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The Protestant Reformation was the 16th-century religious, political, intellectual and cultural upheaval that splintered Catholic Europe, setting in place the structures and beliefs that would define the continent in the modern era.In northern and central Europe, reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Henry VIII challenged papal authority and questioned the Catholic Church’s ability to define Christian practice.The result was a theocratic regime of enforced, austere morality.Calvin’s Geneva became a hotbed for Protestant exiles, and his doctrines quickly spread to Scotland, France, Transylvania and the Low Countries, where Dutch Calvinism became a religious and economic force for the next 400 years.Henry dissolved England’s monasteries to confiscate their wealth and worked to place the Bible in the hands of the people.Beginning in 1536, every parish was required to have a copy.
The key ideas of the Reformation—a call to purify the church and a belief that the Bible, not tradition, should be the sole source of spiritual authority—were not themselves novel.
When German peasants, inspired in part by Luther’s empowering “priesthood of all believers,” revolted in 1524, Luther sided with Germany’s princes.
By the Reformation’s end, Lutheranism had become the state religion throughout much of Germany, Scandinavia and the Baltics.
Although he had hoped to spur renewal from within the church, in 1521 he was summoned before the Diet of Worms and excommunicated.
Sheltered by Friedrich, elector of Saxony, Luther translated the Bible into German and continued his output of vernacular pamphlets.
The Catholic Church of the Counter-Reformation era grew more spiritual, more literate and more educated.