Get ready for a bit of a longer journey than parts 1,2&3, as we dive into the age of Reformation! Recapping part III, previously we saw Christianity which was now the Religion of Rome, spreading all throughout Europe. With the birth of Islam, Rome was threatened as Islam conquered most of the areas under Roman rule, even capturing Jerusalem. While the Eastern and Western churches grew apart finally breaking all ties, Muslims threatened Europe – being pushed back at the battle of Tours. The pope became significantly more powerful, superseding emperors in esteem and even owning land. The 1st Crusade would return power of Jerusalem back to Rome through much bloodshed, but would fail to hold Jerusalem in their grasp as the Muslims retook the city, inciting a failed 2nd Crusade and a partially successful 3rd. Universities of Paris and Oxford were begun creating incubators for the Renaissance and the Reformation, while movements such as the Waldensians signaled the beginning of a free thinking Christianity, which was outside the Church of the Roman Empire. For the 1st part of this study, highlighting the History of Christianity from 30AD – 300AD please go here. For the 2nd part, highlighting the History of Christianity from 300AD – 600AD please go here. For the 3rd part, highlighting the History of Christianity from 600AD – 1200AD please go here.
As mentioned in the 1st, 2nd & 3rd Parts of this study, I acknowledge that no two people would agree on a list of the absolutely important events in Christianity. This is only an attempt to simply give you a better understanding of the history of our faith. If you believe that there is an important event missing on this list, please comment with the reason why you think it would have affected the outcome of today’s Christianity, and I will add it in after review.
2000 years of Christian History – Part IV – 1200AD – 1600AD
1208: Francis of Assisi renounces wealth – Renouncing his father’s wealth, Francis became a beggar, asking for alms from the “haves” in order to give to the “have nots”. Francis who started preaching in deserted chapels generated a faithful following, to whom he drafted a set of rules, creating the Fransican Order. By 1218 there were more 3000 followers who had renounced wealth, creating a change in Italian society – where the rich got richer and the poor starved.
1215: Innocent III assembles Fourth Lateran Council – While previous popes had called themselves “Vicar of Peter”, pope Innocent III claimed he was the “Vicar of Christ” – claiming to be the representative of Christ on earth, he said the pope was “a mediator between God and man, below God but beyond man”. At the 4th Lateran council most of his ideas would be adopted into church doctrine. The council ruled that annually every person must make confessions to a priest and take communion. The doctrine of transubstantiation (communion bread and wine were the actual body and blood of Christ) became official. Heretics could be legally punished by excommunication and confiscation of property. The pope alone had authority to make or break bishops. The council also declared that Jews wear special identification badges, forbidding Christians to engage in any commerce with them – eventually leading to Jewish Ghettos.
1220: Dominican Order established – a Roman Catholic religious order founded by the Spanish priest Saint Dominic, it was established to preach the Gospel and to combat heresy. The teaching activity of the order and its scholastic organization placed the Preachers in the forefront of the intellectual life of the Middle Ages.
1232: Gregory IX appoints first “inquisitors” – Pope Gregory IX instituted the Papal Inquisition, a mechanism that severely punished people accused of heresy, which was mainly established to curb Catharism and the Waldensians. Out of these 2 sects, the Cathari posed the greater threat, as they taught a dualistic faith in which the material world was created by an evil entity, while the spiritual was created by the good. Staffed by the Franscian and Dominican orders, the original intent for the Inquisition was a court of exception to inquire into, and glean the beliefs of those differing from Catholic teaching, and to instruct them in the orthodox doctrine. In 1252, Pope Innocent IV officially sanctioned the use of torture to extract the truth from suspects, and over the centuries the tribunals would take different forms, investigating and stamping out various forms of heresy, including witchcraft and Judaism.
1272: Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae – A student at the University of Naples, Thomas would go onto become a Dominican monk. Thomas tried to reconcile philosophy and theology, emphasizing that they did not need to contradict each other. When Catholicism fought against Protestanism, at the council of trent, they used Aquinas’ work.
1302: Unam Sanctam proclaims papal supremacy – A charter created by pope Boniface VIII, it decreed that it was necessary to belong to the Roman Catholic church to receive eternal salvation(as the Roman Catholic Church was regarded the one true church), the position of the pope as supreme head of the Church, and the duty of submitting to the pope in order to belong to the Church and thus to attain salvation. The pope who was called the successor of Peter, on whom the church was built – would have authority over the sheep, and whoever did not come under that authority would not be included into the sheep of Christ.
1309: Papacy begins “Babylonian” exile in Avignon – In the period from 1309 to 1377, during which seven successive popes resided in Avignon, in France, rather than in Rome. At the election of Clement V (a frenchman) as pope, he declined to move to Rome, remaining in France, and moving his court there. This absence from Rome for 67 years was known as the “Babylonian Exile of the Papacy”, in which a total of 7 popes reigned from France, finally ending with Gregory XI who moved the court back to Rome.
1321: Dante completes Divine Comedy – The Italian poet, Dante’s creation reflected most of the beliefs of his age such as, purgatory, and the working off of sin to reach heaven. Influenced by Thomas Aquinas, his work would in turn influence many other poets after him, and create a vivid picture of what hell, purgatory and paradise looked like for a long time to come.
1370: Catherine of Siena begins her Letters – Living apart from the world for 3 years, Catherine reentered society at the time of the black death – ministering to the dying and visiting prisoners who were condemned to death. All this while she wrote many letters giving spiritual counsel from the common folk up to the pope. She encouraged pope Gregory XI to move back to Rome from Avignon at the time of the Exile of papacy. After Gregory XI moved to Rome, and died shortly afterward, she would still counsel pope Urban at the time of the Great Schism.
1378: Great Papal Schism begins – After the Baylonian Exile of the papacy ended, by pope Gregory XI moving his court back to Rome from Avignon(France), Gregory XI would pass away shortly. With riots breaking out for a new roman pope, Urban VI was appointed. Many of the cardinals, who regretted their decision later, appointed Pope Clement VII in Avignon as a rival pope – which threw the church into turmoil, as both popes had been appointed by the same leaders. The conflicts quickly escalated from a church issue to a diplomatic crisis that divided Europe, as secular leaders had to choose which claimant they would recognize as pope. This schism would last close to 40 years, coming to an end with the council of constance.
1380: Wycliffe supervises English Bible translation – The leading English scholar of his time, Wycliffe may be largely responsible for the early reputation of Oxford, where he studied and taught. As his studies led to question the Catholic teachings, he began to speak out against the church’s right to temporal power and wealth, the sale of indulgences (letters that were believed to pardon sin), church offices, worship of saints and relics, the doctrine of transubstantiation, as well as the pope’s authority. Regularly defending himself before bishops and councils, he became a hero, creating a following named the Lollards who traveled England teaching the Scriptures to the common folk. In 1377, he was banned from writing and most of his work burned – while he was stripped of his position at Oxford and forbidden to teach his views. Working with other scholars, he used a handwritten copy of the Vulgate to create the first English translation of the Bible, which was improved in a second edition after his death, and distributed illegally by the Lollards. He was excommunicated by the council of constance after his death, and in 1428, his bones were exhumed, burned and scattered in the river. The Reformation was already well underway through his teachings and his work on the English translation of the Bible.
1413: Hus burned at stake – Ordained as a priest in 1401, John Hus taught at Charles University in Prague. A noted preacher who taught against the worldliness and moral failings of clergy (including the pope), stressed on purity of life and personal piety, as well as asserting that Christ alone is the head of the church. When he became popular among the masses, the archbishop of Prague objected to his teachings, instructing him not to preach and asking the university to burn Wycliffe’s writings. When he did not comply, pope John XXIII excommunicated the whole city, forcing Hus to leave Prague. In his book “on the church“, he claimed that only God could forgive sins, no pope/bishop could establish doctrine contrary to the bible, nor could any Christian obey a clergyman’s order if it was plainly wrong. Hus, who was summoned to the council of Constance, where he was arrested as soon as he arrived – as well as his teachings along with Wycliffe’s condemned. Stating that pope or bishop who is in mortal sin, ceases to be a pope or bishop, he added the king to the list. Refusing to renounce his “errors”, he was sentenced to be burned at the stake, and his ashes scattered on a river. His courageous death would lead to the birth of the Moravian church and fuel the reformation.
1414: Council of Constance begins – held from 1414 to 1418, the council ended the Great Schism, where rival popes claimed right as true pope of the Church. The rest of the claimants were deposed and Pope Martin V elected in their stead.
1453: Constantinople falls; end of Eastern Roman Empire – The Ottomans commanded by Sultan Mehmed II, defeated an army commanded by Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI, capturing Constantinople, bringing an end to the Eastern Roman empire. Mehmed who transferred the capitol of the Ottoman Empire from Adrianople to Constantinople declared himself Kayser-i Rum, literally “Caesar of Rome”, that is, of the Roman Empire, though he was remembered as “the Conqueror” – founding a political system that survived until 1922 with the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. While the church Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque which stands to date, the Greek Orthodox Church remained intact, even though Turkey which contains Constantinople (present day Istanbul) is now a dominant Muslim state with more than 95% of its population being Muslim.
1456: Gutenberg produces first printed Bible – At a time where the Bible was only available in Latin, copied by hand on parchment or papyrus sheets, the average person relied on the local priest and pictures or statues in the church for information on the Bible. With Gutenberg’s invention, God’s Word became readily available to everyone – no longer did the pope or a priest have to come in between the believer and his comprehension of the Bible. Previously, only the clergy had access to God’s Word, so that they could compare it to church teaching – but with the printing press, the road to reformation was paved further.
1478: Establishment of Spanish Inquisition – Spain’s rulers King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who showed great devotion to Catholicism, received the title “Catholic Kings” from the pope, and in 1478 requested that the pope establish the Inquisition in Spain with themselves as Inquisitors. In 1492, all Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain. The inquisition humiliated, tortured and brought people to the stake, confiscated property and sold the office of “familiar” – (a person who informed on others while enjoying freedom from arrest), all the while becoming a powerful entity. While Protestantism took hold of Europe under persecution, in Spain it fell under the harsh hand of the Inquisition. Protestant books were banned, and even suspicion that a person was Protestant brought in the Inquisitors, resulting in Protestantism never taking hold in Catholic dominant Spain.
1497: Savonarola excommunicated – In the self centered, wealth conscious society of Florence, even the church was influenced – monasteries knew little about the vow of poverty. A pious Dominican monk Savonarola, spoke harshly against it prophesying the downfall of the city. In 1494, when France attacked them, the people overthrew its rulers and appointed Savonarola instead. People changed their lifestyles, giving up their fine clothes and gambling, while bankers and traders returned whatever they had wrongfully taken from others. While crowds flocked to hear Savonarola preach, many became monks themselves. Savonarola’s attack against worldly clergy including then pope Alexander VI (who had fathered several illegitimate children) was ordered to stop preaching – to which he obeyed. After a year in silence, Alexander allowed him to preach again – and Savonarola restarted his attacks against corruption in the church. The pope excommunicated Savonarola, threatening the city interdiction. Finally the people turned against their leader who was handed over to be burned at the city’s great piazza.
1516: Erasmus publishes Greek New Testament – A catholic priest named Erasmus created his own translation of the Bible in Latin and included a Greek text as well into it. It is believed that he included the Greek text to permit qualified readers to verify the quality of his Latin version. He is recorded saying “But one thing the facts cry out, and it can be clear, as they say, even to a blind man, that often through the translator’s clumsiness or inattention the Greek has been wrongly rendered; often the true and genuine reading has been corrupted by ignorant scribes, which we see happen every day, or altered by scribes who are half-taught and half-asleep.” This Greek version would also help fuel the reformation as it would point out errors in the Latin.
1517: Luther posts his Ninety-Five Theses – The new basilica which was being built in Rome needed an enormous amount of wealth – and one of the fundraising techniques was the “sale of indulgences” – where one could get their loved ones out of purgatory for a fee and earn credit against ones own sin. Tetzel, a Dominican monk in charge of indulgences would travel saying “listen to the voices of your dear dead relatives and friends, beseeching you and saying ‘pity us, pity us’. We are in dire torment from which you can redeem us for a pittance”. When Tetzel came to Wittenburg, where Martin Luther, a German priest, was a professor at – he strongly opposed the sale of indulgences and tacked a list of 95 grievances to the church door. In it he said “divine forgiveness certainly could not be bought or sold, when God offers it freely”. This was just the beginning. Luther went out to lead a religious revolution, railing against church corruption and a new understanding on papal and scriptural authority. He had criticized the sale of indulgences and worship of relics, even before tetzel came along – the meeting merely brought the conflict to the surface. In 1520, the pope issued a decree condemning Luther’s views, which Luther burned. In 1523, Luther advised kindness toward the Jews in “That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew”, but only with the aim of converting them to Christianity – when his efforts failed, he wrote “On the Jews and Their Lies” & “Of the Unknowable Name and the Generations of Christ”, in which he argued that the Jews were no longer the chosen people but “the devil’s people”, and referred to them with violent, vile language. This would give way to further antisemitism and would even be used by the Nazis to perpetrate the holocaust. His views on “justification through grace” have also become a key part of Christian theology.
1518: Ulrich Zwingli comes to Zurich – While the reformation was underway in Germany, it also rose up in Switzerland under Ulrich Zwingli. Influenced by Erasmus, Zwingli immersed himself in the Greek New Testament. When Zwingli became pastor of the main catholic church at Zurich, he announced that he would preach through the gospel of Matthew instead of the prescribed lectionary. In 1522, some of his parishioners defied the church’s rule about eating meat during lent – being supported by Zwingli who preached a sermon on freedom. At a public debate in Zurich, Zwingli’s views prevailed – and over the course of 2 years priests and nuns married, catholic images were removed from the churches and the Catholic mass was replaced with a simple service in which preaching was emphasized. The reformation was underway in Zurich.
1521: Diet of Worms – A diet, a formal deliberative assembly held at Worms in Germany, called Luther and asked him to retract his published views – to which Luther is recorded as stating “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen”. The assembly forbade anyone from helping Martin Luther. Luther was later excommunicated and his writings banned. He was kidnapped and hidden in Wartburg castle, for his own protection by prince Frederick afterwards.
1525: Tyndale’s New Testament published – Credited as the first English translation of the New Testament done from the Greek, William Tyndale, an Oxford scholar, was inspired to create this work by Martin Luther’s German Translation of the New Testament. With heavy opposition from the church, he would leave England and publish the English New Testament, and later be strangled and burned at the stake.
1525: Anabaptist movement begins – A group of Christians under Zwingli, sought quick changes and a self governing church ruled by the Holy Spirit, instead of the church hierarchy. As this movement objected to infant baptism, the Zurich council wanted them to cease from disputations. The group that wanted the church returned to the state of the Scriptures, baptized one another (receiving the name Anabaptist “rebaptizer”), seeking to separate church and state, where political power would not compel the conscience of the believer. This radical group caused riots, being seen by Protestants and Catholics as wrongheaded, bringing persecution, death by fire and drowning to many Anabaptists. The movement spread nonetheless, attracting some Protestants and birthing the Mennonites and Brethren churches.
1529: Colloquy of Marburg – Phillip the landgrave of Hesse, brought the two great reformers, Zwilgli and Luther together, to the end of strengthening the Reform movement. Meeting at Marburg, the two theologians discussed 15 doctrinal issues, agreeing on 14. While Zwingli saw the Eucharist as a Spiritual reception of Christ’s body and blood, Luther saw it in more concrete terms. They parted ways giving way to a greater split in Protestantism – the Zwinglians and Lutherans.
1534: Act of Supremacy; Henry VIII heads English church – Henry, who had married his sister-in-law, Catherine, after his brother’s death, had no son to follow him on the throne. Attracted by Anne Boleyn, the king sought a divorce from the pope, citing Lev 20:21. The pope who was afraid of angering the holy roman emperor, Charles V, who was Catherine’s nephew, stalled Henry. The impatient English king appointed Thomas Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury, who immediately granted the divorce. Henry married Anne, who gave birth to Elizabeth the same year. In 1534 the English Parliament passed an act of supremacy, declaring “the king’s highness to be supreme head of the Church of England” – creating a state church which the pope had no authority over. The Church of England, once broken from the pope, remained separate giving way to Anglicanism.
1536: Calvin publishes first edition of Institutes – Breaking from Catholicism and leaving his homeland, France, Calvin settled in Switzerland as an exile. Pastoring the church at St.Pierre, he brought about reforms, seeking to excommunicate those whose lives did not approach scriptural standards. Geneva became a magnet for exiles from all of Europe, giving Protestantism a unique vigor. Calvinism, a major branch of Protestantism would spread to Scotland, Poland, Holland and America – with teachings such as “unconditional election”, “irresistible grace” and “perseverance of the saints”.
1540: Loyola gains approval for Society of Jesus – With Protestantism on the rise, the catholic church began a counter reformation by attempting to change some of the more offensive abuses to win back protestant converts. Stressing the need for devotion and self denial, the society of Jesus – or Jesuits were started by an injured Spanish soldier name Ignatius of Loyola. An almost military like unquestionable obedience to the pope as well as the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience drove the jesuits, who reached out with an extensive missions program. When catholic strongholds such as Spain and Portugal expanded their territories, the Jesuits went with them to evangelize, reaching all of Europe, Japan, Brazil, Ethiopia and central Africa – as well as many parts of Asia.
1545: Council of Trent begins – The council which met periodically from 1545 to 1563, was put together by pope Paul III, with reformation of the catholic church in mind. Indulgence were abolished, and clergy were exhorted to avoid even the smallest of faults. Doctrinally, the council reaffirmed the Catholic position, standing against Protestant doctrines. They restated that the church alone can adequately interpret scripture and refused the use of the Bible in any other language other than Latin. These reforms further separated the Catholic and Protestant views.
1549: Book of Common Prayer released – At the death of Henry VIII, the archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, moved forward with the English reformation. Images were removed from churches, private confessions to priests were discontinued, and the clergy allowed to marry. But mass was still said in Latin. So Cranmer moved to create a liturgy that was pleasing to Protestants as well as Catholics. The book of common prayer was born.
1555: Peace of Augsburg – A treaty between Charles V and an alliance of Lutheran princes, which was made at the imperial city of Augsburg, – It officially ended the religious struggle between the Lutherans and the Catholics and made the legal division of Christendom permanent within the Holy Roman Empire.
1555: Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer burned at stake – When the son of Henry VIII died, his daughter Mary became queen. Attempting to return England to Catholicism, she earned the name “Bloody Mary” for her harsh reign in which Protestants were persecuted – among them reformers such as Ridley, Latimer and Cranmer who created the book of common prayer.
1559: John Knox makes final return to Scotland – A Scottish clergyman and writer who was a leader of the Protestant Reformation, founded the Presbyterian denomination in Scotland, helping to write the new confession of faith and the ecclesiastical order for the newly created reformed church in Scotland called “the Kirk”.
1563: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs published – A work of Protestant history and martyrology by John Foxe, It includes a polemical account of the sufferings of Protestants under the Catholic Church, with particular emphasis on England and Scotland – becoming highly influential in those countries, and helping shape lasting popular notions of Catholicism there.
1572: St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre – Calvinism that spread to France in 1555, had created the French Protestant Church with more than 400,000 adherents knows as Huguenots. With fighting erupting in 1562, many Huguenots were massacred by the Catholic French at Vassy. Three wars of Religion had been already fought between the two groups. There was hopes of peace in Paris in 1572, as the two warring factions were going to be united by a wedding. Henry of Navarre, a protestant, was marrying Marguerite of Valois, the daughter of Catholic Catherine de Medici. Catherine who planned to assassinate Gaspard de Coligny, a popular French war hero and leader of the Huguenots – failed miserably. With the assassination attempt foiled, Catherine ordered a massacre of the Protestant leaders in Paris. On St. Bartholomew’s day, Coligny was murdered in his room, and mobs were formed to hunt down Huguenots leaders. Huguenots who were prosperous business people were easy to find, and in the name of religious purity – the lower class massacred the middle class citizens, with bodies piled up by the hundreds. The craze which spread to other provinces, with mobs going wild, pushed the death toll to an estimated 100,000. Five more civil wars would be waged between the French Protestants and Catholics in the years that followed.
1598: Edict of Nantes – Issued by Henry IV of France, granted the Calvinist Protestants of France (also known as Huguenots) substantial rights in a nation still considered essentially Catholic. In the Edict, Henry aimed primarily to promote civil unity. It would later be revoked by Louis XIV, the grandson of Henry IV, driving an exodus of Protestants, and increasing the hostility of Protestant nations bordering France.
While the church went through a time of conflict, Franciscan and Dominican orders were established, the pope grew in power to the extent where he superseded man. The Inquisitions were also established where people who had differing beliefs to the Roman Catholic ways were tortured, penalized, exiled or faced death. Meanwhile, the reformation was at hand with thinkers such as Wycliffe, Hus and Savonarola being assisted greatly with the invention of the printing press which made the Bible available to everyone for the first time. The eastern part of the Roman empire, would fall to the hand of the Muslim Ottomans, becoming part of the Muslim empire although Greek Orthodox beliefs continued in the region. With the sale of indulgences, the reformation would officially begin at the hand of Martin Luther and the likes of Ulrich Zwingli. Protestantism which spread quickly even with heavy opposition from the Catholic church, even leading to wars between the two groups, would also give birth to the Anglican Church in England, a separate entity from the church in Rome. While Calvin’s teachings were soaked in by Protestantism, a counter reformation was underway inside the catholic church which did not reform many of its earlier teachings. While the Jesuits traveled on missions programs with spain and portugal as they extended their land overseas, many reformers such as Ridley, Latimer and Cranmer were executed for their beliefs – but Protestantism could not be stamped out, and would become one of the largest sects in Christianity – distinctively different from Catholicism, although borrowing and having many of its roots in the teachings of Rome.