History: Why so many “Reformers/Rebels” Germanic?


Just because like anywhere anytime: heresy comes, some remain faithful while others fall away.


I am no expert but I can see the appeal of Luther’s ideas to princes who wanted to break free from Roman influence and have more control over their little kingdoms. Just my 2 cents.


The reformer Huldryck/Ulrich Zwingli was born and lived in Switzerland.

Jean Calvin was born in France but worked in Geneva, Switzerland when he had to leave France.

Two of the protestant reformers who lived around the same time as Martin Luther.


And Jan Hus was Czech


And in Spain we had St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. Difference is they remained in the Catholic Church and the “reformation” took a totally different way.


The Avignon Papacy, Great Western Schism, and Council of Constance greatly weakened the church’s prestige. Then there was the Bohemian Reformation led by Jan Hus. This resulted in a national church that was virtually independent from Rome even before the Protestant Reformation.

In addition, many parts of central Europe were already seeing the emergence of locally controlled churches. If you were one of the German or Swiss cities, it was often preferable to buy you’re way free of the bishop’s jurisdiction. For example, Nuremburg in the 1480s was able to get legal exemptions from the bishop’s court, the city council placed its own guardians in charge of the monasteries and nunneries, and the city gained the patronage over the main parish churches. The bishop of Augsburg was forced to make his headquarters in nearby Dillengen because no body in the city wanted him there.


I read somewhere that most Austrians, just like most Czechs, became Protestant soon after the reformation was started. But then later the Hapsburg emperors banned Protestantism. I do know that a Hapsburg emperor banned Protestantism in the Czech lands after the battle of White Mountain, at the start of the Thirty Years War, and so then some Czech Protestants got executed, some went into exile, including Comenius, a few fled into the mountains, and most got forcibly converted to Catholicism, which was not that difficult, since most lived in serfdom, so had to obey their feudal masters. So still today most Czech Christians are Catholic, although most Czechs are not Christian today, and still learn about the forced conversion of their ancestors, with disgust. Still learn with disgust about how so many, most Czech books, got burned, by the Jesuits, much of the early Czech literature.


Hey @AlbertDerGrosse, in all charity, I should say that perhaps you don’t realize just in how-far your writing goes against what can be called the “raison d’être” of being Catholic. Or, what a southern-European sees (and should see) as his own “raison d’être” for being Catholic. Just as the Filipinos certainly see it. Saint Dominic certainly knew it, as did Saint Curé d’Ars. That there is not a single thing in the world that could justify or prompt any distinction between being Catholic and being all the other things that make us what we are.


Diarmaid MacCulloch writes in his history of the Reformation that it was northern, not southern Europe, in which people were most obsessed with “prayer as a ticket out of Purgatory” (p. 14 of The Reformation: A History). This has implications for where Protestantism ultimately emerged and took hold because ultimately Protestantism began as an attempt at theological correction. One of the things that needed correcting was the abuse of indulgences and endowed masses for the dead.

All of this money exchanging hands for what was supposed to be the salvation of people’s souls was something that disgusted the Reformers. It would make sense that Protestant movements would take hold in places where this was more of a problem.

MacCulloch writes that “the difference between attitudes of salvation in northern and southern Europe may explain why Luther’s first attack on some of the more outrageous outcrops of the soul-prayer industry had so much more effect in the north than in the south” (p. 15).


Except that places such are Poland and Ireland are also ‘north’ and did not turn Protestant. I do not buy such simplifications. But you go ahead, believe what you want.


Things like this are rarely simple, and in an 800 page book, this was only a small part of his overall analysis, but you go on ahead and make pointless criticisms if you want.


And one of his better quotes, in wikipedia:

@Dan_Defender I like, among English historians, for example, Antony Beevor because his action paced narrative is entertaining, NOT BECAUSE of his heavily biased political reading of history which -should it be said (?): is anti-catholic “par essence”.


Founder of the Moravian Church, about 20 years before Luther. In Lidice, Czech Republic.
They founded Lititz, Pennsylvania, smack dab in Lancaster County. Lititz is home to the longest running annual July 4th celebration in the U.S. Up until around the Civil War, I think, you weren’t allowed to live in Lititz unless you were Moravian.

As for why Poland didn’t go through the Reformation much, I’d read that the Polish nobles didn’t seem to care much about what religion people followed. With no “Establishment” to fight, the rebellious Protestant Reformers didn’t get traction. Supposedly.


I don’t see anything particularly anti-Catholic in his work, unless you think it’s impossible to be an ex-Anglican gay man and a reasonably good historian with regards to Catholicism.

But more to the point, I haven’t seen anyone actually refute what he says with regards to the differences between northern and southern European practices and emphasis with regards to purgatory and the correlation that might have had with where Protestantism was successful.


Hi @Itwin, I only just noticed you’re a history teacher. Well, out of respect for your seriousness on the subject I’ll elaborate:

You might (or not) agree on the following:

1ºAcademic production (and even exact science production) is frequently not devoid of political interests. A good example would be economics, where one and the other school of thought will frequently “edit scientific findings” that all too inconspicuously seek only to legitimize the political stake they hold.

Concrete recent example: You had plenty of folks wanting to Flexicurity which was a pseudo-scientific economic policy seeking nothing but to legitimize suspension of workers rights and job security (which are actually historical conquests of the working class). If you went to “London School of Economics”, for example, you’d have endless cycles of “conferences” featuring predominant politicians advocating for Flexicurity - as would be expected in an economically liberal country like England.

[Now, let’s ask ourselves: Was that scientific or was it political? I’d say the average English working class (and not only the English) would prefer job security wherever they could get it, and dismiss the Flexicurity as lying nonsense.]

2ºOn history: I would start by asking if you’ve ever noticed Anglo-Saxon historians (and especially in the most reputed Universities, like Oxford and so forth) being devoid of politics and their peculiar worldview in what they publish? Or do you think an Empire is maintained by publishing exempt history? Or better still, by not laying claims wherever and whenever they can?


OK. But anyone whose received a good education is aware that academics are people too and not immune from biases and point of view. Even in the sciences, which in theory should be evidence-based, people can fall into the trap of confirmation bias.

The study of history is not a science. Historians create intelligible narratives about the past using the available historical evidence, such as archaeological remains, oral histories, and written documents. When all of this evidence is accumulated and considered, historians often don’t agree on what exactly happened, either because of lack of evidence or differing interpretation of the available evidence. That’s why historians continue to debate and challenge one another. In theory, the best historical arguments will be the most convincing until new evidence or better arguments are revealed.

Are you saying that Diarmaid MacCulloch is part of the dreaded imperial Anglo-Saxon Protestant historical cabal? Why wasn’t I invited?

So what? If you’re English and Protestant you can’t be trusted to write good history? What about if you’re an Irish Catholic historian? Is Eamon Duffy on the Vatican’s payroll then? Should Stripping of the Altars be stripped of its pages? If I were to refuse to read good historians because they happen to be Catholic or Anglican or gay or whatever, who would be left to read?


Well, I think that if someone sees no problem in woman becoming priests and no incompatibility between being actively gay and Christian that someone is, perhaps, somewhat skewed in more than one way.

Antony Bevor certainly went out of his way to bash the Catholic church in his book on the Spanish civil war (besides other historical inaccuracies) and that didn’t stop his “kind of book” (a scholar writing inaccuracies) running over 500 pages of becoming a best-seller.

It seems Mr.MacCulloch is a professor at Oxford. Well, Oxford could give back the stolen collection of books they are holding and they are more than welcome to keep Mr.MacCulloch books in return.

No. I’m saying he’s a British academic in a top-rated institution and those places aren’t attained by merit alone. I’m certain you’ll agree that however handy those best-seller formats are real history is to be found in obscure monographs and conference proceedings by scholars probably no-one ever heard off. Let’s face it, the British mastered the art of writing history books that read like action flicks - it wouldn’t sell otherwise. And it’s fact that the publishing and scientific circuit is dominated by the Anglo-Saxon establishment as a whole. More so on issues that are politically and religiously charged to this very day. So I do take it with a pinch-o-salt; and I haven’t read his book - I grant that much. But the sale-of-indulgences as a core factor for the reformation seems just too much of a classic Lutheran bash that proposes to explain everything by way of denouncing hypocrisy.


I’ll refute based on faith:

To pray for family, loved ones, and acquaintances -the souls in purgatory- is a mainstay of the faith.

I haven’t studied (or elaborated) a methodical historical picture, but that much is from times immemorial. To say a northern European prayed more for his parents, spouse, and children than a southern European is preposterous in itself. And I don’t need a PhD in history for that, no one does.

[Indulgences, as they are bashed, were more associated to atonement of temporal punishment than to souls in purgatory. But even more, indulgences were associated to evangelization and missions in the new world during the age of discovery. It was also not without logic, if you look at many of the Christian countries outside of Europe today, some of that missionary work was financed through indulgences. Thus, the faithful weren’t “buying” their salvation, but contributing towards evangelization of the pagans in good conscience that their sacrifices would be pleasant in the eyes of the Lord. And that much, classic Lutheran bashing overlooks - I’m certain no short amount of protestants today finance missionaries hoping the Lord will look upon it favorably.]

So there we go…


You don’t see anything political in choice of words and phrasing?

Fr.John Hardon S.J. said the better part of the 95 thesis was theological nonsense of poor quality. The first thing explaining Marthin Luther is that he wasn’t very bright, or a very good theologian, and actually a notorious anti-semite (this does say a tone about his humanism). So I dare say Mr.MacCulloch overlooked some of the obvious, and I don’t lend him credibility based on his alma mater, or his profile, or his wording. You’ll notice the wording alone, in itself, is misleading and caters to a specific mindset and upbringing.

God bless brother @Itwin


You’re conflating his personal views with his scholarship.

It wasn’t just people praying for their family members. It was people paying priests and monasteries to pray for loved ones, and the dying leaving money in their wills for priests to say masses for their souls and children to buy indulgences to lessen time in purgatory for their family members. There were entire institutions called chantries whose sole purpose was being paid to say prayers and masses for the dead.

What MacCulloch says is this (p. 14):

In the north, will-makers put a great deal of investment into such components of the Purgatory industry as Masses for the dead. In Germany there was a phenomenal surge in the endowment of masses from around 1450 , with no signs of any slackening until the whole system imploded under the impact of Luther’s message in the 1520s. Samplings from Spain and Italy do not reveal the same level of concern; indeed there are several local studies which suggest that such activity was imported by reforming ‘Counter-Reformation’ Catholic clergy in the late sixteenth century, only then creating a piety reminiscent of that which the Protestants were destroying in much of northern Europe.

He goes on to say that there were even differences in the model sermons published on penance. MacCulloch writes that (pp. 14-15):

In the north, the preacher throws the spotlight on the penitents themselves, on the continual need for penance in their everyday lives and on the importance of true contrition and satisfaction when they come to confession; the priest in confession is cast in the role of judge, assessing the sincerity of all this busy work. In the south, the sermons pay more attention to the role of the priest, who is seen as doctor or mediator of grace in absolution of sin; the preacher is not so concerned to urge the layperson on to activity.

The significance of this contrast is that the Purgatory-centred faith of the north encouraged an attitude to salvation in which the sinner piled up reparations for sin: action was added to action in order to merit years off Purgatory.

Now, disagree if you want, but MacCulloch has presumably conducted more research into the this time period than I ever will, so I’ll take his insights for what their worth.

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