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The Spread of the Protestant Reformation Across Europe

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  • 0:05 Spread of the Reformation
  • 0:31 The Reformation Begins
  • 1:27 The Reformation Hits Europe
  • 2:57 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

In the 16th century, Martin Luther inspired people to believe that the Catholic Church shouldn't hold authority over laypeople. This lesson explores the spread of these Protestant ideas throughout Europe.

The Spread of the Reformation

The Reformation was a huge movement leading to the popularization of Protestant Christianity. It spread to Christians across Europe, but how did it spread so far? The Protestant Reformation was a rebellion against Catholic beliefs by Christians in the 16th century. At the time, the Catholic Church held a heavy authority over its laypeople. Authority rested in the Pope and the Church officials.

The Reformation Begins

Martin Luther was a German monk who believed each person should have authority over his or her own religion. He became angry that Church officials handed out indulgences (which was an official forgiveness of sins) for money without ensuring the purchaser was sincerely repentant. He became so angry he wrote 95 theses concerning this practice and nailed them to the church door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg.

Martin Luther was so angry about the Church handing out indulgences that he wrote 95 theses about it
95 Theses

Luther believed the Church should hold no authority over its laypeople, and each person was capable and responsible for determining his or her religious strength. He also believed nuns and monks shouldn't be held to their vows, nor should the clergy be celibate.

Luther's beliefs became known as Lutheranism. This revolution sparked a growing interest in individual thought and reasoning. This type of thinking became very popular in Germany and soon began to spread to other areas.

The Reformation Hits Europe

Luther may have sparked a revolution, but there were others involved in its spread. Johannes Reuchlin encouraged the study of Hebrew and Greek to allow people to read the Bible in its original languages. This furthered the idea that each person was capable and responsible for determining his or her religious strength. People no longer had to rely on the clergy to interpret the scripture. In Switzerland, Huldrych Zwingli, who held very similar views to Luther, helped spread the Reformation. In England, John Colet tried to reform the Church from within by translating the Bible into English, a practice that was strictly forbidden at the time.

The Reformation spread quickly in Denmark and Sweden, where Protestantism eventually became the official religion. In Switzerland, the ideas of Luther were modified slightly by a Frenchman named John Calvin. His ideas were known as Calvinism. Calvinism's major difference from Lutheranism was the belief that people were predestined to go to Heaven or Hell after death.

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