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The denominations in Central Europe around 1618

Reformation ( Latin reformatio "restoration, renewal") describes in a narrower sense a church renewal movement from 1517 to 1648 , which led to the division of Western Christianity into different denominations ( Catholic , Lutheran , Reformed ).

The Reformation was mainly initiated in Germany by Martin Luther and in Switzerland by Huldrych Zwingli and Johannes Calvin , although not intentionally. Its beginning is generally dated to 1517, when Martin Luther is said to have hammered his 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg , but their causes and forerunners go back further. The Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 is generally regarded as the conclusion .

Initially, the movement was an attempt to reform the Roman Catholic Church . Many Catholics in Western and Central Europe were troubled by what they viewed as false doctrines and abuse within the Church, especially regarding the letters of indulgence . Another point of criticism was the buyability of church offices ( simony ), which made the entire clergy suspect of corruption.

The reform movement split into different Protestant churches due to different teachings . The most important denominations that emerged from the Reformation are those of the Lutherans and the Reformed (including Calvinists , Zwinglians and Presbyterians ). Then there are the radical Reformation Anabaptists . In countries outside Germany, the Reformation took a completely different course. This is how Anglicanism arose in England and Unitarianism in parts of Eastern Europe . The Reformation in Transylvania is considered a "special case of church history"viewed. In countries that remained loyal to the Roman Church, some of the Reformation concerns found expression in the Counter Reformation and Catholic Reform .


As early as the 15th century there were repeated attempts at reform in what is now Germany, for example in 1435 by the Archbishop of Mainz (and German primate ) Dietrich Schenk von Erbach and in the Diocese of Würzburg by the Prince-Bishops Rudolf II von Scherenberg , Lorenz von Bibra and Konrad III. from Bibra . The fact that the Reformation just began in Germany and had such resounding success can be explained by several factors. At the Worms Reichstag of 1521, the Gravamina and Lutheran Reformation movements merged.


Erasmus from Rotterdam

The humanism was in the 14th century from Italy radiating education movement, which advocated a revival of ancient learning. According to their principle Ad fontes (“To the sources”), the humanists devoted themselves to the study of ancient authors and from this developed a critical attitude towards the present. Humanism affected the universities of that time and shaped many later reformers. The intensive reading of the Bible and the Church Fathers in particular later found its correspondence in the Reformation principle of scripture .


The invention of printing with movable type (mid-15th century) triggered a media revolution. Luther and the other reformers used the new mass medium to spread their writings .

Social and Economic Factors

The 16th century was marked by deep processes of social change. One reason for this was the increasing importance of cities. A middle class with considerable financial strength had formed in the cities through trade. In this context one speaks of early capitalism . The patricians in the cities, e.g. B. the Fugger in Augsburg , with their economic power often surpassed the rural nobility, who were active in agriculture. Agriculture was based on the labor of the peasants who made up the majority of the population. They lived mostly on the subsistence level and suffered from taxes , levies , and compulsory laborSerfdom . In addition, the steady influx of precious metals from the Spanish colonies in America reduced the value of money ( inflation ). The purchasing power of the population fell dramatically in some cases, so that economic historians speak of a " price revolution ". In addition, the population grew. It is believed that between 1500 and 1600 the population of the German Empire increased from 12 to 15 million. As a result of the population growth, food became more expensive, while labor became cheaper. This socially and economically precarious situation repeatedly led to uprisings from the end of the 15th century , which culminated in the German Peasants' War in 1525.

Political factors

Imperial Constitution

Emperor Charles V

The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation consisted of many individual territories , so it was not a centralized state like England or France. The emperor as the highest authority in the empire was elected by the electors , but had to grant them the preservation of their territorial rights in the so-called election surrender . The highest legislative organ of the empire were the diets , which were convened by the emperor, usually when he needed money. The emperor could not pass laws on his own, but needed the consent of the Reichstag, on which the electors, the high nobility in the Imperial Council and the imperial citieswere entitled to vote. For this reason one speaks of the dualism between emperor and imperial estates. This was a major factor in the spread of the Reformation. Due to the lack of a central authority in the empire, the fate of the Reformation was decided at the territorial level. This led to a denominational fragmentation of the empire, which the emperor wanted to prevent, but could not because of his lack of power. Another reason was that in the first few years after Luther's theses were published , Charles V rarely stayed in the empire and with wars against France and the Ottoman Empirewas busy so that he could not attend to realm affairs. In addition, the introduction of the Reformation was often in the interests of the individual sovereigns, who were thus able to emancipate themselves from the emperor and the pope.

Political situation in Europe

In addition to the constitutional problems in the empire, there was the political situation in Europe. This was primarily shaped by the contrast between Habsburg and France . Between 1521 and 1544, Emperor Charles V and the French King Franz I fought three Italian wars with only brief interruptions for supremacy in Northern Italy and control of the Burgundian hereditary lands, to which both claimed. The Habsburg Empireextended over the empire in central Europe, Spain (with southern Italy) and the Spanish colonies in the New World. France was encircled by two Habsburg territories. Charles V's goal was to connect the empire with Spain by annexing southern France. Franz I wanted to prevent this at all costs. The Pope, too, feared the Habsburgs would overwhelm them and at times allied with the French king.

In addition, there was the constant Turkish threat in southeastern Europe. In 1526 the Ottomans had defeated the Hungarians in the Battle of Mohács and in 1529 they besieged Vienna , which belonged to the Habsburg hereditary lands . The emperor was forced to raise money and troops to counter this danger. For this he needed the approval of the imperial estates, which weakened his position in the empire.

Due to the numerous obligations outside the empire, Charles V was abroad from 1521–1530 and 1532–1541. During this time the Reformation was able to spread throughout the empire.

Religious factors

Mysticism and Devotio moderna

In contrast to scholasticism , which wanted to break down the world and penetrate it rationally, mysticism sought a holistic approach. Central ideas of mysticism are emptying, letting go of desires and passions so that the spirit of God can expand in people. The aim of the mystics was not theological speculation, but individual practical experience. On the one hand there was the Cistercian “Romanesque mysticism”, which was mainly influenced by Bernhard von Clairvaux and which aimed at becoming one with Christ ( unio cum Christo ) and immersing himself in his suffering. One differentiates from the Dominicancoined German mysticism , the main representatives of which were Meister Eckhart , Johannes Tauler and Heinrich Seuse . Tauler's sermons and the erroneously attributed text Theologia deutsch had a great influence on Luther.

The reform movement Devotio moderna ("new piety") goes back to the Dutch theologian and penitential preacher Geert Groote . It was particularly widespread in the Netherlands and in the north-west of the empire. She combined mystical influences with a strong ethical and practical piety. The ideal image of the common life of the brothers , who lived together in convent-like communities without religious vows , was the early Christian community . The Devotio moderna had a great influence on the "humanist prince" Erasmus of Rotterdam . As the main work ofDevotio moderna is De imitatione Christi (“Of the Imitation of Christ ”) by Thomas von Kempen , one of the most widely read books of the late Middle Ages. It emphasizes the believer's immediate relationship with God, an idea that was later strongly emphasized by the Reformers.

Late medieval piety

Dance of Death (1493)
The Last Judgment by Hans Memling (around 1470)

Due to the great plague epidemics in the high and late Middle Ages, which depopulated entire regions, but also due to the high infant mortality, death was omnipresent for people. This found artistic expression in the “ dances of death ”. The fear of death went hand in hand with the fear of the individual judgment immediately after death ( particular judgment ) and of the Last Judgment in the end times. Conscious of their sinfulness, people thirsted for things that would assure them of their salvation beyond. This included pious foundations, soul masses , pilgrimages , processions and the acquisition ofLetters of indulgence intended to shorten the time in purgatory . All of these services could be purchased from the church for money - a "fiscalization" of religion. The strong internalization of piety was accompanied by a strong externalization. Late medieval piety is essentially a sacramental piety with magical elements.


The people's thirst for salvation contrasted sharply with the reality of the Church. After several popes had laid claim to the succession of Peter and excommunicated each other ( occidental schism ), the importance of the papacy for the faithful was relativized. Nevertheless, the Pope was able to win the internal church dispute over church reform against the representatives of conciliarism . Since he ruled the papal state like a secular ruler, he had no interest in having his power restricted by councils. For his court, which was like that of Italian princes, the Pope needed money, which he received through tithingand had the above services collected. Responsible for this were the local pastors, who were mostly poorly trained and themselves completely underpaid. Since they were exempt from taxes themselves, but otherwise mostly lived like laypeople, often also married, this fueled anti-clericalism among the people. The high clergy, on the other hand, consisted mostly of members of noble families who held their ecclesiastical offices primarily because of the benefices associated with them . Buying offices was a common phenomenon, as was the awarding of lucrative offices to relatives ( nepotism). Often high clerics did not exercise their offices themselves, but passed the pastoral duties on to a less well paid cleric. So they could dedicate themselves to a comfortable life, often also in cohabitation .

This divergence between the demands and the reality of the "Heilsanstalt" church as well as the far-reaching secularization of the clergy promoted the anti-church mood among the people.

Reform movements

John Wycliffe

Even before the actual beginning of the Reformation, there were internal church reform efforts. The pastor John Wyclif , who worked in England in the 14th century, is considered to be the "forerunner of the Reformation". Initially a teacher at Oxford , he took over a parish in Lutterworth in 1374 . At that time there was a strong anti-papal mood in England over the taxes that had to be paid to Rome. With reference to the Bible, Wyclif represented a church reform program and openly criticized the grievances in the clergy. He rejected the cult of images , saints and relics, as well as celibacy and transubstantiationfrom. For his reform proposals, he initially received support from the English king , who was keen to give the Church in England greater autonomy. After the Pope had initiated a process against Wyclif, the latter referred to him as an " Antichrist ". Due to the influence of the orders, Wyclif's teachings were condemned as heretical by the university and the synod , but Wyclif himself was not charged for fear of a popular uprising. It was not until the Council of Constance in 1415 that he condemned him as a heretic and had his bones burned posthumously. His ideas lived on in the Lollard Movement .

Jan Hus

Jan Hus , who worked at the University of Prague, specifically referred to Wyclifcame into contact with ideas of Wyclif, which had come to the city through Czech students from Oxford. Hus studied theology and became a professor at the university. He openly criticized the greed and secularization of the clergy and pleaded for a fundamental reform based on the Bible. Furthermore, he did not recognize the Pope as the highest authority in matters of faith. Hus' criticism met with great approval among the population, to the alarm of the church. In 1408 he was removed from office and excommunicated in 1411, whereupon unrest broke out in Prague. Hus continued to work as an itinerant preacher and drafted a doctrine of the church as a non-hierarchical community under the head of Christ. 1414 Hus was before the Council of Constanceloaded, where he should revoke his statements. Contrary to King Sigismund's promise of safe conduct , Hus was burned as a heretic in 1415 . As a result, numerous currents formed that related directly to Jan Hus and were therefore called Hussites . From 1419 to 1436 there were armed conflicts between these groups and the Bohemian king ( Hussite Wars ) in Bohemia .

Numerous criticisms and suggestions formulated by John Wyclif and Jan Hus were taken up and further developed by the reformers.

Lutheranism in Germany

Early phase (1517–1519)

Reformation breakthrough

Martin Luther

Martin Luther entered the order of the Augustinian Hermits as a monk in 1505 . From 1512, Luther worked as a professor at the University of Wittenberg and gave lectures on the books of the Bible. The interpretation of Romans and the intensive preoccupation with Pauline theology (Paulinism) influenced his thinking deeply. Until then, Luther had always suffered from the awareness of his sinfulness and the impending judgment. He hated the concept of “ God's righteousness ” deeply. The idea of iusititia distributiva lay in his concept of justice at the time("Distributive justice"). According to this concept of justice, everyone gets what he is entitled to ( suum cuique - everyone is his). By studying the Pauline doctrine of justification , Luther developed a new understanding of God's righteousness, which he now understood as iustitia passiva : “For it reveals righteousness that applies before God, which comes from faith in faith; as it is written: 'The righteous shall live by faith' ”( Rom 1,17  LUT ). God is just in making just. So the sinner cannot earn his justification by works, but can only be justified by God in faith.

The point in time of the reformatory breakthrough is controversial in research. Following Luther's dinner speech, the Reformation discovery was often presented as a sudden realization (“tower experience”). In today's research, one assumes a gradual cognitive process from 1514 to 1518.


Albrecht of Brandenburg

A concrete political reason for the Reformation was the action of Albrecht von Brandenburg , who was already Archbishop of Magdeburg , also to become Archbishop of Mainz and thus elector. Since such an accumulation of offices violated canon law , Albrecht had to purchase a special permit ( dispensation ) from Pope Leo X. In addition, the Mainz cathedral chapter had to pay palliative money to the pope for the election of the new bishop. Since the cathedral chapter's financial resources were exhausted, Albrecht had to find a way to raise the necessary money.

In the course of the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica , which Pope Julius II had tried hard, his successors were in constant financial need. For this reason, Pope Leo X had introduced the so-called Petersablass . The agreement between the Pope and Albrecht von Brandenburg stipulated that he should borrow the money from the Fuggers and pay it to the Pope. In return, Albrecht von Brandenburg was granted the right to have the Petersablass collected in his territories for eight years. Half of the money went to Rome, the other half stayed with Albrecht, who was able to use it to pay his debts to the Fuggers.

So it happened that from 1517 the Dominican Father Johann Tetzel moved through the Archdiocese of Magdeburg (the neighboring territory of Wittenberg ) and preached indulgence. Congregation members from Wittenberg, whose preacher and pastor Luther was, also went to the neighboring towns to purchase letters of indulgence .

Luther's criticism of indulgences

" Loss of drainage Kramer ", caricature 1617
Luther's 95 theses

Luther criticized indulgences because believers wrongly believed that they were secure in their salvation. It depends on the inner repentance of the Christian, so that God may forgive his sins. There is no need for sacramental mediation, especially not through the sale of indulgences. For this reason, Luther wrote 95 theses against indulgences in Latin , which should be the basis for a scholarly disputation . On October 31, 1517, he sent it to the Archbishop of Mainz, who he believed did not know anything about the abuse of indulgences. This date is celebrated by Protestant Christians to commemorate the famous posting of the theses as Reformation Day. Whether Luther actually put his theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberghas nailed is controversial. Contrary to Luther's original intention, the theses were translated into German and spread quickly. A few months later, in March 1518, Luther published the German text Sermon of Indulgence and Grace , in which he explained his criticism of the indulgence. In April 1518 Luther took part in the chapter of the order in Heidelberg to explain his theses. Many later reformers (such as Philipp Melanchthon , Martin Bucer , Johannes Brenz , Erhard Schnepf and Martin Frecht ) took part in the “ Heidelberg Disputation ”, Luther's criticism of the justice of the works enthusiastically received.

Albrecht von Brandenburg received the letter with the 95 theses in his summer residence in Mainz and immediately initiated an official church procedure against Luther. He also commissioned the University of Mainz with an expert opinion. Even before the report was available, Albrecht sent the matter to Rome to calm the rebellious monk from Wittenberg.

Heretic trial against Luther

Leipzig disputation 1519

The Roman Curia first ordered a preliminary investigation against Luther, in the course of which Silvester Mazzolini 's De potestate papae dialogus came to the conclusion that even the criticism of the Pope's practice was heresy . Thereupon Luther was summoned to Rome in August, which his sovereign Frederick the Wise was able to prevent. At that time, he had great influence in his capacity as elector, since he had a say in the election of the next emperor and the pope wanted to prevent the election of Charles V and would have preferred to see him as emperor. As a compromise, Luther was accepted at the Diet of Augsburg in October 1518interrogated by Cardinal Cajetan . The latter was supposed to move Luther to revoke it or else ban him . Luther did not revoke his criticism of indulgences and reiterated his view that it is not the sacrament but only faith that justifies it. Cajetan then demanded the extradition of Luther, which Friedrich refused. Luther appealed to the Pope and still believed that the evidence from Scripture could convince him of the correctness of his theses.

In June of the following year the Leipzig disputation took place . This academic debate was initiated by the Wittenberg theologian Andreas Bodenstein (called Karlstadt ), who responded to the criticism of the Ingolstadt theologian Johannes Eck of Martin Luther's 95 theses. After Eck had clearly referred to Luther instead of Karlstadt in the preparation of the disputation, the latter sought his subsequent admission as a disputator. The disputation against resistance from the University of Leipzig was initiated by Duke George of Saxonythanks for wanting to increase the reputation of his state university. Karlstadt and Eck disputed human free will and divine grace. Eck and Luther disputed about the justification of the papal primacy from divine law, which Eck defended and Luther questioned. Eck was successful with his strategy of establishing a parallel between Luther's views and the theses of the Bohemian theologian Jan Hus, who was burned as a heretic. Luther declared that the council was wrong. From Eck's point of view, he was thus convicted of Hussite heresy. Eck was celebrated as the winner in Leipzig. An academic judgment on the disputation by the universities of Erfurt and Paris was not made. The formation of public opinion, especially among humanists, was in Luther's favor.

Development of the Reformation program (1520)

The main Reformation writings

To the Christian nobility of the German nation

The year 1520 marks a turning point in the Reformation movement. With the three so-called Reformation main writings , Luther developed a theological program that forms the basis of later Lutheranism . In the first main text To the Christian Adel of the German Nation on the Improvement of the Christian Stand , he called on the secular authorities to take church reform into their own hands in view of the inability to reform within the church. He submitted a social-reform program that a state education system , poor welfare and the abolition of celibacy and church governmentprovided. In scripture he also formulated the doctrine of the priesthood of all baptized , with which he intended to abolish the traditional hierarchy between clergy and lay people . Luther rejected the papal claim that only the papal magisterium was authorized to interpret the scriptures in a binding manner. In addition, he criticized the fiscalization of the church, which earned him great sympathy, especially among the lower nobility and the imperial knights . The font was a journalistic success.

From the Babylonian captivity of the Church

In the second main script, De captivitate Babylonica ecclesiae (On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church), written in Latin and intended for an academic audience, Luther criticized the Catholic doctrine of the sacraments . With reference to the Scriptures, he reduced the seven number of the sacraments to three ( baptism , the Lord's Supper , penance ). He criticized the Catholic doctrine of concomitancy , according to which the wine is "drunk" with the consumption of the consecrated host , and called for the lay chalice . He also criticized the transubstantiation and the doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass.

In the third main Reformation essay, On the Freedom of a Christian , Luther addresses evangelical freedom . Based on the doctrine of two natures, a Christian always lives in two respects: with a view of God ( coram Deo ) and with a view of the world ( coram mundo ). Looking at God, who justifies the sinner by grace alone , man is free from works. When looking at the world, on the other hand, faith must prove itself and manifest itself in good works . The Christian is justified at the same time, namely with regard to God, and a sinner, namely with regard to the world ( simul iustus et peccator). This is where Luther's doctrine of two kingdoms comes in. According to this, every Christian exists in two areas ("regiments"), the worldly, in which the "law of the sword" applies, and the spiritual, in which the divine word applies. This construction served to legitimize the use of force by the authorities to maintain peace and order , despite the biblical commandment of love .

Basics of Reformation theology

The essential points of the Reformation, which are still the common denominator of the churches that emerged from the Reformation, are often expressed with the so-called exclusive particles, the four soli (Latin solus "alone"):

  • sola gratia : Only by the grace of God the believer is saved, not by his works.
  • sola fide : Man is justified by faith alone, not by good works.
  • sola scriptura : Scripture alone is the basis of Christian faith, not church tradition.
  • solus Christus : Only the person, the work and the teaching of Jesus Christ can be the basis for the faith and the salvation of man.

The exclusive particles memorably formulate the central Reformation doctrines ( justification and scriptural principle ), from which all other theological doctrines are determined.

Ban and Worms Reichstag

Luther at the Diet of Worms in 1521

After the election of Charles V as emperor, the trial against Luther continued. On June 15, 1520, the Pope Luther threatened the bull exsurge domine the excommunication on. Luther was to be forced to withdraw within 60 days. On the day the deadline expired, Luther burned the bull threatening the ban and the canon law with public effect . The Pope, whom Luther now insulted as an Antichrist , responded on January 3, 1521 by excommunicating Luther with the bull Decet Romanum Pontificem . According to imperial law, excommunication was followed by the imposition of imperial banover the banned. Through tough negotiation, Luther's sovereign Friedrich the Wise managed to have the emperor interrogated at the Worms Reichstag despite the ban on the church . Charles V received Luther on April 17, 1521 in Worms against the objection of the Pope. Luther was asked whether he was committed to his writings and whether he was ready to retract. After a day to think about it, he confessed to his writings and refused to revoke it as long as it was not refuted by the scriptures. Against the authority of the Pope and the councils, Luther, in accordance with the Reformation principle of writing , relied solely on the authority of Scripture. Especially his historically unproven words “ Here I stand. God help me. I can't help it“Shaped the historically effective image of Luther as the founder of freedom of conscience . In the Reichstag farewell on April 30, 1521, the imperial ban was imposed on him and Luther was declared outlaw ( Edict of Worms ). Since the emperor had promised him safe conduct, he was given a period of 21 days during which he was supposed to get to safety. On the way back to Saxony, he was kidnapped in a mock raid in the Thuringian Forest by Saxon soldiers and brought to the Wartburg .

Development of a Protestant community life (1522–1524)

Luther at the Wartburg

The Wartburg near Eisenach

From May 1521 to March 1522, Luther, disguised as "Junker Jörg", stayed at the Wartburg. He used the time intensively and created the basis for a Protestant community life. In his interpretations of the Magnificat , Luther dealt with the question of how evangelicals should deal with the piety of Mary . With his sermons , which were sent out in printed form (sermon mails), he remedied the mostly poor training of preachers. Gradually a Protestant preaching culture emerged. In his writing De votis monasticis ("From the monks 'vows") he stated that the monks' vows are in contradiction to the Holy Scriptures, since they refer to the righteousness of worksare based. Withdrawal from the world contradicts the Christian's mandate to live in the secular realm, to pursue his profession there and to start a family. After the publication of this document, there were exits from the monastery, which were initially prosecuted in the empire.

Bible translation

Complete Luther Bible from 1534

Luther's most important achievement was the translation of the New Testament from the original Greek text published by Erasmus . The contemporary translations of the Bible were based on the Vulgate , the Latin translation of the original Greek text. For his translation, Luther used a popular and understandable language that for a long time not only became the benchmark for German Bible translations, but also had a significant influence on the development of standard German high and written language. Numerous word creations by Luther are still part of the German language today: "Blood money", "peaceful", "charity". The first edition of the New Testament appeared in September 1522 (" September Testament "). Luther translated the Old Testament step by step until 1534, supported by other scholars because of the difficult language.

Riots in Wittenberg

While Luther was at the Wartburg, there was a radicalization of the Reformation in Wittenberg. For many, the reforms did not go far enough. The mass, the celibacy of the priests and the monastic vows were particularly criticized. In the spring of 1521 the first priest married and monks resigned from their order. Luther's friar Gabriel Zwilling in particular stood out as a radical reformer of monasticism. In the autumn of 1521 there were actions against the mass. The turning point was Christmas Eve 1521, when Andreas Bodensteindemonstratively celebrated an evangelical church service in secular clothing and in German. The Lord's Supper was given in both guises without sacrificial prayer or prior confession. In February 1522 there was an iconoclasm in Wittenberg . The occasion was Bodenstein's book On the Abolition of Images , in which he called for the abolition of images in churches. He was strengthened by the Anabaptist-minded Zwickau prophets ( Nikolaus Storch , Thomas Drechsel , Markus Thomae ), who had fled to Wittenberg in December 1521. Luther left the Wartburg in March 1522 at the request of the city council and returned to Wittenberg. There he held his famous ones in monastic robesInvocavit sermons , in which he called for the restoration of the old worship service to "spare the weak". He did not want to unsettle the population with overly radical reforms. He also stressed that all rioting is forbidden by God. There was a break with Bodenstein, who then left Wittenberg and became a pastor in Orlamünde . At Luther's urging, he was expelled from Electoral Saxony in 1524 and led an unsteady wandering life until he found a job as a preacher and professor in Basel in 1534 , which he held until his death in 1541.

Criticism of existing traditions

Martin Luther: German Mass and Order of Gotesdienst , Wittenberg 1526, title page

Luther subjected the traditions of the church to a rigorous scrutiny. The benchmark was the text of the Bible. Traditions which he believed to be contrary to Scripture were abolished. However, he advocated maintaining traditions that were not based directly on the Bible but were helpful for the lives of believers. For didactic reasons, Luther spoke out against a ban on images in the church and retained the external forms of the divine service (cf. German Mass (divine service) ).

The massive criticism of the papacy had this Lutheran view in common with the attitude of the Reformed. This is again based on a theological problem: The special position of the Roman bishop is traditionally justified with Mt 16.18  EU (“But I tell you: You are Peter , and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of the underworld will not overwhelm ”.) Christ describes Peter as the foundation of the church. Peter later becomes Bishop of Rome. This is called setting the Pope through Christ designed . The latter in turn has the authority to appoint further priests on behalf of Christ. Luther puts Mt 18,19  LUTopposite, where the church of Christ is defined as the gathering of at least two people under the name of Christ. In conjunction with chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians , the idea of ​​the lay priesthood is developed. The pastor is then no longer the successor of Peter who was appointed by Christ, but the member of the community who knows best how to perform the pastor's duties, such as preaching and pastoral care . This parishioner has his special position not because of his ordination , but because of his education.

New worship orders

Various reformers ( Thomas Müntzer , also Andreas Bodenstein and later also Luther ) endeavored to create orders for worship in the national language. These quickly replaced the Latin mass in the Protestant areas . At the center of these new evangelical orders were the reading of scriptures and sermons ( literal worship ). The German translation of the Bible made it possible for every parishioner to compare the pastor's interpretation ( sermon ) with the word of the Bible. With their proposals, Luther and Müntzer stayed closely to the internal order of the mass, while other reformers made more far-reaching changes.

Martin Luther, the Reformation process and the print media

Letterpress printing in the 16th century

The history and course of the Reformation are also media history , in which Luther, especially at the beginning, was directly involved. So he distributed print jobs to various printing companies, assessed the print quality and often complained about poor results. Luther and his colleagues succeeded by spreading his writings, i. H. by creating a public sphere , to bring theological discourse to a larger readership. After the mid-15th century book printing more and more widespreadhad, there was a certain stagnation in the publishing and printing industry around the turn of the century. This changed u. a. due to the beginning of the Reformation: within a very short time, the number of copies increased immensely. For example, Pettegree (2016) and Pettegree and Hall (2004) saw the successful connection between letterpress printing, vernacular language , the increased use of illustrations , e.g. from Lucas Cranach's workshop, but also the decentralized distribution of print products as important pillars for the spread of Reformation ideas. While the existing or developing letter networks are the central information exchange medium for humanisticand reformatory content of the educated elite were that opened media these messages a widening circle of literate readership. After taking over the professorship in Wittenberg, lectura in biblia in 1512 , Luther initially held back with printed publications. It was only when unauthorized reprints of his "95 theses" appeared in Nuremberg, Leipzig and Basel after 1517 that there was apparently a change in the publication strategy.

In Luther's sermon of indulgences and grace (1518), he succeeded in expressing his thoughts in a concise and concise manner. The font was published by one of his first printers, Johann Gronenberg , in several editions and, to a certain extent, represented the elaboration of his 95 theses . Before that, Jacob Thanner in Leipzig had a single-sheet print (folio sheet in two columns) in Latin, apparently commissioned by Luther himself Text of his 95 theses, but the author was not satisfied with the print quality. Other important printing and craft businesses were those of Melchior Lotter the Elder , Melchior Lotter the Younger ,Hans Lufft and Georg Rhau .

In 1520, at the zenith of Luther's journalistic oeuvre, around 500,000 of his writings and pamphlets came onto the market in German-speaking countries , although illiteracy was high at that time. It is estimated that only a little over a million of the nearly twelve million inhabitants of the Holy Roman Empire could read. One of Luther's best-selling pamphlets, An den Christian Adel deutscher Nation , was published a total of fifteen times in its 1520 year of publication, with up to 4,000 copies per edition.

In the context of the Reformation movement that originated in Wittenberg, other authors also appeared in journalism. According to calculations, around 2,400 pamphlets with an estimated total of 2.4 million copies were published in 1524 alone.

The spread of the Reformation was essentially based on the inclusion of the vernacular readership. She only found out about the entire development, based on the criticism of indulgences and later on the proposals for church reform, when Reformation authors consciously turned to them with vernacular texts, especially pamphlets. In the years 1518 to 1519, for example, Luther found that Latin and German-language texts reach two intellectually and socially different audiences. He made a distinction between scholars, by whom he understood Latin speakers, above all theologians, and lay people, who formed the far greater part of the subjects in the Holy Roman Empire and who at most had vernacular reading skills.

Linguistic influence of the Luther writings

The last version of the Luther Bible from 1545, which was still published during Luther's lifetime

Luther's linguistic form was the East Central German of his homeland, in which North and South German dialects had already partially merged, which enabled his writings to be widely distributed. According to Werner Besch (2014), Luther's language is also integrated into Wittenberg's authoritative Saxon writing tradition. It was only through Luther's theological authority that his translation of the Bible gave the Upper Saxon- Meissnian dialect the impetus for early New High German in general language throughout Germany, especially in Low German, and later also in Upper German. "The German in his Bible is probably the most important control factor in recent language history", concludes Besch.

With the translation of the Bible , a joint effort by Luther, Melanchthon and other Wittenberg theologians, the reformer achieved a wide impact. Luther reserved the final linguistic design, so the name Luther Bible is appropriate. Before that there were fourteen High German and four Low German pre- Lutheran German Bibles . Luther himself presented the principles of his translation work in detail in his letter from interpreting from 1530 and justified it against the Catholic allegation of text falsification.

Luther did not translate literally, but tried to translate biblical statements into German according to their meaning (sensus literalis) . In doing so, he interpreted the Bible in accordance with his conception of “what Christ does”, and this meant for him to start from God's grace in Christ as the goal and center of all scripture. He understood the Gospel “more as an oral message than as a literary text, and that is why the translation received its spoken language, hearing-related character.” His linguistic design has shaped style and language up to the present day. In terms of vocabulary , he came up with expressions such as “scapegoat”, “stop-gap”, “decoy” or “gutter”. Metaphorical expressions toolike “throwing pearls before swine” go back to him. In addition to these innovations, he also preserved historical forms of morphology that had largely disappeared through apocopes , such as the Lutheran e in the plural, past tense and other word forms. As for the spelling, his translation meant that the capitalization of the nouns was retained. Luther's Bible is also considered a great achievement from a poetic point of view, as it is thought through down to the rhythm of the syllables ( prosody ). It is an important basis of church music : many compositions use Luther's text version for chorales and cantatas, Motets and other musical forms.

Further development in Germany

“Left Wing of the Reformation” / Radical Reformation

Spread of the Anabaptist Movement
Title page of the Schleitheim article: Declaration of convergence of various Anabaptist groups

The Reformation movement, described by the Anabaptist researcher Heinold Fast as the left wing of the Reformation and the theologian George Huntston Williams as the Radical Reformation , does not offer a uniform picture. Although all of them (like other reformers, by the way) had an apocalyptic view of the world and time, the consequences they drew from it were quite different.

On the one hand, the radical reformers belonged to this left wing, for whom Thomas Müntzer , the great opponent of Martin Luther, should be mentioned here. Her central concerns were the radical reform of the church and, in the case of Thomas Müntzer, also the (biblically based) revolutionary upheaval in political and social conditions. This is where the roots of the German Peasants' War 1524–1526 lay . The Eternal Council was founded in Thuringia to enforce the political and social demands of the farmers.

The resulting shortly after the Peasants' War in the context of the Swiss Reformation Anabaptist movement followed the restoration of the New Testament Church of Jesus. The baptism of believers practiced exclusively by them , which their opponents called rebaptism , was only part and - strictly speaking - a consequence of their ecclesiology . For them, the church was the community of believers in which social barriers had fallen. They practiced the priesthood of all believers and elected their elders and deacons in a “democratic” manner. They advocated the radical separation of church and statea, demanded religious freedom not only for themselves and refused to take the oath in large parts of their movement . Above all, this made them suspicious of the authorities, who could not accept their divergent theological views as much as their criticism of the secular authorities and therefore resorted to sharp countermeasures and persecutions. Today they include the Mennonites , the Hutterites and the Amish .

The “ Munster Anabaptists ”, whose pioneers - albeit unintentionally - Melchior Hofmann , took a completely different position . The Munster Anabaptists were characterized by an enthusiastic and violent chiliasm , which had been sparked by the persecution they had suffered. After the Reformation-Anabaptist party had gained a political majority in the Münster council in 1534, the city became under Bishop Franz von Waldecklargely encircled with a siege ring. As a result, the Munster Anabaptists became increasingly radicalized, the development culminating in the establishment of a "Kingdom of Munster" and finally the storming of the city in the summer of 1535. Their leaders saw themselves as the decisive tools and pioneers of an oncoming kingdom of God.

A fourth group within the “left wing of the Reformation” was formed by the spiritualists , whom their opponents described as enthusiasts. They were closely related to the Anabaptist movement and some of them emerged from it. They represented a deeply internalized belief. Its primary goal was not to form a visible and authoritative church. They also did not attach great importance to the external signs or sacraments such as the Lord's Supper and baptism . Sebastian Franck and Kaspar Schwenckfeld were among their important representatives . There are still Schwenkfeldians in North America today .

Another group of the Radical Reformation were the Reformation anti-Trinitarians for whom Michael Servet can be named. Here, too, there was some overlap with the Anabaptist movement, as in the case of Adam Pastors and the Polish Brothers in Poland-Lithuania. The Unitarian Church that emerged from the Reformation still exists in Transylvania today .

Both the Catholic and the Lutheran and Reformed authorities persecuted these groups with great severity - regardless of their different goals and doctrines. In many countries the Anabaptists had to leave the country leaving their belongings behind, in other principalities they were imprisoned and tortured because of their convictions and in extreme cases even burned or drowned as heretics .

Protestation to Speyer

The Memorial Church in memory of the Speyer protest

At the Reichstag in Speyer in 1526 (Speyer I), the Edict of Worms was partially revised by leaving the execution to the imperial estates. Accordingly, every prince could do with religion as he could answer to the emperor and God. Emperor Charles V canceled this resolution and wanted to bring about a new resolution in his favor at the following Reichstag in Speyer.

At the Reichstag in Speyer on April 19, 1529 (Speyer II), six princes and fourteen free imperial cities stood up as representatives of the Protestant minority against the imposition of the imperial ban on Luther and the ostracism of his writings and teachings and demanded the unhindered spread of the Protestant faith. This protestation of princes and cities is considered to be the birth of Protestantism .

Confession and Consolidation

With the Augsburg Reichstag in 1530 and the Augsburg Confession presented to the emperor there , the Reformation entered a new phase. The two camps within Protestantism - Lutherans on the one hand and the Swiss wing on the other had positioned themselves at the latest since the Marburg Religious Discussion in 1529 - now began to understand and organize themselves as churches in terms of confession and canon law : In addition to the already mentioned orders of worship and confessions (the latter played up to played an important role at the end of the century and were concluded on the Lutheran side in the Book of Concord in 1580 ), new church ordinances were now establishedwith the help of or even on the instructions of the sovereigns and city councils and put into effect. For the Protestant churches they replace the centuries-old canon law of the medieval church and are at the same time a visible expression of the sovereign church regiment , which in Germany remained in effect until 1918.

Political Impact

Political aspects soon added to the theological struggle for the correct interpretation of the Bible. The new ideas gave the imperial princes a theological justification for reducing the tax burden imposed by Rome. The emergence of the Protestant regional churches also strengthened the autonomy of the principalities. Important Protestant territories in the German Empire were the Landgraviate of Hesse , the Electoral Palatinate , the Electorate of Saxony and the Duchy of Württemberg .

In the first half of the 16th century there were various wars between Catholics and Protestants within the empire (→ Schmalkaldic War ) and Switzerland (→ Second Kappelerkrieg ), which began in Germany in 1555 with the Peace of Augsburg and in Switzerland in 1531 with the Second The peace of Kappel ended. In both cases the solution was “ cuius regio, eius religio ” (“whose country, whose faith”): In Germany, the respective prince or, in the imperial cities, the magistrate determined the denomination of the country, in the Swiss cantons the respective governments .

Regional spread in Germany

Denominations in Germany and Europe around 1560

Reformation ideas and the first evangelical church services first found their way into cities, supported mainly by the local bourgeoisie and some nobles.

In the Duchy of Prussia , the Reformation was introduced as the first territorial area in 1525 ( see mandate of July 6, 1525 ). In the same year, the Principality of Anhalt-Köthen , the Principality of Ansbach , the Principality of Bayreuth and the Imperial City of Nuremberg followed .

Among the major territories of the empire, the Landgraviate of Hesse followed in 1526 , the Electorate of Saxony (Luther's home, although the Elector was Lutheran as early as 1525) and the Duchy of Lüneburg , in 1534 Württemberg and the Duchy of Pomerania . In 1535 Neumark in Brandenburg became Lutheran. In 1539 the Electorate of Brandenburg became Lutheran as a whole.

In the 1520s, many lords of Lower Lusatia , some cities of Upper Lusatia , and some duchies in Silesia officially declared Lutheranism, but these territories ultimately remained subject to the Catholic King of Bohemia (who had been a Habsburg since 1526 ) as countries of the Bohemian Crown .

Reformation in cities and territories

Spread outside of Germany


The Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation in Switzerland took place in a somewhat different time frame than in Germany. The beginning of Ulrich Zwingli's work as a people priest in Zurich from 1519 , and the end of the confessionalization of the Second Villmerger War in 1712 can be seen. The Reformation itself also took a different course in Switzerland because the old confederation had a different social structure than the empire . To this day, the Protestant Reformed churches that emerged from the Swiss Reformation differ from those that emerged from the German ReformationEvangelical Lutheran churches . In accordance with the character of the Confederation as a confederation of states , the Reformation in Switzerland emanated from various centers and was inspired by various reformers. Most important in world history were the personality and teachings of John Calvin , the founder of Calvinism , who from 1536 made Geneva a “Protestant Rome”. Also important were Ulrich Zwingli, who worked in Zurich from 1519, and Heinrich Bullinger , who in 1549 reached an agreement between the Zwinglians with Calvin through the Tigurinus Consensusand reached Calvinists on the sacrament question. While the Lutheran Reformation was limited to Germany and Northern Europe, the Swiss Reformation had an international impact via the Netherlands , Great Britain and the USA .

Zwingli and Calvin consistently rejected all traditions that were not based on the Bible. That is why the Reformed churches have sober places of worship, which were decorated with at most Bible verses; the church structure is synodal , Presbyterian or congregational , d. H. without episcopate; Zwingli even rejected instrumental music in church at times, even though he was very musical. The Lord's Supper is more of a memorial service for both of them. Zwingli and later Calvin therefore formed entirely new liturgies .

The Reformation Anabaptist movement , from which the Mennonites ultimately emerged , has its roots in Switzerland and, despite persecution, spread from here. The Anabaptist movement was cruelly persecuted in Switzerland until the 17th century.


The humanist and Bible translator Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples was the central figure who gathered other people around him who discussed Martin Luther's theses from 1519 and subsequently adopted Protestant beliefs. King Francis I initially tolerated reformatory efforts in France, but soon bowed to Catholic pressure and foreign policy constraints, so that in 1523 there were the first executions of Protestants. Until 1530, the Reformation activities were largely pushed into the underground. Nevertheless, the Protestant congregations remained. In 1533 Jean Calvin joined the Reformed Confession and shaped French Protestantism in the period that followed, despite his exile in Geneva.

The St. Bartholomew's Day in 1572 was the high point of the anti-Protestant repression in France with about 10,000 killed Protestants. From 1530 to 1730 about 200,000 of a total of 730,000 Huguenots , as the Reformed France were called, left the country for Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, England and America in order to be able to continue freely to practice their Protestant faith. As often able professionals, they made a significant contribution to the economic development of the respective countries that had offered them asylum.


The Reformation in England was triggered primarily for political reasons. However, theologians had followed the writings and work of Martin Luther , Johannes Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli with interest for their own reasons , and it was not inconvenient for many of them that the opportunity now arose to express certain principles that had previously been forbidden by Rome were to be allowed to use also in England. So it had z. B. Attempts have been made to spread the Bible in the English language (see John Wyclif , William Tyndale ). These also ended under Henry VIII.with the execution of the translator. Only under Edward VI. major reforms (e.g. the first Book of Common Prayer ) were introduced. With his death, England was forcibly returned to Roman doctrine under Maria Tudor , the "bloody Mary", but the Anglican Church was re-established with the successor to Elizabeth I on the throne . The efforts of Charles I , Charles II . and Jacob II to restore the Catholic Church to the status of the state church failed with the Glorious Revolution(1688). The Reformation had finally established itself in England and Scotland.


The first reformers came to Scotland as early as 1520, but in 1528 the Protestant theologian Patrick Hamilton , who had brought the new faith with him from Germany, was executed in St Andrews , as was George Wishart in 1546. King James V fought all Protestant aspirations, just now also after the English Reformation of 1531. Only through the work of John Knox , a pupil of Calvin, was the Presbyterian State Church ( Presbyterians ) founded in 1560 . In England there was a split from the Anglican Church. The Puritansmaintained the unity with the state church, but wanted to “purify” the church of all “Catholic” structural elements. Radical Independents ( Congregationalists ) completely separated from the Church of England (Separatists). Above all, both groups strictly rejected the office of bishop, because they were strongly influenced by Calvin's theology .


In the Netherlands - which at that time included roughly today's Benelux countries - the first two Protestants ever were executed as heretics in 1523: The two Augustinian fathers died on the Grand Place in Brussels. In the Netherlands, Anabaptism first spread, later from around 1550 Calvinism. In the Republic of the United Netherlands, which emerged from the defection of the Spanish crown in 1581, Calvinism dominated, but was not a state church.


The Reformation in the Scandinavian countries was mostly decreed by the respective sovereigns. Evangelical preaching began in Husum as early as 1522 . In 1526 the Danish Prince Christian III. in Haderslev as the first town in the Duchy of Schleswig to introduce the Protestant faith. Because the future king had participated in the Diet of Worms in 1521 , where he was convinced by Martin Luther. In the rest of his empire, Protestant teaching was enforced until 1536, the former monks Hans Tausen and Paul Helgesenwere its most important reformers. In 1537 the last Catholic bishop left Norwegian soil, but the adoption and practice of the new faith in Norway and Iceland , which were then part of the Danish Empire, took much longer.

In Sweden, under King Gustav Vasa , the Reformation took place gradually from 1523 to 1544. The Västerås Diet (1527) confirmed the basic decision for the Reformation. Laurentius Andreae and Olaus Petri were among the most important figures who represented and implemented the reforms. In 1550 Mikael Agricola , who had studied with Luther and Melanchthon in Wittenberg, became Evangelical Lutheran bishop in Turku and introduced the Evangelical creed in Finland , which is dominated by Sweden . Lutheran state churches that rejected other Protestant denominations emerged in all countries.

Poland and Lithuania

As early as 1525, Duke Albrecht introduced the Reformation in the Duchy of Prussia as the first territory dominated by the Kingdom of Poland .

In Poland-Lithuania , which included areas of today's Poland, western Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic States, some Lutheran and Reformed congregations emerged on the initiative and with the support of regional nobles. This was increasingly tolerated by the ruling royal house of the Jagiellonians , particularly by Sigismund II August , who ruled from 1548 to 1572. In 1555, at the Diet of Piotrków, ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the increasing number of non-Catholics was lifted because of the Szlachta, the nobility. 70 Catholic (55 lay and 15 bishops), 58 Protestant and 2 Orthodox members took part in the meeting. In 1559 the king allowed Prussia to accept the Confessio Augustana on a royal basis . In 1565 the Unitarian Church of the Polish Brothers was formed as a split from the Reformed Church . In 1570, under the rule of Sigismund II August, the consensus of Sandomir took place, where Lutherans, Calvinists and Bohemian brothers came to an understanding and thus strengthened the evangelical position and presence in Poland-Lithuania. In 1573, the Confederation of Warsaw passed an edict of tolerance, which guaranteed (mostly aristocratic) people in Poland-Lithuania political equality in the Reichstag , civil rights and religious freedom. From 1575 the Jesuits led on behalf of the kings Stephan Báthory and Sigismund III. Wasa carried out the Counter Reformation on an intellectual basis , making Protestants especially the radical Reformation anti-Trinitarians(Polish brothers) came under pressure. Some Protestant nobles also voluntarily returned to the Catholic Church because they could no longer support the theological differences and the resulting quarrels among Protestants.

Hungary and Transylvania

As early as 1523, writings by Luther and Melanchton came to the Hungarian-Saxon cities of Kronstadt , Hermannstadt , Bistritz , Mediasch , Schäßburg and Klausenburg . Kronstadt and Hermannstadt were the first cities to introduce the Reformation in 1542 and 1543, because the estates had given each other a free choice of faith. Cluj and Debrecen and their surroundings followed after 1550 ; the state parliament recognized the Confessio Augustana as a separate denomination. In 1556 the Hungarian Lutherans became independent as a church and elected their own bishop. In 1564 the Helvetic Confession becamerecognized as equal after many people had adopted an evangelical reformed faith.

During the tolerant rule of Johann Sigismund Zápolya , with the Edict of Torda in 1568, both the Lutheran, Reformed, Catholic and Unitarian denominations were accepted as equal; the latter received the same rights as the other recognized churches in Transylvania in 1571. Further creeds were rejected a year later. The majority of the population had meanwhile become Protestant. In 1590 in the eastern Hungarian village of Vizsoly , the full Bible translated into Hungarian by a group around Gáspár Károlyi was printed by Bálint Mantskont. This Bible, which subsequently formed language and influenced culture, was financed by Protestant nobles.


Martin Luther's first writings were translated into Italian as early as 1518 and were then discussed lively among monks in northern Italy. Especially in Veneto , in the area around Venice , many small evangelical groups arose among other educated people and craftsmen. The first Italian Bible was published in Venice in 1532, and in 1543 the widespread evangelical treatise Il Beneficio di Cristo by Benedetto Fontanini and Marcantonio Flaminio . From 1533 on, influential clergy and intellectuals met with reform-minded State Secretary Juan de Valdés in Naples . From 1535 to around 1550 the ducal court was inFerrara, because of Renée de France, a stopover and meeting point for evangelical refugees. In 1542 the open-minded Cardinal Gasparo Contarini , who had protected the evangelical, died; in the same year the Roman Inquisition was founded as part of the Counter Reformation . Many who had adopted the Protestant faith often fled via Chiavenna to Switzerland, Germany, England, Moravia, Poland and Transylvania. From 1555 under Pope Paul IV until 1588, the remaining Protestants were tracked down, persecuted and largely destroyed. International families of textile retailers such as the Diodati and theTurrettini from Lucca settled in Geneva. Small Waldensian communities that had joined the Swiss Reformation of Geneva in 1532 were only able to survive in a few Italian Alpine valleys in Piedmont .

Spain and Portugal

On the Iberian Peninsula , the first writings by Erasmus von Rotterdam and Martin Luther came by ship to the port cities. They were read with interest by educated nobles and monks. The Reformation could not prevail, however, because the Jesuits and the Spanish Inquisition were able to successfully combat and extinguish all reformatory efforts immediately during the Counter Reformation. The first indictments were in Valencia in 1524 . The reform-loving Juan de Valdés evaded to Rome in 1531. Francisco de Enzinas translated the New Testament into Spanish in 1543. In 1557 the monk Casiodoro de Reina fled to theHieronymites at Seville , to Geneva. He translated the entire Bible into Spanish, which was printed in Basel in 1569. Cipriano de Valera revised it from 1582, it was printed in Amsterdam as the Reina Valera Bible in 1602 and was subsequently revised and printed. In 1559 several Evangelicals were sentenced to death and burned in both Valladolid and Seville. It is estimated that a total of around 1,000 Protestants were tracked down by the Inquisition, and 100 were sentenced to death and carried out.

North America

From 1607 the first English colony in North America was founded in Jamestown , Virginia . In 1620 the ship Mayflower crossed the Atlantic from Plymouth with 102 people and reached America. The passengers were Puritans , persecuted Evangelical Christians from England who founded the colony of Plymouth as Pilgrim Fathers . Although freedom of belief was important to them, the Reformation churches in North America subsequently became the dominant power, especially Congregationalists , Baptists , Presbyterians and Anglicans(Episcopalists), Quakers and Methodists . Lutherans and Mennonites formed smaller groups, who had immigrated mainly from Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria.

Reaction of the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church was initially completely surprised by the wave triggered by Luther. When Luther could not be convinced, she turned to political and church pressure. Luther had to flee and only survived through princely protection. Zwingli succeeded in convincing the Zurich Council of the correctness of his teaching. The ideas of the Reformation spread like wildfire - the population flocked to the new faith, imperial cities and princes went over to the side of the Reformation.

The then Emperor Charles V remained Catholic, but could not concentrate on suppressing the Reformation, as foreign policy was very demanding on him (Turks before Vienna, war with France).

The Council of Trent (1546–1563) attempted within the three session periods to continue the reforms that had begun in the 15th century. The three meeting periods each have a different sign. An entire reform of the Roman doctrine of the faith had never been up for debate - even if one can safely say that after the council the Catholic Church had become different from the one that Luther had found. In particular, the excesses in the clergy and curia could be eliminated and a standardization and reform of the Roman Church in Europe was implemented. As a result, the order of the Jesuits founded by Ignatius von Loyola initiated the Counter-Reformation.


Theologically and politically the Reformation culminated in the confessional writings of the Protestant churches:

Meaning and consequences

The Reformation was one of the great turning points in the history of the West. For the history of Christianity, the Reformation marked the preliminary climax of a development that began with the criticism of the Roman Catholic Church ( Averroism , Jan Hus , John Wyclif , Wilhelm von Ockham) and led to the formation of numerous "heretical" Christian faith groups up to the renewed division of Christianity. After a long struggle, the newly created denominations were finally able to establish themselves as churches with equal status alongside the Roman Catholic churches. Since the new denominations were too strong to be permanently suppressed, although there were numerous setbacks and even religious wars , both sides were permanently forced to religious tolerance . The Roman Catholic Church not only lost its influence in large parts of Europe, but in particular also lost its monopoly on interpreting the Bible, which had been almost inviolable until then. The Reformation also led to reforms on the Roman Catholic side due to the pressure caused by the rapid fall of entire regions from Catholicism . Therefore, one speaks of Catholic reform . In addition, an attempt was made to achieve a re -Catholicization of the areas that had fallen away from the Roman Catholic faith, which in turn represents a side of the Counter Reformation .

Although the Christian religion was not fundamentally called into question by the Reformation, fundamental beliefs and religious practices that had been considered irrevocable for centuries were rejected by the reformers and their followers (e.g. devotion to Mary and saints, pilgrimages and other “good” Works "). In Protestant territories, all monasteries were expropriated and dissolved, the religious, insofar as they did not become Protestant preachers, were driven out or could remain in their dying convents . The authority of the churches over the believers was only partially broken at first, but the Reformation paved the way for the Age of Enlightenment , in which theIndividual in his personal freedom was clearly upgraded and in which even atheistic worldviews were finally recognized.

But the Reformation not only revolutionized spiritual life, it also set in motion a comprehensive socio-political development. Prepared by Luther's fundamental separation of the spiritual and the secular ( doctrine of the two kingdoms ), the state broke away from the tutelage of the church in order to make the church dependent on itself through sovereignty and absolutism . But even this was only a transition phase in a development that in many countries resulted in the separation of church and statewhich the Huguenots and Anabaptists practiced as persecuted minority churches since their formation in the 16th century (cf. Sections 3 and 5). The Baptist churches emerged from English Anabaptism at the beginning of the 17th century . Even more than the General Baptists, the Particular Baptists were influenced by Calvin's theology . Like the Anabaptists , the Baptists vehemently demanded freedom of belief ( John Smyth , Thomas Helwys , Roger Williams, and others). As the last Reformation church, the Methodists separated from the Church of England at the end of the 18th century .

The emergence of Protestant territories and states fundamentally shifted the balance of power in Europe and later in the overseas colonies. The Reformation had profound effects on all areas of life: marriage and family, state and society, school and university, science, economy and art ((church) music, literature, painting). The reformers wanted every church member to be able to read the Bible for themselves. That's why they promoted the education system at all levels, from elementary school through the Latin School to the University . This created one for the strengthening of the humanities, natural sciences and technologyfavorable cultural climate. The emphasis on diligence, thrift, frugality, increasing work as it were to worship and - especially with Calvin - the renunciation of luxury goods freed up money for investments, which benefited the strong development of the economy (cf.Max Weber : Die Protestantische Ethik und the spirit of capitalism).

Thus, the Reformation seemed far beyond the actual Reformation overtime and marked a turning point towards the development of modern society of modern times .


The Reformation as a formative event found its expression in the fine arts as well as in historical novels. Individual places and regions develop their own style in dealing with the memory of Luther's Reformation, and the memory of this is also kept alive in contemporary free churches .


With the initial issue date 1 October 2020 which gave German Post AG , a special stamp called Women of the Reformation in the nominal value of 370 euro cents in memory of women like Elizabeth of Brandenburg (1510 to 1558) , Elisabeth von Rochlitz , Anna Zwingli , Caritas Pirckheimer or Katharina out of Bora . The design comes from the graphic artist Susann Stefanizen from Berlin.


Web links

Commons : Reformation  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Reformation  - Sources and full texts
Wiktionary: Reformation  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Edith Simon: Great Ages of Man: The Reformation . Time-Life Books, 1966, ISBN 0-662-27820-8 , pp. 120-121 (English).
  2. Volker Leppin: Transylvania: A special case of church history of general importance . In: Volker Leppin, Ulrich A. Wien (ed.): Confession formation and confession culture in Transylvania in the early modern period. Sources and studies on the history of Eastern Europe . Frank Steiner, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 978-3-515-08617-2 , pp. 13 .
  3. ^ Max Döllner : History of the development of the city of Neustadt an der Aisch up to 1933. Ph. C. W. Schmidt, Neustadt a. d. Aisch 1950, OCLC 42823280 ; New edition to mark the 150th anniversary of the Ph. C. W. Schmidt publishing house, Neustadt an der Aisch 1828–1978. Ibid 1978, ISBN 3-87707-013-2 , p. 182 f.
  4. Heinz Schilling : Martin Luther. Rebel in a time of upheaval. A biography. Munich 2012.
  5. Olaf Mörke : The Reformation. Requirements and Enforcement. Oldenbourg, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-486-59987-9 , p. 132 f.
    Andreas Würgler: Media in the Early Modern Age. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-486-75521-3 .
    Marcel Nieden: The Wittenberg Reformation as a media event. April 23, 2012.
  6. Helga Schnabel-Schüle (Ed.): Reformation. Historical and cultural studies manual. Metzler, Heidelberg 2017, ISBN 978-3-476-02593-7 , pp. 298-310.
  7. Andrew Pettegree: The Luther brand. How an unknown monk made a small German town the center of the printing industry and himself the most famous man in Europe - and kicked off the Protestant Reformation. Insel, Berlin 2016, ISBN 978-3-458-17691-6 , pp. 119–129, 155.
  8. Andrew Pettegree, Matthew Hall: The Reformation and the book. A reconsideration. In: The Historical Journal. 47, 2004, pp. 785-808.
  9. ^ Peter Ukena: Pamphlets and related media in the communication process between the Reformation and the Early Enlightenment. In: Hans-Joachim Köhler (Ed.): Pamphlets as a mass medium of the Reformation period: Contributions to the Tübingen Symposium 1980. (= Late Middle Ages and early modern times. 13). Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1981, ISBN 3-12-911630-3 , pp. 163-170.
  10. Martin Luther: A Sermon of Indulgence and Grace (1517/1518). In: Reinhard Brandt: Translation into today's German, introduction and explanation of: A sermon on indulgence and grace by the worthy Dr. Martin Luther, Augustinian of Wittenberg. In: Luther (Luther magazine of the Luther Society). Vol. 73, Issue 1, 2002, pp. 4-9.
  11. Stefan Oehmig (Ed.): Book printing and book culture in Wittenberg during the Reformation. (= Writings of the Luther Memorials Foundation in Saxony-Anhalt. Volume 21). Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, Leipzig 2015, ISBN 978-3-374-04078-0 , excerpt from PDF; 2.1 MB, 37 pages
  12. Hans-Joachim Köhler: First steps towards an opinion profile of the early Reformation period. In: Volker Press, Dieter Stievermann (Ed.): Martin Luther: Problems of his time. (= Late Middle Ages and early modern times. 16). Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1986, pp. 244-281.
  13. Hans-Joachim Köhler (Ed.): Pamphlets as a mass medium of the Reformation period. Contributions to the Tübingen Symposium 1980. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1981, ISBN 3-12-911630-3 .
  14. Christoph Galle: The Reformation as a language event. Martin Luther, the Reformation and the development of a German vernacular. NO. November 11, 2016, accessed on January 20, 2019 from
  15. ^ Mark U. Edwards : Printing, Propaganda and Martin Luther. University of California Press, Berkeley / Los Angeles / Oxford 1994. on UC Press E-Books Collection, 1982-2004.
  16. a b Werner Besch : Luther and the German language: 500 years of German language history in the light of recent research. Erich Schmidt, Berlin 2014, ISBN 978-3-503-15522-4 .
  17. a b Martin Brecht: Order and delimitation of the Reformation 1521–1532. Stuttgart 1986, p. 57.
  18. Bernd Möller: Luther and the cities. In: Joint Commission of the Rheinisch-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Gerda Henkel Foundation (Ed.): From the Luther research. Three lectures (= Gerda Henkel lectures ). Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1983, pp. 9-26; Berndt Hamm: Bourgeoisie and Faith. Contours of the urban reformation. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1996, pp. 91-103; Bernd Möller: Luther and German urban culture. In: Johannes Schilling (Ed.): Luther reception. Church history essays on the history of the Reformation. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001, 57–72; Vera Isaiasz, Matthias Pohlig :Social orders and their representations: Perspectives of the research area “City and Religion”. In: Vera Isaiasz, Ute Lotz-Heumann, Matthias Pohlig (eds.): City and religion in the early modern age: social orders and their representations. Campus, Frankfurt am Main / New York 2007 pp. 15–20.
  19. ^ Reformation in Scotland. Website
  20. Christoph Driessen : History of the Netherlands. Regensburg 2016.
  21. One date for everyone: Late Reformation in Scandinavia. In: Mitteldeutsche Zeitung. 4th November 2014.
  22. ^ Simo Heininen, Otfried Czaika: Wittenberg influences on the Reformation in Scandinavia. Website, June 13, 2012.
  23. Protestantism in Scandinavia and the Baltic States. Musée Virtuel du Protestantisme.
  24. Lorenz Hein: Italian Protestants and their influence on the Reformation in Poland during the two decades before the Sandomir Consensus in 1570. Brill, Leiden 1974, ISBN 90-04-03893-0 , pp. 13-21.
  25. ^ Ulrich Andreas Vienna: Transylvania - pioneering region of religious freedom: Luther, Honterus and the effects of the Reformation . Schiller Verlag, Hermannstadt / Bonn 2017, ISBN 978-3-946954-05-7 , pp. 9-16 .
  26. Pál Ács: Study and translation of the Bible in Hungary at the time of the Reformation (1540-1640). In: Alberto Melloni: Martin Luther: Christ Between Reforms and Modernity (1517–2017). Walter de Gruyter, 2017, ISBN 978-3-11-049825-7 (PDF)
  27. ^ András Szabó: The Bible by Vizsoly. In: Joachim Bahlcke, Stefan Rohdewald, Thomas Wünsch: Religious places of remembrance in East Central Europe: Constitution and competition across nations and eras. Walter de Gruyter, 2013, ISBN 978-3-05-009343-7 , pp. 372–376.
  28. Lorenz Hein: Italian Protestants and their influence on the Reformation in Poland during the two decades before the Sandomir Consensus in 1570. Brill, Leiden 1974, ISBN 90-04-03893-0 .
  29. ^ Corinna Mühlstedt: Reformation in Italy. In enemy territory. If there is a hell, it says Rome! Martin Luther formulated a harsh judgment about the center of the Catholic Church. His thoughts quickly spread across Italy. The Inquisition put an end to that. In 1588 the evangelical movement was considered "extinguished" . Deutschlandfunk, December 27, 2017.
  30. Andrea Spalinger: Luther's forgotten forerunners. The Waldensian movement, founded in 1175, has been almost wiped out over hundreds of years. It still has 30,000 members in Italy. However, over 500,000 Italians entrust her with their church tax. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Zurich, August 29, 2017.
  31. ^ Manfred E. Welti: Brief history of the Italian Reformation (= writings of the Association for Reformation History . Volume 193). Mohn, Gütersloh 1985, ISBN 3-579-01663-6 . ( Digitized in the Google book search).
  32. Christian Modehn: Reformation in Spain - Casiodoro de Reina - Simply just be Protestant. Religious Philosophical Salon, January 4, 2017.
  33. Friederich Mielke: With the pilgrim fathers. In: The time. Hamburg June 2, 1995.
  34. On reception in culture, in certain regions (e.g. Linz, Upper Carinthia) and in free churches, see Martina Fuchs, Astrid Schweighofer (arr.): Reformation time and Protestantism in Austrian memory (= yearbook for the history of Protestantism in Austria 132 / 133, 2016/2017), Leipzig 2019.
  35. Susann Stefanizen