The Diversification of the Reformation

The name of Martin Luther dominates most popular accounts of the origins and development of Protestantism. By 1519 Luther's name was beginning to be known more widely, especially within humanist circles. Luther himself was somewhat despondent about the outcome of the debate with Johann Eck at Leipzig, feeling that he had been outwitted and outmaneuvered by the canny theologian from Ingolstadt. Yet humanist networks were buzzing with the news of a hitherto unknown Augustinian monk who had laid down a formidable challenge to papal authority. Luther was about to be hailed as a leading representative of the case for reform of the church and would attract support from even such a luminary as Erasmus of Rotterdam.

Yet other reforming movements were springing up elsewhere in Europe around this time, initially without any knowledge of Luther's activities and aspirations. It is now clear that uncoordinated reforming initiatives were breaking out in many parts of Europe in the 1510s, often in response to local situations or inspired by local heroes. Many of Europe's great cities became epicenters of reforming movements that responded to and addressed their local situations. Recent scholarship, in stressing the intellectual and sociological heterogeneity of the first phase of the Reformation, has made it virtually impossible to think of it as a single, coherent movement.1


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