What role did individuals play in the Protestant Reformation?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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While there is certainly a rich body of scholarship that has illustrated the social, economic and cultural forces surrounding the Protestant Reformation, it is hard to get away from the conclusion that the Reformation, as a religious movement, was driven in no small part by the individual efforts of religious figures. Foremost among these leaders, of course, was Martin Luther himself, whose critique of the Catholic Church grew and spread into an open religious revolt. Similarly, leaders like Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, John Knox, and even Thomas Cromwell significantly altered the course of the Reformation through their writings and their actions.

Other political figures, Frederick the Wise of Saxony or Henry VIII of England, for example, also contributed to the spread of the Reformation through their individual actions. On a more basic level, though the principle of cuius regio, eius religio theoretically (and actually) limited the religious choices of many Europeans, the adoption of Protestantism represented an individual, often anxiety-ridden decision for millions of common people. This, in fact, was one of the central concerns of Protestant theologians, who argued that salvation was achieved not through the ecclesiastical body of the Church, but through individual faith.


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