The Reformation in Europe

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 3, 2012

Time Line

1455 Johannes Gutenberg publishes the Vulgate Bible, the fi rst book in Europe printed with movable type
1517 Luther publishes Ninety-Five Theses
1521 Diet of Worms
1534 Act of Supremacy declares Henry VIII Supreme Head of the Church of England
1540 Society of Jesuits is founded
1541 Calvin establishes theocracy in Geneva
1545-1563 Council of Trent; Catholic Reformation (Counter-Reformation)
1555 Peace of Augsburg
1598 Henry of Navarre becomes King of France; issues Edict of Nantes


The Reformation

The Reformation is the name given to the era in which discontent with the practices and policies of the Catholic Church boiled over, causing widespread attempts at reform (hence the name “Reformation”). Because the Church resisted change, thousands of Christians abandoned the Catholic Church and joined new Christian denominations. These new churches came to be known as Protestant denominations, so-called because they were born in protest against the original Church.

The word catholic means “universal.” Before 1517, the Catholic Church was the universal Christian church in Western Europe and had controlled many aspects of people’s lives for close to a thousand years. In 1517, however, the birth of the Lutheran Church put an end to the unquestioned spiritual authority of the Catholic Church. By 1600, thousands of Europeans were worshiping in Protestant churches: Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican.

In response, the Catholic Church made serious efforts to reform itself from within, in what is generally called the Counter-Reformation. Positive efforts included founding seminaries all over Europe where young men could be educated and trained for the priesthood. Negative efforts included forcible attempts to stamp out Protestantism (or heresy, as the Church called it) through the Inquisitions in Spain, Portugal, and Italy. The Church’s reforms succeeded to a large extent; however, the Protestant churches continued to thrive. The era in which one Christian church ruled all of Western Europe had definitely come to an end.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

The Reformation in Europe Practice Test

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