Visual History of the World




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Visual History of the World
First Empires
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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Early Modern Period

16th - 18th century


The smooth transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age is conventionally fixed on such events as the Reformation and the discovery of the "New World," which brought about the emergence of a new image of man and his world. Humanism, which spread out of Italy, also made an essential contribution to this with its promotion of a critical awareness of Christianity and the Church. The Reformation eventually broke the all-embracing power of the Church. After the Thirty Years' War, the concept of a universal empire was also nullified. The era of the nation-state began, bringing with it the desire to build up political and economic power far beyond Europe. The Americas, Africa, and Asia provided regions of expansion for the Europeans.

Proportions of the Human Figure by Leonardo da Vinci (drawing, ca. 1490)
is a prime example of the new approach of Renaissance
artists and scientists to the anatomy of the human body.



The German Empire:
The Reformation and Its Consequences



With the support of powerful protestant German princes, the Reformation initiated by Martin Luther was carried through rapidly in large parts of the empire. Following the first religious wars, the Peace of Augsburg created a balance of power between Catholics and Protestants, but the peace was unstable, as it made no concessions to the Calvinists. Thus conflicts as a result of confessional differences took place even after the Peace of Augsburg. Through a series of stages, the conflict progressively intensified through to the eve of the Thirty Years' War.


Reformation and the Peasants' War

Martin Luther's Reformation of the church was radical, as it was associated with socially revolutionary demands.


After the death of Maximilian I, his grandson 1 Charles V was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1519—his election was ensured by the payment of enormous bribes to the electors.

1 The German Emperor Charles V, by Jakob Seisenegger, 1532
   Emperor Charles V , by
Titian, 1548
   Emperor Charles V at Muhlberg, by
Titian, 1548
   Portrait of Charles V on Horseback by
Antony van Dyck

see also




Antony v
an Dyck


Charles V
Holy Roman emperor

born Feb. 24, 1500, Ghent
died Sept. 21, 1558, San Jerónimo de Yuste, Spain

Holy Roman emperor (1519–56), king of Spain (as Charles I, 1516–56), and archduke of Austria (as Charles I, 1519–21), who inherited a Spanish and Habsburg empire extending across Europe from Spain and the Netherlands to Austria and the Kingdom of Naples and reaching overseas to Spanish America. He struggled to hold his empire together against the growing forces of Protestantism, increasing Turkish and French pressure, and even hostility from the Pope. At last he yielded, abdicating his claims to the Netherlands and Spain in favour of his son Philip II and the title of emperor to his brother Ferdinand I and retiring to a monastery.

Charles was the son of Philip I the Handsome, king of Castile, and Joan the Mad, and the grandson of Emperor Maximilian I and Mary of Burgundy, as well as of the “Catholic Kings” Isabella I the Catholic, of Castile, and Ferdinand II the Catholic, of Aragon. After his father’s death in 1506, Charles was raised by his paternal aunt Margaret of Austria, regent of the Netherlands. His spiritual guide was the theologian Adrian of Utrecht (later Pope Adrian VI), a member of the devotio moderna, a religious and educational reform movement promoting literacy among the masses.

At the age of 15, he assumed the rule over the Netherlands. His scope of activities soon widened. After the death of his maternal grandfather, Ferdinand II, in 1516, Charles was proclaimed sovereign of Spain, together with his mother (who, however, suffered from a nervous illness and never reigned). In September 1517 he landed in Spain, a country with whose customs he was unfamiliar and whose language he was as yet barely able to speak. There he instituted, under Burgundian influence, a government that was little better than foreign rule. When his election as king of Germany in 1519 (his paternal grandfather, the Habsburg emperor Maximilian I, having died) recalled him to Germany, Charles left behind him, after some two and one-half years in Spain, a dissatisfied and restless people. Adrian, whom he had installed as regent, was not strong enough to suppress the revolt of the Castilian cities (comuneros) that broke out at this point. Making the most of their candidate’s German parentage and buying up German electoral votes (mostly with money supplied by the powerful Fugger banking family), Charles’s adherents had meanwhile pushed through his election as emperor over his powerful rival, Francis I of France.

In October 1520 Charles was accordingly crowned king of Germany in Aachen, assuming at the same time the title of Roman emperor-elect. In the spring of 1521 the imperial Diet, before which Martin Luther had to defend his theses, assembled at Worms. The reformer’s appearance represented a first challenge to Charles, who had his own confession of faith, beginning with a sweeping invocation of his Catholic ancestors, read out to the Diet. Rejecting Luther’s doctrines in the Edict of Worms, Charles declared war on Protestantism.

Gradually, the other chief task of his reign also unfolded: the struggle for hegemony in western Europe, a legacy of his Burgundian forefathers. Long before, the grand design of his ancestor Charles the Bold had come to naught in the fight against the French Valois, Louis XI. Now the great-grandson was brought face-to-face with the main problem of his great-grandfather’s existence. It was to become a fateful problem for Charles also.

After defeating Duca Massimiliano Sforza at Marignano in 1515, the reigning Valois, Francis I, compelled him, in the Treaty of Noyon, to renounce his claim to the Duchy of Milan. The vanquished Sforza turned for help to Pope Leo X and Charles V, with whom he concluded a treaty in 1521. Despite the outbreak of war with France, Charles hurried back to Spain, where his followers had meanwhile gained the upper hand over the comuneros. Even though he granted an amnesty, the young monarch proved to be an intransigent ruler, bloodily suppressing the revolt and signing 270 death warrants. These actions were nevertheless followed by a rapid and complete rapprochement between the pacified people and their sovereign; in fact, it was during this second and protracted sojourn in Spain (1522–29) that Charles became a Spaniard, with Castilian grandees replacing the Burgundians. There soon developed an emotionally tinged understanding between Charles and his Spanish subjects that was to be steadily deepened during his long rule. Henceforth, it was primarily the material resources of his Spanish domains that sustained his far-flung policies and his Spanish troops who acquitted themselves most bravely and successfully in his wars.

In 1522 his teacher Adrian of Utrecht became pope, as Adrian VI. His efforts to reconcile Francis I and the Emperor failed, and three years later Charles’s army defeated Francis I at Pavia, taking prisoner the King himself. The victory assured Spanish supremacy in Italy. Held in the alcazar of Madrid, the royal captive feigned agreement with the conditions imposed by Charles, even taking the Emperor’s oldest sister, Eleanor, the dowager queen of Portugal, for his wife and handing over his sons as hostages. But, as soon as he had regained his freedom, Francis rejected the terms of the Treaty of Madrid of January 1526.

With the accession of Süleyman the Magnificent to the sultanate in 1520, Turkish pressure on Europe increased once more. The Sultan threatened not only Hungary but also those hereditary provinces of the Habsburgs that, by Charles’s agreement in 1522 with his brother Ferdinand, henceforth belonged to the younger branch of the Habsburgs. When Louis II of Hungary and Bohemia was defeated and killed by the Turks in the Battle of Mohács in August 1526, Ferdinand assumed this throne both as the childless former monarch’s brother-in-law and by virtue of the treaty of succession concluded in 1491 between his own grandfather and Louis’ father, Vladislov II. After this, the Turkish danger became the Habsburgs’ foremost concern on land, as it had been on the seas ever since Charles’s accession to the throne of Spain. Although Charles realized that his first duty as emperor of Christendom lay in warding off this peril, he found himself so enmeshed in the affairs of western Europe that he had little time, energy, and money left for this task. In 1526 Charles married Isabella, the daughter of King Manuel I of Portugal.

In early 1527, instead of fighting the infidel, Charles’s Spanish troops and his German mercenaries marched against the Pope, his enemy since the establishment of the League of Cognac. Mutinous and with their pay in arrears, they entered the defenseless city of Rome and looted it during the infamous Sack of Rome (May 1527).

The Pope, having surrendered to the mutinous troops, was now ready for any compromise. The newly started war between the Emperor and France also came to a close when the mother of Francis I approached Margaret of Austria, the Emperor’s aunt, through whose mediation the “ladies’ peace” of Cambrai was concluded in August 1529. The status quo was preserved: Charles renounced his claim to Burgundy, Francis his claims to Milan and Naples. The Pope, having made peace with Charles, met him in Bologna; there he crowned him emperor in February 1530. It was to be the last time that a Holy Roman emperor was crowned by a pope.

In 1530, Charles, attempting to bring about a reformation within the Catholic Church through the convocation of a universal council, also tried to find a modus vivendi with the Protestants. The Catholics, however, replied to the Confession of Augsburg, the basic confessional statement of the Lutheran Church, with the Confutation, which met with Charles’s approval. The final decree issued by the Diet accordingly confirmed, in somewhat expanded form, the resolutions embodied in the Edict of Worms of 1521. This, in turn, caused the Protestant princes to close ranks in the following year in the Schmalkaldic League. Faced with renewed Turkish onslaughts, the Emperor granted some concessions in return for armed support against the enemy. In 1532 a large army under Charles’s personal command faced Süleyman’s forces before the city of Vienna, but the order to give decisive battle was withheld. Instead, the Emperor returned to Spain in 1533, leaving his brother Ferdinand behind as his deputy.

By taking up his grandfather Ferdinand of Aragon’s project of conquering North Africa, Charles endeavoured to undertake by sea what he had omitted to do on land. The attempt to repulse the corsair (and Turkish general) Barbarossa (Khayr ad-Dīn) was nonetheless no more than a marginal operation, since Charles’s capture of Ḥalq al-Wādī and Tunis (1535) did nothing to diminish the strength of Süleyman’s position.

From Africa, the Emperor sailed to Naples, entering Rome in 1536 to deliver his famous political address before Pope Paul III and the Sacred College of Cardinals, in which he challenged the King of France (who had meanwhile invaded Savoy and taken Turin) to personal combat. When Francis declined, Charles invaded Provence in an operation that soon faltered. Through the Pope’s intercession, peace was concluded in May 1538.

Intent on suppressing the open revolt that had broken out in Ghent, his native city, the Emperor himself went to the Netherlands. The country’s regent, Charles’s sister, Mary of Hungary, had proved incapable of settling the conflict between herself and the city, which jealously guarded its prerogatives. On his arrival in February 1540, Charles revoked Ghent’s privileges, had 13 leading rebels executed, and gave orders to build a fortified castle. Once again his actions, as severe as those he had taken against the comuneros in 1522, were crowned by success. Toward the German Protestants, on the other hand, he showed himself conciliatory; in 1541 the Diet of Regensburg granted them major concessions, even if these were later rejected by both the Pope and Luther. Although Ferdinand, having lost his Hungarian capital in August 1541, pleaded for a land campaign against Süleyman, Charles again decided on a naval venture, which failed dismally after an unsuccessful attack on Algiers.

When Charles enfeoffed his son Philip with Milan, the King of France, enraged because he had hoped to regain indirect control of Milan himself, rearmed and declared war in August 1542. Fighting broke out the following year, even though the Pope had finally convoked, in Trent, the council for which the Emperor had been pressing. Once again Charles’s precarious financial situation partially accounted for the failure of his plans. His finances were in a perpetually unsettled state. The “Indian” possessions in America were, of course, in an uninterrupted state of expansion throughout his entire reign, marked by, among other ventures, the conquest of Mexico and the conquest of Peru. The gold from the Indies did not add up to any sizable sum at the time. Only in 1550 did 17 Spanish ships provide the Emperor with 3,000,000 ducats and others with a like sum in the earliest significant monetary transfusion from the New World. The silver mines of Potosí were not exploited systematically until the 1550s, so that their revenue arrived too late for Charles. In 1516 the floating debt amounted to 20,000 livres; by 1556 it had risen to 7,000,000. In 1556, the exchequer owed 6,761,272 ducats. Thus, the campaign of 1543–44, inadequately financed, bogged down. It was to no avail that the French and imperial armies faced one another in the field in November 1543 and again in August 1544. As in 1532, when Charles had faced the Turks before Vienna, neither side cared to open hostilities, with the result that the peace of Crepy (September 1544) again more or less confirmed the status quo.

The Council of Trent did not open until December 1545, but Paul III had earlier offered Charles men and money against the heretics. When the Protestant princes failed to put in an appearance at the imperial Diet of Regensburg in 1546, the religious and political situation turned critical once again. Charles prepared for war. In a battle that decided the whole campaign and placed his archenemies at his mercy, the Emperor (who had been attacked by the German princes the previous September) defeated the Protestants at Mühlberg in April 1547. Ill much of the time, he spent the following year at Augsburg, where he succeeded in detaching the Netherlands from the imperial Diet’s jurisdiction while yet assuring their continued protection by the empire. Also in Augsburg, he drew up his “political testament” for Philip and reorganized the Spanish court. The Diet of Augsburg furthermore saw the publication of the “Interim,” a formula conciliatory to the Protestants but retaining the Roman Catholic ritual in general. Although Charles believed that he had granted far-reaching concessions to the people and the Protestant authorities in this document, his main concern was to make the Protestants return to the Catholic Church.

North Germany was now on the brink of revolt. The new king of France, Henry II, was eagerly awaiting an opportunity to renew the old rivalry between the houses of Valois and Burgundy, while the German princes believed that the moment was at hand to repay Charles for Mühlberg. After a secret treaty was signed in October 1551 between Henry II, Albert II Alcibiades, margrave of Brandenburg, and Maurice, elector of Saxony, Maurice in January 1552 ceded to France the cities of Metz, Toul, and Verdun, thus handing over imperial lands. When Maurice tried to capture the Emperor himself, the latter barely managed to escape. He soon gathered reinforcements, but the changed political situation compelled him to ratify an agreement made between his brother Ferdinand and the rebels, according to which the new Protestant religion was to be granted equal rights with Roman Catholicism. Charles’s attempt to retake Metz that fall ended in a complete fiasco, with Burgundy capitulating to Valois and the Emperor defeated in his struggle for hegemony in western Europe.

In order to save what he could of this hegemony, Charles, already severely racked by gout, tried new paths by preparing the ground for his widowed son’s marriage with Mary I of England. It looked for a while as if his great hopes were about to be fulfilled, the joining of north and south and the realization of the dream of a universal empire. But, even though Philip married Mary in July 1554, the English Parliament emphatically refused to crown him. Since Mary remained childless, Charles’s hopes came to naught. After an abortive last campaign against France, he prepared for his abdication, renouncing, in 1555 and 1556, his claims to the Netherlands and Spain in favour of Philip and those to the imperial crown in Ferdinand’s favour. Disembarking in Spain at the end of September 1556, he moved to the monastery of Yuste, which he had long ago selected as his final refuge, in early February 1557. There he laid the groundwork for the eventual bequest of Portugal to the Habsburgs after King Sebastian’s death with the help of his sister Catherine, grandmother of Sebastian and regent of Portugal. He aided his son in procuring funds in Spain for the continuation of the war against France, and he helped his daughter Joan, regent of Spain during Philip’s absence in the Netherlands, in persecuting Spanish heretics.

Not only the task but the man to whom it was given had a dual nature. By background and training, Charles was a medieval ruler whose outlook on life was stamped throughout by a deeply experienced Catholic faith and by the knightly ideals of the late chivalric age. Yet his sober, rational, and pragmatic thinking again mark him as a man of his age. Although Charles’s moral uprightness and sense of personal honour make it impossible to regard him as a truly Machiavellian statesman, his unswerving resolve and his refusal to give up any part whatsoever of his patrimony are evidence of a strong and unconditional will to power. More than that, it is precisely this individual claim to power that forms the core of his personality and explains his aims and actions.

Charles’s abdication has been variously interpreted. While many saw in it an unsuccessful man’s escape from the world, his contemporaries thought differently. Charles himself had been considering the idea even in his prime. In 1532 his secretary, Alfonso de Valdés, suggested to him the thought that a ruler who was incapable of preserving the peace and, indeed, who had to consider himself an obstacle to its establishment was obliged to retire from affairs of state. Once the abdication had become a fact, St. Ignatius of Loyola had this to say:

The emperor gave a rare example to his successors . . . in so doing, he proved himself to be a true Christian prince . . . may the Lord in all His goodness now grant the emperor freedom.

In this last, metaphysically tinged period of his life, Charles’s freedom consisted in his conscious and conscientious preparation for the buen morir, for a lucid death.

Michael de Ferdinandy

Encyclopaedia Britannica


The Habsburgs raised the money by going into debt with the merchant house of 2 Anton Fugger, whose trading network covered the whole of the known world.

2 Anton Fugger burns the first debenture bonds of Charles V, in 1535

Anton Fugger
(June 10, 1493 – September 14, 1560) was a German merchant and member of the Fugger family. He was a nephew of Jacob Fugger.

Anton was the third and youngest son of George Fugger and Regina Imhof. He was born in Nuremberg on June 10, 1493. In 1527 he married Anna Augsburger. They had four sons and six daughters.

At his death on 30 December 1525, Jacob Fugger bequeathed to his nephew Anton Fugger company assets totaling 2,032,652 guilders. He ran his uncles business along with his brother and his cousin Raymund Jerome Fugger. As a result, he expanded trade to Buenos Aires, Mexico and the West Indies. He supported the Emperor Ferdinand I and Charles V. He was regarded as the "Prince of merchants". His greatest achievement was to set the course for the future of the Fugger family. He prepared the next generation of the family through arranged marriages of his sons and daughters with the nobility.

Meanwhile, the Reformation had begun.
Initially the Reformation was a reform movement within the Church that had been incited by the Church's practice of selling indulgences.

In 1517 in Wittenberg, 3 Martin Luther made public his 95 theses to reform the church.

Martin Luther

3 Martin Luther in 1529 by Lucas Cranach

German religious leader

born Nov. 10, 1483, Eisleben, Saxony [Germany]
died Feb. 18, 1546, Eisleben

German theologian and religious reformer who was the catalyst of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation. Through his words and actions, Luther precipitated a movement that reformulated certain basic tenets of Christian belief and resulted in the division of Western Christendom between Roman Catholicism and the new Protestant traditions, mainly Lutheranism, Calvinism, the Anglican Communion, the Anabaptists, and the Antitrinitarians. He is one of the most influential figures in the history of Christianity.

Early life and education » Early life
Soon after Luther’s birth, his family moved from Eisleben to the small town of Mansfeld, some 10 miles to the northwest. His father, Hans Luther, who prospered in the local copper-refining business, became a town councillor of Mansfeld in 1492. There are few sources of information about Martin Luther’s childhood apart from his recollections as an old man; understandably, they seem to be coloured by a certain romantic nostalgia.

Luther began his education at a Latin school in Mansfeld in the spring of 1488. There he received a thorough training in the Latin language and learned by rote the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and morning and evening prayers. In 1497 Luther was sent to nearby Magdeburg to attend a school operated by the Brethren of the Common Life, a lay monastic order whose emphasis on personal piety apparently exerted a lasting influence on him. In 1501 he matriculated at the University of Erfurt, at the time one of the most distinguished universities in Germany. The matriculation records describe him as in habendo, meaning that he was ineligible for financial aid, an indirect testimonial to the financial success of his father. Luther took the customary course in the liberal arts and received the baccalaureate degree in 1502. Three years later he was awarded the master’s degree. His studies gave him a thorough exposure to Scholasticism; many years later, he spoke of Aristotle and William of Ockham as “his teachers.”

Early life and education » Conversion to monastic life
Having graduated from the arts faculty, Luther was eligible to pursue graduate work in one of the three “higher” disciplines—law, medicine, or theology. In accordance with the wishes of his father, he commenced the study of law. Proudly he purchased a copy of the Corpus Juris Canonici (“Corpus of Canon Law”), the collection of ecclesiastical law texts, and other important legal textbooks. Less than six weeks later, however, on July 17, 1505, Luther abandoned the study of law and entered the monastery in Erfurt of the Order of the Hermits of St. Augustine, a mendicant order founded in 1256. His explanation for his abrupt change of heart was that a violent thunderstorm near the village of Stotternheim had terrified him to such a degree that he involuntarily vowed to become a monk if he survived. Because his vow was clearly made under duress, Luther could easily have ignored it; the fact that he did not indicates that the thunderstorm experience was only a catalyst for much deeper motivations. Luther’s father was understandably angry with him for abandoning a prestigious and lucrative career in law in favour of the monastery. In response to Luther’s avowal that in the thunderstorm he had been “besieged by the terror and agony of sudden death,” his father said only: “May it not prove an illusion and deception.”

By the second half of the 15th century, the Augustinian order had become divided into two factions, one seeking reform in the direction of the order’s original strict rule, the other favouring modifications. The monastery Luther joined in Erfurt was part of the strict, observant faction. Two months after entering the monastery, on Sept. 15, 1505, Luther made his general confession and was admitted into the community as a novice.

Luther’s new monastic life conformed to the commitment that countless men and women had made through the centuries—an existence devoted to an interweaving of daily work and worship. His spartan quarters consisted of an unheated cell furnished only with a table and chair. His daily activities were structured around the monastic rule and the observance of the canonical hours, which began at 2:00 in the morning. In the fall of 1506, he was fully admitted to the order and began to prepare for his ordination to the priesthood. He celebrated his first mass in May 1507 with a great deal of fear and trembling, according to his own recollection.

Early life and education » Doctor of theology
But Luther would not settle for the anonymous and routine existence of a monk. In 1507 he began the study of theology at the University of Erfurt. Transferred to the Augustinian monastery at Wittenberg in the fall of 1508, he continued his studies at the university there. Because the university at Wittenberg was new (it was founded in 1502), its degree requirements were fairly lenient. After only a year of study, Luther had completed the requirements not only for the baccalaureate in Bible but also for the next-higher theological degree, that of Sententiarius, which would qualify him to teach Peter Lombard’s Four Books of Sentences (Sententiarum libri IV), the standard theological textbook of the time. Because he was transferred back to Erfurt in the fall of 1509, however, the university at Wittenberg could not confer the degrees on him. Luther then unabashedly petitioned the Erfurt faculty to confer the degrees. His request, though unusual, was altogether proper, and in the end it was granted.

His subsequent studies toward a doctoral degree in theology were interrupted, probably between the fall of 1510 and the spring of 1511, by his assignment to represent the observant German Augustinian monasteries in Rome. At issue was a papal decree that had administratively merged the observant and the nonobservant houses of the order. It is indicative of Luther’s emerging role in his order that he was chosen, along with a monastic brother from Nürnberg, to make the case for the observant houses in their appeal of the ruling to the pope. The mission proved to be unsuccessful, however, because the pope’s mind was already made up. Luther’s comments in later years suggest that the mission made a profoundly negative impression on him: he found in Rome a lack of spirituality at the very heart of Western Christendom.

Soon after his return Luther transferred to the Wittenberg monastery to finish his studies at the university there. He received his doctorate in the fall of 1512 and assumed the professorship in biblical studies, which was supplied by the Augustinian order. At the same time, his administrative responsibilities in the Wittenberg monastery and the Augustinian order increased, and he began to publish theological writings, such as the 97 theses against Scholastic theology.

Although there is some uncertainty about the details of Luther’s academic teaching, it is known that he offered courses on several biblical books—two on the book of Psalms—as well as on Paul’s epistles to the Romans, the Galatians, and the Hebrews. From all accounts Luther was a stimulating lecturer. One student reported that he was a man of middle stature, with a voice that combined sharpness in the enunciation of syllables and words, and softness in tone. He spoke neither too quickly nor too slowly, but at an even pace, without hesitation and very clearly.
Scholars have scrutinized Luther’s lecture notes for hints of a developing new theology, but the results have been inconclusive. Nor do the notes give any indication of a deep spiritual struggle, which Luther in later years associated with this period in his life.

The indulgences controversy » Indulgences and salvation
In the fall of 1517 an ostensibly innocuous event quickly made Luther’s name a household word in Germany. Irritated by Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar who was reported to have preached to the faithful that the purchase of a letter of indulgence entailed the forgiveness of sins, Luther drafted a set of propositions for the purpose of conducting an academic debate on indulgences at the university in Wittenberg. He dispatched a copy of the Ninety-five Theses to Tetzel’s superior, Archbishop Albert of Mainz, along with a request that Albert put a stop to Tetzel’s extravagant preaching; he also sent copies to a number of friends. Before long, Albert formally requested that official proceedings be commenced in Rome to ascertain the work’s orthodoxy; meanwhile, it began to be circulated in Germany, together with some explanatory publications by Luther.

Luther clearly intended the Ninety-five Theses to be subservient to the church and the pope, and their overall tone is accordingly searching rather than doctrinaire. Nevertheless, there is a detectable undercurrent of “reforming” sentiment in the work—expressed in several theses beginning with the phrase “Christians are to be taught that…”—as well as some openly provocative statements. Thesis 86, for example, asks,

Why does not the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?

Scholars have disagreed about how early Luther began to formulate the theological positions that eventually caused him to part ways with the church. If he had done so by the fall of 1517, then the Ninety-five Theses must be viewed as the first—albeit hesitant—manifesto of a new theology. Most scholars, however, believe that Luther’s conversion was a lengthy process that did not culminate until well after the indulgences controversy was in full swing in the spring of 1518. Indeed, his conversion to a new understanding of the gospel was heavily influenced by the controversy, according to this view.

By the end of 1518, according to most scholars, Luther had reached a new understanding of the pivotal Christian notion of salvation, or reconciliation with God. Over the centuries the church had conceived the means of salvation in a variety of ways, but common to all of them was the idea that salvation is jointly effected by humans and by God—by humans through marshalling their will to do good works and thereby to please God, and by God through his offer of forgiving grace. Luther broke dramatically with this tradition by asserting that humans can contribute nothing to their salvation: salvation is, fully and completely, a work of divine grace.

Luther’s understanding came to him after a long inner conflict in which he agonized, even despaired, over his inability to marshal his will adequately to do good works. While meditating on The Letter of Paul to the Romans (1:17)—in which the Apostle declares, “For in it [i.e., the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith: as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live’”—Luther experienced an illumination that he later described as a kind of conversion. “It was as if the very gates of heaven had opened before me,” he wrote. The dramatic and intensely personal nature of this experience helps to explain Luther’s determined refusal, during the indulgences controversy, to recant his theological views.

The indulgences controversy » Luther, Cajetan, and Eck
By the summer of 1518 the causa Lutheri (“the case of Luther”) had progressed far enough to require that Luther present himself in Rome to be examined on his teachings. After his territorial ruler, the elector Frederick III of Saxony, intervened on his behalf, Luther was summoned instead to the southern German city of Augsburg, where an imperial Diet was in session. Frederick took action not because he supported Luther’s teachings—which were still being formed—but because he felt that it was his responsibility as a prince to ensure that his subject was treated fairly. Rome, for its part, acceded to Frederick’s wishes because it needed German financial support for a planned military campaign that it hoped to sponsor against the Ottoman Empire—whose forces were poised to invade central Europe from Hungary—and because Frederick was one of the seven electors who would choose the successor of the ailing Holy Roman emperor Maximilian I. The papacy had a vital interest in the outcome of this election.

Against these larger political issues, the case of the Wittenberg professor paled in importance. Luther’s antagonist at the imperial Diet, Cardinal Cajetan, was head of the Dominican order, an ardent defender of the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, and one of the most learned men in the Roman Curia. Cajetan had taken his assignment seriously and was thus well prepared for his interrogation of Luther. Once the two men met, their fundamental differences quickly became apparent. Their encounter was made even more difficult by the fact that neither had great respect for the other—Cajetan observed that Luther had “ominous eyes and wondrous fantasies in his head,” while Luther remarked that Cajetan may well be “a famous Thomist, but he is an evasive, obscure, and unintelligible theologian.”

In Cajetan’s view the key issues were Luther’s denial that the church is empowered to distribute as indulgences the infinite “treasury of merits” accumulated by Christ on the cross—on this point Luther directly contradicted the papal bull Unigenitus Dei Filius (1343; “Only Begotten Son of God”) of Clement VI—and Luther’s insistence that faith is indispensable for justification. After three days of discussion (October 12–14), Cajetan advised Luther that further conversations were useless unless he was willing to recant. Luther immediately fled Augsburg and returned to Wittenberg, where he issued an appeal for a general council of the church to hear his case.

Luther had reason to be nervous. Papal instructions from August had empowered Cajetan to have Luther apprehended and brought to Rome for further examination. On Nov. 9, 1518, Leo X issued the bull Cum postquam (“When After”), which defined the doctrine of indulgences and addressed the issue of the authority of the church to absolve the faithful from temporal punishment. Luther’s views were declared to be in conflict with the teaching of the church.

Well aware that he was the cause of the controversy and that in Cum postquam his doctrines had been condemned by the pope himself, Luther agreed to refrain from participating in the public debate. Others, however, promptly took his place, sounding the knell of reform in both church and society. The controversy was drawing participants from wider circles and addressing broader and weightier theological issues, the most important of which was the question of the authority of the church and the pope. Eventually, a bitter dispute between Andreas Bodenstein von Carlstadt, a colleague of Luther at Wittenberg, and Johann Eck, a theologian from Ingolstadt and an able defender of the church, drew Luther back into the fray. Because the entire controversy was still considered an academic matter, Eck, Carlstadt, and Luther agreed to a public debate, which took place in Leipzig in June 1519.

The setting was hardly a friendly one for Luther and Carlstadt, because Duke George of Saxony had already established himself as a staunch defender of the church. Upon hearing the sermon of the opening ceremony, which exhorted the participants to adhere to the truth in their debating, George remarked that he had not realized that theologians were so godless as to need such preaching. The initial debate between Eck and Carlstadt covered extensive theological ground but was listless. Luther’s debate with Eck was more lively, as Eck, a skillful debater, repeatedly sought to show that Luther’s position on the issue of papal primacy was identical to that of Jan Hus, the Bohemian theologian who was condemned for heresy at the Council of Constance (1414–18). This was a conclusion calculated to shock the audience at Leipzig, whose university had been founded in the previous century by refugees from the Hussite-dominated University of Prague. Luther repeatedly denied the charge but then noted that some of Hus’s opinions, such as his assertion that there is one holy Catholic Church, were not heretical. Eck’s prodding led Luther to state that even general councils, such as the Council of Constance, can be in error when they promulgate opinions not de fide (concerning the faith). This admission was perceived as damaging to Luther’s cause and allowed Eck to boast that he had succeeded in revealing Luther’s true beliefs.

The indulgences controversy » Excommunication
Meanwhile, after a delay caused by the election of the new German emperor, the formal ecclesiastical proceedings against Luther were revived in the fall of 1519. In January 1520 a consistory heard the recommendation that Luther’s orthodoxy be examined, and one month later a papal commission concluded that Luther’s teachings were heretical. Because this conclusion seemed hasty to some members of the Curia, another commission, consisting of the heads of the several important monastic orders, was convened; it rendered the surprisingly mild judgment that Luther’s propositions were “scandalous and offensive to pious ears” but not heretical. After Eck appeared in Rome and made dire pronouncements on the situation in Germany, yet another examination of Luther’s writings was undertaken. Finally, on June 15, 1520, Leo issued the bull Exsurge Domine (“Arise O Lord”), which charged that 41 sentences in Luther’s various writings were “heretical, scandalous, offensive to pious ears,” though it did not specify which sentences had received what verdict. Luther was given 60 days upon receiving the bull to recant and another 60 days to report his recantation to Rome.

At first Luther believed that the story of the bull was a malicious rumour spread by Eck. When the reality of his condemnation became clear, however, he responded belligerently in a tract titled Against the Execrable Bull of the Antichrist. Upon the expiration of the 60-day period stipulated in the bull, on Dec. 10, 1520, Luther cancelled his classes, marched to a bonfire started by his students outside one of the city gates, and threw a copy of the bull into the fire.

The ensuing bull of excommunication, Decet Romanum pontificem (“It Pleases the Roman Pontiff”), was published on Jan. 3, 1521. Martin Luther was formally declared a heretic. Ordinarily, those condemned as heretics were apprehended by an authority of the secular government and put to death by burning. In Luther’s case, however, a complex set of factors made such punishment impossible. The new German king (and Holy Roman emperor), Charles V, had agreed as a condition of his election that no German would be convicted without a proper hearing; many, including Luther himself, were convinced that Luther had not been granted this right. Others noted various formal deficiencies in Exsurge Domine, including the fact that it did not correctly quote Luther and that one of the sentences it condemned was actually written by another author. Still others thought that Luther’s call for reform deserved a more serious hearing. A proposal was therefore circulated that Luther should be given a formal hearing when the imperial Diet convened in Worms later in the spring.

Understandably, the papal nuncio Girolamo Aleandro, who represented the Curia in the Holy Roman Empire, vehemently rejected this idea. His position was clear: a convicted heretic did not warrant a hearing. The Diet could do nothing other than endorse the ecclesiastical verdict and bring the heretic to his deserved judgment. Charles shared Aleandro’s sentiment but realized that the idea of giving Luther a hearing enjoyed widespread support in Germany. Charles’s adviser Mercurino Gattinara, mindful of the need for good relations with the estates (the three main orders of society—clergy, nobility, and townspeople), repeatedly urged the emperor not to issue an edict against Luther without their full consent. Gattinara’s caution was justified, because in February the estates refused to support an edict condemning Luther’s writings and instead urged that, in view of the restlessness of the commoners, Luther be cited to appear before the Diet “to the benefit and advantage of the entire German nation, the Holy Roman Empire, our Christian faith, and all estates.” Charles acceded, and on March 6, 1521, he issued a formal invitation to Luther to appear before the estates assembled in Worms. Charles’s apparent surrender was perhaps the only acceptable resolution of the matter; even Aleandro could easily convince himself that Luther’s citation was in the best interest of the church. If Luther recanted, the problem of his heresy would be removed; if he did not, the estates could no longer refuse to endorse formal action against him.

The indulgences controversy » Diet of Worms
Luther appeared before the Diet at Worms on April 17, 1521. He was informed that he had been called to the meeting to acknowledge as his own the books that had been published in his name and to repudiate them. He briefly acknowledged the books but requested time to ponder his second answer, which was granted. The following day Luther admitted that he had used inappropriate language but declared that he could not and would not recant the substance of his writings. According to a traditional but apocryphal account, he ended his statement with the words, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

Following his appearance, Luther participated in intense discussions involving representatives of the emperor, Aleandro, and the Saxon elector Frederick. Although every effort was made to induce Luther to recant, in the end the discussions failed over his refusal to repudiate a single sentence from the 41 cited in the papal bull. But behind that stood the charge that Luther, a single individual, presumed to challenge 1,500 years of Christian theological consensus. On April 26 Luther hurriedly left Worms, and on May 8 Charles drew up an edict against him. Charles undertook one more unsuccessful effort to obtain the support of the estates, which continued to fear that Luther’s condemnation would incite rebellion among the commoners. The Diet then officially adjourned. On May 25, after the elector Joachim Brandenburg assured the emperor of the support of the few rulers who remained in Worms, Charles signed the edict against Luther.

The document enumerated Luther’s errors along the lines of Exsurge Domine, declared Luther and his followers (some of whom were identified by name) to be political outlaws, and ordered his writings to be burned. Thus, the causa Lutheri was considered closed. It was enormously important, however, that doubts about the propriety of the edict were voiced at once. Its claim to represent the “unanimous consent of the estates” was plainly incorrect, since by the end of May most of the rulers had long since left Worms. Meanwhile, on his journey back to Wittenberg, Luther was “kidnapped” by soldiers of Frederick and taken secretly to Wartburg Castle, near the town of Eisenach, where he remained in hiding for the better part of a year. During this period few people knew of Luther’s whereabouts; most thought he was dead.

During his stay in the Wartburg, Luther began work on what proved to be one of his foremost achievements—the translation of the New Testament into the German vernacular. This task was an obvious ramification of his insistence that the Bible alone is the source of Christian truth and his related belief that everyone is capable of understanding the biblical message. Luther’s translation profoundly affected the development of the written German language. The precedent he set was followed by other scholars, whose work made the Bible widely available in the vernacular and contributed significantly to the emergence of national languages.

The indulgences controversy » Controversies after the Diet of Worms
Attempts to carry out the Edict of Worms were largely unsuccessful. Although Roman Catholic rulers sought determinedly to suppress Luther and his followers, within two years it had become obvious that the movement for reform was too strong. By March 1522, when Luther returned to Wittenberg, the effort to put reform into practice had generated riots and popular protests that threatened to undermine law and order.

Luther’s attitude toward these developments was conservative. He did not believe that change should occur hurriedly. In accordance with his notion of “making haste slowly,” he managed to control the course of reform in Wittenberg, where his influence continued to be strong. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that Luther’s significance as a public figure began to decline after 1522. This is not to say that he did not play a crucial role in the continuing course of events—for he did. Nor is this to say that his influence may not be discerned after 1522—for it can. After the Edict of Worms, however, the cause of reform, of whatever sort, became a legal and political struggle rather than a theological one. The crucial decisions were now made in the halls of government and not in the studies of the theologians. Moreover, by 1523 various other reformers, including Thomas Müntzer, Huldrych Zwingli, and Martin Bucer, had arisen to challenge Luther’s primacy of place and to put forward a more radical vision of reform in church and society.

Beginning in the summer of 1524, large numbers of peasants in southwestern Germany staged a series of uprisings that were partly inspired by Luther’s reform proposals, though they also addressed long-standing economic and political grievances. By the spring of 1525 the rebellion, known as the Peasants’ War, had spread to much of central Germany. The peasants, who were supported by the reformer Müntzer, published their grievances in a manifesto titled The Twelve Articles of the Peasants; the document is notable for its declaration that the rightness of the peasants’ demands should be judged by the Word of God, a notion derived directly from Luther’s teaching that the Bible is the sole guide in matters of morality and belief. Luther wrote two responses—Admonition to Peace Concerning the Twelve Articles of the Peasants, which expressed sympathy for the peasants, and Against the Murderous and Robbing Hordes of the Peasants, which vehemently denounced them. Both works represented a shift away from his earlier vision of reform as encompassing societal as well as religious issues. It is likely that they helped to alienate the peasants from Luther’s cause.

Luther faced other challenges in the mid-1520s. His literary feud with the great Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus came to an unfortunate conclusion when the two failed to find common ground. Their theological dispute concerned the issue of whether humans were free to contribute to and participate in their own salvation. Erasmus, who took the affirmative view, argued that Luther’s insistence on the radical priority of grace undermined all human ethical effort. Luther insisted that Erasmus’s position reduced the great soteriological drama of the Incarnation and the cross to shallow moral concepts.

In 1525 Luther was isolated from various other reformers in a controversy over the meaning of the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper. The dispute concerned the proper interpretation of Jesus’ words of institution when he said, “This is my body…This is my blood.” Whereas Zwingli argued that these words had to be understood symbolically, as “This symbolizes my body…This symbolizes my blood,” Luther argued strenuously for a literal interpretation. Accordingly, Zwingli held that Jesus was spiritually but not physically present in the communion host, whereas Luther taught that Jesus was really and bodily present. The theological disagreement was initially pursued by several southern German reformers, such as Johann Brenz, but after 1527 Luther and Zwingli confronted each other directly, with increasing rancour and vehemence, particularly from Luther. As far as he was concerned, Zwingli was an “enthusiast” who did not take the plain words of Scripture seriously. Thus, the reform movement became a house that was publicly divided.

In the view of some, notably Landgrave Philip of Hesse, this division had serious political implications. There was no doubt that the emperor and the princes of the Catholic territories were determined to suppress the new Lutheran heresy, if necessary by force. The disagreement over communion precluded one strategy of dealing with this ominous Catholic threat, namely by establishing a united Protestant political (and military) front. Whereas Luther, in his wonderful otherworldliness, gravely doubted the wisdom of any effort to protect the gospel by military means, Zwingli envisioned a comprehensive anti-Catholic political front that would reach from Zurich to Denmark. When Philip first entertained the notion of a colloquy between Zwingli, Luther, and a number of other reformers, he was prompted by his desire to create the basis of a Protestant political alliance. Luther was initially reluctant and had to be persuaded to attend the meeting, which was held in Marburg on Oct. 1–4, 1529 (see Marburg, Colloquy of). From the outset Luther made it clear that he would not change his views: he took a piece of chalk and wrote the Latin version of the words of institution, “Hoc est corpus meum” (“this is my body”), on the table. In the end the two sides managed to fashion a contorted agreement, but the deep division within Protestantism remained.

On June 13, 1525, Luther married Katherine of Bora, a former nun. Katherine had fled her convent together with eight other nuns and was staying in the house of the Wittenberg town secretary. While the other nuns soon returned to their families or married, Katherine remained without support. Luther was likewise at the time the only remaining resident in what had been the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg; the other monks had either thrown off the habit or moved to a staunchly Catholic area. Luther’s decision to marry Katherine was the result of a number of factors. Understandably, he felt responsible for her plight, since it was his preaching that had prompted her to flee the convent. Moreover, he had repeatedly written, most significantly in 1523, that marriage is an honourable order of creation, and he regarded the Roman Catholic Church’s insistence on clerical celibacy as the work of the Devil. Finally, he believed that the unrest in Germany, epitomized in the bloody Peasants’ War, was a manifestation of God’s wrath and a sign that the end of the world was at hand. He thus conceived his marriage as a vindication, in these last days, of God’s true order for humankind.

While Luther’s enemies indulged themselves in sarcastic pronouncements upon his matrimony—Erasmus remarked that what had begun as tragedy had turned into comedy—his friends and supporters were chagrined over what they took to be the poor timing of his decision. (It is noteworthy that Luther was not the first of the reformers to marry.) Katherine of Bora proved to be a splendid helpmate for Luther. Table Talks, a collection of Luther’s comments at the dinner table as recorded by one of his student boarders, pays tribute to “Dr. Katie” as a skillful household manager and as a partner in theological conversations. The couple had five children: Johannes, Magdalene, Martin, Paul, and Margarete. Luther’s letters to his children, as well as his deep sadness at the loss of his daughter Magdalene—who died in his arms in September 1542—are indicative of the warm relationships that characterized his family and marriage.

Later years
As a declared heretic and public outlaw, Luther was forced to stay out of the political and religious struggle over the enforcement of the Edict of Worms. Sympathetic rulers and city councils became the protagonists for Luther’s cause and the cause of reform. When Charles V convened a Diet to meet at Augsburg in 1530 to address unresolved religious issues, Luther himself could not be present, though he managed to travel as far south as Coburg—still some 100 miles north of Augsburg—to follow developments at the Diet. In Augsburg it fell to Luther’s young Wittenberg colleague Philipp Melanchthon to represent the Protestants. Melanchthon’s summary of the reformers’ beliefs, the Augsburg Confession, quickly became the guiding theological document for the emerging Lutheran tradition.

Luther’s role in the Reformation after 1525 was that of theologian, adviser, and facilitator but not that of a man of action. Biographies of Luther accordingly have a tendency to end their story with his marriage in 1525. Such accounts gallantly omit the last 20 years of his life, during which much happened. The problem is not just that the cause of the new Protestant churches that Luther had helped to establish was essentially pursued without his direct involvement, but also that the Luther of these later years appears less attractive, less winsome, less appealing than the earlier Luther who defiantly faced emperor and empire at Worms. Repeatedly drawn into fierce controversies during the last decade of his life, Luther emerges as a different figure—irascible, dogmatic, and insecure. His tone became strident and shrill, whether in comments about the Anabaptists, the pope, or the Jews. In each instance his pronouncements were virulent: the Anabaptists should be hanged as seditionists, the pope was the Antichrist, the Jews should be expelled and their synagogues burned. Such were hardly irenic words from a minister of the gospel, and none of the explanations that have been offered—his deteriorating health and chronic pain, his expectation of the imminent end of the world, his deep disappointment over the failure of true religious reform—seem satisfactory.

In 1539 Luther became embroiled in a scandal surrounding the bigamy of Landgrave Philip. Like many other crowned heads, Philip lived in a dynastically arranged marriage with a wife for whom he had no affection. Engaging in extramarital relationships disturbed his conscience, however, so that for years he felt unworthy to receive communion. His eyes fell on one of his wife’s ladies-in-waiting, who insisted on marriage. Philip turned to Luther and the Wittenberg theologians for advice. In his response, which he amply augmented with biblical references, Luther noted that the patriarchs of the Old Testament had been married to more than one wife and that, as a special dispensation, polygamy was still possible. Philip accordingly entered into a second marriage secretly, but before long it became known—as did Luther’s role in bringing it about.

From the mid-1530s Luther was plagued by kidney stones and an obvious coronary condition. Somewhat sheepishly, he attributed his poor health to the severity of his life in the monastery. He nevertheless continued his academic teaching—from 1535 to 1545 he lectured on the Book of Genesis, one of his most insightful biblical expositions—and preached regularly at the city church until his colleague Johannes Bugenhagen assumed that responsibility. Even then, Luther continued to preach in the Augustinian monastery. After the death of one of his oldest friends, Nikolaus Hausmann, in 1538 and that of his daughter Magdalene four years later, references to death became increasingly abundant in Luther’s correspondence. Thus he wrote in a June 1543 letter to a friend:

I desire that there be given me a good little hour when I can move onward to God. I have had enough. I am tired. I have become nothing. Do pray earnestly for me so that the Lord may take my soul in peace.

In February 1546 Luther journeyed, despite his failing health, to Eisleben, the town where he was born. He set out to mediate an embarrassing quarrel between two young and arrogant noblemen, the counts Albrecht and Gebhard of Mansfeld. He was successful, and he so informed his wife in what proved to be his last letter. One day later, on February 18, death came. His body was interred in the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

Martin Luther is assuredly one of the most influential figures in Western civilization during the last millennium. He was the catalyst for the division of Western Christendom into several churches, but he also left a host of cultural legacies, such as the emphasis on vernacular language. He was primarily a theologian, and there is a great wealth of insights in his writings, which in their definitive scholarly edition (the so-called Weimar Edition) comprise more than 100 folio volumes. But he was not a systematic theological thinker. Much like St. Augustine in late antiquity, Luther was what might be called a polemical theologian. Most of his writings —such as Bondage of the Will against Erasmus and That These Words ‘This Is My Body’ Still Stand Against all Enthusiasts against Zwingli—were forged in the heat of controversy and were inescapably given to one-sided pronouncements, which are not easy to reconcile with positions he took in other writings. It is, therefore, not easy to find agreement on the elements of Luther’s theology.

Moreover, the assessment of Luther’s theological significance was for centuries altogether dependent on the ecclesiastical orientation of the critic. Protestant scholars viewed him as the most stunning exponent of the authentic Christian faith since the time of the Apostles, while Catholics viewed him as the epitome of theological ignorance and personal immorality. These embarrassingly partisan perspectives have changed in recent decades, and a less confessionally oriented picture of Luther has emerged.

Certain key tenets of Luther’s theology have shaped Protestant Christianity since the 16th century. They include his insistence on the Bible, the Word of God, as the only source of religious authority; his emphasis on the centrality of grace, appropriated by faith, as the sole means of human salvation; and his understanding of the church as a community of the faithful—a priesthood of all believers—rather than as a hierarchical structure with a prominent division between clergy and laity. Luther was not the first to express these notions, and indeed recent scholarship on the 15th century has shown that much of what was traditionally considered Luther’s revolutionary innovation had striking antecedents. Nevertheless, the vigour and centrality that these ideas received in Luther’s thought made them in important respects dramatically new. Certain corollaries of Luther’s central teachings also made his achievement new and noteworthy. His insistence, for example, that sacred Scripture be available to commoners prompted him not only to translate the Bible into German but also to compose hymns and to advocate the establishment of schools in the cities.

Recent interpreters of Luther have attempted to understand his thought in terms of his struggle against the overpowering reality of the Devil or in terms of his intense fear of a death that would permanently separate him from God. Although there is evidence to support both views, neither quite captures Luther’s spiritual essence. What seems to characterize him more than anything else is an almost childlike trust in God’s overarching forgiveness and acceptance. Luther talked much about his tentationes (“temptations”), by which he meant his doubts about whether this divine forgiveness was real. But he overcame these doubts, and his life thereafter was one of joyous and spontaneous trust in God’s love and goodness toward him and all sinners. Luther called this “Christian freedom.”

The centre of scholarly attention in Luther studies in the late 20th century was Luther’s understanding of the proper role of the Christian in society and politics. According to many scholars, Luther’s disavowal of the German peasants in 1525 and his notion that, as he once put it, “the Gospel has nothing to do with politics” facilitated a tendency toward political passivity among Protestant Christians in Germany. Likewise, his strident pronouncements against the Jews, especially toward the end of his life, have raised the question of whether Luther significantly encouraged the development of German anti-Semitism. Although many scholars have taken this view, this perspective puts far too much emphasis on Luther and not enough on the larger peculiarities of German history.

Luther’s notions developed in opposition to the belief developed by the medieval Catholic Church that all of society wore a Christian mantle. The notion of a “Christian” politics or a “Christian” economics was anathema to Luther. However, this did not mean that the public realm had no principles that needed to be honoured. What Luther rejected was the notion that there was a uniquely “Christian” approach to these realms; uniquely Christian, Luther insisted, was only that which pertained to Jesus’ salvational work of redemption.

Hans J. Hillerbrand

Encyclopaedia Britannica

He broke with the church in 1520 when the pope threatened him with excommunication, and in 1521 Luther defended his theses at the 6 Diet of Worms.

6 Martin Luther before Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms on  April 17-18, 1521,
painting by Anton von Werner, 1900

Martin Luther before Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms on  April 17-18, 1521,
painting by Anton von Werner

Diet of Worms
Germany [1521]
meeting of the Diet (assembly) of the Holy Roman Empire held at Worms, Germany, in 1521 that was made famous by Martin Luther’s appearance before it to respond to charges of heresy. Because of the confused political and religious situation of the time, Luther was called before the political authorities rather than before the pope or a council of the Roman Catholic church.

Pope Leo X had condemned 41 propositions of Luther’s in June 1520, but he also had given Luther time to recant. Because Luther refused to recant, he was excommunicated on January 3, 1521. While the emperor should then have arrested and executed Luther, the intervention of Luther’s ruler, Elector Frederick III the Wise, brought the decision that he would appear for a hearing at the Diet under the emperor’s safe-conduct.

On April 17, 1521, Luther went before the Diet for the first time. In response to questioning, he admitted that the books displayed before the court were his, but, when asked to repudiate them, he asked for time to consider the question. The next day, again before the assembled Diet, Luther refused to repudiate his works unless convinced of error by Scripture or by reason. Otherwise, he stated, his conscience was bound by the Word of God. According to tradition, he said, “Here I stand; I can do no other.” Disorder broke out at the conclusion of Luther’s refusal to recant, and the emperor dismissed the Diet for the day.

A hero to the Germans but a heretic to others, Luther soon left Worms but spent the next nine months in hiding in the Wartburg, near Eisenach. When it came to the question of what to do with Luther, the Diet remained divided. In May, after most of the rulers had left, a rump Diet passed the Edict of Worms, which declared Luther an outlaw who should be captured and turned over to the emperor and whose writings were forbidden. The edict, never enforced, nevertheless inhibited Luther’s travels throughout his lifetime and made him dependent on his prince for protection.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

The movement developed momentum through the backing of powerful German princes.

Elector 7 Frederick III of Saxony sheltered Luther in Wartburg Castle, where he worked on a translation of the Bible into German.

7 Frederick III, elector of Saxony,
engraving by Albrecht Durer 1524

see also




Antony van Dyck

The Reformation soon became linked to the social upheaval of the time.

In 1522-1523 there was an uprising of imperial knights under 4 Ulrich von Hutten and Franz von Sickingen, who saw themselves as representatives of humanism and the Reformation, in opposition to the Catholic German princes.

4 Humanist, writer, and imperial knight Ulrich von Hutten
   Franz von Sickingen

Ulrich von Hutten
German knight

born April 21, 1488, near Fulda, Abbacy of Fulda
died Aug. 29?, 1523, near Zürich

Franconian knight and Humanist, famed as a German patriot, satirist, and supporter of Luther’s cause. His restless, adventurous life, reflecting the turbulent Reformation period, was occupied with public and private quarrels, pursued with both pen and sword.
As a supporter of the ancient status of the knightly order (Ritterstand), Ulrich looked back to the Middle Ages; but as a writer he looked forward, employing the new literary forms of the Humanists in biting Latin dialogues, satirizing the pretensions of princes, the papacy, Scholasticism, and obscurantism. He was the main contributor to the second volume of the Epistolae obscurorum virorum (1515–17; “Letters of Obscure Men”), a famous attack on monkish life and letters. As a patriot, he envisioned a united Germany and after 1520 wrote satires in German. His vigorous series of satiric pamphlets on Luther’s behalf, which first were published in Latin, were subsequently translated into German in his Gesprächbüchlein (1522; “Little Conversation Book”). Ulrich joined the forces of Franz von Sickingen in the knights’ war (1522) against the German princes. On the defeat of their cause he fled to Switzerland, where he was refused help by his former friend Erasmus. Penniless and dying of syphilis, he was given refuge by Huldrych Zwingli. The legend of Ulrich as a warrior for freedom has been much romanticized in German literature, notably by C.F. Meyer in Huttens letzte Tage (1871; “Hutten’s Last Days”).

Franz von Sickingen
German knight

born March 2, 1481, Ebernburg, Rhenish Palatinate [now in Germany]
died May 7, 1523, Landstuhl

Prominent figure of the early years of the Reformation in Germany.
A member of the Reichsritterschaft, or class of free imperial knights, Sickingen acquired considerable wealth and estates in the Rhineland as the result of campaigns against private individuals and against cities, including Worms (1513) and Metz (1518). In 1518 he led the army of the Swabian league against Ulrich I, duke of Württemberg. After the death of the Holy Roman emperor Maximilian I in 1519, Sickingen used his influence to support the election of Charles V as emperor.
Sickingen protected Martin Luther and harboured many Humanists and Reformers in his castles, which were, in the words of Humanist Ulrich von Hutten, “a refuge for righteousness.” Sickingen placed himself at the head of the German knights when they rose in defense of their class interests in 1522, declaring war against his old enemy Richard of Greiffenklau, archbishop of Trier. He sadly underestimated the opposition. The city of Trier remained loyal to the archbishop, and princes such as the landgrave Philip of Hesse rallied to his support; Sickingen was repulsed, his support fell off, and he was declared an outlaw. He was forced on the defensive; his castles fell one by one; and finally he capitulated in his last stronghold at Landstuhl. He died the next day and was buried there. On the one hand a champion of the poorer classes, a Lutheran sympathizer, and genuine patriot, Sickingen was on the other hand an opportunist whose objective probably was high office.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Peasants rebelled against the aristocratic landowners in 1524-1525, plundering manors and monasteries in Franconia and Swabia.

Luther sided with the princes against the peasants, while the radical reformer 5 Thomas Munzer led the peasants in Thuringia.

In 1525 the peasant army was defeated at Frankenhausen by the princes, and Munzer was executed. In 1533—1534 the radical Anabaptists seized control of Munster.


Thomas Muntzer

"Manifesto of the Mansfeldian Youths"


"Go to it, go to it, while the fire is hot.

Let not your sword become cold, do not let it become lame!

Forge, clink clank, on the anvil of Nimrod, throw their tower to the ground!

It is not possible, as long as they live that human fear should become empty.

One can tell you nothing of God, while they govern over you.

Go to it, go to it, while it is day.

God precedes you, follow, followl"

5 Thomas Munzer




Thomas Muntzer
German religious reformer
Müntzer also spelled Münzer or Monczer, Latin Thomas Monetarius

born , sometime before 1490, Stolberg, Thuringia [Germany]
died May 27, 1525, Mühlhausen

a leading German radical Reformer during the Protestant Reformation, a fiery and apocalyptic preacher, and a participant in the abortive Peasants’ Revolt in Thuringia in 1524–25. A controversial figure in life and in death, Müntzer is regarded as a significant force in the religious and social history of modern Europe. Marxists in the 20th century viewed him as a leader in an early bourgeois revolution against feudalism and the struggle for a classless society.

Early life and career
Very little is known of the childhood and youth of Thomas Müntzer, except that he was the son of a burgher in Stolberg in the Harz Mountains. His name appears in the 1506 register of the University of Leipzig, however, and in 1512 he attended the University of Frankfurt an der Oder, later earning the academic ranks of master of arts and bachelor of theology. Müntzer became a linguistic specialist in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and an accomplished scholar of ancient and humanistic literature—particularly the books of the Bible. He was an assistant teacher in Halle (Saale) in 1513 and a clergyman as well as a teacher in Aschersleben in 1514 and 1515. In these capacities he represented the middle class in its striving for church reforms. He initiated various secret alliances in order to achieve the reforms.

From 1516 to 1517 Müntzer worked as a prior at Frohse monastery at Aschersleben. He then taught at the Braunschweig Martineum (secondary school) until 1518, when he was attracted to Martin Luther and his ideas of reform. The designation Martinian was first applied to Müntzer in 1519 after he spoke out against the Franciscan order, the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical hierarchy, and the veneration of the saints. He early showed himself to be an independent thinker. After occasional participation in debates between Luther and the Roman Catholic theologian Johann Eck in Leipzig, he pursued intensive literary studies at the monastery of Beuditz at Weissenfels (1519–20). There he developed, especially under the influence of mysticism, his own view of Christianity, which became increasingly apocalyptic and spiritual. From an action-hungry conspirator in local burgher plots, he became a Reformer who began to see the work inaugurated by Luther as a fundamental change in both ecclesiastical and secular life and therefore as a revolution. He henceforth judged Luther by this criterion.

Müntzer, probably at Luther’s recommendation, served as a pastor in Zwickau, a town in which great social tension existed between the upper classes and the early miners’ guilds. In this work he sided with the common people, who seemed to him to be the executors of the divine law and will on earth. More and more he found himself opposed to Roman Catholic practices and Lutheran ideas of reform. He increasingly adopted the view that true authority lay in the inner light given by God to his own, rather than in the Bible, a view taught by Nikolaus Storch, a leader of a reform group known as the “Zwickau prophets.” Storch also convinced Müntzer that the end of the world was imminent. Driven away from Zwickau in 1521, Müntzer sought on trips to Saaz (Žatec) and Prague to gain the support of the Taborites, a Bohemian group that followed the teaching of Jan Hus, a 15th-century reformer. In Prague he also published a manifesto proclaiming the start of the final reformation and the emergence of a new church over which the Holy Spirit would reign. Müntzer became fully aware of his opposition to Luther in 1522 at Nordhausen, where, in a struggle against Luther’s supporters, his theological differences of opinion with them became more pronounced. For the first time it was the Lutherans who were to effect his expulsion from a city.

Müntzer’s reform
Although he began his religious revolt by following Luther’s theological doctrines, Müntzer soon went his own way. Believing that teachings came from the Holy Spirit, he placed them in opposition to the Lutheran doctrines of justification (justification by faith alone) and of the authority of Scripture (Scripture as the exclusive source of divine truth). As an exponent of the supremacy of the inner light of the Holy Spirit as against the authority of Scripture, Müntzer was said by Luther to have swallowed the Holy Spirit, “feathers and all.”

The revolutionary aspect of Müntzer’s theology lay in the link he made between his concept of the inevitable conquest of the anti-Christian earthly government and the thesis that the common people themselves, as the instruments of God, would have to execute this change. He believed that the common people, because of their lack of property and their unspoiled ignorance, were God’s elect and would disclose his will. Indeed, he came to believe that, as God’s elect, peasants would lead the struggle against the enemies of the Holy Spirit in the last days.

Müntzer arrived in Halle at the end of 1522. By his preaching in Glaucha, he won numerous disciples. Here he may also have met his later wife, the former nun Ottilie von Gersen, with whom he had two children. Before Easter of 1523, Müntzer found employment as pastor of a Saxon community in Allstedt, near the Mansfeld mining area. His most important religious, liturgical, and theological writings originated here. They included German Church Office, German-Protestant Mass, Protestation or Defense…Regarding the Beginning of the True Christian Faith and Baptism, Of Written Faith, and Precise Exposure of False Belief. Here, too, he drafted a speech, “Motivation for Defense,” and delivered his “Princes’ Sermon,” in which he unsuccessfully tried to urge the Saxon rulers to take their place in reforming Christendom to its biblical splendour.

The Peasants’ War
In Mühlhausen he organized a group called the Eternal Covenant of God. After another expulsion he went to Nürnberg, where further writings were published. He then went on to Hegau and Klettgau, the area where the Peasants’ War (an abortive revolt in 1524–25 against the nobles over rising taxes, deflation, and other grievances) was beginning, and stayed through the winter in Griessen.

His experience with the rising insurrection impelled him to go back to Mühlhausen, which became the centre of the uprising in central Germany (after the overthrow of the governing council and the formation of what the insurgents called an “eternal council” in March 1525). During the uprising, Müntzer even assumed command of the local troops.

Müntzer dismissed resistance to his understanding of reform as a revolt against God. He believed that only if the common people were to realize the law of God within themselves, and place group interests above those of the individual, would they be capable of demonstrating the will of God externally for the transformation of society. Müntzer’s work was concerned mainly with the religious and ethical training of the peasants and teaching them to comprehend his concept of a future society without social and legal distinctions. During the rebellion, which he may have understood as the final struggle between good and evil, Müntzer tried to relate the concerns of the peasants, tradesmen, and commoners with that of the liberation of all Christendom. The collapse of the revolt seemed to him the judgment of God on the as yet unpurified people but not the defeat of his idea of a new society. Müntzer was taken prisoner, tortured, and, on May 27 at the princes’ camp at Mühlhausen, was tried and executed.

Manfred Bensing



Protestant movement founded on the principles of Martin Luther.

Lutheranism arose at the start of the Reformation, after Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses in Wittenberg. It spread through much of Germany and into Scandinavia, where it was established by law. It was brought to the New World by the colonists of New Netherland and New Sweden and spread through the U.S. Middle Atlantic states in the 18th century and the Midwest in the 19th century. Its doctrines are contained in the catechisms of Luther and in the Augsburg Confession. Lutheran doctrine emphasizes salvation by faith alone and the primacy of the Bible as the church’s authority. The Lutheran ministry is one of service—not special status—and is described as the priesthood of all believers. Lutherans accept two sacraments (baptism and the Eucharist) and believe in predestination to salvation. The Lutheran World Federation is based in Geneva. See also Pietism.

the branch of Christianity that traces its interpretation of the Christian religion to the teachings of Martin Luther and the 16th-century movements that issued from his reforms. Along with Anglicanism, the Reformed and Presbyterian (Calvinist) churches, Methodism, and the Baptist churches, Lutheranism is one of the five major branches of Protestantism. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, however, Lutheranism is not a single entity. It is organized in autonomous regional or national churches, such as the Church of Sweden or the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Mecklenburg, Ger. Globally, there are some 140 such Lutheran church bodies; 138 of these are loosely joined in the Lutheran World Federation, which was established in 1947. At the beginning of the 21st century, there were more than 65 million Lutherans worldwide, making Lutheranism the second largest Protestant denomination, after the Baptist churches.

The term Lutheran, which appeared as early as 1519, was coined by Luther’s opponents. The self-designation of Luther’s followers was “evangelical”—that is, centred on the Gospel. After the Diet of Speyer in 1529, when German rulers sympathetic to Luther’s cause voiced a protest against the diet’s Catholic majority, which had overturned a decree of 1526, Luther’s followers came to be known as Protestants. However, because both evangelical and Protestant proved to be overly broad designations (before long they also included the Reformed churches), eventually the name Evangelical Lutheran became standard. Another name occasionally used is Churches of the Augsburg Confession, which recalls the Lutheran statement of faith presented to the German emperor at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. In the United States several nomenclatures have been used, all of which, with the exception of the Evangelical Catholic Church, include the term Lutheran in their titles (e.g., the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod).

In the 16th century, Lutheranism became formally established in various principalities by being declared the official religion of the region by the relevant governmental authority. As early as the 1520s German principalities and cities adopted Lutheranism, and they were later followed by Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries. Later, Lutheran notions found their way to Hungary and Transylvania. Lutheranism arrived in North America in the middle of the 17th century in the areas of present-day Delaware and southern Pennsylvania. In the 18th century and increasingly in the 19th, European and North American Lutherans undertook missions throughout the globe, leading to the establishment of indigenous Lutheran churches in many countries. Beginning in the 20th century, ecumenical initiatives affected both Lutheranism and its relation to other Christian faiths.

Theologically, Lutheranism embraces the standard affirmations of classic Protestantism—the repudiation of papal and ecclesiastical authority in favour of the Bible (sola Scriptura), the rejection of five of the traditional seven sacraments affirmed by the Catholic Church, and the insistence that human reconciliation with God is effected solely by divine grace (sola gratia), which is appropriated solely by faith (sola fide), in contrast to the notion of a convergence of human effort and divine grace in the process of salvation.

History » German beginnings
In 1517, when Martin Luther probed the church practices surrounding indulgences (the full or partial grant of the remission of the penalties of sin) with his Ninety-five Theses (the various propositions that Luther wished to debate—posted, according to tradition, on the church doors in Wittenberg), he had no intention of breaking from the Catholic Church, assuming that his call for theological and ecclesiastical reform would be heard. Instead, a fierce controversy ensued. Luther and his followers were subsequently excommunicated, which confronted them with the alternative of yielding to the ecclesiastical dictum or finding new ways to live their faith. Since the advocates of reform received the protection of governmental authorities in many places, new forms of church life began to emerge in the late 1520s.

Because they were excommunicated and their churches outlawed, Luther, his followers, and their princely supporters were under threat of military action by Catholic forces, and in 1546 Emperor Charles V felt powerful enough to wage war against the major Lutheran territories and cities. While victorious in the ensuing War of Schmalkald, Charles overreached himself by adding political goals to his objective of dismantling Lutheran reforms. At the Diet of Augsburg in 1555, he was forced to concede formal recognition to the Lutheran churches in the Holy Roman Empire.

The Peace of Augsburg marked an important turning point in the history of Lutheranism. After a generation of struggle against Roman Catholic and imperial authorities, Lutherans gained legal recognition through the establishment of the principle cuius regio, eius religio, which meant that the ruler of a principality determined its religion. From then on, the Lutheran churches in these principalities were free to develop unhindered by political and military threats.

History » Confessionalization and Orthodoxy
Although their legal existence was assured, the Lutheran churches in Germany nonetheless found themselves in turmoil. A series of theological controversies over the authentic understanding of Luther’s thought—some had already erupted during Luther’s own lifetime—began to divide Lutheran theologians and churches with increasing intensity. Most of them pertained to topics on which Luther and his Wittenberg colleague Philipp Melanchthon had disagreed or on which Luther’s theological views were not altogether clear. Dominating the Lutheran agenda between 1548 and 1577, the disputes concerned how to resolve matters that were neither approved nor strictly forbidden by Scripture, whether the doctrine of faith absolved Christians from following the moral law set out in the Hebrew Scriptures, and matters connected with justification and human participation in salvation.

The two factions involved in these debates were the Philippists, followers of Melanchthon, and the Gnesio-Lutherans (Genuine Lutherans), led by Matthias Flacius Illyricus, a forceful and uncompromising theologian who accused the Philippists of “synergism,” the notion that humans cooperated in their salvation. Flacius and the other Gnesio-Lutherans also saw in the Philippists’ understanding of the Lord’s Supper the influence of Calvinism, which stressed the real but spiritual presence of Christ in the sacrament.

With the aid of theologians Jakob Andreae and Martin Chemnitz, Lutheran political authorities, notably the elector of Saxony, forced compromises on the disputed points of theology. Andreae and Chemnitz prompted a group of Lutheran theologians to draft a document entitled Formula of Concord in 1576 and 1577. Approved by German Lutheran political and religious leaders, it was incorporated, together with several other confessions—the three ancient ecumenical creeds (the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed), the Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Luther’s tract on papal power, his Schmalkaldic Articles, and his Small and Large Catechisms—into the Book of Concord in 1580.

The Book of Concord embodied the confessional identity of German Lutheranism. It reflected a development that was paralleled in other Christian traditions of the time, each of which jealously guarded its own identity in opposition to other traditions. The particular “Lutheran” identity encompassed not only theology but also liturgy, music, law, and piety. This process of identity formation in the late 16th century is known as confessionalization.

Theological Orthodoxy, which shaped Lutheranism from the late 16th to the late 17th century, has been much maligned as an overly intellectualized Christianity that showed little concern for practical piety. This one-sided perspective (there was much concern for personal piety in orthodoxy) nonetheless demonstrates the importance of the practice among 17th-century Lutheran theologians of defining Christianity in terms of doctrine. Lutheran thinkers utilized categories from Aristotelian philosophy and logic to articulate Christian theology, leading to ever-subtler analyses of argument and counterargument. The tension between reason and revelation, prominent in Luther, was replaced by the insistence on the harmony of the two, with revelation representing the ultimate truth. Dogmatic claims were safeguarded through an emphasis on the divine inspiration of Scripture, a concern that eventually led Lutheran theologians (even as their Reformed counterparts) to formulate the notion of the verbally inerrant Bible, a pivotal point of orthodox theology.

History » Pietism
During the period of orthodox dominance, some Lutheran theologians argued that Christianity was not so much a system of doctrine as a guide for practical Christian living. Foremost among them was Johann Arndt (1555–1621), whose devotional writings were extremely popular in the 17th century. Arndt’s major work, The Four Books of True Christianity (1605–09), was a guide to the meditative and devotional life. Arndt has been called the father of Pietism because of his influence on those who later developed the movement. The Pietist movement was also shaped by English theologians William Perkins, William Ames, and Richard Baxter.

Pietism had its beginnings in 1675, when the Frankfurt pastor Philipp Jakob Spener published his book Pious Desires, in which he called for greater commitment to Christian living and a fundamental reform of theological education. Stressing the religion of the heart and the piety of the individual, the movement cultivated “small churches within the larger church” for prayer, Bible reading, moral scrutiny, and works of charity. Although Spener gave no thought to leaving the Lutheran Church, he was deeply aggrieved by what he considered the ignorance of the clergy and the church’s lack of spiritual vitality.

Spener’s notions were institutionalized in the town of Halle, Ger., by August Hermann Francke, who established the Frankesche Stiftungen (“Francke Foundations”) schools as well as an orphanage, a printing press, and similar establishments. These Halle Foundations, still in existence today, put into practice Pietist beliefs regarding sanctified living, practical education, and concern for the neighbour in need. The Pietists’ emphasis on education in particular influenced the development of the Enlightenment in Germany.

History » Modernity
In the 18th century, the European Enlightenment, embracing the insights of the modern scientific revolution, challenged traditional Christian assumptions concerning miracles, the fulfillment of prophecy, and divine revelation. Lutheran philosophers and theologians, such as Christian Wolff (1679–1754) and Johann Salomo Semler (1725–91), defended the notion of the harmony of reason and revelation. In contrast to medieval scholasticism, which advocated the use of reason but emphasized the primacy of revelation, Lutheran theology subordinated revelation and declared reason to be the key to understanding the will of God. This sentiment, known as Neology, dominated Lutheranism in the second half of the 18th century. As a result, liberal and conservative wings began to form in the 19th century, a division that has continued into the 21st century. In this way Lutheranism mirrored developments in other Christian churches, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. Regardless of denominational differences, the real division increasingly was between those who embraced the new notions of the Enlightenment—that Christianity was in effect natural religion—and those who rejected those notions. For those influenced by the Enlightenment, traditional theological disputes, such as those between Lutherans and the Reformed churches, ceased to be fundamentally important.

It was against this background that King Frederick William III of Prussia in 1817 directed that the Lutheran and Reformed churches in Prussia use an identical order of worship. The Prussian ruling house had been Calvinist since the early 17th century; its subjects were Lutheran, even though the territorial enlargement of Prussia after the Napoleonic Wars had added a substantial Reformed populace. Frederick William, a devout individual, was convinced that no substantive theological differences separated the two churches. Moreover, Prussia had undergone a comprehensive administrative realignment that greatly centralized the government, and the king sought the same for the Lutheran and Reformed churches. While some accepted the king’s dictum, others fiercely opposed the merger and found themselves suppressed and even persecuted. When the opponents were finally allowed to emigrate to the United States in the 1840s, they established the conservative Lutheran synods of Missouri and Buffalo. Continuing opposition eventually led Frederick William IV to declare in 1852 that the union of Lutherans and Reformed was not doctrinal but only administrative. Nevertheless, most Prussian regional churches had by then adopted a uniform church order, taking the name Churches of the Prussian Union.

In the 19th century Lutheran theology in Germany was bitterly divided between three schools—a liberal school, represented by Heinrich Eberhard Gottlob Paulus (1761–1851); a traditional-confessional school, represented by Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg (1802–69) and Claus Harms (1778–1855); and a mediating school, which included August Neander (1789–1850) but was chiefly influenced by Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768–1834). Later in the century Albrecht Ritschl (1822–89) sought to forge a synthesis between the Christian faith and modernity, one that did not fit into any particular theological school, but he was bitterly attacked by both liberals and conservatives, the supernaturalists and the rationalists.

The surprising vigour of the Lutheran traditionalists, called Old Lutherans, was related to the religious awakening that swept through Germany in the middle of the century. Allied with the Old Lutherans were the New Lutherans, who sought to revive ancient liturgical traditions and to combine fidelity to the Lutheran confessions with an emphasis on the importance of the sacraments and the church. Old and New Lutherans dominated the Lutheran churches and theology from the 1840s to the 1870s.

History » Eastern Europe and Scandinavia
In the 16th century, Lutheran ideas moved into Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary and Transylvania. Although they were well received by clergy and laity alike, the lack of support by governmental authorities prevented the formation of new churches. Eventually the Lutheran congregations in these lands succumbed to an increasingly dynamic and resurgent Catholicism.

Traveling merchants and students introduced Lutheran notions to Scandinavia, which was precariously united under the Danish crown. A conflict between the Danish king Christian II and the Swedish nobility in the second decade of the 16th century led to the emergence of Gustav Eriksson Vasa, who secured Swedish independence and was eventually elected king of Sweden and Finland. From the outset, Gustav Vasa sought to diminish the political and financial power of the Catholic Church in Sweden, and he supported Lutheran preaching and publications. At his behest, the diet at Västerås in 1527 confiscated the property of the church, removed the immunity of the clergy from civil courts, and declared that only the pure Word of God should be preached. Subsequent legislative measures at first curtailed and then ended Catholicism in Sweden.

In 1528 Gustav Vasa helped to secure the consecration of three Swedish bishops of Lutheran commitment, thus ensuring the formal apostolic succession of the Swedish episcopate. Among them was Laurentius Petri, who became the first Lutheran archbishop of Uppsala in 1531, and his brother Olaus Petri, who had absorbed Luther’s ideas while studying in Wittenberg. Both brought deep Protestant convictions—which Gustav Vasa lacked—to the task of popularizing Lutheranism in Sweden. Although Olaus Petri was often in conflict with the king, he and his reformer colleagues eventually carried the day. The Reformation in Finland was the work of Michael Agricola, another former Wittenberg student and later bishop of Abo, who translated the New Testament into Finnish.

By the 17th century Lutheran Sweden had become a significant political power in Europe. Neutral in the Thirty Years’ War when it broke out in 1618, King Gustav II Adolf, the “lion of the north,” entered the war on the side of the struggling German Protestant states in 1630. Gustav II Adolf’s military victories, especially at Lützen, where he died on the battlefield, ensured that the Thirty Years’ War would not bring ruin to Protestantism. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) gave Catholic, Reformed, and Lutheran Christians equal political and religious rights in the Empire. Subsequently, the course of Lutheranism in Scandinavia followed that of Lutheranism in German lands. Pietist sentiment, meanwhile, made an enormous impact on 19th-century Norway and Sweden.

History » North America
When Lutheranism was established in small communities in present-day New York and Delaware in the 17th century, it was heir both to orthodox Lutheran confessionalism and to Pietism. The first large wave of Lutheran immigrants arrived in the 1740s, with settlements in New York, the Carolinas, and Pennsylvania. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, a German immigrant pastor, established Lutheran congregations and schools indefatigably, especially in Pennsylvania. In the 19th century, Scandinavian Lutherans settled on the prairies of the American Midwest, establishing synods that retained the forms of the church life of their native countries.

As immigrants of different national and ethnic backgrounds encountered American society and each other, conflicts inevitably developed. Samuel S. Schmucker, professor at the Lutheran seminary at Gettysburg, advocated adjusting to American ways, by such means as adopting English hymns and cooperating with the Reformed churches. In contrast, Charles Porterfield Krauth, a graduate of the seminary at Gettysburg, emphasized Lutheran distinctiveness. When a new wave of German immigrants arrived in the middle of the 19th century, they brought with them the conservative confessional Lutheran orientation dominant in Germany at the time. Establishing the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States in 1847, these immigrants clung not only to German language and culture but also to a conservative theology.

History » Global expansion
As did all Protestant churches, Lutheran church bodies in Europe and North America joined the great 19th-century effort to evangelize the peoples of Africa and Asia. Missions had been undertaken in the 18th century but lacked the organization and enthusiasm that characterized the 19th-century endeavour. The new missionary commitment found expression in the establishment of numerous missionary societies, such as those of Berlin (1824), Denmark (1821), and Leipzig (1836). Lutheran missionaries concentrated on the East Indies, New Guinea, and South West Africa (now Namibia). Eventually, new Lutheran churches were formed in all parts of the world. By the middle of the 20th century, many of these churches showed a vitality and growth that seemed to be missing from the traditional Lutheran churches of Europe.

As Lutheran evangelization proceeded in Africa and Asia, the Lutheran churches in Europe in the 19th century also engaged in what they called “inner mission,” the effort to tend to the physical and spiritual needs of the poor and downtrodden, especially those who had been marginalized by the Industrial Revolution. Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808–81) was the great organizer of this work in Germany. Under his aegis, the inner mission movement established local branches throughout Germany. Although the Lutheran churches thus ameliorated some of the excesses of the Industrial Revolution, they did not adequately address the vast demographic and social changes it had caused. The common people, therefore, became increasingly alienated from the church, which they perceived as being allied with the state and with the socially conservative establishment.

History » World War I to the present » European Lutheranism
At the beginning of the 20th century, European Lutheranism remained divided between liberal and conservative wings. It was also marked by varying degrees of loyalty toward the 16th-century Lutheran confessions. The experience of World War I, which was widely understood by theologians as demonstrating the bankruptcy of optimistic theological liberalism, triggered both a conservative reaction and an interest in interconfessional cooperation. Most Lutheran theologians followed the general reorientation of Protestant theology away from liberalism and toward a synthesis between religion and culture, theology and philosophy, and faith and science. Known as “dialectic theology” in Europe and “neoorthodoxy” in North America, this movement emphasized the “otherness” of God and the pivotal importance of the Word of God. The key theologian of neoorthodoxy was the Reformed theologian Karl Barth of Germany and Switzerland. As Barth’s theological premises, which related all divine revelation to Jesus Christ, became increasingly clear, however, Lutheran theologians such as Werner Elert and Paul Althaus developed an analogous conservative Lutheran perspective based on a traditional understanding of Martin Luther’s thought.

The end of World War I also brought the disestablishment of the Lutheran churches as state churches in Germany. The constitution of the Weimar Republic provided for the separation of church and state, though it granted Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches continued modest privileges. Unhappiness with the Weimar Republic, along with the political conservativeness of most Lutheran leaders and Luther’s concept of the orders of creation (see below Church and state), contributed to the acceptance of Nazi notions by many Lutherans when Adolf Hitler became German chancellor in January 1933.

The ensuing crisis in the Lutheran churches in Germany arose as a result of the efforts of one pro-Nazi church, the German Christians (Deutsche Christen), to obtain control of the Lutheran regional synods in Germany. The German Christians propounded a Christianity devoid of any Jewish influence (they rejected the Old Testament and declared Jesus to have been Aryan); they also advocated a single, centralized Protestant church in Germany, an objective that contradicted the long-standing tradition of autonomous regional synods but was subtly supported by the Nazi government.

In 1934 Lutheran church leaders and theologians joined Reformed leaders to form the Pastors’ Emergency League, out of which came the Barmen Declaration (see Barmen, Synod of). This statement affirmed traditional Protestant doctrine and led to the formation of the Confessing Church (Bekennende Kirche), which comprised pastors and congregations loyal to traditional confessional standards. The remainder of the decade was marked by continued theological and political confrontation between the confessionally minded camp and the German Christians. This controversy, known as the German Church Struggle, led a minority of Lutheran church leaders, such as Martin Niemöller, a decorated World War I submarine captain, to question the legitimacy of the Nazi regime; some, including the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, even became active in the anti-Nazi opposition.

By the middle of the 20th century, European Lutheranism continued to enjoy privileged status in several traditionally Lutheran countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Germany). Regular church attendance, however, was declining, and more and more people formally left the church. The number of church members declined slowly during the first three decades of the century, dwindled dramatically in Germany during Nazi rule, and continued to decline through the rest of the century.

History » World War I to the present » North American Lutheranism
Several important mergers of various American Lutheran churches took place in the 20th century. The first two occurred in 1917, when three Norwegian synods formed the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America (NLCA), and in 1918, when three German-language synods formed the United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA). In 1930 the Joint Synod of Ohio, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Iowa, and the Buffalo Synod formed the American Lutheran Church (German). In 1960 the American Lutheran Church (German) merged with the United Evangelical Lutheran Church (Danish) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Norwegian) to form the American Lutheran Church (ALC). The Lutheran Free Church (Norwegian), which had initially dropped out of merger negotiations, joined the ALC in 1963. Two years after the formation of the ALC, in a parallel development, the ULCA joined with the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church (Swedish), the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the American Evangelical Lutheran Church (Danish) to establish the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). The Missouri and Wisconsin synods chose not to engage in merger negotiations because of the more liberal stance of the other Lutheran bodies.

In 1988 the ALC and the LCA—the former prominent in the Midwest, the latter on the east coast—together with the smaller Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, merged to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). This made the ELCA, with more than 5 million members, the largest Lutheran church body in North America. The 2.5-million-member Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod remained the second largest Lutheran church. The third major church of North American Lutheranism was the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, with more than 400,000 baptized members. The ELCA’s constituency is chiefly found in the Northeast and the upper Midwest; other concentrations of Lutherans are found in states where Lutherans first settled: Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, and the Carolinas. Canadian Lutheranism, about 300,000 strong, is divided into two bodies paralleling the ELCA and the Missouri Synod in the United States. The larger of the two, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), had about 180,000 members in some 600 congregations by the early 21st century. In 1997 the ELCIC adopted an “evangelical declaration” as “a guide for its future mission.” Canadian Lutheranism is strongest in Ontario and the Western provinces.

The question “What is Lutheran theology?” is not easily answered. Martin Luther himself was not a systematic thinker, and his colleague Philip Melanchthon became for many his authentic interpreter, raising at once the charge that Melanchthon had distorted Luther’s thought. The doctrinal controversies in 16th-century Lutheranism are indicative of the difficulty of defining precisely what it means to be “Lutheran.” Nonetheless, Luther’s own thought has always been the guiding force in the delineation of Lutheran theology. The two major Lutheran confessional statements of the 16th century, the Augsburg Confession of 1530 and the Formula of Concord of 1576, have traditionally been thought to explicate Luther’s teachings.

Since the introduction of Lutheranism in European countries was not centrally directed, the emergence of Lutheran theology took place variously. Thus, not all Lutheran churches formally accepted the Formula of Concord. Authority in Lutheranism is understood as fidelity to the confessional documents that constitute authentic exposition of biblical teaching. Lutheranism has no formal teaching office comparable to that of the Roman Catholic Church.

Teachings » Scripture and tradition
Foremost among Lutheran teachings is the insistence, shared with all Protestant traditions, that the Bible is the sole source of religious authority. Lutherans subscribe to the three ancient ecumenical Christian creeds together with the 16th-century Lutheran confessional statements. All Lutheran churches affirm the Augsburg Confession; some, notably those in Germany and the United States, additionally affirm the confessional writings found in the Book of Concord. The Formula of Concord designated the Bible as the “sole and most certain rule” for judging Christian teachings. This position was in marked contrast to the Catholic affirmation of both Scripture and tradition. Luther never accepted the Catholic insistence that church tradition was merely making explicit what was already found implicitly in Scripture.

The new centrality of the Bible had dramatic consequences. Luther understood the need for a Bible in the German vernacular, for only if the Bible was accessible could its teachings be appreciated. Luther’s example of making available a vernacular Bible was followed by reformers throughout Europe, such as William Tyndale in England. Catholic theologians promptly recognized the powerful weapon Luther had created and undertook to provide vernacular translations of their own. None of them, however, possessed the literary cogency of Luther’s translation or of the translation produced early in the 17th century under the direction of King James I of England.

Teachings » Justification
Following St. Augustine, Western Christian theologians until the 16th century conceived the redemptive act of divine grace as taking place within the context of willful human collaboration. This centuries-old consensus of divine and human cooperation was sharply rejected by Martin Luther, who maintained that the apostle Paul denied human participation in the process of salvation. Accordingly, the Augsburg Confession notes, people “are justified freely on account of Christ through faith when they believe that they are received into grace and their sins forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins”; God “imputes [this faith] as righteousness in his sight.” This affirmation, on which “the church stands and falls,” has received a variety of interpretations since the 16th century. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Lutheran theologians sought to express the teaching in new ways, always insisting that it represented an authentic interpretation of the apostle Paul. Thus, Paul Tillich interpreted justification through faith as the condition of being accepted despite one’s unacceptability.

Teachings » Church, sacraments, and ministry
In a famous definition, the Augsburg Confession speaks of the church as the “congregation of saints [believers] in which the gospel is purely taught and the sacraments rightly administered.” Luther regarded the true church as essentially invisible, which means that its authority is found not in a formal structure but in fidelity to Scripture. It is in no way identical to the visible (empirical) church organization. Although the visible church is prone to be as weak and sinful as any other human institution, God works in it insofar as it is faithful to his word. During the periods of orthodoxy and Pietism, the notion of the invisibility of the church was understood to mean that God alone knows who among the assembled Christians are true believers. In the 19th century the relationship of the visible and invisible church received much attention in Lutheran theology, partly under the influence of a dynamic Catholicism, with some Lutheran theologians bestowing great importance on the visible church and the sacraments and ritual. These tendencies were exemplified in the thought of Wilhelm Löhe. A more democratic understanding of the church was promulgated in North America by the Missouri Synod theologian C.F.W. Walther. The most influential conception of the visible church was the historical-evolutionary doctrine of the German theologian Albrecht Ritschl, who saw the institutional church as the actualization of the Kingdom of God progressively realized in history.

The Lutheran confessions recognize two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. According to Lutheran teaching, the sacraments are acts instituted by Christ and connected with a divine promise. Faith is necessary for a salvatory reception of the sacrament. Thus, Lutherans reject the notion that the sacraments are effective ex opere operato (operative apart from faith) or that they are only symbolic actions.

The Lutheran affirmation that in the Lord’s Supper Christ is bodily present “in, with, and under bread and wine” proved to be the great divisive issue of the 16th century. The Lutheran teaching of the “real” presence left open the question of whether Christ is present in the bread and wine because he is present everywhere, ubiquitously, as some Lutherans contend, or because he promises to be specifically present in the elements. In either case, Lutherans reject the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, which asserts that the bread and wine are transformed into the literal body and blood of Christ, as an inappropriate use of philosophical categories to express biblical truth. Most Lutheran churches allow participation in the Lord’s Supper to all baptized Christians who affirm the real presence of Christ in the elements of the bread and wine. Late 20th-century Lutheran theology, notably that of Wolfhart Pannenberg, sought to steer away from the elements of the bread and wine and to emphasize the notion of the Lord’s Supper as a meal with the resurrected Jesus.

The ministry is understood as preaching and the administration of the sacraments. Unlike the ministry of the Roman Catholic Church, however, it does not entail a special status for the minister. Lutherans affirm the priesthood of all believers, according to which every baptized Christian may carry out, when properly called, the functions of ministry. While preaching and administration of the sacraments ordinarily is done by “rightly called” (ordained) ministers, Lutherans allow laypersons to carry out these functions when properly authorized.

Lutheran churches have not insisted on uniformity of the liturgy or even on uniformity of church structure. There have been Lutheran bishops in Scandinavia ever since the 16th century, whereas in Germany and North America other designations for such supervisory positions have been used. The title of bishop is accepted in the ELCA but not in the Missouri or the Wisconsin synod.

In 1970 both the LCA and the ALC approved the ordination of women, a practice carried over into the ELCA. The ordination of women is accepted by all Lutheran churches in Europe and North America except the Missouri and Wisconsin synods. Women were first ordained in Denmark in 1948. In Norway the parliament decreed the ordination of women in 1938, an act fiercely resisted by the overwhelming majority of bishops (the first woman was not ordained, however, until 1961). Most German Lutheran churches endorsed the change soon after the Norwegian decree.

Teachings » Church and state
Lutheran theology has understood the relationship between church and state in terms of God’s two ways of ruling in the world (two “realms” or “kingdoms”). The distinction is similar to that made by St. Augustine between the City of God and the City of the World. Luther argued that God governs the world in two ways: through orders of creation, such as government and marriage, which stem from God’s desire that all people everywhere live in peace and harmony, and through his Word and Gospel, though these apply only to Christians. These two domains of power and grace are interdependent because the Gospel itself cannot preserve societal peace and justice, and civil government cannot effect salvation. Although this conception allowed North American Lutherans to accept the separation of church and state in the United States and elsewhere, it also meant that Lutheranism, unlike Calvinism, made little effort to “Christianize” the social and political order. Historically, this entailed the autonomy of the secular realm, even a certain subservience of the religious to the secular. Quite consistently, when the German peasants staged an uprising in 1524–25, Luther forcefully argued that social and political demands cannot be justified by the Gospel.

Lutheran theology stressed obedience to government as a Christian duty and did not, as did Reformed theology, produce a fully developed doctrine of resistance against tyrannical governments. Luther advocated resistance only if the preaching of the Gospel was in jeopardy. This principle was first put to the test in the middle of the 16th century, when the Lutheran city of Magdeburg successfully resisted Emperor Charles V’s reintroduction of Catholicism.

Nazi totalitarianism caught German Lutheranism unprepared to offer a clear rationale for opposing tyranny. The weakness of Lutheran theology on this point became evident during the period of Nazi rule. Thus, when the government decreed racially exclusionary laws, which had implications for the churches, most Lutheran theologians conceded that it had the authority to do so under the divine order. The impact of Nazi Germany and other totalitarian regimes led some Lutheran church leaders, such as the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Norwegian bishop Eivind Berggrav, to reconsider the traditional Lutheran view.

Teachings » Ethics
Lutheran ethical teaching has been described as centring on faith active in love, which means that the believer makes moral choices in freedom, without preset rules and laws. Lutheranism has thus eschewed the notion of a specifically Christian ethos but has insisted that the place of ethical endeavour is the common ordinary life, in which Christian believers are called upon to serve their neighbours. This ethical teaching, therefore, emphasized the sacredness of all human activities and maintained that an ethical life should be pursued apart from legalistic rules in what Martin Luther called “Christian freedom.”

Worship and organization » Liturgy and music
Although Luther retained the basic structure of the mass and liturgy, he introduced significant changes in the worship service, primarily of a theological nature, in writings such as the German Mass of 1526. The emphasis in the traditional mass on the reiteration of the sacrifice of Jesus was replaced by an emphasis on thanksgiving. Luther saw the sacrament of the altar (the Lord’s Supper) not as an autonomous form of the Gospel but as a proclamation of it. Therefore, he retained only the recitation of the words of institution (“In the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus…”) from the prayer of thanksgiving. Because of the importance placed on the Bible, the sermon occupied the pivotal place in worship.

In the early 21st century, most Lutheran churches followed essentially the same order of worship. It consisted of two main parts, Word (Liturgy of the Word) and the Lord’s Supper, both understood as the proclamation of the Gospel. The liturgical movement in the 20th century, which sought to restore the active role of the laity in church services, affected Lutheranism by deemphasizing the didactic sermon and increasing the frequency of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Other liturgical revisions (in Sweden in 1942, in Germany in 1954, and in North America in 1941, 1958, and 1978) increased the uniformity of Lutheran worship beyond national boundaries. Although traditionally only confirmed members received the Communion elements, in 1970 both the Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church endorsed participation in the Lord’s Supper for baptized younger children, even for those who have not been confirmed. In the decades following the reform, a tendency emerged in the ELCA to allow even young children to receive the bread and wine.

Other rites of the Lutheran churches are baptism, confirmation, ordination, marriage, and burial. Lutherans practice infant baptism. In confirmation (which usually occurs between the ages of 10 and 15), the individual publicly professes the faith received in baptism.

Lutheranism made an important contribution to Protestant hymnody, which not only conveyed the evangelical teaching but also allowed for increased popular participation in worship. Many of the well-known Lutheran hymns come from the 16th and 17th centuries, notably A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, by Martin Luther, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, by Paul Gerhardt, and Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying, by Philipp Nicolai. American Lutherans have been heir to this heritage, but since the 19th century they have also embraced the hymnody of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism. Hymns from the 20th century, such as those by the German composer Hugo Distler, have been adopted somewhat more sparingly, though in the early 21st century, as evidenced by the new ELCA hymnal and worship book, Evangelical Worship, a persistent effort was under way to make Lutheran hymnody contemporary and multicultural.

Worship and organization » Organization
The polity of the Lutheran churches differs between Scandinavia and Germany, with North American Lutheranism and Lutheran churches on other continents reflecting both traditions. The Church of Sweden, which ended its status as a state church in 2000, has maintained the episcopal office (and with it episcopal succession), and its local congregations have considerable freedom to appoint their own pastors. The Danish Church first rejected then reintroduced the episcopal office. In Norway the ties between church and state had traditionally been closer than in the other Scandinavian countries, with the parliament exercising a major voice in church affairs, but in 2006 the General Synod of the Church of Norway agreed that church and state should separate in Norway. Since 1869 the Finnish Church has been independent of state control but is supported by public funds.

Until the end of World War I, the administrative affairs of the Lutheran churches in Germany were handled by government offices, with the ruler exercising important power as summepiskopus, or presiding bishop, a system of church governance that emerged from the Reformation. With the establishment of the Weimar Republic, the regional Lutheran churches (Landeskirchen) adopted new constitutions that in some provinces placed the congregations under a superintendent and a general synod while in others they were placed under a bishop. These Landeskirchen consisted of 15 Lutheran and 12 Prussian Union synods along with one Reformed synod. These churches were united in 1922 in the German Evangelical Church Federation (Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchenbund). For Lutherans the concurrent existence of both Lutheran churches and churches of the Prussian Union in the federation was highly problematic, since it posed the question of the federation’s theological viability. Confessional Lutherans insisted on the creation of an Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (ELKD; Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche Deutschlands).

After the end of World War II, the Lutheran, Prussian Union, and Reformed Landeskirchen organized the Evangelical Church in Germany (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, EKD), under the leadership of bishops Theophil Wurm and Hans Meiser and Pastor Martin Niemöller. The member churches of the EKD adopted the Declaration of Barmen, with its expression of the communalities of the Lutheran and Reformed traditions, as a foundational statement. To safeguard Lutheran confessional concerns, the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (Vereinigte Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche Deutschlands, VELKD) was established in 1948 as the federation of Lutheran regional churches. By the late 20th and early 21st century, efforts had begun to integrate the VELKD more fully into the EKD.

Despite the division of Germany into four Allied zones of occupation at the end of World War II, the EKD encompassed both East and West Germany. The creation of the East German and West German states in 1949 initially did not mean the end of the EKD. In 1968 pressure from the East German government forced the East German churches to leave the EKD and establish their own East German Evangelical federation (United Evangelical Lutheran Church in the German Democratic Republic).

East German Lutherans, living in a society that was hostile to Christianity and intermittently persecuted Christians, sought to avoid confrontations with the state, even when it decreed an all but mandatory “youth consecration,” which was to replace confirmation. In contrast to communist Poland, where the Catholic Church did not shy from outright confrontation with the regime, East German Lutherans were determined to cooperate with the state whenever possible while at the same time affirming the need for the church to be the church. This strategy was expressed in the slogan “church within socialism.” By the late 1970s a rapprochement with the communist regime had begun to take place. Nonetheless, membership in the Lutheran churches declined significantly in the roughly half-century of communist rule in East Germany. When the German Democratic Republic began to experience a series of human rights demonstrations in 1988 and 1989, Lutheran pastors and churches were in the forefront of the demand for greater civil liberties, thus playing an important role in the eventual disintegration of the East German state. The unification of Germany in 1990, however, had little impact on church membership, as the downward trend begun during communist rule continued. In the early 21st century less than 20 percent of the population of the former German Democratic Republic belonged to a Christian church.

In the United States the polity of the Lutheran churches is congregational, but in a complex form in which congregations yield some authority to synods on regional and national levels. Elected heads are called presidents in some Lutheran bodies, such as the Lutheran Church– Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran Church, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America uses the term bishop for its 65 synodical leaders. It also has a “presiding bishop,” elected to a six-year term, who guides churchwide activities and initiatives. An assembly of all member churches meets every two years and is the legislative body of the ELCA. Besides these larger Lutheran church bodies, there are a number of smaller Lutheran churches both in Europe (e.g., the Evangelical Lutheran [Old Lutheran] Church in Germany) and in the United States (e.g., the Church of the Lutheran Confession or the Apostolic Lutheran Church), which have greater congregational autonomy.

A global association of Lutheran churches was first established in the Lutheran World Conventions, which met at Eisenach in 1923 and in Copenhagen in 1929. In 1947 it assumed permanent form as the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), an umbrella organization of the various national Lutheran churches. The LWF has no authority to speak for worldwide Lutheranism and mainly serves as a forum for intra-Lutheran discussion and ecumenical consultation with other churches. The LWF took the lead in ecumenical conversations with the Roman Catholic Church, which led to a Joint Declaration on justification, signed by representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the LWF in 1999. The document declared that no substantive theological differences exist between the positions of the two churches on the topic. However, among Lutheran theologians, especially in Germany, the “Joint Declaration” evoked intense criticism for being unfaithful to the Lutheran tradition, even as the Roman curia also recorded reservations about the document, which nonetheless is understood as a milestone in Lutheran-Catholic relations.

The most exciting development of the 20th century was the dramatic expansion of Lutheranism beyond its European (and North American) homelands. Of the 65 million Lutherans who belonged to the LWF at the beginning of the 21st century, there were roughly 39 million in Europe, 5 million in North America, and 20 million in Asia and Africa. This new geographical diversity has created the same challenge for Lutheranism as it has for other global but originally European churches: that of maintaining traditional European and North American leadership in thought and practice as more and more adherents are found in other parts of the world. In the early 21st century there were about 30 Lutheran church bodies, with some 15 million members altogether, in Africa and more than 40 churches, with some 8 million members, in Asia.

Hans J. Hillerbrand


The Organization of the Protestants and the Religious Peace of Augsburg in 1555

After 1530, a large portion of the empire became Protestant. The emperor won the religious wars against the Schmalkaldic League, but the Protestants, who were supported by France, the rivals of the Habsburgs, won the balance of power in the Peace of Augsburg of 1555.


Holy Roman Emperor Charles V ruled a vast empire on which "the sun never set"—it spanned Spain, the New World, Austria, northern Italy, and the Netherlands. He completely understood the necessity of Church reforms, yet his claim to a universal empire also required that all his subjects be of a unified religion. He therefore saw the Reformation as a politically destabilizing factor and fought energetically against it.

As he was often absent from the empire, he had his brother 8 Ferdinand I crowned Roman king of the Germans in 1531.

Ferdinand was then responsible for negotiation between the Protestant and Catholic imperial princes and maintaining peace.

The elector of Saxony and Count 9 Philip the Magnanimous of Hesse placed themselves at the head of the Reformation movement and supported Luther in developing evangelical state churches.

The new state churches did not answer to a higher church authority, which meant a huge increase in their power and influence. In 1530, the Protestant princes formulated their 'Augsburg Confession" and presented it before the Diet, and in 1531 they organized as the Schmalkaldic League. When Brandenburg declared itself on the side of the Reformation in 1539, the whole of the southwest, east, and north of the empire—with the exception of Brunswick-Wolfenbiittel—was Protestant. The German princes secularized Catholic dioceses and installed their younger sons in them as hereditary rulers, hereby forcing the emperor's hand, by challenging his rule in numerous territories of the empire.

8 The later German king and Emperor Ferdinand I, painting, 1521
9 Count Philip the Magnanimous of Hesse, painting, ca. 1534
10 The elector Duke Maurice of Saxony, painting by Lucas Cranach, 1548



see also




Antony van Dyck


In the wars of the protestant 11 Schmalkaldic League, Charles V defeated the Protestants under the leadership of Saxony and Hesse, captured Count Philip, and transferred the Saxon electoral lands and titles to Duke 10 Maurice of Saxony, who had fought on his side.

However, Maurice then changed sides and marched to Austria as leader of the regrouped princes' opposition in 1551—1552, forcing the emperor to flee. In 1552 Maurice extracted from King Ferdinand the Peace of Passau, which guaranteed the Protestants freedom of religion. This treaty prepared the way for the Peace of Augsburg between the emperor and the Protestants, which was signed on September 25,1555. It stipulated that each prince could determine the religion of his territories and that of his subjects ("Cuius regio, eius religio"). Maurice of Saxony was also able to acquire vast lands and power for his family.

Emperor Charles V triumphs over the Saxon army in the
Battle at Muehlberg during the Schmalkaldic War of 1546-1 547, copper engraving, 17th century

The Schmalkaldic War

(German: Schmalkaldischer Krieg) refers to the short period of violence from 1546 until 1547 between the forces of Charles V and the Schmalkaldic League within the domains of the Holy Roman Empire.

The war began when Maurice, the Duke (and later, Elector) of Albertine Saxony, invaded the lands of his rival and stepbrother in Ernestine Saxony, John Frederick, for political reasons (both rulers were Protestant). As John Frederick was co-founder of the Schmalkaldic League, his allies joined him in a fight against the Catholics, including Charles V, who sided with Maurice.

John Frederick quickly liberated Ernestine Saxony with his army, located in nearby Württemberg at the time. He then occupied Albertine Saxony and Bohemia. Because the Protestants of Bohemia did not provide military assistance, as he had hoped for, the imperial forces of Charles V forced him into retreat. Due to disagreement in strategy, the League's defenses were routed on 24 April 1547, at the Battle of Mühlberg, where John Frederick was taken prisoner.

After the battle, which determined the result of the war, only two cities continued to resist: Bremen and Magdeburg. Both cities refused to pay the fines Charles imposed on them and avoided occupation by imperial troops. In the case of Bremen, 12,000 imperial soldiers under the command of Eric II, Duke of Calenberg unsuccessfully laid siege from January until May. Next to the imperial army were Hungarian forces (aprox. 3-4000 cavalry). Ferdinand I, Duke of Austria obligate Hungary to do the war, whereat Austria give a hand against the Ottoman Empire. This event led to the Battle of Drakenburg on 23 May 1547, as a Protestant army of the Schmalkaldic League was plundering the nearby Duchy of Calenberg. His men and supplies exhausted, Eric and his imperial forces went to confront the army and were quickly defeated. During the fighting, Eric was forced to swim over the Weser River in order to save his own life. As a consequence of the Battle of Drakenburg, the imperial troops left northern Germany.

Although the imperial forces were victorious over the Protestant forces of the Schmalkaldic League, the ideas of Martin Luther had spread over the empire such that they could not be suppressed with physical force. An official religious settlement arrived eight years later in the form of the Peace of Augsburg.



Henry the Younger of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel

Henry the Younger (1489-1568), who strongly opposed the
Reformation, was an absolutist ruler of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel since 1514, remained a strict Catholic and loyal to the emperor while the other Welfs became Protestant. He fought against the Protestant cities of Brunswick and Lubeck.

An intensive literary polemic was created around "Hank of Wolfenbuttel"; Martin Luther wrote "Against Hanswurst" about him in 1541. His ousting in 1542 eventually provoked the religious wars of the Schmalkaldic League. When Henry died in 1568, his son Julius converted to Protestantism.

Henry the Younger



The Division of the Empire and Calvinism

Despite being left out of the Peace of Augsburg, Calvinism was later able to gain a foothold in the empire while the emperor endeavored to reach religious compromises.


Fatigued and sick with gout, 1 Charles V gave up the throne in 1556, splitting his enormous empire between his brother Ferdinand (the Austrian line) and his son Philip (the Spanish line).

3 Ferdinand I, who in 1526 had inherited the crown of Bohemia and Hungary, received Austria and the title of emperor in 1558.

1 The German Emperor Charles V, archduke
of Austria, and also Charles I of Spain,
painting by Titian, 1548

3 The German Emperor Ferdinand I,
archduke of Austria, king of Bohemia
and Hungary, painting, ca. 1550

The religious and political peace in the empire remained volatile. Ferdinand had been able to include a clause in the Peace of Augsburg stipulating that a prince was required to relinquish his power if he converted to Protestantism, but the Protestants were always able to work around this requirement. Furthermore, the Catholic majority of the seven electoral votes was minimal after Brandenburg, the Palatinate, and Saxony had become Protestant.

Meanwhile, the Reformation movement was also divided by doctrinal differences.

In 1525 4 Huldrych Zwingli, a former Roman Catholic priest, had brought the Reformation to Zurich, but his version differed from the Lutheran, above all over the issue of Communion.

Of even greater consequence was 2 John Calvin's 1541 brand of Reformation in Geneva, which introduced a severe church discipline and established a form of theocracy in the city.

4 Huldrych Zwingli, former Catholic priest
and German-Swiss reformer,
painting by Hans Asper, 1549

2 The French-Swiss reformer John Calvin,
painting in the style of the Flemish school,
ca. 1530

see also


Calvinism spread rapidly to France, the Netherlands, and the west of the empire. In 1560s the Palatinate electorate under Frederick III the Piovis converted to Calvinism, and western German earldoms such as Nassau followed. Because the Calvinists had not been included in the Peace of Augsburg, the Palatinate leaned heavily toward France under Frederick III and even more so under his son John Casimir, bringing the emperor into great difficulties.

Charles V and Ferdinand I had repeatedly urged the pope to make the reforms to the Catholic Church that were finally made by the Council of Trent, which met intermittently between 1545 and 1563 and which redefined Catholic doctrine. Ferdinand remained a Catholic but was ready to make concessions, for example, over the issue of the marriage of priests, which he was prepared to allow in view of the many priests cohabiting.

His son 5 Maximilian II, emperor from 1564, was indifferent to religion, if anything leaning slightly toward Protestantism.

The political lines were vague: Saxony under 6 Elector August (elector since 1553) fought for the rights of the Protestants, but remained staunchly on the side of the emperor; on the other hand, the Catholic dukes of Bavaria were ready to weaken the Habsburgs to their own advantage. Protestantism was at the height of its power in the empire under Maximilian, when most of the important imperial cities had become Protestant.

5 The Emperor Maximilian II,
painting by Anthonis Ìîr, ñà. 1560

6 Elector August of Saxony,
painting by Zacharias Wehme, 1586


John Calvin


French theologian
French Jean Calvin, or Cauvin

born July 10, 1509, Noyon, Picardy, France
died May 27, 1564, Geneva, Switz.

theologian and ecclesiastical statesman. He was the leading French Protestant Reformer and the most important figure in the second generation of the Protestant Reformation. His interpretation of Christianity, advanced above all in his Institutio Christianae religionis (1536 but elaborated in later editions; Institutes of the Christian Religion), and the institutional and social patterns he worked out for Geneva deeply influenced Protestantism elsewhere in Europe and in North America. The Calvinist form of Protestantism is widely thought to have had a major impact on the formation of the modern world.

This article deals with the man and his achievements. For a further treatment of Calvinism, see Calvinism and Protestantism.

Life and works
Calvin was of middle-class parents. His father, a lay administrator in the service of the local bishop, sent him to the University of Paris in 1523 to be educated for the priesthood but later decided that he should be a lawyer; from 1528 to 1531, therefore, Calvin studied in the law schools of Orléans and Bourges. He then returned to Paris. During these years he was also exposed to Renaissance humanism, influenced by Erasmus and Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples, which constituted the radical student movement of the time. This movement, which antedates the Reformation, aimed to reform church and society on the model of both classical and Christian antiquity, to be established by a return to the Bible studied in its original languages. It left an indelible mark on Calvin. Under its influence he studied Greek and Hebrew as well as Latin, the three languages of ancient Christian discourse, in preparation for serious study of the Scriptures. It also intensified his interest in the classics; his first publication (1532) was a commentary on Seneca’s essay on clemency. But the movement, above all, emphasized salvation of individuals by grace rather than good works and ceremonies.
Calvin’s Paris years came to an abrupt end late in 1533. Because the government became less tolerant of this reform movement, Calvin, who had collaborated in the preparation of a strong statement of theological principles for a public address delivered by Nicolas Cop, rector of the university, found it prudent to leave Paris. Eventually he made his way to Basel, then Protestant but tolerant of religious variety. Up to that point, however, there is little evidence of Calvin’s conversion to Protestantism, an event difficult to date because it was probably gradual. His beliefs before his flight to Switzerland were probably not incompatible with Roman Catholic orthodoxy. But they underwent a change when he began to study theology intensively in Basel. Probably in part to clarify his own beliefs, he began to write. He began with a preface to a French translation of the Bible by his cousin Pierre Olivétan and then undertook what became the first edition of the Institutes, his masterwork, which, in its successive revisions, became the single most important statement of Protestant belief. Calvin published later editions in both Latin and French, containing elaborated and in a few cases revised teachings and replies to his critics. The final versions appeared in 1559 and 1560. The Institutes also reflected the findings of Calvin’s massive biblical commentaries, which, presented extemporaneously in Latin as lectures to ministerial candidates from many countries, make up the largest proportion of his works. In addition he wrote many theological and polemical treatises.
The 1536 Institutes had given Calvin some reputation among Protestant leaders. Therefore, on discovering that Calvin was spending a night in Geneva late in 1536, the Reformer and preacher Guillaume Farel, then struggling to plant Protestantism in that town, persuaded him to remain to help in this work. The Reformation was in trouble in Geneva, a town of about 10,000 where Protestantism had only the shallowest of roots. Other towns in the region, initially ruled by their prince-bishops, had successfully won self-government much earlier, but Geneva had lagged behind in this process largely because its prince-bishop was supported by the neighbouring duke of Savoy. There had been iconoclastic riots in Geneva in the mid-1520s, but these had negligible theological foundations. Protestantism had been imposed on religiously unawakened Geneva chiefly as the price of military aid from Protestant Bern. The limited enthusiasm of Geneva for Protestantism, reflected by a resistance to religious and moral reform, continued almost until Calvin’s death. The resistance was all the more serious because the town council in Geneva, as in other Protestant towns, exercised ultimate control over the church and the ministers, all French refugees. The main issue was the right of excommunication, which the ministers regarded as essential to their authority but which the council refused to concede. The uncompromising attitudes of Calvin and Farel finally resulted in their expulsion from Geneva in May 1538.
Calvin found refuge for the next three years in the German Protestant city of Strasbourg, where he was pastor of a church for French-speaking refugees and also lectured on the Bible; there he published his commentary on the Letter of Paul to the Romans. There too, in 1540, he married Idelette de Bure, the widow of a man he had converted from Anabaptism. Although none of their children survived infancy, their marital relationship proved to be extremely warm. During his Strasbourg years Calvin also learned much about the administration of an urban church from Martin Bucer, its chief pastor. Meanwhile Calvin’s attendance at various international religious conferences made him acquainted with other Protestant leaders and gave him experience in debating with Roman Catholic theologians. Henceforth he was a major figure in international Protestantism.
In September 1541 Calvin was invited back to Geneva, where the Protestant revolution, without strong leadership, had become increasingly insecure. Because he was now in a much stronger position, the town council in November enacted his Ecclesiastical Ordinances, which provided for the religious education of the townspeople, especially children, and instituted Calvin’s conception of church order. It also established four groups of church officers: pastors and teachers to preach and explain the Scriptures, elders representing the congregation to administer the church, and deacons to attend to its charitable responsibilities. In addition it set up a consistory of pastors and elders to make all aspects of Genevan life conform to God’s law. It undertook a wide range of disciplinary actions covering everything from the abolition of Roman Catholic “superstition” to the enforcement of sexual morality, the regulation of taverns, and measures against dancing, gambling, and swearing. These measures were resented by a significant element of the population, and the arrival of increasing numbers of French religious refugees in Geneva was a further cause of native discontent. These tensions, as well as the persecution of Calvin’s followers in France, help to explain the trial and burning of Michael Servetus, a Spanish theologian preaching and publishing unorthodox beliefs. When Servetus unexpectedly arrived in Geneva in 1553, both sides felt the need to demonstrate their zeal for orthodoxy. Calvin was responsible for Servetus’ arrest and conviction, though he had preferred a less brutal form of execution.
The struggle over control of Geneva lasted until May 1555, when Calvin finally prevailed and could devote himself more wholeheartedly to other matters. He had constantly to watch the international scene and to keep his Protestant allies in a common front. Toward this end he engaged in a massive correspondence with political and religious leaders throughout Protestant Europe. He also continued his commentaries on Scripture, working through the whole New Testament except the Revelation to John and most of the Old Testament. Many of these commentaries were promptly published, often with dedications to such European rulers as Queen Elizabeth, though Calvin had too little time to do much of the editorial work himself. Committees of amanuenses took down what he said, prepared a master copy, and then presented it to Calvin for approval. During this period Calvin also established the Genevan Academy to train students in humanist learning in preparation for the ministry and positions of secular leadership. He also performed a wide range of pastoral duties, preaching regularly and often, doing numerous weddings and baptisms, and giving spiritual advice. Worn out by so many responsibilities and suffering from a multitude of ailments, he died in 1564.

Unlike Martin Luther, Calvin was a reticent man; he rarely expressed himself in the first person singular. This reticence has contributed to his reputation as cold, intellectual, and humanly unapproachable. His thought, from this perspective, has been interpreted as abstract and concerned with timeless issues rather than as the response of a sensitive human being to the needs of a particular historical situation. Those who knew him, however, perceived him differently, remarking on his talent for friendship but also on his hot temper. Moreover, the intensity of his grief on the death of his wife, as well as his empathic reading of many passages in Scripture, revealed a large capacity for feeling.
Calvin’s facade of impersonality can now be understood as concealing an unusually high level of anxiety about the world around him, about the adequacy of his own efforts to deal with its needs, and about human salvation, notably including his own. He believed that every Christian—and he certainly included himself—suffers from terrible bouts of doubt. From this perspective the need for control both of oneself and the environment, often discerned in Calvinists, can be understood as a function of Calvin’s own anxiety.
Calvin’s anxiety found expression in two metaphors for the human condition that appear again and again in his writings: as an abyss in which human beings have lost their way and as a labyrinth from which they cannot escape. Calvinism as a body of thought must be understood as the product of Calvin’s effort to escape from the terrors conveyed by these metaphors.

Intellectual formation
Historians are generally agreed that Calvin is to be understood primarily as a Renaissance humanist who aimed to apply the novelties of humanism to recover a biblical understanding of Christianity. Thus he sought to appeal rhetorically to the human heart rather than to compel agreement, in the traditional manner of systematic theologians, by demonstrating dogmatic truths. His chief enemies, indeed, were the systematic theologians of his own time, the Scholastics, both because they relied too much on human reason rather than the Bible and because their teachings were lifeless and irrelevant to a world in desperate need. Calvin’s humanism meant first that he thought of himself as a biblical theologian in accordance with the Reformation slogan scriptura sola. He was prepared to follow Scripture even when it surpassed the limits of human understanding, trusting to the Holy Spirit to inspire faith in its promises. Like other humanists, he was also deeply concerned to remedy the evils of his own time; and here too he found guidance in Scripture. Its teachings could not be presented as a set of timeless abstractions but had to be brought to life by adapting them to the understanding of contemporaries according to the rhetorical principle of decorum—i.e., suitability to time, place, and audience.
Calvin’s humanism influenced his thought in two other basic ways. For one, he shared with earlier Renaissance humanists an essentially biblical conception of the human personality, comprehending it not as a hierarchy of faculties ruled by reason but as a mysterious unity in which what is primary is not what is highest but what is central: the heart. This conception assigned more importance to will and feelings than to the intellect, and it also gave new dignity to the body. For this reason Calvin rejected the ascetic disregard of the body’s needs that was often prominent in medieval spirituality. Implicit in this particular rejection of the traditional hierarchy of faculties in the personality, however, was a radical rejection of the traditional belief that hierarchy was the basis of all order. For Calvin, instead, the only foundation for order in human affairs was utility. Among its other consequences this position undermined the traditional one subordinating women to men. Calvin believed that, for practical reasons, it may be necessary for some to command and others to obey, but it could no longer be argued that women must naturally be subordinated to men. This helps to explain the rejection in Geneva of the double standard in sexual morality.
Second, Calvin’s utilitarianism, as well as his understanding of the human personality as both less and more than intellectual, was also reflected in deep reservations about the capacity of human beings for anything but practical knowledge. The notion that they can know anything absolutely, as God knows, so to speak, seemed to him highly presumptuous. This conviction helps to explain his reliance on the Bible. Calvin believed that human beings have access to the saving truths of religion only insofar as God has revealed them in Scripture. But revealed truths were not given to satisfy human curiosity but were limited to meeting the most urgent and practical needs of human existence, above all for salvation. This emphasis on practicality reflects a basic conviction of Renaissance humanism: the superiority of an active earthly life devoted to meeting practical needs to a life of contemplation. Calvin’s conviction that every occupation in society is a “calling” on the part of God himself sanctified this conception. Calvin thus spelled out the theological implications of Renaissance humanism in various ways.
But Calvin was not purely a Renaissance humanist. The culture of the 16th century was peculiarly eclectic, and, like other thinkers of his time, Calvin had inherited a set of contrary tendencies, which he uneasily combined with his humanism. He was an unsystematic thinker not only because he was a humanist but also because 16th-century thinkers lacked the historical perspective that would have enabled them to sort out the diverse materials in their culture. Thus, even as he emphasized the heart, Calvin continued also to think of the human personality in traditional terms as a hierarchy of faculties ruled by reason. He sometimes attributed a large place to reason even in religion and emphasized the importance of rational control over the passions and the body. The persistence of these traditional attitudes in Calvin’s thought, however, helps to explain its broad appeal; they were reassuring to conservatives.

Calvin has often been seen as little more than a systematizer of the more creative insights of Luther. He followed Luther on many points: on original sin, Scripture, the absolute dependence of human beings on divine grace, and justification by faith alone. But Calvin’s differences with Luther are of major significance, even though some were largely matters of emphasis. Calvin was thus perhaps more impressed than Luther by God’s transcendence and by his control over the world; Calvin emphasized God’s power and glory, whereas Luther often thought of God as the babe in the manger, here among human beings. Contrary to a general impression, Calvin’s understanding of predestination was also virtually identical with Luther’s (and indeed is close to that of Thomas Aquinas); and, although Calvin may have stated it more emphatically, the issue itself is not of central importance to his theology. He considered it a great mystery, to be approached with fear and trembling and only in the context of faith. Seen in this way, predestination seemed to him a comforting doctrine; it meant that salvation would be taken care of by a loving and utterly reliable God.
But in major respects Calvin departed from Luther. In some ways Calvin was more radical. Though he agreed with Luther on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, he understood this in a completely spiritual sense. But most of his differences suggest that he was closer to the old church than was Luther, as in his ecclesiology, which recognized the institutional church in this world, as Luther did not, as the true church. He was also more traditional in his clericalism; his belief in the authority of clergy over laity was hardly consistent with Luther’s stress on the priesthood of all believers. He insisted, too, on the necessity of a holy life, at least as a sign of genuine election. Even more significant, especially for Calvinism as a historical force, was Calvin’s attitude toward the world. Luther had regarded this world and its institutions as incorrigible and was prepared to leave them to the Devil, a far more important figure in his spiritual universe than in Calvin’s. But for Calvin this world was created by God and still belonged to him. It was still potentially Christ’s kingdom, and every Christian was obligated to struggle to make it so in reality by bringing it under God’s law.

Calvin’s reservations about the capacities of the human mind and his insistence that Christians exert themselves to bring the world under the rule of Christ suggest that it is less instructive to approach his thought as a theology to be comprehended by the mind than as a set of principles for the Christian life—in short, as spirituality. His spirituality begins with the conviction that human beings do not so much “know” God as “experience” him indirectly, through his mighty acts and works in the world, as they experience but can hardly be said to know thunder, one of Calvin’s favourite metaphors for religious experience. Such experience of God gives them confidence in his power and stimulates them to praise and worship him.
At the same time that Calvin stressed God’s power, he also depicted God as a loving father. Indeed, although Calvinism is often considered one of the most patriarchal forms of Christianity, Calvin recognized that God is commonly experienced as a mother. He denounced those who represent God as dreadful; God for him is “mild, kind, gentle, and compassionate.” Human beings can never praise him properly, Calvin declared, “until he wins us by the sweetness of his goodness.” That God loves and cares for his human creatures was, for Calvin, what distinguished his doctrine of providence from that of the Stoics.
Calvin’s understanding of Christianity is thus in many ways gentler than has been commonly supposed. This is also shown in his understanding of original sin. Although he insisted on the “total depravity” of human nature after the Fall, he did not mean by this that there is nothing good left in human beings but rather that there is no agency within the personality left untouched by the Fall on which to depend for salvation. The intention of the doctrine is practical: to reinforce dependence on Christ and the free grace of God. In fact, unlike some of his followers, Calvin believed in the survival after the Fall, however weak, of the original marks of God’s image, in which human beings were created. “It is always necessary to come back to this,” he declared, “that God never created a man on whom he did not imprint his image.” At times, to be sure, Calvin’s denunciations of sin give a very different impression. But it should be kept in mind that as a humanist and a rhetorician Calvin was less concerned to be theologically precise than to impress his audience with the need to repent of its sins.
The problem posed by sin was, for Calvin, not that it had destroyed the spiritual potentialities of human beings but rather that human beings had lost their ability to use their potentialities. Through the Fall they had been alienated from God, who is the source of all power, energy, warmth, and vitality. Sin, on the contrary, had exposed the human race to death, the negation of God’s life-giving powers. Human beings thus experience the effects of sin as drowsiness when they should be alert, as apathy when they should feel concern, as sloth when they should be diligent, as coldness when they should be warm, as weakness when they need strength. Thus also, since the Devil, who seeks to drain human beings of their God-given spirituality, tries to lull them to sleep, God must employ various stratagems to awaken them. This helps to explain the troubles that afflict the elect: God threatens, chastises, and compels them to remember him by making their lives go badly.
The effect of sin also prevents human beings from reacting with appropriate wonder to the marvels of the world. The failure of spirituality is the primary obstacle to an affective knowledge that, unlike mere intellectual apprehension, can move the whole personality. Calvin attached particular importance to the way in which sin deadens the feelings, but spiritual knowledge renews the connection, broken by sin, between knowledge, feeling, and action. Thus God’s spirit, in all its manifestations, is the power of life. Calvin’s understanding of sin is closely related to his humanistic emphasis on activity.
As his emphasis on sanctification for the individual believer and on reconquering the world for Christ implies, Calvin’s spirituality also included a strong sense of history, which he perceived as a process in which God’s purposes are progressively realized. Therefore, the central elements of the Gospel—the Incarnation and Atonement, the grace available through them, the gift of faith by which human beings are enabled to accept this grace for themselves, and the sanctification that results—together describe objectively how human beings are enabled, step by step, to recover their original relationship with God and regain the energy coming from it. Calvin described this as a “quickening” that, in effect, brings the believer back from death to life and makes possible the most strenuous exertion in God’s service.
Calvin exploited two traditional metaphors for the life of a Christian. Living in an unusually militant age, he drew on the familiar idea of the believer’s life as a ceaseless, quasi-military struggle against the powers of evil both within the self and in the world. The Christian, in this conception, must struggle against his own wicked impulses, against the majority of the human race on behalf of the Gospel, and ultimately against the Devil. Paradoxically, however, Christian warfare consists less in inflicting wounds on others than in suffering the effects of sin patiently, that is, by bearing the cross. In Calvin’s thought the metaphor for the Christian life as conflict thus takes on the added meaning of acquiescence in suffering. The disasters that afflict human existence, though punishments for the wicked, are an education for the believer; they strengthen faith, develop humility, purge wickedness, and compel him to keep alert and look to God for help.
The second traditional metaphor for the Christian life employed by Calvin, that of a journey or pilgrimage—i.e., of a movement toward a goal—equally implied activity. “Our life is like a journey,” Calvin asserted; yet “it is not God’s will that we should march along casually as we please, but he sets the goal before us, and also directs us on the right way to it.” This way is also a struggle because no one moves easily forward and most are so weak that, “wavering and limping and even creeping along the ground, they move at a feeble pace.” Yet with God’s help everyone can daily make some advance, however slight. Notable in this conception is a single-mindedness often associated with Calvinism: Christians must look straight ahead to the goal and be distracted by nothing, looking neither to the right nor left. Calvin allows them to love the good things in this life, but only within limits.
Thus the Christian life is a strenuous progress in holiness, which, through the constant effort of the individual to make the whole world obedient to God, will also be reflected in the progressive sanctification of the world. These processes, however, will never be completed in this life. For Calvin even the most developed Christian in this world is like an adolescent, yearning to grow into, though still far from, the full stature of Christ. But, Calvin assured his followers, “each day in some degree our purity will increase and our corruption be cleansed as long as we live in the world,” and “the more we increase in knowledge, the more should we increase in love.” Meanwhile the faithful experience a vision, always more clear, of “God’s face, peaceful and calm and gracious toward us.” So the spiritual life, for Calvin as for many before him, culminates in the vision of God.

Calvin’s influence has persisted not only in the Reformed churches of France, Germany, Scotland, the Netherlands, and Hungary but also in the Church of England, where Calvin was long at least as highly regarded as among those Puritans who separated from the Anglican establishment. The latter organized their own churches, Presbyterian or Congregational, which brought Calvinism to North America. Even today these churches, along with the originally German Evangelical and Reformed Church, recall Calvin as their founding father. Eventually Calvinist theology was also widely accepted by major groups of Baptists; and even Unitarianism, which broke away from the Calvinist churches of New England in the 18th century, reflected the more rational impulses in Calvin’s theology. More recently Protestant interest in the social implications of the Gospel and Protestant neo-orthodoxy, as represented by Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, and Reinhold Niebuhr, reflects the continuing influence of John Calvin.
Calvin’s larger influence over the development of modern Western civilization has been variously assessed. The controversial “Weber thesis” attributed the rise of modern capitalism largely to Puritanism, but neither Max Weber, in his famous essay of 1904, “Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus” (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism), nor the great economic historian Richard Henry Tawney, in Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926), implicated Calvin himself in this development. Much the same thing can be said about efforts to link Calvinism to the rise of modern science; although Puritans were prominent in the scientific movement of 17th-century England, Calvin himself was indifferent to the science of his own day. A somewhat better case can be made for Calvin’s influence on political theory. His own political instincts were highly conservative, and he preached the submission of private persons to all legitimate authority. But, like Italian humanists, he personally preferred a republic to a monarchy. In confronting the problem posed by rulers who actively opposed the spread of the Gospel, he advanced a theory of resistance, kept alive by his followers, according to which lesser magistrates might legitimately rebel against kings. Unlike most of his contemporaries, furthermore, Calvin included among the proper responsibilities of states not only the maintenance of public order but also a positive concern for the general welfare of society.
Calvinism has a place, therefore, in the development of liberal political thought. Calvin’s major and most durable influence, nevertheless, has been religious. From his time to the present Calvinism has meant a peculiar seriousness about Christianity and its ethical implications.

William J. Bouwsma

Encyclopaedia Britannica





the theology advanced by John Calvin, a Protestant Reformer in the 16th century, and its development by his followers. The term also refers to doctrines and practices derived from the works of Calvin and his followers that are characteristic of the Reformed churches.

While Lutheranism was largely confined to parts of Germany and to Scandinavia, Calvinism spread into England, Scotland, France, the Netherlands, the English-speaking colonies of North America, and parts of Germany and central Europe. This expansion began during Calvin’s lifetime and was encouraged by him. Religious refugees poured into Geneva, especially from France during the 1550s as the French government became increasingly intolerant but also from England, Scotland, Italy, and other parts of Europe into which Calvinism had spread. Calvin welcomed them, trained many of them as ministers, sent them back to their countries of origin to spread the Gospel, and then supported them with letters of encouragement and advice. Geneva thus became the centre of an international movement and a model for churches elsewhere. John Knox, the Calvinist leader of Scotland, described Geneva as “the most perfect school of Christ that ever was on the earth since the days of the Apostles.”

Calvinism was immediately popular and was appealing across geographic and social boundaries. In France it was attractive primarily to the nobility and the urban upper classes, in Germany it found adherents among both burghers and princes, and in England and the Netherlands it made converts in every social group. In the Anglo-Saxon world, Calvinist notions found embodiment in English Puritanism, whose ethos proved vastly influential in North America beginning in the 17th century. It seems likely, therefore, that Calvinism’s appeal was based on its ability to explain disorders of the age afflicting all classes and to provide comfort by its activism and doctrine.

It is important to note that the later history of Calvinism has often been obscured by a failure to distinguish between Calvinism as the beliefs of Calvin himself; the beliefs of his followers, who, though striving to be faithful to Calvin, modified his teachings to meet their own needs; and, more loosely, the beliefs of the Reformed tradition of Protestant Christianity, in which Calvinism proper was only one, if historically the most prominent, strand. The Reformed churches consisted originally of a group of non-Lutheran Protestant churches in towns in Switzerland and southern Germany. These churches have always been jealous of their autonomy and individuality, and Geneva was not alone among them in having a distinguished theological leadership. Huldrych Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger in Zürich and Martin Bucer in Strasbourg were also influential throughout Europe. Their teachings, especially in England, combined with those of Calvin to shape what came to be called Calvinism.

Developments in Geneva are illustrative of the fate of Calvinism elsewhere. In 1619 they reached a climax at the Synod of Dort in the Netherlands, which spelled out various corollaries of predestination, as Calvin had never done, and made the doctrine central to Calvinism. Although the synod was provoked by a local controversy, it was attended by representatives of Reformed churches elsewhere and assumed universal importance.

Calvinism underwent further development as theologians, apparently dissatisfied with Calvin’s loose rhetorical writing, adopted the style of Scholastic theologians and even appealed to medieval Scholastic authorities. The major Calvinist theological statement of the 17th century was the Institutio Theologiae Elencticae (1688; Institutes of Elenctic Theology) of François Turretin, chief pastor of Geneva. Although the title of his work recalled Calvin’s masterpiece, the work itself bore little resemblance to the Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536); it was not published in the vernacular, and its dialectical structure followed the model of the great Summae of Thomas Aquinas and suggested Thomas’s confidence in the value of human reason. The lasting significance of this shift is suggested by the fact that Turretin’s work was the basic textbook in theology at the Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, the most distinguished intellectual centre of American Calvinism, until the middle of the 19th century.

Historians of Calvinism have continued to debate whether these developments were essentially faithful to the beliefs of Calvin or deviations from them. In some sense they were both. Although they abandoned Calvin’s humanism, there were precedents for these changes in the contrary aspects of his thought. They were untrue to Calvin, however, in rejecting his concern to balance contrary impulses. These changes, moreover, suggest the stage in the development of a movement that Max Weber called “routinization”—the stage that comes after a movement’s creative beginnings and, as a kind of reaction against the disorderly freedom of individual creativity, represents the quite different values of order and regularity. It is also relevant to explaining these changes in Calvinism that they occurred during a period of singular disorder, caused among other things by a century of religious warfare, which generally produced a longing for certainty, security, and peace.

William J. Bouwsma

Encyclopaedia Britannica



The Counter-Reformation and Intensifying Religious Differences within the Empire

Spreading from southern Germany, the Catholic Counter-Reformation gained ground. The confessional differences sharpened, culminating in the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War.


The beginning of the Catholic Counter-Reformation can be tied to the founding of the order of Jesuits by Ignatius of Loyola in 1540. The Bavarian dukes, among others, joined this order in 1564. The driving power behind it was the cardinal of Augsburg, Otto Truchsess of Waldburg, who unified Catholic forces.

In 1563 he handed over the University of Dillingen, which he had founded in 1554, to the 8 Jesuits, who were taking control of universities and establishing Catholic seminaries in all of the empire's territories.

8 The German Jesuit Petrus Canisius preaches
before Pope Gregory XIII and Emperor Rudolf II,
painting, 1635

Also, in Austria where the Protestants had won significant freedoms, Archduke Ferdinand—later Emperor Ferdinand II—increased his efforts for a return to Catholicism from 1594. Under the Emperor Rudolf II, whose reign began in 1576, the religious differences increased, especially after 1600 when the increasingly mentally ill emperor retired from public view. The occasion that sparked the war came during the crisis of Cologne in 1582-83, when Archbishop Geb-hard Truchsess of Waldburg—a nephew of Cardinal Otto—attempted to transform Cologne into a hereditary Protestant principality with the aid of Protestant German princes and Dutch Calvinists. As this would have meant the loss of the majority in the Electoral College, Catholic forces, with the help of Spain, drove the archbishop out of Cologne and installed the young line of Bavarian Wittelsbachs, which ruled until 1777.

Since 1606 the fraternal feud in the House of Habsburg had been weakening the central power.

Archduke Matthias won control over Hungary (1608) and Bohemia (1611) from Rudolf, who was by then almost incapable of governing. The emperor allied himself with the Protestant estates of Bohemia and granted them religious freedom in 1609.

All signs pointed to a storm in the empire when in 1607 11 Duke Maximilian I of Bavaria occupied the Protestant city of Donauworth, where a Catholic procession had been attacked, and reestablished Catholic rule.

10 The German emperor
Matthias, ca. 1580

11 Maximilian I, Duke and since
1623 first Elector of Bavaria, ca. 1620

As a result, the Protestant Union was formed in 1608 and, in response, the Catholic League in 1609.

The 9 battle lines of the Thirty Years' War had been drawn and the 7 Julich-Clevian dispute gave a foretaste of what was to come.

9 A protestant flyer with a polemical depiction of the "real church of Christ"
(Protestants) confronting the "antichrist" (Catholics) copper engraving, 1606

7 John Sigismund von Brandenburg in a dispute with
Wolfgang Wilhelm von Neuburg over the Julich-Clevian succession,
color print, 19th century



The Dispute over Succession in Julich-Cleves

By 1609, the religious wars were already imminent when the last Catholic duke of Julich and Cleves died and a dispute over the succession flared up. The princes of Brandenburg and Neuburg, both Protestant, each laid claim to the duchy.

They agreed upon a division of the territory in 1614 only after the Brandenburgs had secured Dutch help by converting to Calvinism, and the Neuburgs had received aid from the Wittelsbachs and the Spaniards once they had converted to Catholicism.




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