11.2.4 The Reformation

The search for the original form of the gospel and for guidance by the Holy Spirit defined a movement in Europe which is described by the term "Reformation" and is closely associated with Martin Luther (1483-1546).


Criticism of the Roman Church's secularisation, as well as the humanists' demand for a return to its sources and a resulting devotion to the Bible, were significant precursors to the Reformation.


Luther developed his theology based on his interpretation of the Bible. At its core is the doctrine of justification by faith, with its fundamental notion that God does not provide rewards on the basis of good works, but rather grants His grace to the sinner who believes in Jesus Christ.


Luther came into conflict with the Roman Church because he rejected the Pope's authority and cast doubt on the infallibility of the councils. He argued that the Bible, with its witness to Jesus Christ, should be the sole basis for doctrine. Luther translated the Bible into the German language and thereby made it accessible to the people.


The rapid spread of the Reformation in Germany is not only to be attributed to Luther and other reformers, but also to the political and economic interests of many princes.


Outside of Germany, the Reformation gained a foothold primarily in northern Europe, in the Netherlands, in France, and in Italy. The reformer Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) was active in Zurich, and John Calvin (1509-1564) who started an independent reform movement, was active in Geneva.


The ideals of the Reformation also took on political dimensions. Both sovereigns and peasants adopted it–for various motives–in order to achieve social and political goals.


The Anglican Church came into being independently in England in 1534.


As a reaction to the Reformation, the Council of Trent (from 1545) inspired a period of reflection and renewal in the Roman Catholic Church and prepared the way for the Counter-Reformation.