Ancient history

Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation is the name given to the reform movement that emerged in Christianity in 1517 through the Augustinian monk Martin Luther.

Protestant Reformation is the name given to the reform movement that emerged in Christianity in the 16th century. This movement began with Martin Luther , a Catholic monk who was dissatisfied with some theological practices and issues advocated by the Catholic Church. Luther's performance had as its starting point the dissemination of the 95 Theses, that quickly spread across Europe and gave rise to reformism within the Catholic Church. From Luther's performance, Protestantism emerged .

Causes of the Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation had causes related to political aspects , economics and theological and resulted from the existing corruption in the Catholic Church. In addition, it was the result of political interests from nobles who saw in the reform a possibility of breaking the bond of authority with the pope. Finally, the question of economic interests was imposed, since the Church stipulated the collection of taxes from all its faithful.

On the theological side, the immediate point to make is Martin Luther's dissatisfaction with the practices of the Catholic Church. The Church of Rome was, at that time, the greatest authority in Western Europe and held immense power, as it owned gigantic lands and wealth.

Furthermore, the authority of the pope was imposed beyond the religious field, reaching the secular (political) field. The kings of Europe had their power sustained by the authority of the Church, since it was practically impossible to remain in command without the approval of the Pope. Thus, the Catholic Church had a monopoly on European political and religious life.

Focusing on the theological aspect, many began to question the Church's positions. Even before Luther, there had already existed in Europe religious movements and figures of the Catholic clergy that questioned certain principles of Catholicism. In the long term, it can be highlighted, for example, the Waldenses , which emerged in France at the end of the twelfth century.

In an immediate period, that is, a few years before the beginning of the reform, there were the pre-reformers in Europe, who criticized the Church of Rome. Two names that stood out in this context were John Wycliffe and Jan Hus . The first criticized the accumulation of political power and the Church's deviations from the true teachings of Jesus. The second leveled similar criticisms against the enrichment of the Church and the sale of indulgences.

Regarding political issues , there were a number of kings, nobles and authorities in general who were interested in breaking secular and religious power. This means that many saw the break as a way of consolidating or securing more power without having to submit to another authority – in this case, the pope.

Also see: Discover the power of kings during the Modern Age

On economic issues, It should be noted that, in the northern region of Europe, there was great dissatisfaction with the amount of taxes that should be transferred to the Church. This issue was intensified in a context in which the Italian and Iberian peninsulas were in full development and enrichment, while regions like the one that corresponds to present-day Germany were poor and faced economic difficulties.

Martin Luther

Dissatisfaction and criticism of the Catholic Church reached its peak in Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and professor of Theology. Luther was dissatisfied with certain conduct of the Church, especially with indulgences, which were common in the Catholic Church at the time. In this context, this practice took place through the tithes made by the faithful to the Church in exchange for the forgiveness of their sins.

Furthermore, Pope Leo X had offered indulgences to those who contributed money towards the construction of St. Peter's Basilica. Luther also had disagreements of theological content regarding salvation and other Church practices and actions. With that, the monk drew up a document known as the 95 Theses .

From then on, Luther's ideas quickly spread across Europe. At that time, Luther's intention was not to break with the Catholic Church, he just wanted a reform to be carried out on certain issues. Luther's break with the Catholic Church only happened when he was excommunicated by the pope in 1521.

95 theses

The 95 Theses, a document in which Luther expressed his theological opposition to the practices of the Church of Rome, were sent to the Archbishop of Mainz, Albert of Brandenburg, on October 31, 1517. Luther's intention was to raise a debate for reforms within of the Church to happen.

Martin Luther basically argued that the Bible was the only reference for the faithful and that people could be saved without the mediation of intermediaries and without having to give indulgences. Luther's theological basis was based on a biblical verse that stated that "the just shall live by faith." Here, Luther went on to defend the idea that it was not good deeds that would save a person, but faith.

The theological construction begun by Martin Luther gave rise to a principle known as the Five Solas :

1. Sole trust (faith only)

2. Sole scriptura (Scripture only)

3. Solus Christus (Christ only)

4. Sole thanks (only grace)

5. Soli Deo glory (Glory to God alone)

The 95 theses quickly spread across Europe thanks to the printing press (created in 1430 by Johann Gutenberg ), which allowed the copying and printing of books at a speed unprecedented for the time. With this, Luther's ideas spread and gained followers throughout Europe.

An important record is the famous image of Martin Luther nailing the 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. Many consider this the starting point of the Protestant Reformation, but historians have never been able to prove whether this episode actually happened. Therefore, historians consider this fact only a legend.

Early Reformers of the Protestant Reformation

Before Luther, there were already cases of Christians who challenged the principles and practices of the Catholic Church. In the twelfth century, from the preaching of Pedro Valdo, the Waldensians emerged in France, who spread across northern Italy, surviving the persecutions of the Catholic Church.

In the specific case of pre-reformation, historians highlight Jan Hus and John Wycliff, who questioned the wealth of the Church, the accumulation of temporal power and the corruption existing in the clergy. If you are interested in expanding your knowledge about these precursors of the Protestant Reformation, we suggest reading this text.

Also see: Learn more about the rise of the Anglican Church


From the work of Martin Luther, came Protestantism , a branch of Christianity that broke with the Catholic Church. As mentioned, Luther's break with the Catholic Church took place from the moment he was excommunicated and began to be persecuted by it.

Luther's ideas spread across Europe, resulting in the conversion of thousands of people and the emergence of other reformers such as John Calvin . With that, Protestantism was consolidating itself as a religious aspect, and from it several Protestant churches and denominations were born.

Currently, there are several Christian denominations originating from Protestantism, such as Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, etc. In Brazil, more than 20% of the population identifies as “evangelical”, a denomination that groups churches theologically born of Protestantism.

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