In England, the Reformation arose from the desire of King Henry VIII (b. 1491; r. 1509-1547) to put aside his wife, Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) because she had not given him a male heir. In 1533 Henry married Anne Boleyn (1507-1536), whom he had made pregnant; Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), the archbishop of Canterbury, annulled the marriage with Catherine. When annulment invalid, Henry’s answer was the Act of Supremacy of 1534, which made the king supreme head of the church in England.
The Protestant Reformation
Another Swiss city ripe for Protestant domination was Geneva. A new religious and political regime developed there under the leadership of the French-born Jean Chauvin—John Calvin. Calvin shaped the Protestant movement as a faith and a way of life in a manner that gave it a more broadly European basis. Both Calvin and Zwingli worked their reforms through and with the town councils of their respective cities. Once again lay piety, a growing literacy, and a desire for local control aided the reformers.
There were many other figures who attacked the Church of Rome. Some of these, like Thomas Miintzer (c. 1470— 1525), strongly opposed Luther’s views. But among the many founders of what came to be known as Protestantism, the first in sequence was Ulrich Zwingli (1484– 1531), the first in importance John Calvin (1509-1564).
Luther did not push his doctrines of justification by faith and the priesthood of all believers to their logical conclusion, namely, that if religion is wholly a matter between “man and God,” an organized church would be unnecessary. When radical reformers inspired by Luther attempted to apply these concepts to the churches of Saxony in the early 1520s, there was immense confusion, rioting, and vandalism.
Fundamentally Luther succeeded because his ideas appealed to people of all classes. In its maturity his theology was seen as revolutionary in economic, social, and political—as well as intellectual and doctrinal ways. The printing press quickly made Luther’s ideas more accessible and assured that they were recorded in permanent forms. Political circumstances also favored Luther and Lutheranism. The protection provided to Luther by his local prince meant that Luther’s ideas took hold before resistance to them could be felt.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a professor of theology the University of Wittenberg. In 1517 he was undergoing a great religious awakening. Luther’s father had sent him to the University of Erfurt, then the most prestigious in Germany, to study law. Luther yearned instead to enter the religious life. On his way back to Erfurt he was terrified by a severe thunderstorm and vowed that he would become a monk. Against his father’s opposition, Luther joined the Augustinian friars.