The Protestant Reformation

A History Changing Event...

Unit Summary

The Protestant Reformation is the name given to the religious reform movement that divided the western Church into Catholic and Protestant groups. Although Martin Luther officially began the Reformation, earlier developments had set the stage for the religious change. Leaders of the Church had been failing to meet their responsibilities, using their church offices to advance in their careers and wealth. Meanwhile, people desired assurance of their salvation (acceptance into Heaven) and were ignorant enough to buy indulgences, which priests had began popularly selling. A few people began spreading their desire to reform the Church. Desiderius Erasmus started circulating his ideas about reforming the Church; however, he never broke away from the Church. Martin Luther was also disgusted by the corruptness of the Church, and he broke away from the Church, beginning a religious movement that became a revolution.

Important People

Desiderius Erasmus: He was a Christian humanist who wanted to reform the Church without breaking from it. His ideas paved the way for the Reformation.

Martin Luther: A monk and professor, he began the Protestant Reformation in the early 1500s. Believing in a new doctrine of salvation, he broke from the Catholic Church and established Lutheranism.

Henry VIII: Henry reigned as the King of England (1491-1547) and led the break between the Catholic Church of England and the pope in Rome.

Charles V: The Holy Roman emperor, who ruled an immense empire consisting of Spain and its colonies (Austrian lands, Bohemia, Hungary, the Low Countries, the duchy of Milan, kingdom of Naples). In anger, he excommunicated Martin Luther.

Frederick Elector of Saxony: He was one of Martin Luther's students who attended Wittenberg University. He protected Luther and sent him into hiding so he would not get killed.

Important Events

1517: The Protestant Reformation began.

October 31, 1517: The day Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg.

1519: Charles V was elected Holy Roman Emperor.

January 1521: Luther was excommunicated by the Church at the imperial diet (legislative assembly) of the Holy Roman Empire. He was made an outlaw by the Edict of Worms.

1534: Henry VIII initiates the creation of the Church of England.

1555: Religious warfare in Germany ended with the Peace of Augsburg.

Important Terms

Holy Roman Catholic Church: the only Church of the empire before the Reformation (as there was no separation of Church and state, the Church was the center of everything)

Reform: a change in something in order to improve it

Indulgences: a paper sold to people who wish to save their souls, said to provide them release from all or part of their punishment for sins

Ninety-five Theses: Luther's theses that stunningly attacked the selling of indulgences, which he posted on the door of the Catholic Church so the everyone would see his ideas

Edict of Worms: issued by the Catholic Church and Charles V to condemn Martin Luther as a heretic and enemy of the state

Peace of Augsburg: agreement that formally accepted the division of Christianity in Germany, allowing German states the freedom to choose between Catholicism and Lutheranism

The Reformation Polka


As the Reformation spread throughout the Holy Roman Empire, different forms of Protestantism emerged into the world. Calvinism, introduced by John Calvin became the most important and dynamic form of Protestantism. In England, King Henry VIII broke away and created his own national church: the Church of England. The world changed as a result of the Protestant Reformation.