5.5 the Reformation (HAVO)

5. The Time of Discoverers and Reformers
Lesson 5.5: the Reformation

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This lesson contains 34 slides, with interactive quizzes, text slides and 2 videos.

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Items in this lesson

5. The Time of Discoverers and Reformers
Lesson 5.5: the Reformation

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5. The Time of Discoverers and Reformers
Lesson 1.1  The Renaissance 
What is this lesson about?

Luther protested against the excesses of the Catholic Church openly. While Luther was in hiding for fear of the Catholic Church, his followers used his ideas to split off from the Catholic Church. This event is the start of the Reformation. Many German princes became Lutheran. This changed the political situation in Europe. The Catholic Church did not take this lying down and fought back aggressively.

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people in this lesson
Martin Luther
Frederik of Saxony
emperor Charles V
John Calvin

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Main Questions

  1. Why did people start to question the Catholic Church?
  2. What were the excesses of the Catholic Church?
  3. How did the actions of Martin Luther start the Reformation?
  4. How did the Catholic Church react to the Reformation?

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Important dates in this lesson:

1517: Luther nails his 95 theses to the Churchdoor in Wittenberg
1521: Diet of Worms
1534: first German Bible published
1545: Counsil of Trent

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Word Duty


Saint: a title the pope gave to a deceased person who had lived a very devout life
Pilgrimage: a journey to a holy place
Relics: the remains of saints or objects that a saint has touched. 
Diet: a parliament-like meeting between the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire 
Indulgences: letters signed by the pope or a bishop in which all your sins were forgiven
Excommunicate: the power of the pope to exclude someone from the Catholic Church (so he can't go to heaven)
Reformers: people who wanted to reform the Catholic Church, like Luther and Calvin 
Reformation: the split between the Catholic and the Protestant church 
Protestants: all followers of reformers
Lutherans: protestants who prefer the ideas of Martin Luther over those of other reformers
Counter-reformation: Catholic reaction to the reformation, meant to protect their church and reform all Protestants 
Inquisition: special department of the Catholic Church that dealt with heretics. ALSO: the systematic persecution of Protestants in Europe 
Heretics: people who have a different view on their religion than the official view

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Criticising the Catholic Church

In the 16th century several people started to doubt all the rules and customs of the Catholic Church.
They found out that many of those rules are never mentioned in the Bible.

So the Church made them up.

people like Luther (Germany) and Calvin (France) wanted to do something about these exesses of the church.
They wanted to reform the Church.
That is why they we Reformers.

So, what was wrong with the Catholic Church?

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The excesses in the Church

So, what exactly were people like Martin Luther and John Calvin protesting against?
By reading the original bible texts they discovered many rules that were just added by the Church later. These rules were never in the original bible and were only added to make the church more powerful and wealthy.
These rules included the following:
  1. For one, the Catholic Church had become corrupt. Any job within the Church was for sale. With enough money you could even become the pope! 
  2. The Church also declared people to be saints. The remains of these people were put on a display as relics, and people went on pilgrimages to visit them. The worship of saints and relics was never mentioned in the Bible. Erasmus had even made fun of this in his book The Praise of Folly. 
  3. The Church was immensely rich. The pope, bishops and other clerics lived in beautiful villas enjoying many luxuries, while Jesus had been a poor carpenter and had said that people should live simple lives.
  4. The bible was only available in Latin. Therefore only priests could read it. Normal people depended on priests to tell them about God and how they should live to enter heaven when they died. Luther believed that everybody should be able to read God’s words. 
  5. The greatest offence however was the sale of indulgences. These were letters signed by the pope or a bishop in which all your sins were forgiven, even before you had committed one! Erasmus and Luther however believed only God could forgive sins, not the Church.

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1a. Which excess of the Catholic Church can be seen in the picture?
Jobs in the Catholic Church were for sale
Relics were displayed
Indulgences were sold
people were declared to be saints

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1b. Which of the following best describes the word "indulgence"
letters that tell you about the authenticity of a relic shown in a church
relics that are displayed in a church at which you can pray for less time in purgatory
free tickets to purgatory
letters signed by the pope or a bishop in which all your sins were forgiven

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The Reformation begins 

It is said, that on a morning in 1517, a monk and university teacher named Martin Luther walked to the door of the All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Hammer, nails and paper were in his hands. He nailed his pamphlet called The Ninety Five Theses to the church door. In his pamphlet he protested against what, in his opinion, was wrong with the Catholic Church. 
The pope sent Luther a letter ordering him to take back his words, but Luther burned this letter. 

top: Luther nails his theses to the church door in Wittenberg (modern illustration)

left: the first printed version of Luther's 95 theses

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2. Why did Luther nail his 95 theses on the
church door, you think?

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The pope became furious and excommunicated him. 
Then the pope ordered Frederick III, the ruler of Saxony - the German princedom where Luther lived - to arrest Luther. Frederick III refused to do this. 

In 1521, Luther was ordered to come to the Diet at Worms, by Charles V, emperor of modern-day Spain, Germany and the Low Countries. A Diet or Imperial Diet was a parliament-like meeting between the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire. At the Diet, Luther was asked to speak for his actions. Even when directly facing such powerful people, Luther refused to take back his words.

Luther facing the emperor at the Diet of Worms. Painting from 1877.

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left map: The Holy Roman Empire was mainly on German territory. Germany as a state did not yet exist. Nor was the Holy Roman Empire a united empire. It was made up of many different princedoms, each with its own ruler.
But above these princes there was the emperor: Charles V. The emperor ruled all the princedoms, but he needed to discuss matters with the princes if they were to obey him. Not all princes did, as you could see with Frederick III, who hid Luther while Charles V wanted to arrest him.
Right map: through marriage and inheritances Charles V also gained Spain (and its American colonies), the Low countries and Southern Italy, making it a really big empire.

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3a. Charles V had absolute power over the German territories

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source A
Pope Clement VII and Emperor Charles V on horseback under a canopy, painted by Jacopo Ligozzi, 
c. 1580. 

It describes the entry of the Pope and the Emperor into Bologna in 1530, when the latter was crowned as Holy Roman Emperor by the former.

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3b. Use source A to reason that Charles V had much power over the
German princes, even if he did not have enough soldiers to make all princedoms obey him.

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After the Diet of Worms 

The Diet of Worms decided that Luther should be arrested and that all his work should be burned. 
After the Diet, Frederick III hid Luther away in one of his castles for protection. 
In Luther's opinion, believing was a personal relationship with God. In fact, no one even needed a priest to be a good Christian. Therefore, Luther started to translate the Bible from Latin into German. He used the Latin texts that Erasmus had translated from Greek. 

top: St. Peter's cathedral in Vatican City, (notice the Renaissance architecture) was payed for mainly by selling indulgences. 
left: the first German Bible (1534) translated by Martin Luther

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4a.Frederick III hid Luther away after the Diet at Worms

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4b. Luther thought that people needed the help of a priest to be good Christians

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In his absence, a group formed in Wittenberg. 
They called themselves Lutherans and were extremely radical. They used Luther's protests against the excesses of the Church in order to justify making a new Church to split away from the Catholic Church. The Lutherans called for religious and political reforms. Their radical ideas spread all over Germany, causing violence against Churches and priests. Luther was very upset by this. He wanted the change to come peacefully. 

The German rulers crushed many of the revolts with great violence. Some rulers however accepted the changes the Lutherans called for, and they even built Lutheran Churches. These events would echo through history as the moment the Reformation began.

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5a. Luther supported the actions of the Lutherans

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5b. The Reformation began when people started forming Christian churches separate from the Catholic Church

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5c. All the German rulers supported Luther

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The Catholic Church defends itself 

The Catholic Church reacted harshly to all things Protestant in Europe. In 1545, Catholic leaders met in Trent, in Northern Italy. At this Council of Trent they started a new movement to protect the Catholic Church, called the Counter-Reformation. They declared everyone who was Protestant to be a heretic

After this, they started hunting Protestants through all of Europe. We call this the Inquisition. When they found Protestants, they would question them, torture them and force them to renounce their faith and become Catholic again. If these Protestants refused, they were killed, usually publicly, by burning. 

members of the Inquisition questioning heretics

heretics who refused to recant their beliefs were burned at the stake

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6a. The Counter-reformation was started at the
Council of Trent

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6b. Everyone who was not a Catholic was called a heretic

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6c. The Inquisition was trying to kill all
protestants and no one else

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Which question(s) would you like to be discussed in class when we check this lesson?

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You can make your own summary using the main questions:

  1. Why did people start to question the Catholic Church?
  2. What were the excesses of the Catholic Church?
  3. How did the actions of Martin Luther start the Reformation?
  4. How did the Catholic Church react to the Reformation?

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