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German Reformation

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German Reformation

The Protestant Reformation originated in Germany, with a Catholic monk named Martin Luther. Luther never wanted a breakaway from the Catholic Church; he simply wanted to reform the Church but managed to change religion in Germany forever. How did the reformation change Germany? What did they do to transform the nation? What did the country look like after the Reformation?

Timeline of the German Reformation

Date
Event
1517Luther pins his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenburg Church.
1518-21The 'Luther Affair' - a period where Luther defended his beliefs against the Catholic Church.
1521Luther is excommunicated by the Pope.
1521The 'Diet of Worms' - Luther refuses to recant his writings and has to go into hiding.
1522Anabaptism begins in Germany.
1525The German Peasants War - an event that ends with over 100,000 peasant deaths.
1527The first Protestant University is established in Germany.
1534The German Bible translation is competed by Luther.
1546Martin Luther passes away.
1553English Protestants move to Germany due to the promise of a 'pure Protestant Reformation'.
1555The Peace of Augsburg is signed, granting toleration for Lutherans within the Holy Roman Empire.

Origins of Martin Luther, The German Reformation Leader

Martin Luther was the German Reformation leader, although he had no intention of being one in the beginning. In 1517, Martin Luther, a Catholic Monk, posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenburg Church to display his discontent with aspects of the church such as indulgences. Theses are a list of points up for debate. This action was a large outcry against the church, and although Luther did not intend to dismantle the church in Germany, he had unknowingly begun the process.

Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Wikimedia Commons.Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Wikimedia Commons.

Following Luther's 95 Theses was a period known as the 'Luther Affair', between 1518 and 1521. This period saw three things occur:

  1. Luther continued to criticise the Catholic Church and called for reform of its practices, especially indulgences.

  2. Luther's teachings and writings gained more support.

  3. A crackdown by the Catholic Church on Martin Luther, with threats of excommunication and treason against the church being put forward during debates in Ausburg and Leipzig.

Indulgences

Through monetary payment, those who have sinned were able to reduce their punishment in purgatory. This was authorised by the pope and became increasingly popular in the 1500s. Luther saw this as a negative, allowing people to 'buy' their way to salvation when God was the only possible bestower in his mind.

What were the principles of the German Reformation Church?

Martin Luther believed that the authority of the pope had corrupted the Catholic Church. He argued for a return to the words of the Bible and a stricter following of them. Here are some of Luther's core beliefs, influenced by what the Bible said:

Belief
Explanation
Sola scriptura
Translates to 'Scripture Alone'. Establishes the Bible as the sole authoritative source for all Christians and their worship. This was an attack on the pope's power.
Priesthood of all believers. All believers were equal under the eyes of God. Everybody was capable of reading the Bible for themselves, not just priests. This meant the pope had no more authority than another Christian. Luther pointed out that the Bible did not mention the authority of the pope.
Supported Clerical Marriage. Luther argued that monks and nuns being celibate was a human tradition and not stated in the Bible.
Sola Fide
Translates to 'Faith Alone.' Luther argued that practices like buying indulgences from the pope would not get you into heaven. It was only believing in the power and holiness of Christ that would get you into heaven.

Causes of the German Reformation

Luther was excommunicated by the Pope in 1521 and faced the 'Diet of Worms' on the 16 April. This was a formal deliberative assembly where Luther was called to take back his radical message of reform. Luther refused to do so and was determined to push for his reforms.

"I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen."

- Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms.1

Luther's work was banned, and he had to go into hiding in Saxony under the protection of Fredrick the Wise. Luther continued to work and published work that improved his support across the country. Martin Luther's German translation of the new testament was completed in 1522, and due to the boost in printing at the time, it spread quickly around the country. Pamphlets and woodcarvings allowed for both the literate and the illiterate to hear the message of Protestantism and, more specifically, Lutheranism.

Luther Before the Diet of Worms by Anton von Werner, WikiCommons.Luther Before the Diet of Worms by Anton von Werner, Wikimedia Commons.

Luther also benefited from allying with local rulers who helped by offering support in many ways. Economic support was crucial to Luther's cause, as it allowed his message to spread faster, and military support allowed Luther to operate safely, and protect those who followed him. Perhaps the most helpful support however was political, as these princes were able to apply Lutheranism from the top-down onto their people, and also convince other princes of his benefits.

Throughout the 1530s and 1540s, more major principalities such as Saxony and the Electoral Palatinate converted their churches to Lutheranism. It continued to spread across the country, with the Northern areas of Germany being entirely Lutheran by the 1550s.

Radicalism in the Reformation

There were other groups that spawned off from Lutheranism who were more radical. These groups were:

  1. Thomas Müntzer & The German Peasants: Müntzer believed that Luther's reforms did not extend far enough. He believed that not only the Church needed reformation but also society as a whole with equal wealth distribution. He led a rebellion in 1525, but he and the peasants were crushed with 100,000 being killed. Müntzer was arrested and killed after their defeat.
  2. The Anabaptists: The Anabaptists believed in adult baptism after new spiritual birth. They were intensely persecuted but achieved some success in Germany. The Münster Rebellion occurred in 1534, when they held the city for over a year until its fall in 1535. After this they fell out of political importance.

Why was Lutheranism popular in Germany?

Lutheranism was popular within Germany, and was mainly implemented from the top-down. The reasons for this are:

Reason
Explanation
Political
Rulers had political incentive to break off from the Catholic Church. It meant they no longer had to follow the authority of the pope or the Holy Roman Emperor, the latter who ruled over Germany in this era.
Economic
As Catholic Churches were reclaimed, the monasteries were stripped of their assets. Any taxes the Church collected would not go to the pope but stay in Germany.
Literacy
Literacy rates were increasing as a result of urbanisation in Germany. There was also a 'printing boom', with the movable printing press being created in 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg.
Frustration at the Church.The Anti-Clerical tone present within Lutheranism resonated with many, as there was discontent towards Catholicism in parts of the Holy Roman Empire.

Luther and the German Reformation - The Peace of Ausburg

Martin Luther passed away in 1546 as a result of natural causes. This did however not stop the religion from expanding, and it finally was accepted as an option for Christians in 1555 as a result of the 'Peace of Ausburg'. This solidified the German Reformation Church as being complete.

The 'Peace of Ausburg was a treaty signed between the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and a group of Lutheran leaders known as the Schmalkaldic League. This treaty ended the religious conflict and legally confirmed the status of Lutheranism, allowing Christian leaders to choose between Catholicism and Lutheranism. This treaty did not however allow other forms of Protestantism, such as Anabaptism and Calvinism.

This was the final piece that completed the German Reformation, and Martin Luther's legacy had been fulfilled.

German Reformation - Key takeaways

  • Luther was born in 1483 to a Catholic Family and began his education in Law before transferring to theology.
  • Luther became a Monk in 1505 as a result of being struck by lightning. He stayed in this post for years but developed a dissatisfaction with particular Catholic ideals such as 'indulgences'.
  • Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of Wittenburg Church, beginning his shift away from Catholicism.
  • As Luther's popularity increased, the Catholic Church became more disgruntled with him and saw him as a threat. This led to his excommunication in 1521.
  • At the 'Diet of Worms', Luther refused to recant and went into hiding where he continued to write and develop Lutheranism. His popularity increased, and Lutheranism spread across the north of Germany.
  • By 1534, Luther had translated the entirety of the Bible into German from Latin, allowing everyone to have access to holy scripture.
  • Luther passed in 1546 due to poor health, but his legacy was complete in 1555 when the 'Peace of Ausburg' was signed, legitimising and leaglising Lutheranism.

References

  1. Karl Heim, The Nature of Protestantism (1963), p.78.

Frequently Asked Questions about German Reformation

The German Reformation was the changing of the Catholic Church to Protestantism in Germany, led by Martin Luther. 

The German Reformation began in 1517, and ended in 1555 with the 'Peace of Ausburg'.  

Germany massively changed as a result of the German Reformation, with the country's followed religion completely shifting.  

Martin Luther led the Protestant Reformation in Germnay, published the first full translations of the Bible from Latin into German, and inadvertly created a new branch of Christanity, known as Lutheranism. 

The North of Germany became mostly Protestant due to its proximity to Luther's home in Saxony. 

Final German Reformation Quiz

Question

What event kickstarted the German Reformation?

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Answer

Luther Pinning his 95 These on the door of Wittenburg Church

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Question

Was Luther always a Protestant?

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Answer

Yes - He was always aiming to take down the Catholic Church.

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Question

What were 'indulgences'? 

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Answer

A monetary payment that could be made to the Church to buy salvation. 

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Question

What happened in 1521 after the 'The Luther Affair' period? 

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Answer

Martin Luther was excommunicated by the pope.

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Question

Pick the answer that Lutherans did NOT believe in.

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Answer

The Pope is allowed to alter scripture and has authority. 

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Question

What happened at the 'Diet of Worms' in 1521? 

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Answer

The 'Diet of Worms' on the 16th of April. This was a formal deliberative assembly where Luther was called to clarify his views in response to the papal bull issued by the Pope. Luther refused to recant and was determined to be a radical and had to go into hiding.  

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Question

What other country saw success with a Lutheran Reform?

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Answer

Norway

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Question

Pick the answer that was NOT a reason for Lutheranism being popular with the 'higher classes'.

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Answer

There was a genuine support for Lutheranism. 

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Question

Pick the answer that was NOT a reason for Lutheranism being popular with the 'lower classes'.

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Answer

A high population density in cities and towns saw new and radical ideas spread quickly.

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Question

What was the 'Peace of Ausburg'?

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Answer

The 'Peace of Ausburg was a treaty signed between the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and a group of Lutheran leaders known as the Schmalkaldic League. This treaty ended the religious conflict and legally confirmed the status of Lutheranism, allowing Christian leaders to choose between Catholicism and Lutheranism. 

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Question

When did Catholicism first arrive in Germany? 

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Answer

During the Roman Empire.

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Question

What religion were most Germans before Catholicism? 

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Answer

Pagan

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Question

Which king converted to Catholicism in 496 C.E?

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Answer

King Clovis I 

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Question

Who spread Catholicism in Germany in the early middle ages? 

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Answer

Foreign missionaries 

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How did missionaries convince people to convert to Christianity? 

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Answer

By cutting down the holy trees of the pagans without suffering vengeance by the gods. 

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Question

What was one key reason why Luther's resistance against the Catholic Church was so popular in Germany? 

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Answer

Local people resented the fact that their taxes to the Church were disproportionately sent to Rome. 

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Question

What key Catholic uprising occurred in 1524-5? 

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Answer

The German Peasants Revolt

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Question

What was the name of the treaty signed in 1555 which split the Holy Roman Empire into Catholic and Protestant territories? 

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Answer

The Peace of Augsburg 

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Question

What did the Peace of Augsburg decide? 

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Answer

The religion of a territory would follow the religion of the prince or ruler who reigned in that territory. 

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Question

When was the Thirty Years War? 

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Answer

1618-1648

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Question

How many of Germany's population died during the Thirty Years War? 

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Answer

1/3 

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Question

What was the wave of anti-Catholic sentiment in the nineteenth century in Germany known as? 

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Answer

Kulturkampf

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Question

What important Catholic church is a World Heritage Site in Germany? 

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Answer

The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter in Cologne

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What is the head of the German Catholic Church known as? 

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Answer

The Chairman of the German Bishops' Conference

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Question

Who is the patron saint of Germany? 

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Answer

Saint Boniface

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Question

Who was Saint Boniface? 

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Answer

A missionary to the German lands in the Frankish Empire during the eighth century. 

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