While all this was going on, a different kind of Reformation started in England. In 1525, Henry VIII had petitioned the Pope to have his marriage annulled. Unfortunately, he was married to Charles V’s aunt, Catherine of Aragon, and the Pope couldn’t afford to upset Charles at that time. After years of negotiation, Henry moved to take over the English church, finally declaring himself supreme head of the Church of England in 1534.

However, little changed for the ordinary Englishman. Henry seized the rich lands of the religious orders in 1536 and then sold them at bargain rates to his supporters, but he continued the Latin Mass, enforced adherence to traditional teachings on issues including the Eucharist, the validity of taking permanent vows, celibacy, the need for confession, and prayers for the dead—all offensive to Protestants of every stripe. However, the seeds of more radical change were being planted.

At this time many people were still trying to find compromises that would create a unified Protestant church. The need for a stable and state-supported Protestant church became clear in 1534, when a group of radicals from the Netherlands gained control of the city of Münster, renamed it New Jerusalem, abolished private property, and instituted polygamy. The Bishop of Münster, who had allowed significant freedom to the city's Lutherans, led a 16-month siege of the city that culminated in a bloody campaign of retribution against the commune's leaders.

As a result, other Anabaptists took great pains to emphasize the importance of non-violence and separation from government. Menno Simons, a Dutch priest who was re-baptized in 1537, became a particularly influential preacher, writer, and missionary who traveled throughout Europe; the converts he made, and many other Anabaptists, came be called "Mennonites" after him. Meanwhile, Protestants with state support tried to find unity. Martin Bucer, the chief reformer in Strasburg, engineered an agreement with Luther, but many Swiss Protestants refused to accept his compromise statement. In 1541 Melanchthon even worked out a compromise statement with a Catholic cardinal, but neither Luther nor the Pope would accept it. Even though Luther died in 1546, his more compromise-minded successors were still unable to resolve all their differences with the Swiss.

As Protestants and their writing filtered into France, King François I decided to stamp them out. Starting in 1534 the authorities cracked down on people whose statements seemed too Protestant; reformers responded with more provocative statements. By the end of the year Protestants were being executed with some regularity and many were moving to Switzerland. One of the refugees was a little-known student of law and literature named Jean Calvin.

Sitting in Basel while his friends were being burned as heretics, Calvin wrote Institutes of the Christian Religion, a summary of Protestant doctrine, and then prepared to return to France. However, he was forced to detour to Geneva, whose inhabitants had expelled their Catholic bishop in 1534 without fully adopting Zwingli’s teachings. The chief pastor of the city asked him to stay, and he instituted a strict program of religious and moral reform. The chafing citizens expelled him in 1538 but asked him to return in 1541. He demanded—and got—near-total control of religious and moral law in the city, and rapidly turned Geneva into a model of Protestantism.

Citizens were held to strict standards of public and private behavior, were required to go to church, and received considerable religious education. Although Calvin argued that churches should always be ruled by groups and not by individuals, he dominated the council that governed the church of Geneva. Visitors to Geneva who reported favorably on the Christian republic, and “Calvin’s Geneva” began to attract Protestant refugees from across Europe. These Protestants, along with others from Switzerland and Germany, continued to infiltrate France despite persecution and also influenced many people in England and France.

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Next: Reformation History 4: 1547-1570

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