The Reformation

2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting 95 theses on the door of the castle chapel in the German town of Wittenberg. The theses were an open protest against church corruption. After this, events escalated. And what happened after that is what we call the Reformation today.

Religion and Church, Society and Culture

The Reformation was about a different kind of faith, and a new view of the church and society. But because religion permeated everything in the 1500s, changes in religion and the church influenced other aspects of life and had far-reaching consequences for the state and politics, for social conditions and concepts of society, for understandings of the individual, for upbringing and education, for the relationship between women and men, and for the use of images and music. The impact of the Reformation was far-reaching, and continues to be felt today. 

A Long Reformation

The Reformation was not a programme that was implemented overnight. Neither in Germany in 1517, nor in Denmark in 1536 when Christian III officially introduced Lutheranism to Denmark. The Reformation was a long process during which interpretations, traditions and institutions evolved gradually. The meaning of the Reformation and its decrees was reinterpreted continuously, from the orthodoxy of the 1600s to the pietism and rationalism of the 1700s, from the religious revivals of the 1800s to the increasing secularisation of the 1900s.

More than One Reformation

Even in the 1500s, the meaning of the Reformation was disputed. The Roman Catholic Church, headed by the pope in Rome, divided into several factions, and a new political and religious map of a Europe with different religious movements was drawn. There were other more radical, Protestant reformations (inspired by figures like Zwingli and Calvin), and there was also a Catholic reformation. In Scandinavia and Northern Germany the Lutheran reformation dominated. But there were different currents, and the ‘correct’ interpretation of Luther’s teachings was constantly disputed.

You can read more about Reformation themes - interpreting the significance of the Reformation from theological, historical and art historical perspectives - in the menu to the left.