Protestantism


     Throughout the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church continued to assert its primacy
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 of monarchical states had resulted in a loss of papal temporal authority.

An even greater threat to papal authority and church unity arose in the
sixteenth century when the unity of medieval European Christendom was
irretrievably shattered by the Reformation. Martin Luther was the catalyst that
precipitated the new movement. His personal struggle for religious certainty led
him, against his will, to question the medieval system of salvation and the very
authority of the church. His chief opposition was Holy Roman Emperor Charles V
who, due to multiple circumstances, was unable to impede Lutherís movement. He
opposed the Catholic doctrine of faith and good works for salvation, instead
proposing a doctrine of salvation through faith. His publishing of the

Ninety-Five Theses, which covered the abuse of indulgences, is often seen as the
beginning of the Reformation movement. However, the movement was not only
confined to Luther's Germany. Native reform movements in Switzerland found
leadership in Ulrich Zwingli, who eventually sought 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 the new theology. On
most important doctrines, Calvin was in agreement with Luther. Calvin differed
from Luther in his belief in the concept of predestination, derived from his
belief in Godís supreme authority. This concept became the central focus of
succeeding generations of Calvinists. One of the more radical Reformation
groups, the Anabaptists, set themselves against other Protestants as well as
against Rome, rejecting such long-established practices as infant baptism and
sometimes even such dogmas as the Trinity and denouncing the alliance of church
and state. They believed in nonviolence and strict separation 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 of the Lutheran and then of the

Calvinistic reforms, but went its own "middle way," retaining both Catholic
and Protestant elements. Following Henryís reign, Edward VI moved the Church
of England toward Protestantism, followed immediately by a reversion to

Catholicism by Mary I. Elizabeth then reverted to Protestantism, and tried to
merge Catholicism and Protestantism into the Anglican church. The Protestant

Reformation did not exhaust the spirit of reform within the Roman Catholic
church. In response both to the Protestant challenge and to its own needs, the
church summoned the Council of Trent, which would not compromise with the

Protestants by reaffirming traditional teachings, making both faith and good
works necessary for salvation. They reestablished the sacraments, relics,
clerical celibacy, and the practice of indulgences. Responsibility for carrying
out the actions of the council fell in considerable measure on the Society of

Jesus, which was grounded on the principles of absolute obedience to the papacy
and to militarily protect the word of God. The chronological coincidence of the
discovery of the New World and the Reformation was seen 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 Protestant side
had the effect of making the divisions permanent. In one respect the divisions
were not permanent, for new divisions continued to appear. Historically, the
most noteworthy of these were probably the ones that arose in the Church of

England. The Puritans objected to the "remnants of popery" in the liturgical
and institutional life of Anglicanism and pressed for a further reformation.

Because of the Anglican 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 as many other denominations that would form such as
the Quakers and Nonconformists, Puritanism found its most complete expression,
both politically and theologically, in North America, where denominations could
find some sanctuary from the persecution of the homeland.