20 Facts About the Reformation

Samuel Higson

5 mins

04 Jun 2015

The Protestant Reformation or simply ‘the Reformation’, as it is commonly referred to, was the religious revolution within Europe in the sixteenth century that led to a split in the Catholic Church. Christianity became no longer a religion only tied to the Pope in Rome. The many denominations that now exist within Christianity-that is believing that Jesus Christ lived, died and rose from the dead as the son of God-proliferated because of the protests and reforms that took place in this period.

10 Facts About Key Figures in the Reformation

1. The word ‘Protestantism’ originates from German princes issuing a ‘protest’ against the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, who opposed calls for reform within the Catholic Church

Charles v

Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, 1516-1556

2. Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) is recognised as being the most influential figure of the Reformation

martin luther

Initially an Augustinian friar, Luther strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God’s punishment could be purchased with money. ‘Lutheranism’ is the first major branch of Protestantism to emerge.

3. Luther’s ninety five thesis is accredited as representing the symbolic beginnings of the Protestant Reformation in 1517

95 thesis

Luther is believed to have nailed the thesis on a church in Wittenburg

4. ‘Justification by faith alone’ or Sola Fide in Latin is at the core of the new Lutheran ethic-that faith alone is enough to secure salvation

sola fide

1861 painting of Luther discovering the Sola fide doctrine at Erfurt, Germany

5. Luther’s ideas spread throughout Europe. John Calvin the French theologian founded the second main branch of Protestantism, Reformed Tradition or ‘Calvinism’ in Geneva from 1541

john calvin

6. The doctrine of Predestination is a key difference between ‘Lutheranism’ and ‘Calvinism’

This is the belief that God chooses some to be destined to salvation whilst others to damnation.

7. Predestination only became the hallmark of Calvinism until after Calvin’s death in 1564

8. The Pope’s (Pope Leo X) Papal Bull of 1520, Exsurge Domine, was the first response from the papacy condemning Luther and threatened his excommunication


9. A formal assembly in Worms, Germany was held in 1521, which resulted in the Edict of Worms, a decree declaring Luther to be an obstinate heretic and banned the reading or possession of his writings

edict of worms

10. Without the new innovation of the printing press, introduced by Johannes Guttenburg, new protestant ideas could not have spread across Europe on the scale that they did


5 Facts About Causes of the Reformation

11. The selling of Indulgences was directly challenged by Luther in the ninety five Thesis (1517) as one of the main reasons for his disputation with the Catholic Church


Johanen Tetzel was a German friar renowned for selling indulgences. Indulgences granted quicker passage through Purgatory and had traditionally only been granted through good works.

12. The Western Schism from 1378 to 1417 greatly lowered the reputation of the Catholic Church and made many question the legitimacy of the Pope

western schism

13. The burgeoning spirit of learning as part of the Renaissance period made people question traditional thought and favour understanding rather than blind faith


Florence was the city at the centre of the Renaissance. The sculptural masterpiece David, by Michelangelo (right) is at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence.

14. The rise of commerce and the shift to a moneyed economy was creating a stronger middle class who protested against the dominance of the old church

middle class

 The headquarters of the Catholic Church was in Vatican City, Rome. It was largely controlled by the upper classes and administered for their benefit.

15. The rise of nation states and monarchs who wanted absolute power of their nation, such as Henry VIII, challenged the convention that the Church wields ultimate power

henry VIII

5 Facts About Consequences of the Reformation

16. Many new sects of Christianity emerged. This occurred directly, as is the case with Lutheranism and Calvinism, and indirectly

john wesley

John Wesley’s split with the protestant formed Anglican Church instigated Methodism in the early 18th century.

17. The Catholic Church responded via their own ‘Counter Reformation’, initiated by the Council of Trent held between 1545 and 1563

council of trent

18. As part of the Counter Reformation, Ignatius Loyala became the founder of the Society of Jesus or ‘Jesuit’ congregation in 1540


19. The Bible was translated from Latin into vernacular languages across Europe which meant Christianity became more understood by the lower orders of society, not just the intelligentsia

bible translated

20. The Reformation led to a series of religious wars that ultimately culminated in the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648)

30 years war

This huge war devastated much of what is now Germany, killing between 25% and 40% of its population.