– Joni Cheng
The 16th century to the 17th century was a time of the division of western Christianity, known as the Protestant reformation. There arose many Protestant leaders who desired for reformation that they claimed was not being implemented by the Catholic Church, i.e. Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, the Anabaptists etc. Although these various Protestant bodies all believed in Luther’s principle that the Scripture should be the only guide to faith and salvation, and they do not reject all of the teachings of the Catholic Church, yet they also have many disagreements between themselves.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) marks the beginning of the reformation. Originally a German Catholic priest and scholar, Luther believed that the true church was the church following the teaching of the Bible. He built opposition to the papacy, for which he was excommunicated and his writings were banned after the Council of Worms in 1521. He then established the Lutheran Church. Although his teaching retained many traditions, in his doctrine of the Eucharist, he rejected Transubstantiation.
Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) from Switzerland was originally a Catholic priest. He started another branch of Protestantism in Zurich, Switzerland. He preached only what was found in the Bible. Zwingli’s principles were somewhat different than Luther and were more radical. In 1529, Zwingli and Luther had the famous Protestant Debate which highlighted their central differences with regard to the Eucharist.
Another group that emerged in Zurich were the Anabaptists, the “re-baptizers” that broke from Zwingli’s view and rejected infant baptism. They also believed strongly in the doctrine of pacifism. There were occasions of the practice of polygamy among them and claims of bizarre revelations from God, which led to the persecution of many Anabaptists.
King Henry VIII of England’s reformation was not a spiritual one but one of his own personal desire, political expediency, and a national spiritual mood. He disagreed with Luther’s view of the sacraments and received the title Defender of the Faith from the pope in 1521. However, when the Pope refused the annulment of his marriage with Catherine of Aragon in 1534, King Henry VIII declared himself as the head of Church of England, thus creating a state church in which the pope had no authority.
John Calvin from France, was famous for his systematic theology which defended the Reformation teachings. His doctrine of predestination gained support from Luther and most of the other reformers. However, his teaching came in conflict with the Catholic concept of human free will. In his doctrine of the Eucharist, although similar to Luther’s, Calvin didn’t believe Christ’s real presence.
All the above are only some examples of a series of religious upheavals that would come in the next hundred years.
(Image: Dispute between the leading Protestant Reformers and the representatives of the Catholic Church.)