The Reformation and The Enlightenment

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A Short summary of the periods of The Reformation and The Enlightenment.

Submitted: October 18, 2013

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Submitted: October 18, 2013



The Reformation and the Enlightenment

The Reformation period, from 1500 to 1645, was a product of a growing sense of ‘individualism’ although there was an emphasis on conformity and faith previously. The Reformation was firmly aimed at a ‘recovery of the past’ (Burns, 1972) in a religious sense and had more of an influence on the common man of that time than the Renaissance. The importance of the Reformation or the Enlightenment cannot be understated as Burns (1972) describes them as a ‘gateway to the modern world’. There were many causes and reasons for the Reformation to begin, including both religious and political ones.

The first stage, so to speak, of the Reformation began with Martin Luther’s 95 statements attacking the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, such as the sale of indulgences, meaning that your sins would be pardoned by priests if you gave money or goods to the church. Advances in technologies meant that word could be spread throughout Germany and Europe with the use of the printing press proving to be influential in the violent reaction to the sale of indulgences. Reformers of this time were against the Church’s so-called ‘divine’ authority in the hands of priests and argued for a return to a more primitive form of Christianity that would only accept doctrines that were specifically described in the scriptures.

There were also political causes of the Reformation including the growth of a ‘national consciousness’ across Europe and a feeling of independence outside of Italy, the centre for the Roman Catholic Church. During this period individual nations and states had come to resent the external interference from the Roman Catholic Church in the form of such things as papal taxes. The increase in claims from absolute monarchs for absolute authority ultimately resulted in the defiance of Rome and the continuation of the Reformation.

The consequences of the Reformation included the break-up of Western Christendom. Germany and Scandinavia became Lutheran, England kept Protestantism, while Scotland, Holland and Switzerland were Calvinists. Italy, Austria, France, Spain and Portugal remained Catholic. This separation of faith worked in the long run as it promoted the idea of religious freedom. Another consequence of the Reformation was that it encouraged democracy. ‘Protestant or Catholic, raised arguments against the absolute state’. (Burns, 1972)

The Reformation can be described as a success for religious freedoms and democracy and the reasons for that success include the use of technology in the form of the printing press which helped spread Luther’s 95 theses; the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church such as the sale of indulgences which ultimately resulted in the resentment of papal authority and taxes. The new found individualism and rationality of this period ultimately led to the Enlightenment from the late 1600s throughout the 1700s.

The Enlightenment can be described as the revolution of science and philosophy in the 18th century, stemming from the progresses in individualism and rationality during the Reformation. The Enlightenment continued to encourage individuality, rationality and education and one of the reasons or causes of the Enlightenment was the spread of reading cultures which were helped by the Reformation’s rise in printing and education (literacy). Another driver for the Enlightenment was that Europeans did not want the same restraints on their lives that they had previously.

The Enlightenment generally attacked such things as superstition, religion and tradition giving rise to Weber’s ‘disenchantment of the world’, meaning that a more rational, scientific belief system was inevitable. The Enlightenment showed the potential of reason and rationality and therefore encouraged and was encouraged by a general hunger for knowledge.

The Enlightenment had a number of effects on the introduction of modernity and crucial global events. It led to the questioning of political and social order, ultimately encouraging the American and French revolutions. New technologies from the Enlightenment period were used by the rising bourgeoisie class to kick start the industrial revolution and also science gradually began to undermine religious belief: Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species and Nietzche’s ‘death of God’.

In conclusion both the Reformation and the Enlightenment made large strides towards modernity with the Reformation introducing new, more rational Christian theologies and individualism which has continued into the modern world and helped to move towards modernity in the first place. The separation of Christianity into different sects led to the idea of religious freedom during the Enlightenment which ultimately led to the separation of the Church and State. The Enlightenment also created the basis of the modern mindset; critical, sceptical and individual while also enabling scientific advancement and secular ideologies to enable modernity to begin.

© Copyright 2019 Stuart Pirie. All rights reserved.

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