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The Political, Religious, and Economic Effects of the Reformation

By zoi-b Oct 05, 2014 1271 Words
The Reformation is renowned as an age of revelation. The peoples had began to question the church during the Renaissance, bringing the core concepts of the Reformation into being, causing the Church to reform itself as well. These pivotal events caused many changes in almost all aspects of life during the sixteenth century. The Reformation and Counter/Catholic Reformation gave rise to a permanent split in European beliefs, altering entire governments as they grew away from the Church, forcing the ecclesiastical hierarchy to improve it’s methodology whilst new beliefs developed, changing viewpoints on the immorality of usury and monetary gain and setting up Europe of the future rise of Capitalism.

The reformation brought about a change in beliefs that greatly affected how certain countries were ruled. In 1531 the Schmalkaldic League was enacted by German Nobles who opposed the Catholic-Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. This resulted in a German civil war, which ended in 1531 with the Peace of Augsburg (Political Changes). This peace treaty allowed for the prince of any German state to decide whether their land would be Catholic or Lutheran, which stopped fighting between the Schmalkaldic League and the Holy Roman Empire, but also diminished the authority of the empire in the process. As princes chose the religion of their realm, they divided Germany into two parts, the Protestant section and the Catholic section, which added to political unrest between states which were no longer united under common religious beliefs. France suffered a similar unrest, but did not reach a settlement between Christian sects. The years between 1562 and 1598 were spent in an almost constant state of war including the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572, which began with the assassination of Coligny, a highly influential Calvinist noble, resulting in a five day attack on Calvanists by Catholic mobs and the death of approximately 10,000 people (Acton). The fighting would eventually end with the Treaty of Nemours, which would suppress Protestantism across France. However, over thirty years of fighting due to differing religious beliefs would not leave France in peace, and the political and religious unrest due to conflict between Catholics and Protestants would remain for years after the Protestant reformation.

Not even England, which had been united during the reformation under the Church of England by Henry VIII in 1534 (Church of England), would escape the political upheaval brought about by the development of Protestantism. After King Edward VII died in 1553, he was to be succeeded by his Catholic sister, Mary I. To avoid a Catholic monarch, King Edward’s cousin succeeded him, but she was soon overthrown by Mary, who sought to reestablish Catholicism in England. During her reign, many Protestant’s were executed, earning her the notorious title of ‘Bloody Mary,' and England remained in a state of uncertainty until she was succeeded by her Protestant sister, Queen Elizabeth, in 1558 (Political Changes). Throughout Europe, the Reformation brought only chaos, as it dissolved the relative peace that had been experienced when the Catholic Church was a unifying force throughout the land. The development of Protestantism had an unfortunate outcome, even if these events were vital for future growth, and not only made countries go to war with each other, such as in the during the Thirty Years war (1618-1648), which caused both Habsburg and Catholic influence to decline, but also caused these same lands to war amongst themselves, making the years following these events ones of intense bloodshed.

The Reformation marked the beginning of an age of Protestantism, which developed into many different belief systems while forcing the existing Church to revamp itself, completely reconstructing the theological life of Western Europe. Protestantism would eventually become one of the three main denominations of Christianity along with Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity (History World International), showing just the true amount of change that occurred within the Christian community. Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation, had simply intended to improve the Catholic Church, which had become corrupted over the last few centuries, not to start a religion. However, many people were unhappy with the bastardization of the Church, and took Luther’s criticisms of the practices of the Church as an opportunity to act, creating a new religion that was more focused more on the teachings of the Bible, which was believed to be the word of God and reaching salvation through faith in Jesus and God. As these ideas grew, the Catholic Church lost power both over the people and over the state, and individuals developed onto Luther’s preliminary ideology. John Calvin published “Institutes of the Christian Religion” in 1536, enacting the first well thought out theological treatise of the new reform movement, in 1532 Henry VIII of England created the Anglican Church, naming himself the supreme head, while John Knox instigated Presbyterianism in Scotland (History World International). These new sects of Christianity were no longer connected to the Catholic Church, thus they no longer had to follow its rules, breaking the control that the Church had long had over the governments of several countries as well as the individuals within converted countries.

Since Christians were not restricted to being Catholic or eternally damned, the Church was forced to ameliorate itself, something which the Papacy had been either unable or unwilling to do before the Reformation, and convert new members to the Church. In Spain, the Society of Jesus, whose members are commonly known as the Jesuits, was formed in 1540 and contributed hugely to the spread of education. Although the changes in the Church were undoubtedly a blow to the relative order they disturbed, the Reformation allowed for the people to have more religious freedom and discover their own theological beliefs instead of adhering to new ones, moving the Church forward into a new age.

Usury and wealth had long been condemned in the Catholic Church, making people unwilling to make a real profit, and restricting money-lending to non-Christian peoples. Although Luther still believed usury to be a sin, other Protestants, particularly Calvin and his followers, did not agree with these ideas. Clavin made usury completely licit, as long as legal restrictions were maintained, and it was not used against the poor. Along with this, individual wealth, which had long been discouraged by the Church, became an honorable goal. The concept of “striving to labor and succeed for the glory of God” (Rothbard) became a common one, and allowed for the people to make a profit and seek the earthy gratification that had become increasingly important during the Renaissance. The idea of work soon became an aspect of religion, and Samuel Hieron, an English Puritan from the sixteenth century, said, “He that hath no honest business about which ordinarily to be employed, no settled course to which he may betake himself, cannot please God” (Rothbard), showing the true importance of both working and money making. Those people who did not have a stable job or did not work at all were seen as lazy, and were deemed unlikely to get into heaven. This made individual wealth become not only a rousing idea, but also a necessity for a ‘good’ Christian, bringing out an ideology that would prepare Europe for the Capitalist revolution.

All of these advancements caused a much needed evolution of many different features of European life and beliefs. Some of these changes were unfortunate as a great deal of carnage was caused due to bureaucratic differences, despite their necessity for progress. Other changes would actively advance theological and fiscal ideas, bringing positive change to all people’s lives. After the Reformation and Counter/Catholic Reformation, Europe was an entirely reborn continent.

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