The English, German, and Catholic Reformations

The German Reformation began in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. Luther challenged many of the teachings of the Catholic church, such as indulgences, papal authority, and devotion to the saints. His teachings began the Protestant Reformation, which divided Western Europe religiously as had never happened before.

The English Reformation, however, began in a different manner. Henry VIII of England had a dispute with the pope over the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Henry wanted to annul his marriage with Catherine because she would not bear him a male child. He also had fallen in love with a woman named Anne Boleyn, who wanted to be the queen. Henry had also secretly married Anne. The pope took Catherine’s side, and refused to grant an annulment to the marriage.

Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had Protestant sympathies and was also a close friend of the Boleyn family. Cranmer advised Henry to bypass the pope completely and get his annulment in the church courts in England instead. The Parliament approved and act cutting off all appeals from English church courts to Rome, which essentially cut off the Pope’s authority in England. Cranmer declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine invalid and his marriage to Anne valid. Henry was not interested in Lutheran ideas, but his actions against the pope set the English Reformation in motion and established the Church of England as a separate entity.

During this time there was also a movement in the Catholic church known as “The Catholic Reformation”. The people involved in the Catholic Reformation were trying to combat Protestant ideas as well as purify the Catholic church from abuses such as absenteeism, laxity in the religious orders, and many other things. There were also many catholic missionaries who went out to win converts. One example is St. Francis Xavier, who traveled all over the east preaching the catholic faith. Francis taught prayers and preached to the people he came in contact with. He also preached obedience to the ten commandments, and said that those who obey them would go to heaven, while those who neglect them would go to hell.

The Society of Jesus (or the Jesuits) also arose during this time. The Jesuits were started by St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius wrote a work called The Spiritual Exercises. The Exercises called Catholics to practice their religion faithfully and to obey the decrees of the church. Ignatius was also against careless discussion of faith and good works, saying that emphasizing grace and faith too much might lead to laziness in doing good works. This probably is an indirect attack on the Protestants, who followed Luther’s doctrine of “Justification by Faith”.


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