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§ 13. Chronological Limits.


The Reformation period begins with Luther’s Theses, a.d. 1517, and ends with the Peace of Westphalia, a.d. 1648. The last event brought to a close the terrible Thirty Years’ War and secured a legal existence to the Protestant faith (the Lutheran and Reformed Confession) throughout Germany.

The year 1648 marks also an important epoch in the history of English and Scotch Protestantism, namely, the ratification by the Long Parliament of the doctrinal standards of the Westminster Assembly of Divines (1643 to 1652), which are still in use among the Presbyterian Churches in England, Scotland, Ireland and the United States.

Within this period of one hundred and thirty-one years there are several minor epochs, and the dates vary in different countries.

The German Reformation, which is essentially Lutheran, divides itself naturally into four sub-periods:1. From 1517 to the Augsburg Diet and Augsburg Confession, 1530. 2. From 1530 to the so-called "Peace of Augsburg," 1555. 3. From 1555 to the "Formula of Concord," 1577, which completed the Lutheran system of doctrine, or 1580 (when the "Book of Concord" was published and enforced). 4. From 1580 to the conclusion of the Thirty Years’ War, 1648.

The Scandinavian Reformation followed closely in the path of the Lutheran Reformation of Germany, and extends, likewise, to the Thirty Years’ War, in which Gustavus Adolphus, of Sweden, took a leading part as defender of Protestantism. The Reformation triumphed in Sweden in 1527, in Denmark and Norway in 1537.

The Swiss Reformation was begun by Zwingli and completed by Calvin, and is accordingly divided into two acts: 1. The Reformation of German Switzerland to the death of Zwingli, 1517 to 1531. 2. The Reformation of French Switzerland to the death of Calvin, 1564, or we may say, to the death of Beza, 1605.

The introduction of the Reformed church into Germany, especially the Palatinate, falls within the second period.

In the stormy history of French Protestantism, the years 1559, 1598 and 1685, mark as many epochs. In 1559, the first national synod was held in Paris and gave the Reformed congregations a compact organization by the adoption of the Gallican Confession and the Presbyterian form of government. In 1598, the Reformed church secured a legal existence and a limited measure of freedom by the edict of Nantes, which King Henry IV. gave to his former fellow-religionists. But his bigoted grandson, Louis XIV., revoked the edict in 1685. Since that time the French Reformed church continued like a burning bush in the desert; while thousands of her sons reluctantly left their native land, and contributed, by their skill, industry and piety, to the prosperity of Switzerland, Holland, Germany, England, and North America.

The Reformation in Holland includes the heroic war of emancipation from the Spanish yoke and passed through the bloody bath of martyrdom, until after unspeakable sufferings under Charles V. and Philip II., the Utrecht Union of the seven Northern Provinces (formed in 1579), was reluctantly acknowledged by Spain in 1609. Then followed the internal theological war between Arminianism and Calvinism, which ended in the victory of the latter at the National Synod of Dort, 1619.

The progressive stages of the English Reformation, which followed a course of its own, were influenced by the changing policy of the rulers, and are marked by the reigns of Henry VIII., 1527–1547; of Edward VI., 1547–1553; the papal reaction and period of Protestant martyrdom under Queen Mary, 1553–1558; the re-establishment of Protestantism under Queen Elizabeth, 1558–1603. Then began the second Reformation, which was carried on by the people against their rulers. It was the struggle between Puritanism and the semi-popery of the Stuart dynasty. Puritanism achieved a temporary triumph, deposed and executed Charles I. and Archbishop Laud; but Puritanism as a national political power died with Cromwell, and in 1660 Episcopacy and the Prayer Book were restored under Charles II., till another revolution under William and Mary in 1688 made an end to the treacherous rule of the Stuarts and gave toleration to the Dissenters, who hereafter organized themselves in separate denominations, and represent the left wing of English Protestantism.

The Reformation in Scotland, under the lead of John Knox (1505–1572), the Luther of the North, completed its first act in 1567 with the legal recognition and establishment by the Scotch Parliament. The second act was a struggle with the papal reaction under Queen Mary of Scots, till 1590. The third act may be called the period of anti-Prelacy and union with English Puritanism, and ended in the final triumph of Presbyterianism in 1690. Since that time, the question of patronage and the relation of church and state have been the chief topics of agitation and irritation in the Church of Scotland and gave rise to a number of secessions; while the Westminster standards of faith and discipline have not undergone any essential alteration.

The Reformed faith secured a partial success and toleration in Poland, Hungary, Transylvania, Bohemia and Moravia, but suffered severely by the Jesuitical reaction, especially in Bohemia. In Italy and Spain the Reformation was completely suppressed; and it is only since the overthrow of the temporal rule of the Pope in 1871, that Protestants are allowed to hold public worship in Rome and to build churches or chapels.


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