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The Reformation Between 1517 and 1648 Europe faced consecutive religious wars which ended with the establishment of Protestantism as a constituent branch of the contemporary Christian religion. This period of time, coined the Protestant Reformation, began when Martin Luther published The Ninety-Five Theses, and concluded in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia. Arguably the key promoter of the Reformation was Martin Luther who on October 31, 1517 posted his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg, in Saxony, Germany. Luther invited other scholars to debate him on the matter church policies and gained much attention. Luther‘s 95 Theses was reprinted throughout Germany, with the invention of the printing press, and soon he attracted many followers. In 1520, the Pope excommunicated Martin Luther and Luther responded by burning the papal decree in front of his students. In 1521, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V declared Luther an outlaw and sent him into exile. Luther lived at Wartburg Castle, home to Prince Frederick the Wise of Saxony and during this time at Wartburg, he translated the bible into German.When Luther emerged from his exile ten months later, many of his theories and reforms had been put into practice in the church. Priests now wore regular clothing, religious services were held in German rather than Latin, and many of the clergy had begun to marry.

Martin Luther‘s message held great appeal for various groups, not all of whom had spiritual concerns but some political. This Reformation spirit, which Luther evoked inspired a chance for many to break with Rome once and for all and created new branches of Christianity.

The Reformation had an invisible, mystic and ideal aim; the result was indeed to be embodied in external things; but its spirit, its worth, was internal, invisible, infinite.

Carlyle uses The Reformation to highlight the societal shift from “dynamicism“ to “mechanicism.“ He criticizes society declaring “It is no longer the moral, religious, spiritual condition of the people that is our concern, but their physical, practical, economical condition, as regulated by public laws.“ Carlyle passionately believes that this is the wrong direction for society to be moving and that “we will venture to say, that no high attainment, not even any far-extending movement among men, was ever accomplished otherwise.“

Wonder, indeed, is, on all hands, dying out: it is the sign of uncultivation to wonder. Speak to any small man of a high, majestic Reformation, of a high majestic Luther; and forthwith he sets about "accounting" for it; how the "circumstances of the time" called for such a character, and found him, we suppose, standing girt and road-ready, to do its errand; how the "circumstances of the time" created, fashioned, floated him quietly along into the result; how, in short, this small man, had he been there, could have per formed the like himself!

Carlyle refers to Martin Luther and The Reformation to exemplify that rather than solely relying upon the influences of society, a man's development depends on his own strength of character. Carlyle's essay uses Luther and the unique “high majestic“ person he was to criticize the mechanical nature of a society which has resorted to depending on the intellectual equivalent of an assembly line, thus sacrificing individual excellence, which Luther embodied.


Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. New York: Abingdon Press, 1991.

Hillerband, Hands Joachim, The Protestant Reformation. Harper & Row, New York 1968. Pages 240-67.

Spitz, Lewis William. The Protestant Reformation, 1517-1559. Volume 3 of Rise of Modern Europe Outdoor Life. Harper &Row, 1985.

Last modified 8 April 2010