Essay: Reformation left a deep impact on the course of western civilization



Reformation left a deep impact on the course of western civilization. In the first place it led to a permanent schism in the western church. The church got divided into Catholics and Protestants. The former placed their faith in the authority of the Pope and the need for a mediatory priesthood, while the latter held faith in the authority of the Bible and believed that every Christian can win salvation without the mediation of priests.

In course of time, the schism was further widened and a number of small religious groups made their appearance which claimed to be part of Christian church. Thus we can say that the religious diversity of modern times was largely the product of the reformation.

Secondly, Reformation led to religious persecution. While the Catho­lics burnt thousands of Protestants through the instrument of Inquisition, the Protestants also brutally tortured the Catholics. For example Queen Mary massacred a large number of English Protestants, while Edward VI and Elizabeth I persecuted the Catholics. In short we can say reformation witnessed intensification of religious intolerance.

Subastian Castellio, a follower of Calvin, brought out this point thus, "Although opinions are almost as numerous as men, nevertheless there is hardly any sect which does condemn all others and desires to reign alone. Hence arise banish­ments, chains, imprisonments, stakes, and gallows and this miserable rage to visit daily penalties upon those who differ from the mighty about mat­ters hitherto unknown, for so many centuries disputed and not yet cleared up-

Thirdly, Reformation gave a fillip to education. Each faith wanted to attract more people to its fold and concentrated on the training of youth in its teachings. The Catholics did so to win back the Protestants to its fold. On the other hand, the Protestants laid great emphasis on education be­cause they wanted larger number of people to read Bible. Luther not only wanted the state to set up schools but also wanted the 'civil authorities to compel the people to send their children to school.

Fourthly, Reformation contributed to the development of individual- ism. Initially, Reformation tried to free the individual from the dominance of the church and encouraged people to question the authority of the Pope. But slowly people began to challenge the authority of Bible as well as the very existence of Lord Jesus and God.

This spirit of individualism in the economic sphere contributed to the breakdown of the guild system and the rise of individual entrepreneur. Calvin encouraged individual enterprise by pleading that a man's career was a "calling assigned to him by God and success in his calling was a sign of elevation to salvation".

According to Tawney, "Calvin did for the bourgeoisie of the sixteenth century what Marx did for the proletariat of the nineteenth...the doctrine of predestination satisfied the same hunger for an assurance that the forces of the universe are on the side of the elect as was to be assuaged in a different age by the theory of historical materialism.

He set their virtues at their best in sharp antithesis with the vices of the established order at its worst, taught them to feel that they were a chosen people, made them conscious of their great destiny in the Providential plan and resolute to realize it."

Fifthly, Reformation greatly strengthened nationalist and monarchical forces. The rulers of Europe after challenging the authority of Papacy tried to develop national churches. The prosestant rulers often projected themselves as the spiritual as well as political leaders of their subjects.

Even in countries where Catholic church continued, the church assumed national character and people looked to the King rather than the Pope for the enforcement of the religious principles. The rulers in order to strengthen their position not only tried to create a uniform system of law and justice throughout their realm but also tried to establish a single faith to which his subjects owed complete obedience. In Germany the Peace of Augsburg gave the ruler of each state the right to decide the faith of his subjects.

Sixthly, Reformation also greatly contributed to the rise of modern national state. The various rulers after challenging the authority of the Pope set up national churches and thus paved the way for the development of national states. According to Prof. Figgis, "the supreme achievement of the Reformation is the modern state".

Seventhly, Reformation by dividing Christianity fostered spirit of intolerance which not only resulted in civil wars in various countries of Europe but also involved different countries in prolonged religious wars.

In 1588 King Phillip II of Spain sent a vast fleet of warships to suppress the forces of Protestantism in England, but the English navy defeated the Spanish Armada. Phillip II also declared war against heretics in France and Netherlands, but could not achieve much success on account of strong national spirit in these countries. Germany also witnessed a long drawn war between Catholics and Protestants which lasted for thirty years from 1618 to 1648. Though this war started as a civil war between the Catholic and Protestants princes of Germany soon it assumed an international character. The war was brought to a close by the Peace of Westphala in 1648 by which Calvinism was recognized as a form of Protestantism.

Finally, the establishment of many religions and churches in different parts of Europe led to the growth of various local languages which were given precedence over Latin. This gave fillip to the literary activities. Lot of scholars turned to the classical studies, politics, economics, history and natural sciences and thus greatly contributed to the broadening of the intellectual and moral horizons of the people.