The Reformation 1517-1800
The Context of the Reformation:
Let’s look at some of the events that let to the Protestant Reformation.
- The Spirituality of the Catholic Church was on the decline.
Calhoun writes, “In 1517 the pope was Leo X. He was one of the so-called ‘Renaissance Six.’ Those six popes, from Sixtus IV to Clement VII, according to Barbara Tuckman in her book The March of Folly, ‘Possessed no sense of spiritual mission, provided no meaningful religious guidance, performed no moral service for the Christian world.’”
The New Catholic Encyclopedia states, “There were, on the eve of the Reformation, grave shortcomings in the practice of the church, both in preaching the Word of God and in administering the sacraments—especially the Eucharist—that indicated a general tone of fatigue and apathy. A deplorable manifestation of the secular spirit was penetrating every level of ecclesiastical life. The great body of bishops had abdicated their teaching office, not in theory but in practice. Some were incapable of teaching as the least of their uneducated clergy.”
- Nationalism was on the rise.
Gonzales writes, “Nationalism, while spelling the end of feudalism, also marked the end of the medieval dream of a single people under one emperor and one pope (or, as was said then, ‘one flock under one shepherd’). Increasingly people thought of themselves as subjects of a particular kingdom or citizens of a nation.” Nationalism led to strong anti-papal feelings in some nations, i.e., England.
- Capitalism was emerging as the new money economy. There were new ways of making money. Success did not depend upon your name and your ancestors.
- Development of the university system throughout Europe created centers for people to study, learn, and better themselves.
- The invention of the printing press allowed books and articles to spread across Europe. Gutenberg developed the printing press in Mainz, Germany in 1455. The Chinese already had the printing press, but Gutenberg introduced it to Europe.
- The conquest of the world by the explorers caused the world to get smaller. In 1492 Columbus set sail. Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella sponsored exploration. Catholic missions spread across the world.
The Principles of the Reformation:
The Reformation was based on five principles. Stephen Nichols lists these five principles as follows:
- Sola Scriptura, meaning ‘Scripture alone’: The Bible is the sole and final authority in all matters of life and godliness. The church looks to the Bible as its ultimate authority.
2 and 3. Sola Gratia, meaning grace alone, and Sola Fide, meaning “faith alone.” Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. It is not based on works; we come to Christ empty-handed. This is the great doctrine of justification by faith alone, the cornerstone of the Reformation.
- Solus Christus, meaning “Christ alone”: There is not other mediator between God and sinful humanity than Christ. He alone, based on his work on the cross, grants access to the Father.
- Soli Deo Gloria, meaning “the glory of God alone”: All of life can be lived for the glory of God; everything we do can and should be done for his glory. The Reformers called this the doctrine of vocation, viewing our work and all the roles we play in life as a calling.
Do you agree with all five of these principles? If not, why not?