Changes Caused by the Reformation in Europe

The European Reformations led to important changes in European history. These changes were in the areas of politics, education, and in religion. Politically, there was a change in state and ideology caused by the idea that the Catholic Church was no longer the absolute authority. The reformations improved literacy and made education more universal. The division of the Catholic Church was a major change in European religion. Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses in Wittenberg without the knowledge that his theses would cause “…far-reaching political and ecclesiastical intrigue”.

He advocated for grace alone, Scripture alone, and faith alone. Luther believed that grace alone through faith alone would save a person from their sins, and that one cannot earn or buy their way into Heaven.

He also advocated for Scripture alone which meant that the Bible is the final authority for faith and practice. These beliefs were against the beliefs of the Catholic Church, especially with the doctrine of Justification before God.

Luther also rejected papal authority which encouraged a change and division within and between the states. There were those who kept their allegiance with the Catholic Church and those who followed the Protestant reformation. The Protestant princes began to appoint their own ministers which increased their authority and wealth. Instead of paying tithes to the Church, the Protestant communities paid more in taxes which went to the princes. Henry VIII’s break from the Catholic Church led to the Church losing not only authority in England but also wealth from land, churches, and monasteries.

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The turmoil Luther unwittingly unleashed on Europe led to a period of warfare within and between most states.

Three examples of this warfare are the Peasant War, the Thirty Years War, and the Schmalkaldic War. The Peasant War was inspired by the Reformation. “With the rise of the Reformation as a popular movement, the common man saw the removal of oppression and misery as integral to salvation and blessedness”. The peasants’ opposition to the church and clergy had to do with agrarian rights and tithes. Clergy were present in every aspect of the peasants’ life and so were their fees. The Twelve Articles written by Sebastian Lotzer and Christoph Schappeler, was a manifesto that provided the ideology for human rights and liberties: [L]egitimate rights as community authority to choose, appoint, and if necessary, depose their pastor; proper and biblically regulated taxation; abolition of serfdom; common access to game and fish; free firewood and lumber from forests; release from excessive services; cessation of oppression by the lords; equitable rents; return to the old laws of custom in place of the new imposition of Roman law; the return of the meadows and fields which once belonged to the community; and the abolition of the death tax that oppresses widows and orphans.

While Luther called for reform, he did not approve of the revolts. Upon receiving The Twelve Articles, Luther replied with his Admonition to Peace: A Reply to the Twelve Articles of the Peasants in Swabia, in which he urged both sides to settle their disputes peacefully. The Schmalkaldic League was formed by military federation of Lutheran princes to defend its political and religious interests. In the event of an attack by Charles V, the members pledged to defend each other. The Schmalkaldic League existed without much opposition due to Charles V being preoccupied by wars with France and the Ottoman Empire. There was a mutual truce declared between the two religious parties which allowed Protestant expansion.

Charles V made peace with France and turned his attention towards the Protestant movement in his empire. He tried to enlist diplomatic activity in favor of a general council, but both parties were suspicious of his interest in church unity. “The failures to call a council and to achieve convergence through dialogue moved the religious conflict toward war” . The Schmalkaldic War was a victory for Charles V. The Schmalkaldic League agreed to the Augsburg Interim which allowed the provisional continuation of married clergy, both kinds of communion, and a doctrine of justification in Protestant lands. Most Protestants denounced The Augsburg Interim and a revolt ensued until the Peace of Augsburg. The Peace of Augsburg forced the emperor to recognize both confessional parties.

Henry VIII, King of England, was of the Roman Catholic faith when he married his first wife. After twenty years of marriage he wanted an annulment, and the pope denied the request. Henry VIII replied with the Act of Supremacy which appointed the King and his successors the Head of the Church of England. Henry VIII joined the Schmalkaldic League to establish an alliance with the German Lutheran cities because his divorce and break with the Catholic Church caused a rift between England, Spain, Charles V, and France. Joining the Schmalkaldic League also brought a potential alliance with the Lutheran duke of Cleves through Henry’s marriage to the duke’s sister, Anne. However, the German Lutherans expected financial support and a subscription to the Augsburg Confession. “This was too high a price for Henry, who hinted he might consider the Augsburg Confession if he were first admitted to the Schmalkaldic League” .

After a breakdown of negotiations with the German Lutherans, Henry VIII decided to concentrate on unifying England’s religion. William Tyndale translated the Bible into English. “The establishment [Catholic Church] feared a vernacular Bible because they feared the laity would learn ‘that profitable Church practices were not in the Bible at all, like the doctrine of purgatory, which was a twelfth-century invention, nor the necessity of ‘mortuaries’(that is, the right of the priest, at death, to demand the most profitable item of a household as a gift)” . The last refuge of papism was eliminated with the dissolution of the English monasteries and pathed the way for Protestantism. The selling of the monasteries to wealthy laity ensured no reintroduction of monasticism.

Another significant impact The Reformation movement had was on education. William Tyndale’s English translation of the Bible continues to influence translations such as the King James version which “gave the English language a plain prose style of the very greatest importance…His influence has been greater than any other writer [including Shakespeare] in English”. Luther’s advocacy for people to have a readable and accurate Bible prompted him to translate the New Testament into vernacular German. He believed everyone should be able to read God’s Word and be able to discern the truth for themselves. Luther’s “…translation deprived the elite, the priestly class, of their exclusive control over words as well as the Word” .

Education was a privilege of the wealthy and priests before the Reformation. In Luther’s Address to the Christian Nobility and To the Councilmen of all Cities in Germany that they Establish and Maintain Christian Schools, he advocated for universal education (Lindberg 123). He was able to convince not only the community but also the parents of the children the value of an education. Education was stressed as a resource for preparing them for service to the whole community. Universal literacy was achieved in Protestant areas, such as Germany and Scotland, because of the availability of the belief that all should be able to read the Bible . Luther’s initiation of a new way of thinking, a shift from deduction to induction, influenced the rise of natural sciences. This shift was recognized by many contemporaries like the physician Paracelsus who was known as “the Luther of the physicians”.

One of the major changes of the Protestant Reformation was changes in religion. It started with Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses and his objection to the sell of indulgences by Johann Tetzel. The Reformation ultimately caused a division of the Catholic Church into at least three confessional churches: Lutheran, Calvinistic, and Post-tridentine Roman Catholic. The Council of Trent ended the hopes for conciliarism. With the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church was able to define its doctrinal elements. For example, “…the council reaffirmed the seven sacraments of baptism, confirmation, eucharist, penance, extreme unction, holy order, and matrimony”.

The relationship of clergy and family was another way the Protestant Reformation changed religion. Clergy could now marry, and the children they had out of wedlock were no longer illegitimate. This brought a new respect to women as companions. Luther said, “The home, cities, economic life, and government would virtually disappear. Men can’t do without women. Even if it were possible for met to beget and bear children, they still couldn’t do without women”. The Reformation changed marriage from a sacrament to a contract. This allowed the possibility of divorce and remarriage. The European Reformations had major effects on European history. These changes effected the politics of the states. Education benefited from Luther’s vision of universal education. Religion itself changed by The Catholic church dividing into three confessional churches.


  1. Lindberg, Carter. The European Reformations. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. Print.

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Changes Caused by the Reformation in Europe. (2021, Dec 17). Retrieved from

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