Definition of Reformation

The Reformation movement was complex and heterogeneous, and concerned an agenda far broader than the reform of the doctrine of the Church. It addressed fundamental social, political and economic issues, too complex to be discussed in any detail here. The agenda of the Reformation varied from one country to another, with the theological issues which played major roles in one country (for example, Germany) often having relatively little impact elsewhere (for example, in England). The issue of indulgences, which played a significant role in the origins of the Wittenberg reformation, had no comparable role in Geneva, Strasbourg, or Zurich. Similarly, the authority of the Pope to annul royal marriages, which proved to be of importance in relation to the political initiation of the English Reformation (although its impact upon the theological substance of the Reformation was somewhat slight), was of little interest in Germany or Switzerland. Local conditions led to local reformations.

In response to the Reformation, the Catholic Church moved to put its own house in order. Prevented from calling a reforming council in the 1530s on account of political instability in Europe resulting from tensions between France and Germany, the then pope was eventually able to convene the Council of Trent in 1545. This set itself the task of clarifying and defending Catholic thought and practice against its evangelical opponents.

The term 'Reformation' is used in a number of senses, and it is helpful to distinguish them. Four elements may be involved in its definition:

(a) The Lutheran Reformation.

(b) The Calvinist Reformation (the Reformed Churches).

(c) The radical Reformation (Anabaptism).

(d) The Catholic Reformation (the Counter Reformation).

In its broadest sense, the term 'Reformation' is used to refer to all four movements. The term is also used in a somewhat more restricted sense, meaning 'the Protestant Reformation', excluding the Catholic Reformation. In this sense, it refers to the three Protestant movements noted above. In many scholarly works, however, the term 'Reformation' is used to refer to what is sometimes known as the 'magisterial Reformation', or the 'mainstream Reformation'—in other words, that linked with the Lutheran and Reformed Churches (including Anglicanism), and excluding the Anabaptists.

(a) The Lutheran Reformation

The Lutheran Reformation is particularly associated with the German territories and the pervasive personal influence of one charismatic individual—Martin Luther. Luther was particularly concerned with the doctrine of justification, which formed the central point of his religious thought. The Lutheran Reformation was initially an academic movement, concerned primarily with reforming the teaching of theology at the University of Wittenberg. Wittenberg was an unimportant university, and the reforms introduced by Luther and his colleagues within the theology faculty attracted little attention. It was Luther's personal activities—such as his posting of the famous Ninety-Five Theses (31 October 1517)—which attracted considerable interest, and brought the ideas in circulation at Wittenberg to the attention of a wider audience.

Strictly speaking, the Lutheran Reformation only began in 1522, when Luther returned to Wittenberg from his enforced isolation in the Wartburg. Luther was condemned by the Diet of Worms in 1521. Fearing for his life, certain well-placed supporters removed him in secrecy to the castle known as the 'Wartburg', until the threat to his safety was over. In his absence, Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt, one of Luther s academic colleagues at Wittenberg, began a programme of reform at Wittenberg which seemed to degenerate into chaos. Convinced that he was needed if the Reformation was to survive Karlstadt's ineptitude, Luther emerged from his place of safety, and returned to Wittenberg.

At this point, Luther's programme of academic reform changed into a programme of reform of Church and society. No longer was Luther's forum of activity the university world of ideas—he now found himself regarded as the leader of a religious, social and political reforming movement which seemed to some contemporary observers to open the way to a new social and religious order in Europe. In fact, Luther's programme of reform was much more conservative than that associated with his Reformed colleagues, such as Huldrych Zwingli.

(b) The Calvinist Reformation

The origins of Calvinist Reformation, which brought the Reformed Churches (such as the Presbyterians) into being, lie with developments in certain leading cities (especially Zurich, Berne and Basle) within the Swiss Confederation. Subsequently, the city of Geneva came to play a prominent role in relation to the Reformed Churches. Geneva, it should be noted, was not part of the

Swiss Confederation at this stage, but was a fiercely independent city-state which sought to ensure its independence through military and economic alliances with nearby Swiss cities. Whereas the Lutheran Reformation had its origins in an academic context, the Reformed Church owed its origins to a series of attempts to reform the morals and worship of the Church (but not necessarily its doctrine) according to a more biblical pattern. It must be emphasized that although Calvin gave this style of Reformation its definitive form, its origins can be traced back to earlier reformers, such as Huldrych Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger, based in the leading Swiss city of Zurich.

Although most of the early Reformed theologians—such as Zwingli—had an academic background, their reforming programmes were not academic in nature. They were directed towards the Church, as they found it in certain Swiss cities, such as Zurich, Berne and Basle. Whereas Luther was convinced that the doctrine of justification was of central significance to his programme of social and religious reform, the early Reformed thinkers had relatively little interest in doctrine, let alone one specific doctrine. Their reforming programme was institutional, social and ethical, in many ways similar to the demands for reform emanating from the humanist movement.

The consolidation of the Reformed Church is generally thought to begin with the stabilization of the Zurich reformation after Zwingli's death in battle (1531) under his successor, Heinrich Bullinger, and to end with the emergence of Geneva as its power base, and John Calvin as its leading spokesman, in the 1550s. The gradual shift in power within the Reformed Church (initially from Zurich to Berne, and subsequently from Berne to Geneva) took place over the period 1520-60, eventually establishing the city of Geneva, its political system (republicanism) and its religious thinkers (initially Calvin, and after his death, Theodore Beza) as predominant within the Reformed Church. This development was consolidated through the establishment of the Genevan Academy (founded in 1559), at which Reformed pastors were trained.

(c) The radical Reformation (Anabaptism)

The term 'Anabaptist' owes its origins to Zwingli (the word literally means 'rebaptizers', and refers to what was perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Anabaptist practice—the insistence that only those adults who had made a personal public profession of faith should be baptized). Anabaptism seems to have first arisen around Zurich, in the aftermath of Zwingli's reforms within the city in the early 1520s. It centred on a group of individuals (among whom we may note Conrad Grebel) who argued that Zwingli was not being faithful to his own reforming principles. He preached one thing, and practised another.

Although Zwingli professed faithfulness to the sola scriptura, 'by Scripture alone', principle, Grebel argued that he retained a number of practices-including infant baptism, the close link between Church and magistracy, and the participation of Christians in warfare—which were not sanctioned or ordained by Scripture. In the hands of such thinkers, the sola scriptura principle would be radicalized; reformed Christians must believe and practise only those things explicitly taught in Scripture. Zwingli was alarmed by this, seeing it as a destabilizing development which threatened to cut the Reformed Church at Zurich off from its historical roots and its continuity with the Christian tradition of the past.

A number of common elements can be discerned within the various strands of the Anabaptist movement: a general distrust of external authority; the rejection of infant baptism in favour of the baptism of adult believers; the common ownership of property, and an emphasis upon pacifism and nonresistance. To take up one of these points: in 1527, the governments of Zurich, Berne and St Gallen accused the Anabaptists of believing 'that no true Christian can either give or receive interest or income on a sum of capital; that all temporal goods are free and common, and that all can have full property rights to them'. It is for this reason that 'Anabaptism' is often referred to as the 'left wing of the Reformation' (Roland H.Bainton) or the 'radical Reformation' (George Hunston Williams). For Williams, the 'radical Reformation' was to be contrasted with the 'magisterial Reformation', which he broadly identified with the Lutheran and Reformed movements (Williams 1992).

(d) The Catholic Reformation

This term is often used to refer to the revival within Roman Catholicism in the period following the opening of the Council of Trent (1545). In older scholarly works, the movement is often designated the 'Counter Reformation'. As the term suggests, the Roman Catholic Church developed means of combating the Protestant Reformation, in order to limit its influence. It is, however, becoming increasingly clear that the Roman Catholic Church countered the Reformation partly by reforming itself from within, in order to remove the grounds of Protestant criticism. In this sense, the movement was a reformation of the Roman Catholic Church, as much as it was a reaction against the Protestant Reformation.

The same concerns underlying the Protestant Reformation in northern Europe were channelled into the renewal of the Catholic Church, particularly in Spain and Italy. The Council of Trent, the foremost component of the Catholic Reformation, clarified Catholic teaching on a number of confusing matters, and introduced much-needed reforms in relation to the conduct of the clergy, ecclesiastical discipline, religious education and missionary activity. The movement for reform within the Church was greatly stimulated by the reformation of many of the older religious orders, and the establishment of new orders (such as the Jesuits). As a result of the Catholic Reformation, many of the abuses which originally lay behind the demands for reform-whether these came from humanists or Protestants—were removed.

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  • Alfrida
    WhaT IS THE reformation movement definition?
    1 year ago

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