire Carlos V himself, who was not German. Luther was officially labeled a heretic, but not before Frederick led him to the safety of Wartburg Castle.
From Wartburg, Luther continued his works. Since Luther believed in salvation by faith alone, he denounced the entire church hierarchy as no more holy or virtuous than other followers. The particular bitterness of the German aristocracy was caused mainly by the lack of agreements between the pope and the emperor that limited the power of the church in Germany. Because of this, the papal taxes were exorbitantly high. Unsurprisingly, Lutheranism first took hold in the German aristocracy. Germany was at the heart of the Holy Roman Empire, and now it generally rejected the Catholic Church.
Kings and lords began to convert to Protestantism, whether for spiritual or other purposes, it had a profound impact on the church in their lands. Without the pope or the regional clergy office to assign and control the churches in an area, the prince or the reigning government would do so, maintaining more power over their land. Also monasteries, convents and other ecclesiastical organizations were dissolved by the state, their wealth typically confiscated at that time.
With Luther’s success, many others found the audacity to challenge the church (,) and its practices, more openly. Out of this arose variations of Protestantism, as Lutheranism and its ramifications became known, such as Zwinglianism, which was founded by Ulrich Zwingli, who had opposed the church since before Luther’s time, but had not expressed himself until after Luther’s reformation began. Another contemporary was the Anabaptist faith, an extreme form of Protestantism that believed in adult baptism and in a communist and communist form of government and life. Calvinism also came, as I will mention soon.
Zwinglianism was the most moderate of the Protestant sects. Zwinglianism was accepted and adopted by Zurich and northern Switzerland, but it only lasted about ten years when Ulrich Zwingli died in battle against Catholic forces, and most of his followers were absorbed into Calvinism. A determining factor in the short life of Zwinglianism was the difference in belief between Zwingli and Luther in the sense that Luther believed in the actual presence of the body of Christ in the sacrament, while Zwingly simply viewed it as a symbolic reminder of Christ. This difference maintained a separation of Zwinglianists and Lutherans that left the Zwinglianists to defend themselves against the Catholics, unaided. As fleeting as it was, this move still helped break the Catholic monopoly and served as a sinking path for Calvinism.
The Anabaptists were the extremist branch of Protestantism. They believed in adult baptisms, that believers needed to understand the meaning of baptism for it to be a true baptism. Similar to Lutheranism, Anabaptism did not agree with the Catholic ecclesiastical hierarchy. They saw the “true” church as a small community of believers who were not simply members at birth, but had to intentionally come together. In 1534, a group of Anabaptists took control of the German city of Munster. They tried to turn it into a new religious center, its leader calling himself the successor of David and the king of the new temple. A year after taking control, Catholic forces took the city. Anabaptists, in the city and elsewhere, were tortured, prosecuted, and scattered beyond cohesion.
The next aspect of the spread and social impact of Protestantism has a lot to do with Calvinism, so we are going to introduce this sect. Like Luther, John Calvin was to be a lawyer but turned to religion. Calvin believed in the complete omnipotence of God, and that it was the destiny of every sinful human, of which all of them, be condemned to hell for eternity or be saved by God. Naturally, Calvinists were the only ones predestined to be saved, and everyone else was doomed no matter what. The signs of being saved were being a Calvinist, as mentioned earlier, following the laws of the Bible, and being successful. The upper class outside of Germany were content to remain within Catholicism, as they had the money to buy indulgences and lacked the bitterness of the German aristocracy.
Usually the only way for the middle class to make substantial progress toward salvation under Catholicism was by fighting crusades, which at the time were not as common as at the founding of indulgences. Calvinism thus became the religion of the middle class. Catholicism had put a 15% cap on earnings and a ban on borrowing money, which Calvinism did not do. This helped pave the way for more merchant and banking trade. Calvinists believed in hard work and were against drinking, dancing, prostitution, and any temptation. (Synonym: FUN). Naturally, a new drink appeared during this time, coffee. This was the drink of the middle class, ironically. Calvinists were industrious and strove to succeed, as the saved must succeed.
The lower class was in the same position that it had been for a thousand years or more. They were screwed. At the beginning of the rise of Lutheranism, the lower class saw Luther as a hero, defying the church. They too wanted to get rid of the yokes of their lords, as Luther seemed to be doing with the pope and the emperor himself. When they approached Luther, he denied them, saying that they should follow their masters. Then they rebelled and more than 100,000 people died. If their lord was a Protestant, so were they. If their lord was Catholic, so were they. The same happened with the nations. If a king was Catholic, he was a Catholic nation, and the churches present would reflect this. Due to the reforms of Luther, Calvin, and the English Catholic reforms, the religion became a partially secular practice.
The new religious practices present in Europe had a dramatic impact on the daily lives of all peoples, regardless of their class. These included spiritual and other changes.