World History 2 64 - 5.1.2 Calvinists, Anabaptists, and Anglicans

Efforts to silence Martin Luther were unsuccessful, and the new form of Christianity called Protestantism spread throughout the German-speaking lands. By the end of the sixteenth century, it had become entrenched throughout western and central Europe as well. Often the new religion was welcomed by rulers as a reason to reject the pope’s authority, and Luther called upon the German princes to do so.

The Catholic Holy Roman emperor Charles V (who was also Charles I of Spain) steadfastly opposed Protestantism. However, the 1555 Peace of Augsburg secured for rulers in the empire who were Lutheran (as Luther’s followers were called) the right to establish Lutheranism as the official religion within their lands if they wished. A prince’s subjects were obliged to support the church he chose. Many rulers in northern Germany became Lutheran, but in Austria and Bavaria, in the southern part of the German-speaking lands, the Roman Catholic Church retained its power. No other religions were accommodated.

In Switzerland, the ideas of the reformation that Luther began were embraced by Ulrich (Huldrych) Zwingli in the city of Zurich. Zwingli, who had been a priest, called for radical changes, such as a rejection of the Catholic tenet of transubstantiation, which held that Jesus was physically present in the communion wine and wafer consecrated during every Mass. Even Martin Luther had not gone so far. Zwingli also preached against fasting in the period before major religious holidays and called for religious imagery to be removed from churches. He banned organs from churches, shut monasteries and convents, and had the Bible printed in German rather than Latin. Zwingli also called for an end to clerical celibacy and proclaimed that the Bible never referred to purgatory. He was killed in 1531 in a conflict between the Catholic and Protestant areas of Switzerland.

Among those inspired by Zwingli’s ideas was Konrad Grebel, a Swiss merchant. Grebel was especially moved by Zwingli’s claims that baptism, through which people were admitted into church membership, should be delayed until adulthood when a person is capable of making the choice to renounce sin. Finding Zwingli too slow in reforming the Christian community in Zurich, however, Grebel established his own religious movement in 1524, the Swiss Brethren.

The Swiss Brethren was one of several Anabaptist churches—churches rejecting infant baptism in favor of adult baptism—that were established in the sixteenth century, primarily in central Europe and the Low Countries. Because baptism was believed to remove the taint of original sin (the transgression of Adam and Eve), infant baptism was the norm among Catholics and most Protestants as well. Anabaptists, however, believed that only adults could meaningfully renounce sin and make a declaration of faith. Thus, only adults could make the conscious decision to become Christians. But since people could be baptized only once, anyone rebaptized as an adult was violating a tenet of the Catholic faith.

Other Anabaptist movements included the Hutterites, the Mennonites, and the Amish, which broke from the larger Mennonite movement in the seventeenth century. Besides believing in adult baptism, Anabaptist groups advocated the separation of church and state and tended to be pacifists. Because of their refusal to hold public office, serve in the army, or accept secular rulers’ right to control religious affairs, Anabaptists were widely feared by most European rulers and were often subject to violent attacks.

Another center of Protestant thought was the city of Geneva in what is now Switzerland. The city’s religious leader, John Calvin, had been raised a Catholic in France, but he became a Protestant either before or shortly after fleeing to Switzerland to escape persecution for his beliefs. His ideas were similar to those of Martin Luther, but they differed in one crucial respect. Calvin espoused a doctrine known as predestination, which held that God had predetermined which souls would be granted salvation upon death and which were destined for hell. No person could ever know for certain whether they were saved or damned, and there was nothing they could do to ensure salvation. Calvinists embraced the doctrine, and despite its denial of human agency, they strove to lead a rigidly moral lifestyle focused on hard work and piety, seeking, in their ability to live like people destined for heaven, reassurance that they had in fact been saved. They rejected dancing, public drunkenness, gambling, and obscene speech as ungodly and fit for punishment by a special tribunal called the Consistory. Calvinism spread rapidly outside Geneva and found adherents in the Netherlands who established the Dutch Reformed Church, in Scotland where the Presbyterian Church was formed, and in France where its adherents were called Huguenots.

Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, and the Anabaptist leaders were true believers in the doctrines they espoused. The English Reformation, however, was of a different character. In England, reform was initially imposed from the top down, not by a committed convert but by a king looking for an expedient way to exchange one queen for another.

Until the moment he decided to remove himself from under the pope’s authority, Henry VIII of England had a reputation as a devout Catholic and a critic of Luther. He was married to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella who were famous for defeating the Muslim kingdom of Granada and expelling Jewish and Muslim people from the Iberian Peninsula. Henry and Catherine’s marriage had produced only one living child—a daughter, Mary. Although English law did not exclude women from inheriting the throne, Henry wanted to take no chances with the succession following his death and desired a son whose rule would go unchallenged.

Accordingly, against Catherine’s wishes, Henry sought an annulment of his marriage so he might marry Anne Boleyn, who he believed would give him sons. Unlike a divorce, which the Catholic Church did not permit, an annulment simply declared a marriage null and void on the grounds it had never been legitimate. Henry argued that, because Catherine had first been married to his late elder brother Arthur, Catholic Church law prohibiting the marriage of close relatives should never have allowed her and Henry to wed. When the pope refused to annul the marriage, Henry declared the English church no longer bound by the pope’s authority. In 1534, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, establishing the Church of England with the English monarch as its head. The archbishop of Canterbury, the highest spiritual authority in the land, finally granted the annulment of Henry and Catherine’s marriage. Henry had already quietly married Anne in time to see her give birth to a daughter, Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I).

Under Henry’s leadership, the Church of England (also known as the Anglican Church) remained largely Catholic in terms of both doctrine and ritual. Henry closed England’s monasteries, but his failure to purge the English Church of all elements of Roman Catholicism did not sit well with many Protestants. Upon Henry’s death, his son Edward VI, whose mother Jane Seymour had been Henry’s third wife, became king. Because Edward was still a minor, England was governed by regents who took steps to make the Anglican Church more Protestant, a move with which the young Edward agreed. Priests were allowed to marry. The practice of using rosary beads in prayer was denounced. Church processions were prohibited, and statues and stained-glass windows were removed from churches. The mass service was reformed, eliminating many Roman Catholic rituals, and the English-language Book of Common Prayer, published in 1549, laid out the new church service. Ministers who refused to use the Book of Common Prayer risked being removed from their positions and imprisoned.

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The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax