What is the Reformation, and what did Martin Luther and John Calvin do in the Reformation?
The Reformation was the time in history when the Roman Catholic Church split up and Western Europe was no longer united by one Christian religion. After the Reformation, there were still Catholics, but there were also a new group of religions known as the Protestants.
Martin Luther and John Calvin were major leaders of the Reformation. Luther's name is the one that is most connected to the Reformation because it was his criticisms of the Church that led to the first splits.
The Reformation refers to a movement to 'reform' that is, to set right all the wrongs in the Holy Roman Catholic Church.
The person who led the revolt against the Roman Catholic Church was Martin Luther (1483-1546) who in 1517 challenged the Catholic Church's practice of the sale of "Indulgences" which would enable a person to be excepted from God's punishment for his sins if he paid the Church a sum of money. Luther was excommunicated by the Catholic Church. Luther challenged the authority of the Pope and preached that salvation is a free gift of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ given to a truly repentant sinner.
John Calvin (10 July 1509 – 27 May 1564) was a famous French Theologian who played an active role in the Protestant Reformation. While in Switzerland to escape from the uprisings against the French protestants he published his "Institutes of the Christian Religion" which contains his teachings. He emphasized the reading of the scriptures to gain knowledge of God and His ways. He published many commentaries on the different books of the Bible.
The Protestant Reformation lasted from 1517 to 1648. During the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church was an extremely powerful, unifying force of the people. As a result, the pope acted as the intermediary between men and God. As the Church gained more and more power, it began to use corrupt methods to earn money and control the mass. When the Church need to finance its large building projects for Renaissance artists, it sold indulgences. Indulgences were “tickets” that saved humans from going to the purgatory. Land owning nobles’ wealth and power were being exploited as the Church grew. This set the stage confrontation of those called Protestants to the corrupt nature of the Catholic Church.
Martin Luther, a German monk, led this movement with a group of followers calling them Lutherans. Luther nailed a list of 95 Thesis on the church door, outlining his frustration with the current Church corruption. He declared that salvation was not granted by indulgences, but through grace.This revolutionary concept reduced the role of the Church as an exclusive intermediary. Luther’s ideas spread widely, with the help of the printing press.
Lutherans began to separate themselves from the Catholic Church and developed a new theology asserting their own biblical interpretations. John Calvin led a strong Protestant group by preaching “predestination” stating that God had predetermined an ultimate destiny for all people, and only those who preached would be saved.