, Research Paper
Throughout the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church continued to assert itsprimacy of position. The growth of the papacy had paralleled the growth of the church,but by the end of the Middle Ages challenges to papal authority from the rising power ofmonarchical states had resulted in a loss of papal temporal authority. An even greaterthreat to papal authority and church unity arose in the sixteenth century when the unityof medieval European Christendom was irretrievably shattered by the Reformation. Martin Luther was the catalyst that precipitated the new movement. His personalstruggle for religious certainty led him, against his will, to question the medieval systemof salvation and the very authority of the church. His chief opposition was Holy RomanEmperor Charles V who, due to multiple circumstances, was unable to impede Luther smovement. He opposed the Catholic doctrine of faith and good works for salvation,instead proposing a doctrine of salvation through faith. His publishing of theNinety-Five Theses, which covered the abuse of indulgences, is often seen as thebeginning of the Reformation movement. However, the movement was not only confined to Luther’s Germany. Nativereform movements in Switzerland found leadership in Ulrich Zwingli, who eventuallysought an alliance with Luther and the German reformers, and especially in John Calvin,whose Institutes of the Christian Religion became the most influential summary of thenew theology. On most important doctrines, Calvin was in agreement with Luther. Calvin differed from Luther in his belief in the concept of predestination, derived fromhis belief in God s supreme authority. This concept became the central focus ofsucceeding generations of Calvinists. One of the more radical Reformation groups, the Anabaptists, set themselvesagainst other Protestants as well as against Rome, rejecting such long-establishedpractices as infant baptism and sometimes even such dogmas as the Trinity anddenouncing the alliance of church and state. They believed in nonviolence and strictseparation of church and state, equality, and voluntary congregations. England during the Reformation was one of continuous change. The English
Reformation, provoked by the marital troubles of Henry VIII, reflected the influence ofthe Lutheran and then of the Calvinistic reforms, but went its own middle way, retaining both Catholic and Protestant elements. Following Henry s reign, Edward VImoved the Church of England toward Protestantism, followed immediately by areversion to Catholicism by Mary I. Elizabeth then reverted to Protestantism, and triedto merge Catholicism and Protestantism into the Anglican church. The Protestant Reformation did not exhaust the spirit of reform within theRoman Catholic church. In response both to the Protestant challenge and to its ownneeds, the church summoned the Council of Trent, which would not compromise withthe Protestants by reaffirming traditional teachings, making both faith and good worksnecessary for salvation. They reestablished the sacraments, relics, clerical celibacy, andthe practice of indulgences. Responsibility for carrying out the actions of the council fellin considerable measure on the Society of Jesus, which was grounded on the principlesof absolute obedience to the papacy and to militarily protect the word of God. Thechronological coincidence of the discovery of the New World and the Reformation wasseen as a providential opportunity to evangelize those who had never heard the gospel.Trent on the Roman Catholic side and the several confessions of faith on the Protestantside had the effect of making the divisions permanent. In one respect the divisions were not permanent, for new divisions continued toappear. Historically, the most noteworthy of these were probably the ones that arose in theChurch of England. The Puritans objected to the remnants of popery in the liturgical andinstitutional life of Anglicanism and pressed for a further reformation. Because of theAnglican union of throne and altar, this agitation had direct political consequences,climaxing in the English Revolution and the execution of King Charles I in 1649. Just asmany other denominations that would form such as the Quakers and Nonconformists,Puritanism found its most complete expression, both politically and theologically, in NorthAmerica, where denominations could find some sanctuary from the persecution of thehomeland.