Protestant Reformation: Not just Martin Luther

Dec. 14, 2012 @ 02:20 PM

While Martin Luther is forever linked to the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s (that movement which birthed or contributed to all denominations today), others also played a part. In addition, Luther’s movement (the Lutheran Reformation) was but one of five different movements under the umbrella term “Protestant Reformation.”

As the old saying goes, we all stand on the shoulders of those who went before us. So with Luther. He most likely could not have done what he did if it were not for John Wycliffe, John Huss, and Erasmus.

John Wycliffe (1330-1384) lived in England and is called the “Morning Star of the Reformation” because he wrote about ideas that were standard during the Reformation; for example, using only the Bible for an understanding of God. John Huss (1372-1415) developed Wycliffe’s ideas on the other side of Europe, in present-day Czech Republic. While both men lived 100 or more years before Luther, their ideas were still around in Luther’s day, making Luther’s break from the Catholic Church recognizable to many.

Of Erasmus (1469-1536) it is said: “Erasmus laid the egg which Luther hatched.” Erasmus attacked many Catholic ideas he believed needed changing, but he never left the Catholic Church. He believed in reforming the Catholic Church from within and not from without.

These men helped lay the groundwork for the Protestant Reformation. Yet the Reformation itself was actually five different movements.

First, Martin Luther (1483-1546) of Germany broke from the Catholic Church with a belief in “salvation by faith and not by works,” (among other ideas) and provided the impetus for others to follow.

Second was the Swiss Reform. Initially led by Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) of Zurich, he developed ideas similar to Luther. A small number of his followers took his reforming ideas and added adult baptism (Catholics, Lutherans, and Zwingli practiced infant baptism). These people became known as “Anabaptists” because the first converts had all been baptized as infants and were now being re-baptized (“ana” is Greek for “again” or “re-“).

The third reform movement developed around John Calvin (1509-1564), famous for his predestination ideas which he fully developed in Geneva.

Fourth was the English Reformation, led by Henry VIII (1491-1547) who broke from the Catholic Church and formed the Anglican Church.

The last Reform movement involved the Catholic Church itself. The Catholic, or Counter, Reformation occurred when the Catholics decided to react to the above movements. This centered on the Council of Trent, a series of three meetings, from 1545-1563, which solidified the Catholic’s beliefs and provided a springboard for recuperating from the wounds caused by the departing Protestants

So, the Protestant Reformation was not one movement started solely by Luther but was aided by people who had lived up to 200 years before Luther. And the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s was not just Luther acting, but five (six if you count the Anabaptists separately) movements occurring at the same time.


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