Southern New Hampshire University
This paper explores how the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century altered the course of history forever. The general suggestion and consensus is the movement was primarily a social matter, and secondly a religious movement. Through research and contemplation, a conclusion is conceived in which the societal changes brought about by the events within and following the Reformation are both lingering and pronounced. This paper examines the history of the Reformation and the surrounding social, religious, and secular realities during the time period. It utilizes four different articles, and one book, in order to help better define and decipher the substantial consequences set into motion by the Protestant Reformation.
Social Effects of the Protestant Reformation
Of all of the events marking and making up the history of Christianity, there are only a handful that carry with them a distinct and substantial amount of social change. The first would be the inception of Christianity itself, as an upstart cult within the confines of a Judeo-Romanic region. Founded on the principles of early Judaism, and expanded upon by Jesus of Nazareth during his own short ministry, Christianity took off within the Middle East, and ultimately expanded to encapsulate the globe. This alone began the turn of the wheels of modernity, and religion and morality collided in a form rarely seen in the midst of the lives of thousands. The second major event was the legalization of Christianity under the Roman emperor Constantine – a move that propelled Christianity into the forefront of world religions, and into a position as an official sponsor of conquerors and kingdoms. The third major moment of Christian history – and the one that is the most clearly defined in terms of shaking up the social construct – would be the Protestant Reformation. Not only did it succeed in terminating over a thousand years of Christian tradition, but it went on to define to the modern concepts of morality and socio-political understanding. (Protestant Reformation, 2005)
The day was October 31, 1517. Martin Luther, a German monk, nailed his 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences on the Castle Church in Wittenberg (2005). These theses argued that the Catholic church held no rights against the free and common man, and that salvation from sin came not through the permission of the church or papacy, but from the blood and grace of Jesus Christ himself. He wrote that the Church had turned itself into a selfish thing – one with ambitions more political and corrupt than spiritual and healing. He argued against celibacy and the papal authority, and ultimately earned himself an excommunication from the Catholic Church. This was but a match in the face of a fire, and all of Europe soon burst into a bloody and vivid struggle for religious and political reform. And with them, came the social shifts towards equality and understanding (2005).
Reformation swept across Germany, and soon enveloped the Swiss, British, and other European countries as well. Wars were started in an attempt to push aside the ever-sweeping tide of the Protestants. Both Germany’s Peasants’ War, and the Thirty Years’ War were a direct result of the changing attitudes and social changes brought about by the Reformation. Thousands of innocents were put to death for rising up against the Catholic Church and its ideology, and yet, still, the people pressed on – surging forward in an ever-strengthening attempt to obtain and hold onto a sense of religious and social freedom. (Ward, 1990)
One of the most key and relevant changes brought on by the Reformation is that of the advent of education. Prior to the Reformation, education was at an all time low. The ability to read was incredibly rare, and the typical commoner relied upon the Church itself for any form of learning. With prodding from both