What was the Reformation

NOW was the period of those earnest theological discussions and intense theological antagonisms in Europe, known as the Era of the Reformation. There had been a revolt in Germany, led by Luther and Melancthon, against the Italian hierarchy or rulers in the Christian Church whose head was the Bishop or Pope of Rome. A similar revolt had broken out in Switzerland, led by Zuingliss. It was a movement in favor of intellectual liberty -- the perfect equality of all men, in Church and State, in the exercise of the inalienable rights of private judgment in matters of religion and politics. When, at a Diet or Congress held at Spires, in 1529 (at which Luther and several princes who were in sympathy with him appeared), the Church, by a decree, was made master in both spiritual and temporal affairs, the reformers entered a solemn protest. So they acquired for their party the name of protest-ants, or PROTESTANTS. They found the Church so strong that they soon afterward formed a league for mutual defence, and so first organized the Reformation as an aggressive moral power. This led to theological and political combinations which resulted, twenty-five years later, in the freedom of the Germans from the domination of the Italian Church. So popular were the doctrines of the reformers, in Germany, that as early as 1558 not more than one-tenth of the people there were adherents of the Church of Rome.

But that Church was not disposed to yield its supremacy without a struggle, and it put forth all its energies for the maintenance of its power. By the mighty agencies of its traditions, its vantage-ground of possession, the Order of Jesuits which it had just created, and the Inquisition which it had re-established with new powers, its warfare was keen and terrible, and its victories were many. Those of its enemies were postponed. In the heat of that conflict, which has continued ever since, have been evolved the representative government, the free institutions, and the liberty, equality and fraternity which are the birth-rights of every American citizen of whatever hue or creed.

In France the Reformation met enemies in the court, the Church and a majority of the people, and its progress was slow and fitful. John Calvin was the chief reformer, and was banished. He took refuge in Switzerland, where he died in 1564. But he left devoted followers in France. Among these, Admiral Coligni, a favorite of Catharine de Medici when she was acting regent, was one of the most conspicuous leaders of the Huguenots, as the French Protestants were called. All parties admired him for his valor and his virtues and his eminent deeds in the service of his country. He persuaded Catharine to attempt to reconcile, by a conference, the contending religious factions. He failed When the peace conference ended in a quarrel, war ensued. The Duke of Guise, a descendant of Charle magne, and claimant of the French throne, whom Catherine feared and hated, led the Roman Catholics. The Prince of Conde led the Protestants. The latter being greatly in the minority suffered much. Grieved because of their forlorn condition, Coligni resolved to procure an asylum for them in the milder regions of North America, far removed from civilized men, where they might enjoy perfect religious and civil freedom, unmolested by foreign powers or hostile factions.

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