- Although the term is sometimes used to designate efforts of all 16th-century religious groups to reform and revitalize religion, the most common usage is as a label for the religious up-heaval that grew out of the challenge of Martin Luther late in 1517 to the prevailing doctrines on justification and to the system of peni-tential discipline based on those doctrines. The refusal of church au-thorities in Germany and Rome to address the issues raised by Luther (who as a professor of theology was authorized to initiate such dis-cussion) and their insistence on immediate and unquestioning sub-mission to authority is now generally regarded as a major cause of the ballooning of what began as a disagreement among professional the-ologians into a widespread upheaval that by 1521, when Luther pub-licly refused to submit to papal authority, had produced a split within the medieval Roman Catholic church that dominated the religious history of 16th-century Europe and has continued down to the pres-ent. The Reformation was first a German phenomenon, but it rapidly spread to German-speaking Switzerland and the Netherlands and slightly later also to other countries, including all of Scandinavia, England, and France.Although many aspects of Luther's challenge to authority were in-fluenced by Renaissance humanism, the Renaissance and Reforma-tion were distinct movements. Some humanists, mainly the younger ones, became followers (and eventually leaders) of the Reformation, while others (including Erasmus and most of the older humanists) remained Roman Catholic despite their continuing complaints about the condition of the church. The earliest followers of Luther referred to themselves as "evangelicals," and after the breakdown of an attempted settlement at the Imperial Diet in 1527 led to a formal protest by the German princes and cities that followed Luther, the term "Protestant" came into use. From the mid-1520s the "Evangelical" or "Protestant" movement split internally into rival groups, since most evangelicals in Switzerland and southwestern Germany concluded that Luther had not separated himself sufficiently from certain Catholic doctrines and practices. These groups were initially called "Sacramentarians" because of their teachings on the sacrament of the Eucharist; they are now often called "Zwinglians" from their first im-portant leader, Huldrych Zwingli, or "Reformed," to distinguish them from the "Evangelicals" or "Lutherans."The Reformation also produced small dissident groups who re-jected the claims of all other parties to constitute true Christian churches. Because the usual marker of these groups was their rejec-tion of infant baptism and their practice of rebaptizing adults who joined them, they were called "Anabaptists." After the death of Zwingli in 1531, the largest group of non-Lutheran Protestants even-tually came to be called Calvinists, from the name of their outstand-ing theologian, the ex-humanist John Calvin. From the middle of the 16th century, England came to be dominated by a distinct national tradition that rejected papal authority and regarded the king as the earthly head of the Christian community in England; this group is usually called "Anglican."Roman Catholicism also underwent a series of significant internal reforms that are sometimes labelled the "Catholic Reformation." The older term "Counter-Reformation" is sometimes still used, but it fails to reflect evidence that the reform effort that remained within the old church was already underway before 1517. "Counter-Reformation" also overemphasizes the repressive and disciplinary measures taken against Protestants and thus fails to reflect the strong positive influ-ences that led to a renewed spiritual life that remained explicitly Ro-man Catholic.The Reformation, both Protestant and Catholic, had important con-sequences for education and general intellectual life. The divisions introduced by the Reformation left all of Mediterranean Europe firmly Catholic, while the various Protestant movements became nu-merous, and often dominant, in much of northern and northwestern Europe. France was deeply divided by the Reformation and between 1562 and 1598 was torn by a series of destructive civil wars caused both by religious disagreements and by political factionalism in an age of weak and incompetent kings. The French Wars of Religion and the Dutch War for Independence (1572-1609) dominated both the political and the religious life of most of western and northern Europe throughout the late Renaissance, and the religious division between Protestant and Catholic was a major force in the outbreak and long duration of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), though secular polit-ical rivalries among the European powers also played an important part and became increasingly dominant as the war dragged on.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.