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The Reformers & the Catholic Church: How Religious Beliefs Transformed During the Reformation

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  • 0:07 The Protestant Reformation
  • 0:55 Protestant Beliefs
  • 2:02 Catholic Reformers
  • 3:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

The Protestant Reformation and Counter-Reformation challenged the beliefs of the Catholic Church. This lesson explores some of the differing beliefs among Protestant and Catholic reformers.

The Protestant Reformation

The 16th century was a time of major change for the Catholic Church. Before this time, Catholicism was the dominant religion, and most national churches reported to the pope. A German monk named Martin Luther was dissatisfied with the level of authority the Catholic clergy held over its laypeople. Luther felt especially unhappy that the church issued indulgence for pay. Indulgence was the act of a clergy member pardoning a sin.

Luther inspired many to begin thinking in new directions and denying the Catholic Church's influence over laypeople. The movement spread from Germany throughout Europe. Those who followed this movement became known as Protestants. Protestants believed the ultimate authority could be found within the Bible, and it was each person's responsibility to learn and understand the scripture for him or herself.

Protestant Beliefs

Protestants rejected some of the Catholic doctrines. For example, Luther rejected the Catholic belief of transubstantiation. This is the belief that during the Eucharist (communion) practice, bread and wine transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus. Luther believed Jesus existed in all things, so he was already present in the bread and wine. Another major leader in the Protestant movement, Huldrych Zwingli of Zurich, took this idea further, saying that Jesus was not physically present during this practice. Rather, he believed this practice was simply a memorial.

The Anabaptists believed that adults could be re-baptized even though they were baptized as infants
Adult Baptism

A radical group of reformers, called Anabaptists, disagreed that infant baptism was the only baptism needed. They allowed for adults who had been baptized as infants to be re-baptized as adults.

Another group of reformers, known as Calvinists, believed that the law should be upheld according to the Church's beliefs. John Calvin, the leader of these Protestants, worked to join Church and state under his powerful leadership.

Catholic Reformers

Aside from the arguments of the Protestants, the Catholic Church faced a movement for reform from within. Reformers sought to eliminate abuses of power and finances within the church. They also hoped to inspire a renewed interest in Catholicism. This movement is known as the Counter-Reformation.

In 1545, a council met to discuss these issues along with the arguments presented by the Protestants. This meeting was known as the Council of Trent. The results of the council were that the Church's interpretation of the Bible was final but that the Bible had equal authority with the Church. Also, practices such as the veneration of saints and indulgences would continue to be practiced.

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