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Jack Werner and Tristan Duff

Reformation Essay

Throughout the sixteenth century, the Protestant Reformation had a tremendous impact
on all routines of life. The Reformation called for an era of new religious thought and demanded
the average person to question the Church; a previously sacrilegious idea. Martin Luther became
a symbol of revolution spurring the Peasants’ Revolt and later inspiring his counterpart, John
Calvin. Although the majority textbooks only skim over the impacts on education and freedom
of conscience, the Reformation fundamentally transformed these institutions in a plethora of
When Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg on
October 31, 1517, he publicly humiliated the most powerful establishment for centuries. Even
this initial act, in a way, signified a lasting impact on freedom of conscience or thought.
Freedom of conscience can generally be defined as “the freedom of an individual to hold or
consider a fact, viewpoint, or thought, independent of others’ viewpoints.” (wiki) After John
Huss and John Wycliffe set the stage, Martin Luther’s emergence had impeccable timing. The
peasants felt resentment towards indulgences and higher taxes by the Church, but no one had the
gall or education to voice their opinions. When Martin Luther posted his 95 theses, he
unintentionally ascertained the idea that holding a different viewpoint, even against an
establishment such as the Catholic Church, was tolerable. This spurred Zwingli and Calvin to
also speak out and invariably create their movements. As radical groups appeared such as the
Anabaptists, Spiritualists, and Antitrinitarians, Europe for the first time saw the element of
freedom of conscience. The Peace of Passau presented by Charles V in August 1522 guaranteed
Lutherans religious freedom to practice their ideas. Although it denied other notable groups such
as the Calvinists, this act was the first time people were legally allowed to hold dissenting
opinions against the established order. Before the Protestant Reformation, everybody in Europe
held the same religious belief, but after religion became a separate idea, it established a train of
thought bent on adhering to one’s beliefs. In this way, the Protestant Reformation was the first
stepping stone towards freedom of conscience on all subjects. If people were allowed to hold
different viewpoints on religion, what stopped them from holding different viewpoints on the
government? Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin represented the right to speak out against injustice of
an establishment, and this idea could not and would not be forgotten, guiding history to the
puritans, the New World, and eventually the American Revolution.