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History of the Church
11 – Expansion of Reformation
The early reformers were convinced that the Christianity had strayed from the New Testament dictates. Luther
and his followers in Germany sought to cleanse the church from those things which contradicted Scripture.
The Swiss reformers, Zwingli and then Calvin, went further in stating that only those things which were
scriptural should be practiced. Others felt they had not gone far enough.
The Anabaptist Movement
Critics of the main Protestant movement took the dictum of Christ to “render unto Caesar” to heart; there must
be clear separation between church and state. The protection to the church first offered by Constantine at the
beginning of the 4th century was to them a compromise of this principal of early Christianity. Individuals had
to make a choice to be affiliated with the church or with society, but not both. Consequently, infant baptism
was rejected, since this would undermine that decision. Complete devotion to the Sermon on the Mount also
led to a position of pacifism by these more extreme reformers. With wars and attacks from outside (the Turks)
and within (Catholics), pacifism ideas were not widely appreciated in the Protestant community.
Although the purist ideas were scattered around Europe, the first notable gathering was in Zurich. Seeing that
Zwingli would not follow their prescribed actions, the group, calling themselves “the brethren,” conducted an
adult baptism in the city fountain. Baptism by immersion came later. Enemies of the movement called them
“anabaptists,” meaning “re-baptizers.” The term was not really accurate in that they promoted adult baptism
after a faith decision by the individual, not re-baptizing one who had been baptized as an infant.
The Anabaptists, as they became known, were resisted strongly throughout Europe by both Catholics and even
by other Protestant groups. Luther, Zwingli and later Calvin had established working relationships with
governments, so the Anabaptist disdain for government was considered subversive. By 1525 authorities in
both Germany and Switzerland persecuted the Anabaptists as heretics. Many were executed, ironically some
by drowning. It is estimated that more Anabaptists were martyred than the early Christians before
Constantine. In retaliation, some Anabaptists took up arms and took control of the northern Germany city of
Munster, but that rebellion was quashed in 1534.
A new leadership emerged for the Anabaptists, rejecting the notion of armed resistance and reverting to the
pacifism of the original movement. The main leader was Menno Simons, a Dutch Catholic priest who
embraced Anabaptism in 1536. As a pacifist, Simons disassociated from any revolutionaries. He maintained
that his followers abstain from any oaths to government but obey civil authorities as long as they were not
required to do anything contra scriptural. The sacraments did not confer grace in their minds but were outward
signs. They also practiced foot washing. Even the pacifist Anabaptists were considered subversive,
particularly in their failure to serve militarily. This forced many to emigrate to South America. The main
branch of the Anabaptists following the leadership of Menno Simons became known as the Mennonites.
Jakob Ammann (c. 1656–1730), a Swiss Mennonite leader, believed Mennonites were drifting away from the
teachings of Menno Simons and the 1632 Mennonite Dordrecht Confession of Faith. Ammann favored
stronger church discipline, including a more rigid application of “shunning,” the social exclusion of
excommunicated members. Ammann insisted upon this practice, even to the point of expecting spouses to
refuse to eat with each other, until the banned spouse repented. This type of strict literalism, on this issue, as
well as others, brought about a division among the Mennonites in 1693, and led to withdrawal of those who
sided with Ammann. Those following Ammann became known as Amish or Amish Mennonites.
The Reformation in Great Britain
Until early in the seventeenth century Great Britain was divided between the house of Tudor in England and
the Stuart kingdom in Scotland. Scotland at the time was an ally of France, and England of Spain. Although
the Tudors and Stuarts were blood related, the alliances and other factors had led to enmity and open war with
each other; consequently the Reformation played out differently in the two kingdoms.
The King of England, Henry VII, sought to strengthen the ties to Spain, so he arranged a marriage of his son
Arthur to Catherine of Aragon, the fifteen year old daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Arthur died
four months later, so Spain proposed that the young widow marry Arthur’s younger brother Henry VIII, now
heir to the English throne. Henry VII was eager to keep the dowry and the relationship with Spain, so his
representatives in Rome obtained a papal dispensation for the new marriage. There was some conflict over the
legality of the dispensation, but the marriage proceeded. In time, the couple produced a daughter, Mary Tudor,
but no male heir. Due to all the wars of succession which had taken place, not having a male heir was a serious
problem, and Henry sought to annul the marriage on the basis that the initial dispensation was not valid.
Catharine was related to the Emperor Charles V, who had the pope, Clement VII, under his control, so
Clement stalled and ultimately refused to annul the marriage. Henry VIII did force Clement to name Thomas
Cranmer, the king’s religious advisor, the archbishop of Canterbury. With support from Cranmer, as head of
the church, and Parliament, England separated themselves from the Catholic Church in 1534. In effect, Henry
VIII became “Supreme head of the Church of England.” The marriage with Catharine was annulled, meaning
that Mary Tudor was no longer a legitimate heir to the throne. Henry married Anne Boleyn, who gave him a
daughter, Elizabeth. Anne was later convicted of adultery and executed. The third wife, Jane Seymour,
produced a male heir, Edward.
Although he led the Church of England away from Catholicism, Henry was no Protestant. His wish was that
the church remain close to Catholic positions. Cranmer did, however, have the Bible translated into English
and placed in every church where all could read it. This was a weapon in the hands of reformers who could
better discuss reform ideas. The movement grew under the reign of young Edward, who ruled only six years
before his death. During the time, some of which was controlled by his regent, the Duke of Somerset, the Book
of Common Prayer, also written by Cranmer, was published. The liturgy was now in English.
Edward was succeeded by his half-sister, Mary Tudor, daughter of Catharine of Aragon and Henry VIII, a
staunch Catholic, in 1553. She was motivated not only for religious but also personal reasons to restore linkage
to the Catholic Church. The move away from the church had led to her illegitimate status, so she was eager to
have that reversed. She began a series of repressive actions against Protestant reformers. England returned to
obedience to the Pope in 1554; much of what had been done during the reigns of Henry and Edward was
undone. Married clergy were ordered to set wives aside. Almost three hundred Protestant leaders were
executed, and countless others were imprisoned or went into exile. Mary became known as “Bloody Mary.”
After her death in 1558, Mary was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth, a Protestant for both conviction and
political reasons. If the marriage of her father and Catharine was deemed valid, then Elizabeth would be the
illegitimate daughter. The current Pope, Paul IV, indicated he would declare Elizabeth legitimate if she
maintained the Roman communion. Elizabeth believed her father had done right so she took similar steps to
his. Elizabeth was not a Protestant extremist; she sought a church which would unite the kingdom in
Protestant worship and allow varying opinions. The new Book of Common Prayer now said both “the body of
Christ” and “do this in remembrance” in the communion liturgy.
Catholicism had a precarious existence under Elizabeth. Some Catholics took up the cause of Mary Stuart, the
exiled Catholic queen of Scotland. Mary Stuart would be next in line for the throne had Elizabeth been
declared illegitimate. A number of plots against Elizabeth were uncovered; those executed under Elizabeth
were similar to the number under Mary, but Elizabeth’s reign was almost ten times longer, 1558 to 1603.
In Scotland, ties had been established with France. Hopes for reconciliation with England grew when King
James IV married Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII and sister of Henry VIII. Later Henry VIII offered
the hand of his daughter Mary Tudor to James V. James opted to marry a French woman, so the countries
were divided again. Protestantism was entering Scotland despite the Catholic monarchs and Parliament.
Protesters were executed. Some of the nobles saw the crown taking away their property and privileges, so they
became a part of the Protestant movement. When James V died, his heir was his infant daughter, Mary Stuart.
Henry VIII wanted her to marry his son Edward to strengthen ties to England. The Catholics wanted Mary
Stuart to go to France for her education and marry a French prince. And that is what she did.
While Mary Stuart was growing up in France, Cardinal David Beaton wrested control in Scotland. He was the
leader of the pro-French faction and in 1546 ordered the execution of George Wishart, a Protestant minister
who had studied under Calvin in Geneva (and had translated the Helvetic Confession into Scots). Retribution
quickly followed. A group of rebels seized Beaton's castle at Saint Andrews (the ecclesiastical center of
Scotland), and murdered him. These 'Castelians' (who, after the murder, were joined by a renegade priest, and
student of Wishart's, named John Knox) held out in the castle until 1547, when they were forced to surrender
to a French squadron and were imprisoned or taken as galley slaves. English forces arrived too late to save
them, but nevertheless occupied southeast Scotland. This occupation (1547–49) encouraged the reforming
cause; English Bibles circulated freely, and several earls pledged themselves 'to cause the word of God to be
taught and preached'. After Knox served 19 months as a galley slave, England intervened and Knox was freed.
He moved to England and served as a pastor there. When Mary Tudor became Queen of England and
instituted the anti-Protestant persecution, Knox traveled to Geneva and studied under Calvin.
The Queen Mother, the French woman Mary of Guise, became Regent of Scotland while the young queen was
in France living with her mother’s family. In 1558, Mary Stuart married the dauphin, heir to the French
throne. When her husband (Francis II) ascended to the throne a year later, Mary, now 16 years old, became
queen consort of France as well as Queen of Scotland. Mary and her supporters now claimed her to also be the
Queen of England. Mary Tudor, the Catholic Queen of England, had died in 1558 and was succeeded by her
half sister Elizabeth, a Protestant. To the Catholics, Catharine of Aragon’s marriage to Henry VIII had not
been annulled, so that Elizabeth was an illegitimate heir to the throne. Mary Stuart was a granddaughter of
Henry VII through her father James, so she represented that she was the only legitimate heir to the English
crown. Mary’s claim to the French court died with her husband, and she returned to Scotland in 1561.
Mary was a staunch Catholic and celebrated private masses regularly. She tried not to alienate the Protestant
leaders but had a running conflict with the firebrand John Knox. Despite pressures from Parliament and the
queen, Knox and his followers organized the Reformed Church of Scotland, whose polity was the basis for
later Presbyterianism. In each church elders were elected. Those called to be ministers were examined by
other ministers. They had the Scots Confession, the Book of Order, and a Book of Discipline to guide them.
Mary Scot married a cousin, Lord Darnby, to get more claim to the throne of England. She decided later the
marriage was a mistake and told her military advisor, Lord Bothwell. Darnby was soon murdered, and the
queen married Bothwell a few months later. Bothwell was brought to trial and exonerated from the murder,
but Mary was convinced the officials had enough evidence against her for Darnby’s murder, so she abdicated
the Scottish throne and fled to England under the mercy of her rival Elizabeth. Mary was confined to a castle,
but lived like a queen. Several plots to murder Elizabeth were thwarted, and Mary seemed to be linked to
them all, so she was ultimately executed.
Scottish Protestantism was focused on the Bible, which was seen as infallible and the major source of moral
authority. Many Bibles were large, illustrated and highly valuable objects. In the early part of the century the
Genevan translation was commonly used; in 1611 the Kirk (church) adopted the Authorized King James
version. Kirk discipline was fundamental to Reformed Protestantism. Kirk sessions were able to apply
religious sanctions, such as excommunication and denial of baptism, to enforce godly behavior and obedience.
In more difficult cases of immoral behavior they could work with the local magistrate, in a system modeled on
that employed in Geneva.
Further Developments in Lutheranism
The strife experienced in Germany right after the Reformation began did not cease with the peace of
Nuremburg signed in 1532. This had allowed Protestants to exercise their faith in the existing territories but
allowed for no expansion. The Protestant princes formed a league to resist the pressures of the pro-Catholic
emperor, Charles V. In 1534 the Protestants retook the duchy of Württemberg which had been seized by the
Catholics. Some of the princes were either succeeded by Protestants or became Protestants, so the tide seemed
to be beginning to turn. Charles, however, invaded and captured several of the Protestant areas. He was unable
to maintain his gains because resistance grew from the more closely aligned Protestant princes, the pope, and
the king of France. An agreement was reached that the German leaders in each area could decide which
religion would be practiced there. The two choices were Catholicism and Lutheranism; neither Anabaptists nor
Reformed churches were allowed. Protestantism continued to grow, although the strife continued, resulting
later in the Thirty Years War.
While in Germany the Reformation had aided the high nobility in asserting power against the monarch, in
Scandinavia the opposite effect was true. At the time the Reformation started in Germany, the monarch in
Scandinavia was Christian II, who was married to the sister of Charles V, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire
(Germany, Austria). At the time Scandinavia was a loose confederation of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.
The king had almost no power in Sweden and Norway, and his influence was limited even in Denmark, where
he resided (he was subject to election there.) With the aid of his brother-in-law, Christian invaded Sweden,
had himself crowned king, and massacred leaders of the resistance. Christian was Catholic and resisted the
influx of Protestants. Eventually rebellion ensued and Christian spent his remaining years in prison. His
successor, Frederick I, was Protestant. He promised he would neither attack Catholicism nor favor
Protestantism. Frederick allowed the Norwegians to elect a king, and he was the one selected. Frederick gave
up the nominal crown to Sweden and focused his efforts on Denmark and Norway. By the time of his death in
1533, most of his subjects were Protestant. In Sweden, Gustavus Vasa had led a band of rebels against
Christian II, and he eventually became the King of Sweden. His personal success was that the people
acclaimed him as hereditary king. When he died in 1560, Sweden was a Protestant country with a Lutheran
ecclesiastical hierarchy.
Reformation in the Low Countries (Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg)
The “Seventeen Provinces” near the mouth of the Rhine known as the Low Countries were part of the
Hapsburg domain, so Charles V was the sovereign. They were diverse; Dutch was spoken in the north, French
in the south, with Flemish in between. In 1555 Charles, who was Flemish, gave control of the Seventeen
Provinces to his son Philip II. Philip had been raised in Spain, and in 1556 his father named him the King of
Spain as well. A Spaniard at heart, Philip regarded the Low Countries as a place to unify and place at the
service of his native Spain.
A staunch Catholic, Philip took stern measures against the spread of Protestantism in these lands. Tens of
thousands of Anabaptists and Calvinists died for their faith. Philip eventually returned to his beloved Spain,
leaving his half sister Margaret of Parma in charge as regent. To protect her, he stationed Spanish troops in the
provinces, who of course had to be supported by the populace. He appointed new bishops with inquisitional
powers. Knowing of the use of inquisitional authorities in Spain, the people feared the outcome in the
provinces. Philip sent Margaret a letter telling her to implement the findings of the Council of Trent, the
Catholic body which had condemned Protestantism. When several hundred leaders in the provinces petitioned
Margaret not to implement those orders, one of her courtiers urged her not to listen to “those beggars.”
Thus the “Beggar” rebellion began. Using the symbol of the beggar’s leather bag, the population of the
provinces rebelled against the authority of the foreign leader Philip. In retaliation (for he did not want to be
“lord of heretics) Philip sent the Duke of Alba with Spanish and Italian troops to drown the heresy and
rebellion in blood. Protestants were condemned for their heresy, Catholics for not resisting the heresy strongly
enough. Anyone expressing doubts or questions was convicted of high treason. The countryside became
littered with the bodies of good Christians. Women, children, and elderly were killed along with rebels.
The Spanish forces succeeded in conquering the southern provinces but were unable to gain full control of the
north. Finally in 1607, Spain decided they were investing too much in their campaigns, so a truce was signed.
By then, the vast majority of the population in the northern provinces was Calvinist, and many in the north
equated their Calvinist faith with their nationalist loyalty, while the southern provinces remained Catholic.
Eventually, religious, economic, and cultural difference would lead to the formation of three countries, one
Protestant – the Netherlands to the north – and two Catholic in the south – Belgium and Luxemburg.
Protestantism in France
In the sixteenth century, no country had attained the degree of national unity than France. However, during
that century, no country suffered more bitter and bloody conflicts between Catholics and Protestants than
Francis I, last king of the house of Valois, enjoyed seeing his bitter rival Charles V struggle with religious
conflicts but wanted none in France. As a political expedient, he curried favor with the Protestants in
Germany to encourage them and consequently had to tolerate them in his own country. His feelings oscillated;
sometimes the Protestants in France were persecuted and sometimes there was a respite. One of the
persecution periods led to John Calvin’s departure for Switzerland. Francis’ son Henry II was more constant
and cruel in his persecution of the Huguenots (Protestants.)
Henry’s wife was Catharine de Medici, and ambitious woman who sought to rule through her children, of
whom there were six. The three boys, Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III all ruled in succession. After them
one of the daughters, Margaret of Valois, would be queen. When Catharine’s oldest son Francis II succeeded
his father, her ambitions were resisted by the powerful Guise family of Lorraine, staunch Catholics. When
Francis II died unexpectedly (the husband of Mary Stuart), Catharine moved quickly took the title of regent for
her next son, ten year old Charles IV. To resist the house of Lorraine, the Guises, she cultivated the
Protestants (for political, not religious reasons.) She issued an edict that Huguenots would be allowed to
gather for worship outside cities during daylight. Not to be curtailed, two Guise brothers with two hundred
men slaughtered a group of Huguenots gathered for worship in Vassy.
There was limited peace until 1571. The king’s sister, Margaret of Valois, was due to marry Henry Bourbon,
prince of the Protestants, king of Navarre. The main Huguenot leaders had come to Paris for the wedding
when an assassination attempt took place against one of the Protestant leaders. Convinced that it was all a
Huguenot plot by his mother, King Charles IX ordered reprisals, gladly carried out by the Duke of Guise.
Some two thousand Huguenots were slaughtered on St. Bartholomew’s Day. It is said that when he heard the
news the pope, while he deplored bloodshed, ordered that a Te Deum be sung to honor the occasion. It is also
said that the Spanish King Philip actually smiled in public and also ordered a Te Deum celebration.
Upon the death of Charles IX, his brother Henry III, whom Catherine had gotten appointed King of Poland,
came to Paris to take the French throne. Seeking political expediency (like his mother Catherine), Henry III
made peace with the Protestants, allowing them to freedom to worship, except in Paris. The more belligerent
Catholics, led by the Duke of Guise declared war against the Protestants, eventually joined by Henry III.
When Henry III, the last of Catharine’s sons, died, the throne passed to Henry Bourbon, who at the time was
King of Navarre. He had become a Protestant (Navarre was a Protestant area), so the next king of France was
to be a Protestant. This could not be tolerated by the Catholics. A document was strangely “discovered”
which stated that the house of Guise was descended from Charlemagne, so that the throne rightfully belonged
to them. Their candidate to become king was also named Henry. Henry of Guise took Paris and had himself
proclaimed king. Just before Christmas 1588, Henry of Guise was murdered at the same place where he had
planned the St. Bartholomew’s massacre.
Henry Bourbon decided that a Protestant king would not succeed in France, so he changed back to the Catholic
faith (fifth change?) He did treat Protestants kindly. He issued the Edict of Nantes in 1598 granting
Huguenots freedom of worship everywhere except Paris. All in all, Henry Bourbon (now Henry IV) ruled
wisely until 1610. He was assassinated by a Catholic fanatic who claimed that Henry was still a Protestant
heretic, and that God was being served by his death.
Protestantism had gained a foothold in all of Europe, but it had come at great cost.