The English Reformation Versus the German Reformation

The English Protestant Reformation differed in many crucial ways from the German Reformation. In Germany, Luther’s protestantism was driven by his own religious convictions. However, in England politics was at the center of the Reformation, along with religious ideas but to a lesser extent.

The German Reformation began with Martin Luther, a slightly discontented clergyman who, in 1517, posted 95 points that he wanted to debate. Gradually his ideas expanded from that point onward, gaining momentum from, among other things, the invention of the printing press. He truly believed in his cause, and was motivated by the fact that he thought the Catholic Church was corrupt. He simply wanted to do away with many aspects of the Church instead of trying to alter or change them.

The English Reformation began with Henry VIII, a highly discontented King who’s wife was frustratingly unable to give him an heir. He tried to find Biblical reasons for why he needed his marriage to be annulled, ignoring contradictory Biblical information. He said that according to Leviticus 20:21,”He that marrieth his brother’s wife, doth an unlawful thing”, it was unlawful for him to marry his brother’s widow, which he had done. However, he ignored Deuteronomy 25:5, which says that if the union between a man and woman produces no children and the man dies, as was also the case, then his brother must marry the widow. Clearly the primary motivation of Henry was not that he was horrified at having violated Leviticus 20:21, but that he needed to somehow break his unfruitful (indeed not unlawful) union with his wife.

In addition, the reformed Mass in England was not radically different from the Catholic Mass. The only change was the removal of a whispered prayer for the Pope said by the priest. The Church of England was referred to as “Catholicism without the Pope”. Henry VIII had been an advocate for the Catholic church and for the authority of the Pope, and was awarded the title Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith) after he published his work In Defense of the Seven Sacraments. However, when adhering to the teachings of the Church was not politically advantageous, Henry’s position on religion changed.

Martin Luther’s Protestantism was focused on reform and was radically different from the Catholic Church. Henry VIII’s Protestantism was similar to Catholicism, just without the authority of the Pope. The Reformation in England and the Reformation in Germany were very different from one another. They differed in the areas of doctrine, but their main differences were associated with motivation. The German Reformation was motivated by belief, while the English Reformation was motivated by politics and the concern for legitimate succession.

Calvin on Predestination

John Calvin was a Protestant figure who believed strongly in the idea of predestination, the idea that it has been determined by God that some will be saved and some will be damned. Calvin said that God owes a debt to no man, and that He predestines some to eternal life out of mercy, not because a person has somehow earned the right to enter heaven. He said that each and every person has been created for the end of either salvation or destruction. He argued against those who said that predestination makes the judgment of God unequal, saying that God has the power to show mercy to anyone he wishes, and to administer justice on anyone he pleases. Calvin said that when God saves, he saves out of mercy, and when he damns, he gives what humanity deserves.

Luther’s Main Points in an Excerpt From ‘On the Freedom of a Christian’

One of Martin Luther’s main points, and one of the points at which Catholicism and Protestantism divide, is the issue of justification by faith. Luther firmly believed that good works cannot save anyone. He believed that humans are so inherently evil that they cannot possibly gain anything from any kind of good work. In On the Freedom of a Christian, Luther described how faith has far more power than good works, and that good works will not lead anywhere in the health of one’s soul. He said that if good works are not needed then there is no need for the law. Citing 1 Timothy 1:9 as a Biblical example, Luther said that the law is only for the unjust man. His position was that if someone has faith, then they have no need for any law. The Catholic Church says that belief is not enough for salvation. Good works must be done to pay for the sins that we commit. The point of justification by faith is indeed a place where the Catholic Church and Protestantism diverge, along with the idea of predestination and many other important issues.