Reformation in England: History and Impact

2216 words (9 pages) Essay

18th May 2020 Religion Reference this

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How far would one go for their religion? In England, the head of the church, whether it be a monk, priest or king, has authority over the whole country’s religion. It might be said that England always remained Catholic but in reality, England’s religion has been reformed many times. The Reformation of England was a huge shift in history for England, opening various religious views and created a diverse culture and society. This reformation created a domino effect changing the whole country’s overall identity. This reform movement began due to the abuse happening in the Christian church and settled down in the late 19th century. The Catholic Church then viewed this corruption and wanted to make sure this didn’t happen to them as well. From Martin Luther to Evangelists, changes in the church and the division into branches the reformation did not happen overnight.

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Martin Luther was a monk who denounced the Catholic church, he wrote a document; 95 theses. A document considered an attack, contained questions and propositions for debate on the formations of the Catholic church. Luther is best known for his teachings of his first 2 theses: The first is that one could only be saved and go to heaven if you believed in Christ that regardless of any good deeds believing in Christ was the only way to guarantee this; thus creating fear among people (Smith, T. 2019a.). Second, he taught that the Church did not save you nor own the truth that ultimately explained salvation can only be deemed through faith, not deeds (Smith, T. 2019a.). This thesis was created because of his belief that it is not proper to sell privileges. 

It was during this time that the printing press made way creating books and newspapers to share among Europe, due to this explosion of written text, literacy rates began to grow as intellectuals would read to others in a variety of settings. Eventually, many Churches began to interpret the Bible, and collecting followers to teach; thus, people began to read the Bible and think on their own. The effects of these changes, particularly the interpretation and sharing of the Bible began to change the way that Protestants worshiped. Protestants had a priest who began to preach more, which would become their main style of worship as opposed to chanting, bells, and incense (Smith, T. 2019a.). A pulpit became a symbol that stood at the front of churches replacing the Altar (Smith, T. 2019a.). 

A transformation spread around Europe because of Martin Luther’s work starting the reformation. This escalated and created a split between the Roman Catholic Church, and Protestant church into the Anglican, Lutheran, and Presbyterian Churches. Many of these divides and changes between the churches were influenced by many different viewpoints, one being with Henry VIII’s actions and divorce. The Anglicans specifically, divided from the Roman Catholic Church due to political and religious views. With their grasp for change, they created a movement called the Oxford Movement. This was originated from Oxford University and a platform that only allowed Anglicans and non-married professors. This movement was a very important revival of the Catholics, and priests such as John Henry Newman and John Keble believed that their English church had lost its purpose which would result in abandonment of their beliefs. These priests decided to create a series called “Tracts for the times”. (Smith, T. 2019 d.) This series painted the unfortunate hatred within the Roman Catholic church. Newman specifically created some of the most influential parts within the series. He explained that the church should not be ranked lower than the state itself. After a lot of defending, Newman decided to leave the movement, however, it did not come to a finish. The English were passionate about their catholic church, enough that some were going to jail for sticking up for their faith and implementing liturgical practices. These passionate individuals were called the Anglo-Catholics (Smith, T. 2019 d.).

The reformation reached a point in time where it was evolving and expanding. Britain became urbanized and more modern. This resulted in many jobs available for people. The church attendance seemed to be affected by this evolution and because of this, England created their very first census. This census confirmed that those who work did not attend church. The Anglo-Catholics did not want to reside in these developed areas with wealthier parishes, they wanted to live in areas of lesser value to give attention to parishes of their status. 

In 1519, Huldrych Zwingli led the reformation in Zurich creating his own version of Christianity. He could read the Bible in both Greek and Hebrew. Zwingli set in motion a “preaching program (Eccher, S. B. 2017).”, he also had Bible study meetings. He survived the plague which led him to write a song. He also introduced a reform that was “even more strictly biblical than that of Luther.” (Smith, T. 2019 a.) He died in battle against Roman Catholic soldiers at Kappel in 1531. 

Jean Calvin influenced the reformation in 1536 when he went to Geneva. He did leave two years later but when he came back in 1541 he still had supporters and pursued his work with the reformation for many years. The Presbyterian Church of Canada and the Dutch Reformed churches come from his thoughts; you should “follow the Bible closely” and that “church and state should be closely bound together and that ‘magistrates’ should also be in charge of religion” (Smith, T. 2019 a.).

Henry VIII created a treaty in 1521 which went against the Roman Catholic church and refused Luther. Henry VII was so against Luther he wrote The Defence of the Seven Sacraments, a theological treatise. However, he completely separated his relationship with the catholic church due to political reasons. Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife because he considered her to be embarrassing for not giving birth to a male; however, the pope rejected his request for a divorce. This resulted in Henry VIII declaring himself the head of the church of England, granting his divorce. Henry VIII no longer considered himself as part of the Roman Catholics, rather had policies from Catholic theology, and Lutheran & Calvinist influence. When Henry died in 1547, his children ended up altering England’s main religion. Edward VI, raised as a Protestant and a Calvinist was first to rule after Henry’s death. He enforced strict rules of Protestantism in England. Paintings, stained glass, and altars were all destroyed and sold off, while the interior of the churches were all remodeled into an auditorium style of building. Services were altered to follow the rules of the Book of Common Prayers in 1549 which was later revised in 1552 to be more Calvinistic. After Edward VI died at the age of 13, his Catholic sister Mary succeeded him. She reintroduced Catholicism into England which was supported by many people who did not like Edward VI’s reform. While the paintings, stained glass and alters were returned to the churches a rebellion almost overthrew Mary. As a result, Mary instituted a law that would execute any remaining Protestants. This was just the beginning of the Protestant-Catholic fight.

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Mary’s Protestant half-sister; Elizabeth succeeded her after her death in 1558. Elizabeth eliminated the concept of the Pope ensuring there was no greater authority over her and eventually re-establishing the Church of England as Anglican. She issued the “Book of Common Prayers” and published an English version of the Metrical Psalms 1562. As more years passed the Anglican religion grew to be known as “a middle path between Calvinism and Lutheranism — with vestiges of Catholicism” (Smith, T. 2019 c.). The Anglican religion became the norm for the people in England due to Elizabeth’s 45-year reign, and her enforced rule of making sure people convert to Anglicanism or else they’ll be persecuted. During Elizabeth’s reign, a group called the Puritans rose ruining England’s nationalization.

The Puritans were a group within the Church of England that wanted to completely get rid of Catholicism. Elizabeth was against the idea, but the complaints of Lutherans and Calvinists forced her to allow Puritans to pursue their goal. After Elizabeth died in 1603, her close relative James I ruled until his death in 1625. After James I died, a war broke between the Puritans and the Anglicans. This war was called the English civil war and was known as “a war of religion and liberation” (Burgess G. 2011) which eventually ended in the Puritans winning. They elected Charles I as the new ruler and he proposed a more Catholic style of Anglicanism onto England. For this, he was executed in 1649 resulting in the Puritans taking over with Oliver Cromwell as the head of the operation. The new institution of Calvinist principles eventually failed after Cromwell died. After Cromwell died, Charles II became the new king restoring the Anglican Protestant church.

After 78 years of no major religious advance, the religious laws became stagnant inviting a new group of Evangelists to emerge. They started as a small club at Oxford University called the Holy Club and were eventually known as Methodists. They practiced field preaching even though preaching was restricted to churches that had carefully thought out sermons. Their field preaching became so popular because many poorer people at the time were not allowed to attend Anglican Churches. As their preaching became more popular, they gained allies and eventually gained churches called Methodist churches. This movement eventually split from the Church of England but still followed their laws and became known as Anglican Evangelists. 

Due to the multiple amounts of rulers in England, the reformation took a long time to occur. Martin Luther created a set of ideals in 1517 allowing people to interpret the Bible for themselves, Huldrych Zwingli in 1519 creating his own type of Christianity in Switzerland, Jean Calvin in 1536 wanting one interpretation of the Bible and a closely bound church and state, Henry VIII altering the Catholic church to support his wishes in 1521, Edward VI making the church Protestant while Mary reverted it to Catholic from 1547 to 1558, Elizabeth in 1559 changing the church to Anglican, the Puritans reign attempting to eliminate Catholicism, and the Methodists becoming known as Anglican-Evangelists after they started preaching to the poor. All these major figures and groups have all continuously altered England’s religion for years. The reformation and revival had eventually come to a slow finish resulted in the Anglicans keeping some power. They were the only ones allowed to crown a monarch and the only bishops that got a seat in Parliament at the time. The England community, however, was eventually recognized as fully English, but religion itself became scattered due to the urbanization of many countries in Europe. 

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