Protestant Reformation and Counter – Reformation

Protestant Reformation and Counter – Reformation

In the early 16th century, movements were begun by two theologians, Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli , who aimed to reform the Church; these reformers are distinguished from previous ones in that they considered the root of corruptions to be doctrinal (rather than simply a matter of moral weakness or lack of ecclesiastical discipline) and thus they aimed to change contemporary doctrines to accord with what they perceived to be the “true gospel.”

The Protestant Reformation

The beginning of the Protestant Reformation is generally identified with Martin Luther and the posting of the 95 Theseson the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Early protest was against corruptions such as simony, episcopal vacancies, and the sale of indulgences. The Protestant position, however, would come to incorporate doctrinal changes, such as sola scriptura —”scripture alone”—and sola fide —”faith alone.”

The three most important traditions to emerge directly from the Protestant Reformation were the Lutheran, Reformed (Calvinist, Presbyterian, etc.), and Anglican traditions, though the latter group identifies as both “Reformed” and “Catholic,” and some subgroups reject the classification as “Protestant.”

John Calvin was a French cleric and doctor of law turned Protestant reformer. He belonged to the second generation of the Reformation, publishing his theological tome, the Institutes of the Christian Religion , in 1536 (later revised), and establishing himself as a leader of the Reformed church in Geneva, which became an “unofficial capital” of Reformed Christianity in the second half of the 16th century.

Calvin’s theology is best known for his doctrine of (double) predestination , which held that God had, from all eternity, providentially foreordained who would be saved ( the elect ) and likewise who would be damned ( the reprobate ). Predestination was not the dominant idea in Calvin’s works, but it would seemingly become so for many of his Reformed successors.

The English Reformation

Unlike other reform movements, the English Reformation began by royal influence. Henry VIII considered himself a thoroughly Catholic King, and in 1521 he defended the papacy against Luther in a book he commissioned entitled, The Defense of the Seven Sacraments, for which Pope Leo X awarded him the title Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith). However, the king came into conflict with the papacy when he wished to annul his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, for which he needed papal sanction. Catherine, among many other noble relations, was the aunt of Emperor Charles V, the papacy’s most significant secular supporter. The ensuing dispute eventually leads to a break from Rome and the declaration of the King of England as head of the English Church. What emerged was a state church that considered itself both “Reformed” and “Catholic” but not “Roman” (and hesitated from the title “Protestant”), and other “unofficial” more radical movements such as the Puritans.

The Counter Reformation

The Protestant Reformation spread almost entirely within the confines of Northern Europe, but did not take hold in certain northern areas such as Ireland and parts of Germany.

The Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation is known as the Counter Reformation , or Catholic Reformation , which resulted in a reassertion of traditional doctrines and the emergence of new religious orders aimed at both moral reform and new missionary activity. The Counter Reformation reconverted approximately 33% of Northern Europe to Catholicism and initiated missions in South and Central America, Africa, Asia, and even China and Japan. Protestant expansion outside of Europe occurred on a smaller scale through colonization of North America and areas of Africa.

Catholic missions was carried to new places beginning with the new Age of Discovery , and the Roman Catholic Church established a number of Missions in the Americas and other colonies in order to spread Christianity in the New World and to convert the indigenous peoples.

At the same time, missionaries, such as Francis Xavier, as well as other Jesuits, Augustinians, Franciscans, and Dominicans were moving into Asia and the Far East. The Portuguese sent missions into Africa. While some of these missions were associated with imperialism and oppression, others (notably Matteo Ricci’s Jesuit mission to China) were relatively peaceful and focused on integration rather than cultural imperialism.

English Puritans in the New World

The most famous colonization by Protestants in the New World was that of English Puritans in North America. Unlike the Spanish or French, the English colonists made surprisingly little effort to evangelize the native peoples. The Puritans, or Pilgrims, left England so that they could live in an area with Puritanism established as the exclusive civic religion. Though they had left England because of the suppression of their religious practice, most Puritans had thereafter originally settled in the Low Countries but found the licentiousness there, where the state hesitated from enforcing religious practice, as unacceptable, and thus they set out for the New World and the hopes of a Puritan utopia. (44)

The Great Awakenings

Lithograph (1849) of tent revival or camp meeting during the Second Great Awakening.
Figure 7-5: Tent Revival during the Second Great Awakening by Kelloggs & Comstock resides in the Public Domain .

The First Great Awakening was a wave of religious enthusiasm among Protestants in the American colonies c. 1730–1740, emphasizing the traditional Reformed virtues of Godly preaching, rudimentary liturgy, and a deep sense of personal guilt and redemption by Christ Jesus. Historian Sydney E. Ahlstrom saw it as part of a “great international Protestant upheaval” that also created Pietism in Germany, the Evangelical Revival, and Methodism in England. It centered on reviving the spirituality of established congregations, and mostly affected Congregational, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, German Reformed, Baptist, and Methodist churches, while also spreading within the slave population.

The Second Great Awakening (1800–1830s), unlike the first, focused on the unchurched and sought to instill in them a deep sense of personal salvation as experienced in revival meetings. It also sparked the beginnings of groups such as the Mormons, the Restoration Movement and the Holiness movement.

The Third Great Awakening began from 1857 and was most notable for taking the movement throughout the world, especially in English speaking countries. The final group to emerge from the “great awakenings” in North America was Pentecostalism, which had its roots in the Methodist, Wesleyan, and Holiness movements, and began in 1906 on Azusa Street, in Los Angeles. Pentecostalism would later lead to the Charismatic movement. (44)