European History pt. 1 — Luther and Calvin

This summer, I’m going to be going through my old European history textbook. It was advanced for me in high school, and now it’s a pretty easy read, but it’s a good summary of the major developments of European history. The book is A History of the Modern World by RR Palmer, Joel Colton, and Lloyd Kramer. Each day, I am going to try and do 10 pages from this book, and write a short summary to cement my understanding.

I start at the protestant reformation.

pages 77-87

Time frame

1517 is when Luther posts the 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg. 1560 is when catholic and protestant battle lines were more or less stably drawn, and it was only until the end of the 30 years war in 1648 that the two groups gave up their internecine religious struggles for those of “pure” politics.

Things to Note

From my reading, the protestant reformation was a startlingly conservative and individualistic movement. The movement got traction because the middle class were becoming more secular (just ever so slightly at this time), the poor were sick of the church’s corruption (Babylonian captivity had just ended in 1378), and the powerful wanted more power. Surprise surprise.

When the revolution began, German princes had a lot to gain by casting out Catholicism and repossessing their lands for their own enrichment. Luther himself had to ally himself more and more closely with princely powers when peasants used his religious revolution to further social goals like village rights. The Schmalkaldic league — a league of princes — successfully warred against the church and won a great victory, sealed by the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. This gave rulers the right to determine the religion in their territory. This was a kind of a political autonomy or political right.

Two other crucial things

1. the philosophy of Luther was an internal one. Some of the sacraments were done away with, and the physical, ritualism of Catholicism was replaced by “justification  by faith” which was an attitude or state of mind (the first instance of the modern attitude?). Notice how this was congenial to political rulers since the dictates of Protestantism did not require anything that could contradict the interests of a secular state. Catholicism however, with its worldly embodiment in the institution  of the church was much more threatening.

2. France begins what will be its historical obsession with dividing Germany by embracing Protestantism (and more). French was Catholic but was happy to support the P revolution for ITS political goals — revolution kept the German princes fragmented. I think it’s interesting to recognize that the  aggressive Germany of the turn of the century and the Nazis was partly a national psychic response to CENTURIES of manipulation by the French. Not saying this absolves Germany of its actions, but see how it all fits together. The French used Germany as its political toilet for a while. That’s bound to piss people off.


Calivinism was in many ways more radical than Lutheranism. In fact, it’s interesting to compare the origins of Calvinism with modern day fundamental Islam. Regulation of ordinary life by religion was complete. Calvinists thought that they had an obligation to Christianize the state. Calvinism also more strongly rejected transubstantiation (whereas P introduced “consubstantiation”)


Supremacy Act passed  by parliament under Henry VIII, making him head of the English clergy. He wanted to be head of a British Catholic church, but he soon had to make more protestant adjustments.


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