The French situation looked hopeful enough in 1571; some Protestant leaders were admitted to the king's council and peace was established. However, Catherine worried that the Protestants were gaining too much power and decided to right the balance by ordering soldiers to kill the leading Protestant noble, Admiral de Coligny, while he was in Paris for a royal wedding. The violence spiraled out of control as the fiercely anti-Protestant militia and citizens of Paris killed thousands of Protestants; as the news spread, Protestants throughout France (who, not coincidentally, were usually an especially well-off and well-educated minority) were attacked.

When the killing subsided in October, perhaps 70,000 people were dead. The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre re-ignited the French civil war and poisoned Catholic-Protestant relations across Europe. Although the cycle of war, treaty, and war continued, the fighting was significantly more intense (and thus more damaging to the French people) after this time.

The Netherlands experienced a similar intensification of violence. As elsewhere, the Low Countries were divided between Catholic and Reformed provinces. However, there was no room for compromise: the Dutch Reformed, led by William of Orange, were in open rebellion against King Phillip, who for his part had no intention of allowing Protestantism to take hold. He sent the infamous Duke of Alba to take control. Alba executed 6,000 Dutch during his 5-year tenure; far from being ashamed, he claimed to have executed 20,000. Although he was replaced in 1573, the Spanish campaign against the Protestants only intensified.

In 1579 the Catholic and Protestant provinces formed leagues (which became the basis for the modern border between Belgium and the Netherlands) and fought a vicious war. The Spanish had decided advantages but were unable to achieve total victory, in part because the Dutch could resort to breaking dykes, drowning or trapping Spanish forces. Thus saved from total defeat, they were able to hold out until the destruction of the Spanish Armada. Under Maurice of Orange, who was separately elected to lead each Dutch Reformed province by 1590, the Dutch were able to gain ground steadily. Although the final treaty establishing Dutch independence was not signed until 1609, it was clear long before then the new "United Provinces of the Netherlands" would be a Reformed state.

France continued to suffer through increasingly destructive civil war. When Charles IX died in 1574, his brother Henri III determined not to allow their mother so much say in the affairs of France. Distancing himself from the disastrous St. Bartholomew’s Massacre, he tried to conciliate the Huguenots. The de Guises were outraged, and formed the Catholic League to fight Henry politically and the Huguenots militarily. After years of struggle, Henri III finally had the Duc de Guise assassinated in 1588, thinking to rid himself of what he saw as the main obstacle to peace. In 1589, though, he too was assassinated.

Henri, who was homosexual, did not have any children, so the throne passed to his distant cousin Henri de Bourbon, who was himself a leading Huguenot. He gained the support of many, particularly the moderate Catholics who were tired of the chaos caused by the civil wars, but the citizens of Paris flatly refused to allow a Protestant to enter their city. Finally, saying, “Paris is worth a Mass,” Henri converted to Catholicism and was crowned Henri IV. In 1598, he issued the Edict of Nantes, guaranteeing religious freedom to Catholics and Protestants across France.

In England, Elizabeth continued to play a delicate balancing game among the many forces at work against her that left her options open. This was reflected in the 39 Articles, which were approved as the official doctrinal statement of the Church of England in 1571. The articles affirmed Reformed teaching on the Eucharist and many other points, but also took the Lutheran position that allowed the rulers of the Church (which, in England, meant the Queen) to approve any rite that was not directly contradictory to Scripture. This allowed Elizabeth to continue appointing bishops and to allow the use of traditional practices that were (officially) stripped of their superstitious meaning.

The continuation of the bishops’ office and many traditions upset Protestants who wanted the English church to follow the model of Geneva (and Scotland). These Protestants gradually came to be known as “Puritans” from their desire to purify the church—some were able to remain in the official Church of England but others refused to subscribe to the 39 Articles. The Puritans directly challenged Elizabeth’s authority and the right of the bishops she appointed to rule the Church; furthermore, their sympathies with John Knox and other Scottish “Presbyterians,” who had overthrown their queen because of her religious beliefs, also threatened her position.

Catholics were perceived to be more of a threat than the Puritans. There weren't as many of them in England, but were treated as part of an international conspiracy. The Pope excommunicated Elizabeth in 1570 and encouraged her Catholic subjects to overthrow her. Puritans and Catholics were both barred from holding office or attending English universities and fined for missing Anglican church services; additionally, Catholic priests on English soil, or those who harbored them, could (and sometimes were) punished by being drawn and quartered.

Hundreds of “recusants,” as Catholics were called, were killed during her reign, although far more lived reasonably secure lives and some were even rewarded with positions at her court. Executions and lesser punishments became more common as the reign went on, especially after 1586, when a group of Catholics were caught plotting to place Mary on the English throne. Elizabeth signed Mary’s death warrant and life for Catholics proved much less comfortable after that date. However, the most serious conflict (which would erupt into the English Civil War) was between the Anglicans allied with the Crown and the anti-royalist Puritans.

The Anglican/Puritan conflict is one example of the theological conflict that gripped most of Protestantism in the later 1500s. As we have seen, Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin both insisted that human effort played no role in salvation; people were damned or saved from their conception by God’s decision. This freed humanity from the burden of trying to earn salvation, but many later Protestants wanted to preserve the key idea of salvation by faith in God’s grace alone without eliminating free will. Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s right-hand man, was one of these.

Soon after Luther’s death, the Lutheran church was being torn apart by arguments between the “Philipists” and the “Gnesio-Lutherans.” Melanchthon and his followers were seeking opportunities to compromise as much as possible with non-Lutherans, both Catholic and Reformed—by seeking doctrinal consensus and also by allowing the continuation of traditions that were becoming associated with Catholicism. The Gnesio-Lutherans, much like the Puritans (“Gnesio” comes from the Greek for “pure”), wanted to enforce stricter standards of worship.

In 1580, leaders of the two parties agreed on the Formula of Concord, a detailed summary of agreement and disagreement. They found compromises on the questions of predestination and church rites that became the foundation for the Lutheran Church. This detailed statement affirmed the that fallen humans could be saved only by God’s action and that the saved were chosen by God before creation, but made a distinction between God’s positive decision to predestine some people to salvation, and the choice of people to choose damnation on the other. This left room to talk about a sphere in which God allowed humans to act freely.

Calvin, on the other hand, clearly repudiated this distinction, which he saw as a meaningless distinction that actually undermined God’s sovereignty over the universe. Thus, the Reformed churches maintained a strong doctrine of predestination. As a result, Reformed theology came to be called “Calvinism,” and Calvinism became associated with predestination.

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Next: Reformation History Epilogue, 1600-1700

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