The Protestant Reformation ignited in Europe in 1517 when German monk and professor Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s 95 Theses was a list of grievances against the Catholic Church. Luther, who had read the Bible, sought Bible-based reform by means of academic debate of what had become, in his view, a corrupt church. Read Luther’s 95 Theses in modern English here.
Luther criticized the church for its excessive clerical wealth and power, burdens on the poor, false teachings, and heretical sale of indulgences and pardons to the people to take away God’s judgment of their sins. He defended the authority of the Bible over human institutions in matters of faith, salvation by faith alone, and peace with and access to God through Jesus Christ.
(Martin Luther [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Luther’s Theses was copied, translated, and spread quickly throughout Europe. Since the Bible at that time was only available in Latin, a language which only the clergy knew; the people, who spoke other regional languages, had a limited understanding of the Bible’s content apart from what the clergy taught. Upon reading Luther’s Theses, people were angered by what they saw as the church’s exploitive, heretical practices and doctrines and sought to do away with them.
Religious civil wars broke out in Europe. Reformers rose up all over Europe—including Luther of Germany who translated the Bible into German, John Calvin of France, Ulrich Zwingli of Switzerland, John Knox of Scotland, and William Tyndale of England who translated the Bible into English. Many reformers became martyrs. Due to the invention of the printing press in the 1440s in Germany, affordable Bibles and books were able to be mass-produced for the public.
As a result of the Protestant movement, some reforms occurred in the Catholic Church, and many new Protestant church groups emerged. Many from these Protestant and Catholic groups later migrated to America in the 1600s and 1700s.
Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.
Source: Kamrath, Angela E. The Miracle of America: The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief. Second Edition. Houston, TX: American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015.
1. The Context of the Protestant Reformation
2. The Key Tenets of the Protestant Reformation
3. The Key Political Thinkers & Writings of the Reformation Era
4. The Reformation Led to the Translation and Printing of the Bible Into People’s Common Languages
5. The Catholic Counter-Reformation
6. Three P’s That Led to Freedom in the West: Printing Press, Protestant Reformation, & Pilgrims
Activity: Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 1, Part 1, Activity 3: Causes and Effects of the Reformation, pp. 56. HS.
Read Luther’s 95 Theses in modern English here.
This unit is available to download from the Member Resources at www.americanheritage.org.
Copyright © American Heritage Education Foundation. All rights reserved.