The Reformation


Europe in the 16th century: Nothing remains as it is. Many socially and politically developments are running parallel, replacing each other or provoking another countermovement. 

Time of Upheaval and Awakening

The basis of the Catholic church is more than ailing. The papacy entered a state of crisis. The nation states are forming except Germany. At this times Germany equals a patchwork of dynasties. It is literally a collection of principalities, crushed from papal taxes and duties. Due to this scenario people were more and more criticizing the sale of indulgences of the Catholic church.

At the same time an academic spirit conquered Europe. Universities arise and establish as European economic center. From Italy the idea of Renaissance and Humanism spreads all over Europe. In the boot-shaped country the bourgeoisie is establishing and becomes a power factor and driving force. In Germany the invention of printing catalyzes knowledge since it spreads new ideas faster and enables access to knowledge to more and more people.

The „Gutenberg-Bible“ is a revolution, since it was the first translation of the bible in German. Theoretically everybody now was able to practice faith and religion provided that you were able to read. The pulpit of the Catholic church as a sole authority was losing its monopoly.

Besides the spiritual power now the economic power arises. In northern Germany the Hanseatic League becomes the trading power. The trade flourishes, new trade routes are developing and new countries are getting discovered. Spatial limits are no longer barriers, they are challenges. Educated people desire also to overcome borders in their heads. 

It was the time of upheaval and awakening. This is why Luther demands “Reformatio!” Later other reformers will follow him. With his words “sola scriptura” (by Scriptura alone) the Catholic church becomes his enemy.

Clash of Denominations

With the reformation and counter-reformation a conflict erupts of which the main problem already made subject of discussion in the Cluniac reform: Return to early Christian values. The movement of the bible humanism had a great effect at the development of Luther’s reformation.

Again, especially the civil population suffered most from the clash of denominations. They chose their homes by selecting also the ruler who had the same denomination. During this time there was the general principal of “Cuius regio, eius religio” meaning: “Whose realm, his religion”

As many times in the history of mankind people are on the run for months. Due to anxieties to their own lives and the wish to freely live their religions they are leaving unimaginable routes behind them.

The St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre thereby was the peak of this persecution in France. During this night in Paris 3,000 to 10,000 French Huguenots are killed.  Afterwards the crimes on the Huguenots were continuing for weeks. The consequences of this is that round about 200,000 Huguenots were going to neighbor countries. Most popular destinations thereby were Switzerland, England and Germany.

Refugees Welcome

With the edict of Nantes in 1598 the whole situation for the Huguenots relaxes a bit until the cardinal Richelieu begins to steer Frances destiny. He influences the French King and hereupon he forbids the religion of the Huguenots in 1685. Again the people start to flee in big amounts.

Some principalities welcomed these refugees with open arms, since the Thirty Years War completely depopulated whole German regions. Numerous fields have been destroyed and lied idle and whole farmsteads and villages you were literally able to feel the dead silence. No wonder – Their inhabitants eventually were dead for more than 30 years. They were killed by the troops and the birth rate would not be enough to balance this gap.

After 30 years of war such plans of welcoming and receiving refugees can be really expensive. Especially the elector of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm paid a high price to populate his principality again. Tax exemptions and start-up financing are just a small part of the things he offers. Nevertheless, the most important commodity the elector was offering, was the freedom of religions. Therefore, about 20,000 refugees felt welcomed in the principality of Friedrich Wilhelm since he had the same religion as the most of them.