1547 was a year of dramatic changes. The first actually began the previous year, when Charles V launched an attack designed to eliminate Lutherans from his empire. He had made peace with François I and was able to exploit divisions between the Protestant princes to weaken their league. Luther died in 1546 expressing justified apprehension about the immediate future; Charles carried the war into the next year and on April 24, he decisively defeated the Protestants at Mühlberg. Henry VIII died in January and François I in July.

Little changed in France; the new King Henri II continued and even increased persecution of Protestants. However, Edward VI of England, a 10-year-old boy, committed England to a course of more radical reform. Within a year, priests were forbidden to use vestments, all images and churches were to be destroyed, and private masses for the dead were all forbidden by royal decree. Bucer, who was unwelcome in Germany after Charles’ victory, was invited to Cambridge and also tutored Edward VI.

In 1549 the English Book of Common Prayer introduced a new English liturgy that eliminated saint’s days, and in 1552 prayers for the dead were made illegal. These changes met a mixed reception; some churches adopted them enthusiastically while others resisted them. In many cases, people committed to the old traditions collected the outlawed images and items in hiding places, hoping that they would be used again. 1549 was also the year that Calvin and Zwingli’s successor, Heinrich Bullinger, agreed to a common statement of faith, creating the Reformed tradition. Calvin’s importance can be seen by the fact that the agreement is between “the ministers of Zurich” and “Jean Calvin, minister of Geneva.”

In Germany, Charles found that his victory in Germany was not as complete as he had hoped. The nobles on his side were not inclined to let him become any stronger, and many Lutheran territories simply refused to convert despite having been militarily defeated. Charles could hardly exterminate his subjects, and in any case was tiring of worldly cares. In 1555, his brother Ferdinand worked out the Peace of Augsburg with the Protestants. This treaty established the principle cuius regio, eius religio (loosely translated as “his country, his religion.”) The ruler of a territory could choose to enforce either Lutheran or Catholic religious laws on their territory—other forms of Protestantism were still not acceptable, and princes were free to persecute who they chose. The law included a proviso giving anyone who wished to move to a more congenial religious environment the right to do so without interference, and many took advantage of it.

Like the Swiss, the Germans were able to achieve some stability by drawing a strict line between Protestant and Catholic territories; the result was a hardening of the boundary between the two as refugees concentrated in areas where they could practice freely. The Peace of Augsburg also ensured that the church would remain firmly subordinate to the state, since the princes had total control over religion in their territories.

Even Catholics who were theoretically subordinate to the Pope could manage their own affairs for the most part; after all, a ruler who was truly offended by the Pope could always become Lutheran. For the next 15 years, Catholics and Lutherans were able to devote their energies toward consolidating their own affairs.

The Catholic Church, meanwhile, began what is known as the "Catholic Reformation" in Germany and also in Spain and Italy, where the Reformation had few adherents--the “heretics” persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition weren’t Protestants but rather former Jews and Muslims who had been forced to convert to Christianity after the reconquest of Muslim Spain. As Protestantism continued to gain ground, it became increasingly clear that something needed to be done. Even though Pope Paul III was elected in 1534 partially because of his intention to call a reform council, but opposition and turmoil postponed it to 1545. The Council, meeting in the northern Italian city of Trent, affirmed much that Protestants denied: that Church teaching outside the Bible could be binding, that human effort played a role in salvation, and more. They also made the first steps toward eliminating the abuses of office and position that had caused so much disenchantment.

In 1547, threatened by plague and the war between Charles V and the Protestants, the council decided to move to Bologna without consulting either the Pope or the Emperor. Nothing much was accomplished there, but it wasn’t until 1561 that the Council was finally able to get back to work. While this phase produced some important theological statements defending the traditional idea of the Mass as a sacrifice, its real contributions were more practical. The Council demanded that priests practice celibacy (priests could not marry, but a substantial number were far from celibate before that time), that monks and nuns follow stricter standards in their religious life, and that bishops be educated (ending the long practice of appointing younger nobles to bishoprics). Furthermore, the Pope was asked to publish a revised Latin translation of the Bible and books of prayer and ritual that would be adopted by the entire Church, and also to create a list of banned books.

This strategy of centralizing control of the Church in Rome, while holding the clergy to standards that would make them worthy of the power they were said to hold was essentially the same one that had been used by reforming popes since 1100. This time, though, the papacy could use printing to distribute copies of identical texts throughout Christendom, ensuring a level of uniformity that had previously been impossible. Furthermore, I think, previous generations had never really believed that they could endanger the church that had stood for so many centuries; after the Reformation, the consequences of failure were much more evident. Furthermore, the Counter-Reformation papacy received help from a new religious order, the Jesuits.

Ignatius Loyola, a Basque soldier who decided to turn his soldierly virtue to God’s service, took vows with twelve of his companions in 1534; the Jesuits received papal recognition as a religious order in 1540.

Ignatius developed a practical spirituality which he outlined in the Spiritual Exercises, a 4-week program of reflection designed to bring people to an understanding of God’s purpose for them. In a sense, then, his spirituality was individualistic, since it assumed that each person needed to find God’s purpose for them. However, the Jesuits were organized along the model of a military unit—Ignatius called his group the Companía de Jesus when Companía often referred to a military unit. Jesuits were expected to obey orders without question and willingly place their lives at risk, while the order as the whole was dedicated to the service of the Pope.

Although Ignatius was probably only vaguely aware of the Reformation when he founded the Jesuits, his vision of an order dedicated to education and missionary work in dangerous areas was well suited to work in Protestant areas. Jesuit schools rapidly achieved acclaim and many Catholic refugees from Protestant England and Germany were drawn to them; in turn, Jesuit missionaries actively worked to fortify the faithful and make converts in hostile territory. The Jesuits did much to put into practice both the high ideals and centralized command structure that represented the Counter-Reformation ideal.

The peace in Germany was further advanced when Charles V abdicated, leaving Ferdinand in charge of Germany and Austria and his son Philip, as King of Spain. In England, Edward (who had never been in good health) died in 1553 and was succeeded by his half-sister Mary, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon and, not surprisingly, a devout Catholic who was sympathetic to the Spanish. She married King Phillip of Spain, restored Catholic worship, reinstated celibate clergy, and sent hundreds of English Protestants, including Archbishop Cranmer, to their deaths. Hundreds more fled to Germany and Switzerland, many to Geneva.

In 1558 Mary died and her sister Elizabeth became queen. Elizabeth was an informed Protestant—she had translated a chapter of Calvin’s Institutes when she was only 12, but she wanted to pacify both the Catholics and the more radical Protestants who had each ruled England in turn. While using Edward’s Book of Common Prayer, she re-introduced saint’s days and allowed some vestments and images, and hoped to bring some stability to English religion, which had changed wildly for the last 25 years. She also had to deal with a complex political situation of her own as she tried to deal with France, Spain, and Scotland.

Some background on Scotland will be helpful here. The first Scottish Protestants converted in the early 1540s. Harshly persecuted, they replied in kind: in 1546 a group of Protestants killed Cardinal Beaton, the head of the Church in Scotland. During this time Mary, Queen of Scots, was spending her childhood in France while her French Catholic mother Marie de Guise ruled as regent. Elizabeth quietly aided Scots Protestants, and in 1559 they went into open revolt.

The war was inconclusive until Marie de Guise unexpectedly died in 1560. The nobles called a parliament that made Protestantism the official religion of Scotland. John Knox, a fiery preacher who had served as the pastor to the English exiles in Geneva during the English Mary’s reign, was appointed to head the commission that would write the rules for the new church. Knox was a staunch Calvinist and provocative even by the standards of the time—he called for Protestants to overthrow Catholic monarchs, celebrated when Cardinal Beaton was assassinated, and (when Catholic women ruled Scotland, England, and France) wrote a tract called The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (a work for which Elizabeth never forgave him).

The Scottish confession and book of discipline were modeled after Geneva's. Decisions in each district were made by a council of the ministers, who were called "presbyters" (a Greek word for "elder" used in the New Testament), rather than by a single bishop, and the Scottish church came to be called "Presbyterian" after this form of government.

Mary Queen of Scots married the heir to the French throne in 1558 (at age 15) so that France and Scotland could be united. Thus she became Queen of France when Henry II died in a jousting accident in 1559, only to be widowed in 1560 when her husband, King François II, fell sick and died. To everyone’s surprise, the devoutly Catholic queen decided to return to Scotland where her subjects had just rejected her religion. She agreed to uphold the laws forbidding the Catholic Mass in Scotland on the condition that she could have Mass in her own chapel.

The nobles were willing to go along with this, but Knox was outraged; more seriously, he preached on texts that implied that Mary deserved to die for introducing the Catholic Mass. Mary tried unsuccessfully to have him convicted of treason, and although few people were sympathetic to his ideas, he was too important to drive out of the country. Leading Protestants rebelled against her in 1566, proclaiming her infant son James (who was in Protestant hands) as king. In 1568 she fled to England in the hope that Elizabeth would protect her; however, since Mary was also the heir to the English throne, Elizabeth found her dangerous and had her imprisoned in the Tower of London.

The French Wars of Religion began during the same period. Catherine de Medici ruled as regent for her young son, Charles IX, and she carefully balanced power between Catholic and Protestant nobles. In 1562, she granted freedom to Protestants in exchange for support against the powerful de Guise family (of whom Mary was a member), who were staunchly Catholic. The Duc de Guise (Mary’s uncle) burned down a Protestant church while some Protestants were still in it. This precipitated the first of a long series of wars.

For the next several years, the wars in France had the same effect as the German and Swiss ones: Catholic and Protestant nobles raised armies and tried to exterminate each other without success. By 1570, three wars had already been fought, each ending in treaties that gave Protestants in some cities freedom to worship but restricted their rights in mostly Catholic parts of France. The French situation was complicated by family rivalries and by the spread of Reformed Protestantism in the Netherlands, which was ruled by King Phillip of Spain. The French kings were politically opposed and religiously allied to the Spanish, creating further instability in an already fragile situation.

Previous: Reformation History 3: 1531-1547
Next: Reformation History 5: 1570-1600

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.