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How Did the Protestant Reformation Modify Medieval Catholic Christianity?

Rhylee Suyom has hopped in three different worlds: the academe, the corporate, and the media. He enjoys being with nature and his family.

Martin Luther and the Reformation


How did the Protestant Reformation modify medieval Catholic Christianity?

The Reformation, also known as the Protestant Reformation, was a religious upheaval that occurred in the 16th century and was led by Martin Luther and John Calvin. The political, economic, and social upheavals that created the foundation of Protestantism are among the major repercussions of the Reformation. When the papacy became fully involved in the political life of the West, it resulted in political machinations and intrigues, and the church grew its authority and money. This also contributed to the spiritual force's downfall. The clergy abused their authority by selling indulgences, which tainted the church's spiritual authority. While some people remained faithful and believed in the church, others abandoned their faith, sparking the Reformation.

Martin Luther and the Reformation

Martin Luther was a pivotal player in the Reformation. Two important instances that made people aware of his career are those he fastened to the door at Wittenberg and the second, that he came through a spiritual crisis to new faith while sitting on a latrine through his 'Tower Experience' or Turmerlebnis. The first incidence was intended to enlighten the masses. Luther's "95 Theses," nailed to Germany's Castle Church in Wittenberg, questioned the practice of selling papal indulgences that guaranteed individuals remission from their sins and a route into heaven. In doing so, Luther called the Church's overall authority into question. Luther pushed the idea that reading the Bible on their own would bring them closer to God, and he supplied Bible commentaries to assist them in having that direct encounter with the scripture. At the time, farming was the primary occupation, and most people did not know how to read (MacCulloch, p.488).

The sale of indulgences was a practice in which the church recognized a donation or other charitable activity with a piece of paper (an indulgence) that verified that a person’s soul would join heaven faster by lessening his/her stay in purgatory. If one died without repenting and atoning for all of his/her crimes, the soul proceeded to Purgatory, a kind of way-station where one must finish atoning for his/her sins before being allowed to join heaven.

One of the most notable effects of the Reformation was the division of the Western Church into Catholics and Lutherans, who are now known as Protestants. When Luther issued his 95 Theses, he condemned the sale of indulgences or pardon for crimes and questioned the pope's authority. This incident resulted in his excommunication and the start of the Protestant Reformation. The Church's reaction to this was known as the Counter Reformation. The Counter-Reformation served to solidify doctrines that many Protestants opposed, such as the authority of the pope and the veneration of saints, while also eradicating many of the abuses and problems that had inspired the Reformation in the first place, such as the sale of indulgences for the remission of sin.

The Catholic Reformation, on the other hand, should not be confused with the Counter-Reformation. The Reformation refers to the struggle to reform the Church in the late Middle Ages, whereas the Counter Reformation aimed to counter the spread of Protestantism. When people became dissatisfied with the behavior of church officials, they looked for ways to display their trust in God, which resulted in various movements. This was even sparked by allegations about church leaders who had been flouting church laws and leading a corrupted lifestyle. The Counter Reformation was the church response to the challenge of Luther on the Roman Catholic Church on several points. One of which was the argument pertaining to the grace of God which could save people from punishment after death and human actions could not lead to salvation. According to Luther, people can gain salvation from the Bible and not solely dependent on the traditions and practices of the church.

Luther's 95 Theses damaged the authority of the Catholic Church and established the conceptual foundation for modernity as we know it. The invention of the moveable type printing press allowed Luther's 95 Theses to spread like wildfire. Ordinary people read Luther's ‘radical’ allegations against the church in towns and villages across Germany.

Many people regard the Protestant Reformation as only a religious revolution. In truth, it was so much more. Yes, it began as a religious movement, but the Reformation grew to transcend religion. It was a true social, political, and economic revolution. The Reformation established the philosophical foundations for the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. The Protestant Reformation gave birth to contemporary democracy, skepticism, capitalism, individualism, civil rights, and many of the modern principles.


During the 16th century, Christian Europe witnessed revolutionary developments. Criticism of Church authority and customs sparked the Protestant Reformation, which shattered Europe's religious unity and triggered deadly conflicts between Catholics and Protestants. The Reformation would aid in the consolidation of secular rulers' power, laying the path for the modern nation-state to arise.

Religion no longer unites Europe as a result of the Reformation. The Reformation tended to expand secular rulers' power, laying the stage for the modern nation-establishment. state's People in Protestant countries no longer owed allegiance to the Pope; instead, the secular monarch became the supreme authority. To combat Protestantism, the Catholic Church granted additional power to secular governments in Catholic countries. France, Italy, Spain, and Southern Germany remained predominantly Catholic. Protestantism spread to Northern Germany, England, Holland, and Scandinavia. Finally, the reformers' successful struggle against Church authority provided the framework for the later-century rejection of Christian belief in Western culture.


MacCulloch, Diarmaid. A History of Christianity. New York: Penguin Group, 2009.

A History of Christianity by MacCulloch

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