Chapter 14 Beginnings of Revolutionary European Civilization, 1300-1650
Both the questioning spirit of the
Renaissance and the new discoveries of the Age of Exploration helped to
shatter the certainties of life, death, and the means of salvation that
most Europeans had found in the church. Some Christians began to seek a
more personal, inward faith as a means of achieving salvation, while
others continued to rely on the outer guidance of the church and the
priesthood. As the church became mired in the struggle for earthly power
and wealth, a new cry went up for reform. In the 1500s and 1600s this
cry broke apart the unity of western Christendom as some people
challenged the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, and others called
for reforms that would restore the purity of the Christian faith. As
those who left the Catholic Church clashed with those who remained, the
old medieval world was swept away. In its place a new, increasingly
secular sense of European identity emerged.
The Protestant Reformation
Erasmus and other humanists, who openly complained about corruption in the
church, were not alone in their views. Many Europeans were troubled by
the ignorance and moral laxity of many among the clergy. They also
increasingly feared and resented the power of the popes, who raised
armies, conquered territory, and ruled the church more like territorial
princes than priests. Above all, perhaps, they wanted reassurance that
they had the means to achieve salvation and eternal life after death.
Indulgences. People also
resented church efforts to raise money. Among the most despised
practices was the selling of indulgences.
Since the days of Pope Gregory the Great, Catholics had believed that
after dying people went to a kind of halfway house called purgatory,
where their souls worked off the sins they had committed while alive.
Indulgences were pardons issued by the pope that people could buy in
order to reduce their time in purgatory. In the early 1500s, Pope Leo X[xc][xc] approved the sale of
indulgences in Germany to raise money for the construction of Saint
Peter's Basilica in Rome. For Martin Luther,[xci][xci] a monk in the German town of
Wittenberg,[xcii][xcii] this was the last straw.
Luther's Revolt. On October 31,
1517,[xciii][xciii] Luther posted a list of 95
theses, or statements, on the door of the church at Wittenberg Castle.
In these statements he challenged the sale of indulgences and other
papal practices and stated his own views on doctrine. Although the
action was not unusual—this was the way church scholars generally put
forward ideas for debate—Luther's attack struck a chord throughout
Germany. His action began what is known as the Protestant
Reformation, because its
supporters protested the Catholic Church.
Luther was born in 1483[xciv][xciv] in Eisleben,[xcv][xcv] a mining town in Saxony.[xcvi][xcvi] His parents were fairly
prosperous and saw to it that their son received a good education.
Following his father's wishes, Luther entered the university at Erfurt[xcvii][xcvii] to study law. On a trip
back to Erfurt from visiting his family, he was caught in a violent
thunderstorm. When a blinding bolt of lightning struck close to him
Luther cried out: “Saint Anne, help! I will become a monk!”
Surviving the storm, he kept his promise and entered an Augustinian
Luther had always been troubled by the question of how he could
overcome his sins and enter heaven. One evening, as he studied the
Bible, the answer came to him: salvation could be achieved through faith
in God alone; no acts or works that people performed would assure them
salvation. Luther later wrote, “As the soul needs only the Word of God
for its life and righteousness, so it is justified by faith alone and
not any works.”[xcviii][xcviii] He came to believe that
Christian practices must come from the Bible alone. All others should be
Luther had not initially intended to break away from the Roman
Catholic Church. All he wanted was reform. His actions at Wittenberg,
however, came at a sensitive time. Many German princes resented the
influence of the clergy. The church owned vast tracts of the best land
throughout the German states, land that could not be taxed by the
rulers. Moreover, Germany was not a united kingdom like England or
France; thus the princes found it difficult to put pressure on the
church to prevent abuses. When Luther's defiance became public,
therefore, all over Germany people gathered to support him, including
many of the princes.
The Diet of Worms. Pope Leo
responded to Luther’s claims by branding him a heretic and ordering
him excommunicated. To enforce the pope’s ruling, the Holy Roman
Emperor Charles V ordered Luther to the city of Worms[xcix][xcix] in 1521[c][c] to appear before the Imperial
Diet, a council of rulers in
the empire. Luther was shown a pile of his writings. When asked if he
would take back what he had written he replied:
“My conscience is captive to the Word
of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against
conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do
otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
The full Diet refused to take action, since many of the princes supported
the rebellious monk. However, the emperor himself, supported by the
remaining members of the Diet, condemned Luther as an outlaw. Quickly,
Luther's patron, the Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony,[ci][ci] whisked him out of town and
hid him in Wartburg Castle.
Although officially condemned as a heretic, Luther was quickly
hailed as a new religious leader by many German knights who opposed not
only the wealthy bishops but also the rule of the emperor. In 1522[cii][cii] these knights openly revolted
against both emperor and pope. Three years later a revolt also broke out
among the peasants. The rebellions were all crushed with Luther’s
approval. Remembering the fate of Jan Hus, Luther knew that if he lost
the support of the princes, who feared social upheaval, his reforms
would not survive. However, the revolts made clear a growing
dissatisfaction with Rome.
Luther's Message. Meanwhile, in
Wartburg, Luther began to translate the New Testament from Greek into
German. Translation of the Bible into the language of ordinary people
meant that the scriptures could be heard and easily understood by even
the simplest peasants, not just by those who knew Latin or Greek. Luther
also soon began to develop a whole new doctrine based on the idea that
no individual needed the help of a priest or anyone else to have a
direct relationship with God. This doctrine became known as the
“priesthood of all believers.”
The implications of this idea were profound. Without the need for
a priesthood, there was really no need for a church hierarchy supported
by huge landed estates. This appealed to many German princes, who
resented the taxes and property the church enjoyed. They were also
delighted to have an issue on which they could assert their independence
from the emperor. Soon Lutheranism
had become the new state religion of most of northern Germany.
In 1525,[ciii][ciii] Luther married a former nun,
Katharina von Bora,[civ][civ] illustrating his belief that
clergy should be free to marry. Through the rest of his life he
continued to write essays, pamphlets, and hymns. As the results of his
protest became clear, however, he lamented that it had resulted in the
destruction of the unity of Christendom. In his old age he actually
became more conservative than many younger followers. Nevertheless, when
asked on his deathbed in 1546[cv][cv] whether he still believed in
his ideas about Christianity, he answered simply, “Yes.”
The Spread of Protestantism
The Reformation spread rapidly throughout northern Europe, but not all
reformers agreed with Luther's doctrine. Many humanists, for example,
believed that people had some degree of free will to make choices in
life, and rejected Luther's view that they could not change the pattern
God had created for them. As this and other issues were debated, many
Protestants founded their own small religious groups, or sects,
across northern Europe. Each of these small groups had its own ideas
about salvation. Some relied on the believer’s direct communication
with God and set little store by the Bible. Others abolished private
property, living with all goods owned in common.
Calvinism. This fragmentation
threatened chaos, and in the next generation[cvi][cvi] a new Protestant movement in
Switzerland[cvii][cvii] injected strict discipline
into the Reformation. The pioneer in this movement was a reformer named
Huldrych Zwingli.[cviii][cviii] Zwingli was killed in
battle in 1531,[cix][cix] defending his faith, but his
ideas were taken up and made systematic by John Calvin,[cx][cx] a French Protestant. Inspired
by Saint Augustine, Calvin preached the doctrine of predestination—the
idea that God knew who would be saved even before people were born, and
therefore guided those destined for salvation. Human beings, Calvin
believed, were not worthy of salvation but depended solely on God's
grace. In effect, Calvin, like Luther, rejected the Renaissance idea
that individuals were basically good and could improve themselves.
In 1536,[cxi][cxi] Calvin settled in Geneva,[cxii][cxii] where he and his followers,
called Calvinists, soon came
to control the city government. Convinced that people were by nature
sinful, Calvinists passed laws regulating many aspects of the daily
lives of citizens. Laws prohibited dancing, card playing, showy dress,
and profane language. Violators were often severely punished. Rather
than being seen as a burden, however, this strictness was the heart of
Calvinism’s appeal. It gave its followers a sense of mission and
discipline. Calvinists felt they were setting an example, making the
world fit for the “elect,” those who had been chosen for salvation.
The Church of England.
Meanwhile, in England a protest was developing against the Roman
Catholic Church for very different reasons. King Henry VIII had defended
the church against Luther, calling his ideas “false and wicked.” For
this the pope granted Henry the title "Defender of the Faith."
But in 1529[cxiii][cxiii] Henry asked the church to
grant him a divorce from his wife, Catherine of Aragon.[cxiv][cxiv] Catherine had born Henry a
daughter, Mary, but had been unable to bear a son to secure the royal
succession. Pope Clement VII[cxv][cxv] refused the divorce.
Infuriated, Henry rejected the pope’s authority, proclaimed himself
head of the church in England, and forced the English bishops to accept
his authority. The church in England quickly granted the divorce.
Henry soon grew dissatisfied with his new wife, Anne Boleyn.[cxvi][cxvi] She, too, bore him a
daughter—Elizabeth—rather than a son to secure the succession.
Within a thousand days of the marriage, Henry had Boleyn executed for
treason on trumped-up charges. Still hoping for a male heir who could
prevent a recurrence of the previous century’s civil wars, Henry
eventually married six times in all. Only his third wife, Jane Seymour,[cxvii][cxvii] bore a son, Edward.[cxviii][cxviii]
Since Henry's break with Rome was more for personal than
religious reasons, he made little attempt to rid the Church of England
of Catholic rituals. He took other steps, however, that made a
reconciliation with Rome unlikely. An extravagant king, he was usually
in need of funds. To raise money, he closed the Catholic monasteries and
convents across the land and sold most of the vast estates to the
nobles. This action committed not only the king but most of his nobles
to maintaining the break with Rome, since a reconciliation might force
them to return their new lands.
The Catholic Reformation
By 1560[cxix][cxix] England, Scotland,[cxx][cxx] Sweden,[cxxi][cxxi] Denmark,[cxxii][cxxii] and parts of Germany,
France, Poland, Switzerland, and the Netherlands all had large
Protestant populations. Realizing the need for reform, Catholic leaders
had launched a major reform movement known as the Catholic
Counter-Reformation. Between 1545[cxxiii][cxxiii] and 1563 church leaders
met in the Italian city of Trent[cxxiv][cxxiv] to redefine the doctrines
of the Catholic faith. Among the reforms introduced by the Council
of Trent were a ban on the sale of indulgences and church offices
and new rules for the conduct of the clergy.
Above all, the council rejected the Protestants’ emphasis on
self-discipline and individual faith. In answer to Luther’s doctrine
of salvation by faith, the Council of Trent observed: “For faith,
unless hope and charity [good works] be added to it, neither unites man
perfectly with Christ nor makes him a living member of His body.”[cxxv][cxxv] The church could help
believers achieve salvation, the council argued, and rich display,
mystery, and magnificent ceremonies were ways to inspire faith. For
millions, indeed for the majority of Europeans, this in fact proved to
be a more appealing form of Christian practice than the austerity of
Catholics also founded several new religious orders to help win
back support for the church. In Italy in 1535, for example, a group of
pious women founded the Ursulines, a religious order focused on religious education for
women. Perhaps the most successful and influential of the new orders,
however, was the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits.
The Jesuit order was founded in 1534 by Ignatius de Loyola, a Basque
nobleman and ex-soldier, and approved by the pope in 1539.[cxxvi][cxxvi] Loyola, the Father General,
ran the Jesuits like a military organization, emphasizing above all
obedience to the church:
“Putting aside all private judgement,
we should keep our minds prepared and ready to obey promptly and in all
things the true spouse of Christ our Lord, our Holy Mother, the
The Jesuits, like the Ursulines, concentrated on education as a
means of combating the Reformation. They established missions, schools,
and universities. With such effective organizations, the Catholic Church
began to regain ground against Protestantism. Between 1570 and 1650, for
example, Protestant control over Europe fell from about 40 percent to
about 20 percent.[cxxviii][cxxviii]
To help in the struggle against Protestant doctrines, the church
also revived the Inquisition, and the Index
Expurgatorius, a list of books that the church warned people not to
read on peril of losing their souls. Protestants also enacted similar
measures, as they too tried to enforce conformity to their new theology.
As each side sought to reestablish certainty in the means necessary for
salvation, intolerance grew and dissenters on both sides suffered
torture and death.
The Wars of Religion
As people and nations divided along religious lines, Europe entered a
period of more than 100 years of almost continuous warfare. The wars
left much of northern Europe, especially Germany, in ruins.
Germany. In 1531[cxxix][cxxix] Protestant princes and free
cities in Germany joined together for mutual protection against attack
from the forces of the leading Catholic ruler, the emperor Charles V. In
1547,[cxxx][cxxx] Charles defeated the
Protestant princes in battle, but was unable to break their power. With
their treasuries emptied by the years of warfare, in 1555[cxxxi][cxxxi] Charles and the princes
agreed to compromise in the Peace
of Augsburg.[cxxxii][cxxxii] Under the terms of the
treaty, each prince would choose the religion of his own territory.
Subjects must either conform to the religion of the prince, or move to
some other territory. The agreement settled the issue of religion for
the moment, but created a patchwork of Protestant and Catholic states
across Germany, where neighbors kept an uneasy peace.
Spain. Tensions between
Protestants and Catholics also erupted into warfare elsewhere in Europe.
For example, Calvinists in the northern provinces of the Netherlands
revolted against Spanish rule. After many years of bloody fighting, the
Protestants finally gained a truce with Spain in 1609.[cxxxiii][cxxxiii] The seven northern
provinces formed the independent nation of the Netherlands, while the
southern provinces remained Spanish possessions.
Perhaps more serious was the conflict between Spain and England.
In 1588[cxxxiv][cxxxiv] King Philip II of Spain[cxxxv][cxxxv] attempted to invade
England. He hoped to depose the Protestant Queen Elizabeth and reclaim
England for the Roman Catholic Church. The Spanish sent a huge fleet of
about 130 ships, known as the “Invincible Armada,” against England.
As the Spanish fleet lay at anchor in Calais, however, the English set
ships on fire and sent them drifting toward the Spanish warships. In the
confusion that followed, the small, fast English ships had an advantage
over the larger, slower Spanish vessels. The Spanish ships fled, only to
be lost in heavy storms in the North Sea. Less than half the Armada
returned to Spain. The defeat of the invasion fleet ensured England's
future as a Protestant nation.
France. Meanwhile, France also
descended into religious civil war. At one point, Calvinists controlled
nearly a third of the country, but the French kings of the Valois
dynasty disliked the idea of Protestants, or Huguenots
as they were called, within their realm. A series of civil wars during
the late 1500s split the country apart. The Huguenots continued to
resist even after the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572,[cxxxvi][cxxxvi] when fanatical rioters in
Paris and other cities butchered about 20,000 Protestants around the
When Henry III,[cxxxviii][cxxxviii] the last Valois[cxxxix][cxxxix] king, died without a male
heir, the religious civil war became a dynastic struggle as well.
Eventually the civil war ended in 1598,[cxl][cxl] when Henry IV,[cxli][cxli] the first king of the new
Bourbon[cxlii][cxlii] dynasty, signed the Edict of Nantes.[cxliii][cxliii] The edict called a truce
between Catholics and Protestants. It allowed the Huguenots to retain
control of the cities they occupied at the time. Henry himself had once
been a Calvinist leader but had converted to Catholicism in order to
assume the throne, reportedly observing, “Paris is well worth a
mass!” He spent the rest of his reign trying to heal the wounds of
civil war and to reestablish the unity of France.
The Thirty Years' War. Possibly
the most brutal and destructive of the religious wars in Europe was the
Thirty Years' War, which began in 1618[cxliv][cxliv] in the city of Prague[cxlv][cxlv] when Protestant rebels
tossed two representatives of the Holy Roman emperor out of a castle
window. News of the event quickly spread and the province erupted in
general rebellion. The Holy Roman emperor called on Catholic allies in
Germany and Spain to help put down the revolt. The war rapidly spread
The Thirty Years’ War turned much of Germany into a wasteland.
Soldiers plundered towns and killed anyone suspected of supporting the
enemy. An eyewitness reported the brutality of the sack of the city of
Magdeburg[cxlvi][cxlvi] in 1631:
“Then there was naught but beating
and burning, plundering, torture, and murder. . . . In this frenzied
rage, the great and splendid city that had stood like a fairy princess
in the land was now, in its hour of direst need and unutterable distress
and woe, given over to the flames and thousands of innocent men, women,
and children, in the midst of a horrible din of heartrending shrieks and
cries, were tortured and put to death in so cruel and shameful a manner
that no words would suffice to describe, nor no tears to bewail it.”[cxlvii]
As the war progressed, other factors besides religion sparked
hostilities. German princes who wanted to remain independent of the
emperor's authority often became Protestants. National and dynastic
rivalries also played a role. Catholic France, for example, which feared
the power of the Habsburg emperors, usually sided with Protestants.
Gustavus Adolphus,[cxlviii][cxlviii] the ambitious king of
Sweden, saw a chance to carve out an empire, and tried to make himself
leader of the Protestant cause.
The war finally came to an end in 1648[cxlix][cxlix] when, out of sheer
exhaustion, the warring parties signed the Treaty
of Westphalia.[cl][cl] After three decades of
bloodshed, the settlement of Westphalia did little more than reaffirm
the right of rulers to choose the religion of their territories. Since
the Reformation had begun in 1517, millions of people had lost their
lives in religious warfare. In the Thirty Years’ War alone, scholars
estimate that as much as one third of the German population died. In
their struggle to achieve a sense of spiritual certainty by forcing
everyone to conform to a single pattern, Europeans made life as
physically insecure as ever.
Section 4 Review
IDENTIFY and explain the
significance of the following:
Council of Trent
Peace of Augsburg
Edict of Nantes
Treaty of Westphalia.
and explain the importance of the following:
Main Idea. What factors led to the Protestant Reformation?
Main Idea. In what ways did Catholics respond to the Protestant
Religion. How did religion become a political issue in the 1500s
Writing to Explain. Explain
the consequences of Henry VIII's decision to break away from the Roman
Church and form the Church of England.
Synthesizing. In what ways did the division of Christianity lead to
violence? Why do you think people were willing to kill in the name of
religion? What other similar examples can you think of in history or
from the present?
Chapter 14 Review
From the following list, choose the term that correctly matches the
Peace of Augsburg
standard of living
Peace of Westphalia
intellectual movement focusing on the glorification of humankind and
emphasizing classical learning
pardons from the pope to cut down on the time a person would have to
spend in purgatory
agreement of 1555 between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Protestant
princes stating that each ruler would have the power to determine the
religion in his or her own territory
the level at which people exist in society based on their ability to
obtain needed and desired goods and services
division in the Roman Church, caused by the French king's
establishment of the papacy at Avignon
List the following events in their correct chronological order.
Martin Luther nails his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg
The Hundred Years' War breaks out.
Participants in the Thirty Years' War agree to the Peace of
The Spanish armada is defeated by the English.
Niccolò Machiavelli writes The
Understanding the Main Idea
What were the causes of the Protestant Reformation?
How did the Renaissance spread from Italy to other parts of Europe?
How did humanism change as it spread to northern Europe?
Why was Italy a logical place for the Renaissance to begin?
What were the consequences of the Thirty Years' War?
How did new technology affect the fighting during the Hundred Years'
Synthesizing. How did the breakdown of church authority lead to a
growing sense of insecurity in Italy during the 1300s and 1400s, and in
other parts of Europe in the 1500s and 1600s?
Assessing Consequences. Why might a person argue that the Peace of
Augsburg of 1555 only set the stage for the catastrophic Thirty Years'
Analyzing. How did religion become very much a political issue in
Europe between 1350 and 1648?
Renaissance Painting: Realism and
The story goes that as an admirer stood gazing
at an early Renaissance painting, he reached up to brush a fly away from
the canvas. He was pleasantly shocked, however, to find that the fly was
in fact part of the painting! The artist, Giotto, had succeeded in
painting a scene so lifelike that it gave viewers the impression that
they were looking at a panorama of reality. Painting during the
Renaissance marked a dramatic change in the way artists perceived their
subjects. In the medieval period, the dominant theme of art was the
glory of God and His authority over man. As humanists reestablished
human beings as the central figures in life on earth, artists placed
humanity at the center of Renaissance painting.
The technique artists used to achieve realism in Renaissance
painting is known as perspective. Perspective involves the placement of
objects and figures in a painting to appear as they would be seen if
they were real—some close, some farther away, some bathed in light,
others hidden in shadow. Artists often made detailed mathematical
calculations of the exact proportions of different parts of the human
body in order to make more realistic figures. Although
Renaissance painting in northern Europe shows many resemblances to
Italian painting, the two also illustrate the differences between
northern and southern artists and their societies. Many Italian
paintings, such as Michelangelo's Last
Judgment , depict human figures based on the models of Greek and
Roman art. Athletic figures with rippling muscles demonstrate the
artist's admiration of the human form. In Dürer's Four
Apostles, however, the figures seem more like sixteenth-century
Europeans than Greek gods. The Four
Apostles also reflects
the ideas of Christian humanism, by depicting the early fathers of the
Christian Church and by emphasizing the importance of the Bible as the
Word of God as the basis for Christianity.
Violence in the Reformation
The religious warfare following the Reformation shocked the people of
Europe, Christians and non-Christians alike. Many Jews hoped that the
Reformation would bring about a new spirit of tolerance among religious
groups, but the brutality shown by Protestants and Catholics left them
greatly disappointed. A Jewish observer in Poland described the waves of
violence and offered his own explanation:
“We have both heard and seen accounts printed in Christian books of the great acts of vengeance perpetrated in England in these times. For even to this very day the priests of the Papist faith of Rome and all who believe in it and are drawn to it are subjected to a cruel death. The reverse is the case in Spain and France, where a brutal death is meted out to those who believe in and follow the instructions of Martin Luther. The reports received make one's hair stand on end. All this has come to pass on account of their sins. For in the three kingdoms mentioned, much Jewish blood was spilled through libellous accusations, oppressive measures and forced conversions, until they expelled the Jews from their lands and none of them remained.”[cli]
Encyclopedia of the Italian
Renaissance, p. 292.
in Plumb, The Italian Renaissance, p. 53.
The Middle Ages: A Concise
Ecyclopaedia, p. 128.
S. Gottfried, The Black death:
Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe (New York: The
Free Press: 1983): 42.
the following as photo caption: Throughout Europe, artists reflected
the general outlook of the populace with scenes of decaying corpses
and depictions of the torments of Hell. A popular motif was the
Dance of Death.
and Marcham, eds., Sources of English Constitutional History,
revised edition, New York, 1972, p. 217.
Barrett, transl., The Trial of Jeanne D'Arc, London, 1931, pp.
per Rabb review.
The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance, pp. 226--7.
The Italian Renaissance, p. 9.
The Italian Renaissance, p. 8.
of World History, p. 546.
Art Through the Ages, p. 582.
H. Plumb, The Italian Renaissance, p. 312.
The Italian Renaissance, p. 146.
Penguin History of the World, p. 503.
Columbia History of the World, p. 311.
History of England, Vol. 1, p. 316.
A History of England, Vol 1, p. 314.
Anthology of British Literature, p. 257.
Sources of the Western Tradition, p. 325.
Columbia Encyclopedia, p. 1623.
New Columbia Encyclopedia, p. 1631.
Atlas of World History, pp. 182--83.
of Western Tradition, vol. I, p. 342.
of Western Tradition, vol. I, p. 339.
Times Atlas of World History, p. 183.
World History, p. 950.
vol. I, P. 247.
Otto von Guericke, in Readings in European History, ed. James Harvey
Robinson, vol. II, pp. 211-212, Boston, 1906.
Hayim Hillel Ben Sasson. "The Reformation in Contemporary
Jewish Eyes." in Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Science
and Humanities Vol. 4 (1969--70)