The religious ferment from which Protestantism emerged was originally a ferment within the Catholic church, to which many who remained Catholics had contributed. Erasmus and other Christian humanists greatly influenced the early stages of what came to be called the Catholic Reformation. Particularly in Spain, but spreading throughout the Catholic world, there was a revival of mysticism and of popular religion.
The Protestant Reformation
Among the radicals, preaching was even more important than in other forms of Protestantism, and more emotionally charged with hopes of heaven and fears of hell. Many sects expected an immediate Second Coming of Christ and an end of the material world. Many were economic equalitarians, communists of a sort; they did not share wealth, however, so much as they shared the poverty that seemed to them an essential part of the Christian way.
For Calvinists the main theological concern was the problem of predestination against free will. The problem arose from the concept that God is all-powerful, all-good, all- knowing; this being so, he must determine all that happens, even willing that the sinner must sin. For if he did not so will, a person would be doing something God did not want, and God would not be all-powerful. There is a grave difficulty here. If God wills that the sinner sin, the sinner cannot be blamed for it. Logical argument appeared to be at a dead end.
The divergent beliefs and practices that separated the Protestant churches one from another may be arranged most conveniently in order of their theological distance from Catholicism. The Church of England managed to contain almost the whole Protestant range, from High Church to extreme Low Church.
There were certain common beliefs and practices that linked all Protestant sects and set them apart from Catholicism. The first of these common denominators was repudiation of Rome’s claim to be the one true faith. The difficulty here was that each Protestant sect initially considered itself to be the one true faith, the legitimate successor to Christ and his apostles.
Socially and intellectually less “respectable” than the established Lutheran and Anglican churches or the sober Calvinists was a range of radical sects, the left wing of the Protestant revolution. In the sixteenth century most of these were known as Anabaptists (from the Greek for “baptizing again”).