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Who Were The Most Significant Players In Driving Religious Change In The Early Modern Period?

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Religious change was largely brought about by the protestant and catholic reformations. This had ultimately changed the religious landscape throughout Europe. Martin Luther, was arguably the most significant player in bringing about reform within the catholic church, ultimately bringing about religious change. Catholicism was one a global religion and so the protestant reformation effectively threatened and radicalised the catholic church. The protestant reformation “began life as a negative concept”. This meant that many viewed the protestant movement as a threat to their values and beliefs. They were against Luther’s ideas as usually during this time it was quite uncommon for individuals to go against the reforms of the catholic church. This was because of the fact that Luther had polarised views than that of the catholic church. Luther believed that the bible was enough for people to reach salvation. The catholic church enforced ideas that only through doing good works, that is the only way for salvation to be attained. However, Luther strongly disagreed and claimed that one “cannot earn grace through our works”.

This essay will advance the argument that there were significant players that encouraged religious change during the early modern period. To prove this, I will first explain how Luther’s ideas changed the way people viewed Catholicism and moved towards Protestantism. This was also reinforced by the invention of the printing press. This meant that the bible was now available in more languages which led to an increase in the number of those having been able to read it and understand its importance. Having people now understand the importance of the Bible, meant that it seemed possible to have a relationship with God without the need of attending a Catholic church. Secondly, I will explore how the scientific revolution contributed to driving more people out of their beliefs of the catholic church and the existence of God. This is because of the fact that new scientific theories and processes led to the foundation of modern disciplines. This meant that many started to move away from the belief in a God, driving immense religious change during the early modern period. Thirdly, I will consider how the scientific revolution may have also driven towards religious change. [1: Laven, M. (2006). 3. Encountering the Counter-Reformation. Renaissance Quarterly, 59(3), Pg. 707] [2: Lyndal Roper, ‘Martin Luther’, in Peter Marshall (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Reformation (2015) Pg.45]

It can be argued to some extent, that significant players in aiming to bring about religious change were the citizens. This is because after reading the work of Jose de Acosta, it became quite apparent that many preachers of towns attempted to bring people “under the gospel”, especially the Indians. However, they were very unsuccessful due to how different they were, and which meant a more effective way was needed to persuade them to that path. Gospel preachers have to “apply very diverse modes and ways of teaching and different emphases of doctrine”. This explains how unsuccessful these preachers were to certain groups. However, it could be argued to a large extent that preachers were in fact successful in bringing about religious change to certain groups during the early modern period. [3: José de Acosta, De procuranda Indorum salute (On Gaining the Salvation of the Indians): An English translation (orig. 1590), ed. and trans. G. Stewart McIntosh, 2 vols. (1995), I, Pg.]

Encountering the counter reformation

It could be argued to a large extent that the most significant player in bringing about religious change was Martin Luther. This is because of the protestant reformation which “has been said to begin with the posting of the ninety-five theses in 1517”, which entailed Luther’s 95 objections to the practises of the Catholic Church. Luther was extremely against their beliefs largely because “the material and visual outpourings of baroque Catholicism present its very worst side”. This means that Luther found that Catholicism was a religion that emphasises a lot on imagery and found this to be a materialistic innovation. Firstly, Luther was against the fact that the catholic church claimed that both faith and works are necessary for salvation. This seemed to go against what he saw as the most important part of his Christian faith. This was because of the fact that if Jesus died on the cross for the sins of mankind, then faith in Jesus alone should be enough for salvation. Luther found that the catholic church during this time were very corrupt, the church would try and sell indulgences to remove people of their sins and reduce their punishment after death, this would usually be done by popes. Luther argued that the church leaders were only taking advantage of people and benefitting off of their money and the buying of indulgences was not capable of the removal of sins. Luther not only saw this as an issue because it took advantage of people, but also because “this indulgence was given directly by the pope”. This means that higher up officials in the church claimed to have a separate status which is more above others. Luther brought awareness to this issue, using this opportunity to “attack papal power over indulgences”.

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The church claimed that they had the power of removing one’s sins when they did not. This was also unfair to those who were unable to afford buy indulgences. Luther developed original Christian thinking as he believed Catholicism to not be an authentic depiction of what Christianity stood for. As a result, Luther introduced Protestantism in his ‘95 Theses’ which he knew would undoubtedly bring about religious change. This was largely because Protestantism was an account of Christianity in a new light as it emphasised god and bible which had changed the mindset of religious groups. In order to bring about religious change, Luther believed there shouldn’t be a hierarchal structure. In catholic churches, the pope would have authority over everyone which was seen as unfair and unjust. He also emphasised the fact that Christians should not need to reach god with the help of a mediator. Therefore, he reformed the religion to translate this. In addition to this, Luther also made the Bible accessible to everyone not just the church leaders, by translating it in multiple languages. As a result, Luther removed the ‘middleman’ and so there was no reason for people to see church leaders anymore. Ordinary people would now have direct access to the bible and interpret it for themselves, understanding the true religion. From this, it could be argued to a large extent that Luther’s ideas and reforms had brought about religious change. This is because people were now aware of their exploitation from the church, which led to the abolition of the sales of indulgences in 1567. Due to Luther’s objections of the catholic church he brought awareness to Protestantism and this later encouraged people to join him. [4: Lyndal Roper, ‘Martin Luther’, in Peter Marshall (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Reformation (2015) Pg.42] [5: Laven, M. (2006). 3. Encountering the Counter-Reformation. Renaissance Quarterly, 59(3), Pg. 707] [6: Lyndal Roper, ‘Martin Luther’, in Peter Marshall (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Reformation (2015) Pg.45] [7: Lyndal Roper, ‘Martin Luther’, in Peter Marshall (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Reformation (2015) Pg.45]

Despite Luther’s attempts, it could be argued that the counter reformation introduced by the Catholics weakened his argument to a certain extent, not bringing about religious change. This is because of the way in which the Catholics had responded to the protestant reformation. They wanted to address the effects of the Protestant reformation – so this counter reformation was an effort to do this. Catholics claimed that Protestantism was no change as it still had hierarchy in the reformed church. It was found that the “counter reformation was in spirit a universal movement”. This strongly suggests that although people were against the Catholic church and its reforms, the majority still supported the catholic church and defended it. This could primarily because catholic “individual communities sought to preserve their traditional, homegrown institutions and customs” . This means that Catholics attempted to protect their values, despite Luther’s objections. [8: Johnson, T. (1996). Holy Fabrications: The Catacomb Saints and the Counter-Reformation in Bavaria. The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 47(2), Pg. 274] [9: Johnson, T. (1996). Holy Fabrications: The Catacomb Saints and the Counter-Reformation in Bavaria. The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 47(2), Pg. 274]

Calvinism

Another influential player in driving towards religious change that supported the fact that the Catholics were corrupt was John Calvin. He was also determined to bring about religious change

Despite the attempts made by the counter reformation, Luther’s determination for religious change was undoubtedly a success. Converting agreeing with him. Calvin showed support predestination. This was the belief that “god had already decided who was saved and who was damned”. Calvin was very influential during the 16th century as he reformed many churches. He was also a leader in Geneva, whereby this became the centre of Protestantism. Due to this, it could be argued that Calvin was extremely significant in bringing about religious change in Europe, as he not only created Presbyterianism in Scotland, he also reformed churches. Calvinism had such impact on people that it had spread across the continent. Moreover, although there were still a hierarchy people no longer believed that they will get salvation directly without god because of the bible. From this, it could be argued that the catholic reformation was not enough to keep people in the church. Majority of people did not partake in the reformation as it was only “considered the project of elites”. This may mean that although the catholic church ignored the protestant reformation, the ideas of Luther and Calvin continued to spread within Europe and had much more an impact that the catholic reformation. [10: Lyndal Roper, ‘Martin Luther’, in Peter Marshall (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Reformation (2015) Pg.46] [11: Laven, M. (2006). 3. Encountering the Counter-Reformation. Renaissance Quarterly, 59(3), Pg. 706]

To conclude, it is evident that the reforms of Luther and Calvin opened up Europe for religious change as it was uncommon for individuals to go against the Catholic Church and their beliefs. It is claimed that Luther’s theology “moved at such a rapid pace”. This explains how quick the protestant reformation impacted society and religion. Individuals began to move away from the Catholic church and from this more religious groups had been founded. This included, Quakers, Baptists and Presbyterians. The reformation not only impacted religion, it had also “had its greatest impact on marriage and sexual relations”. Moreover, it could also be argued that what also encouraged religious change during the early modern period was the Scientific Revolution. This is because of how the developments in scientific knowledge and biology had changed society’s views on human nature. New findings in scientific knowledge had replaced religious doctrine as the source of our understanding of the universe. [12: Lyndal Roper, ‘Martin Luther’, in Peter Marshall (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Reformation (2015) Pg.53] [13: Lyndal Roper, ‘Martin Luther’, in Peter Marshall (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Reformation (2015) Pg.60]

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