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.


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