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The Reformation in Western Europe
Pre-Reformation PDF Print E-mail
The Reformation in Western Europe - Pre-Reformation

In the Renaissance Period, during the 14th and 15th centuries, a broad and primarily cultural movement, known as humanism appeared, first in Italy and then all over Europe. Studia humanitates implied the gaining of new knowledge and ideas based on the foundations of the ancient Greek and Roman cultures and in opposition to the authorities and canons from the Middle Ages.

Gutenberg’s revolutionary invention of the movable type for printing enabled the faster spread and circulation of information and it definitely accelerated the maritime discoveries of new countries during that period. In the more developed parts of Europe the concept of feudal society was gradually abandoned. Favourable conditions were created for reconsidering, and even abandoning, certain centuries-long established traditions and for spreading new reforming ideas.


Martin Luther PDF Print E-mail
The Reformation in Western Europe - The Beginnings of the Reformation

(Eisleben, 10 November 1483 – Eisleben, 18 February 1546)

Martin LutherFather of the German Reformation, professor of theology and spiritual leader. Luther studied at the Latin schools in Mansfeld, Magdeburg and Eisenach and then at the age of 17 entered the University of Erfurt where in 1505 he received a master’s degree. That same year he decided to become a monk and joined the Augustinian order and monastery.  In 1512 he was awarded a Doctorate in Theology and then became a professor at the newly founded University in Wittenberg.

In 1516 he publicly opposed the concept of indulgences, which were being sold in Germany to raise money for the building of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Personal struggles (Anfechtung / tentatio) with sin and with God’s wrath drove Luther to search for answers in the Scriptures. He came to believe that the Bible teaches salvation by God’s grace through faith alone (sola fide), not as a reward for good works. This basic truth became the driving force behind his theology and his desire for reforming the church.

On 31 October 1517 Luther posted his now famous 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. That event sparked the Protestant Reformation and is today celebrated as Reformation Day throughout the world.

In 1521 he was publicly excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church. In 1525 he married Katarina von Bora, with whom he had six children. His translation of the Bible into German made the Scriptures more accessible to ordinary people. His many sermons, hymns, lectures, Bible commentaries and catechisms were published during his lifetime and have had many editions since.

Ulrich (Huldrych) Zwingli PDF Print E-mail
The Reformation in Western Europe - The Beginnings of the Reformation

(Wildhaus, 1 January 1484 – Kappel, 11 October 1531)

Ulrich ZwingliZwingli was a leader of the Reformation in Switzerland. During his studies in Vienna and Basel he was heavily influenced by humanism. From 1519 Zwingli served as a priest at the Grossmünster Church in Zurich. It was during this time that he began calling for changes within the Catholic Church. He attacked the practice of Lenten fasting and disagreed with Luther on the interpretation of the Eucharist. In 1523 the city of Zurich officially adapted Zwingli’s reforms and became a hub for the spread of the Reformation across Switzerland.

Later on Zwingli stood fiercely against the radical Anabaptist reformers. He died in battle, fighting against forces of the Catholic cantons in Switzerland who refused to accept his ecclesiastical reforms. Zwingli’s influence on theology, liturgy and confessions left an impact on several Protestant denominations which is still tangible today.

His successor in Zurich was Heinrich Bullinger, who kept correspondence with Protestant Reformers Primož Trubar and Pietro Paolo Vergerio.

Philipp (Schwarzerd) Melanchthon PDF Print E-mail
The Reformation in Western Europe - The Second Generation of Reformers

(Bretten, 16 February 1497 – Wittenberg, 19 April 1560)

German humanist, professor and theologian at the University of Wittenberg. The most significant follower of Luther and his unofficial heir. Because of his works, Melanchthon was also known as Praeceptor Germaniae (The Teacher of Germany). He wrote the Augsburg Confession (Confessio Augustana), which became the official statement of faith for the Lutheran Church and Loci Communes, the first compendium for systematic theology.
He was Flacius’ professor, friend and patron. After the Augsburg and Leipzig Interims, Flacius started to publicly criticize Melanchthon as they disagreed about what constitutes adiaphora (indifferent matters) in church life.

John (Jean) Calvin PDF Print E-mail
The Reformation in Western Europe - The Second Generation of Reformers

(Noyon, France, 10 July 1509 – Geneva, 27 May 1564)

Jean CalvinReformed theologian, founder of Calvinism. He worked in Geneva most of his life. In the sixteenth century Calvin’s theology spread from Switzerland to France, Scotland, Germany, Poland, Hungary and northern Croatia.
Calvin’s Magnum Opus is his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which went through a number of editions and became a standard work in the area of systematic theology. Calvin’s involvement in the burning at the stake of anti-Trinitarian Michael Servetus in Geneva in 1553 casts a shadow on his legacy.

Calvin and Flacius

Calvin and Flacius never met each other in person. Even though Flacius disagreed with Calvin theologically, he asked for Calvin’s opinion and advice on the publishing plan for his monumental work, The Magdeburg Centuries. He did this via Caspar von Nydbruck (1523-57), who was the adviser and librarian in the court of Maximillian II in Vienna and was sympathetic to Protestantism, keeping contact with representatives of its various branches in Germany and Switzerland. Calvin’s reply arrived too late (in 1557) when the texts for the first three centuries had already been completed.

Heinrich Bullinger PDF Print E-mail
The Reformation in Western Europe - The Second Generation of Reformers

Heinrich Bullinger(18 July 1504 – 17 September 1575)

Theologian. Zwingli’s successor in Zurich as pastor of the Grossmünster Church. The main author of the Confessio Helvetica. The second version of the Helvetic Confession was later adopted by many Reformed churches throughout Europe.
Bullinger and Matthias Flacius held theologically differing positions, especially concerning the Lord’s Supper, but the two never had any direct contact with each other. Bullinger kept an active correspondence with many influential politicians and theologians of his day, including Primus Truber and Pietro Paolo Vergerio, Protestant Reformers from Slovenia.

Bullinger and Flacius
Bullinger and Matthias Flacius never exchanged letters but nevertheless knew of each other’s writings and moves. They were on opposing theological sides, especially concerning the Lord’s Supper, and saw one another as a threat to their own doctrinal positions. Bullinger closely followed the developments concerning the internal struggles within Lutheranism between Flacius and his followers (referred to as orthodox Lutherans or Gnesio-[true] Lutherans) and those loyal to Melanchthon.
In 1561 Flacius was exiled from Jena University because of his teaching concerning original sin and became a refugee in Germany.