War of more than words


Earlier reformers, particularly Johann Huss (1369-1415), laid the basis for an eventual challenge to the medieval church’s doctrine and practices. In the fall of 1517, Martin Luther accepted that challenge, inaugurating a reform process that broadened with each succeeding decade.

That effort was halted in the late 16th century as the Counter Reformation emerged to reassert the authority of the Pope and traditional beliefs in Germany and France. Increasingly, armed force replaced debate in Catholic-Protestant relations.

In 1618, religious war broke out that led to the overthrow of many Protestant states in Germany. In 1632, the Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus, rallied the Lutheran forces and led an invasion that ended in defeat for the Catholic armies, even though he lost his own life in the decisive Battle of Lutzen.

After years of unsuccessful negotiations, Protestants and Catholic rulers in 1648 signed the Peace of Westphalia. Martin Luther’s original vision of reform had led, unfortunately, to three decades of war. In this final effort, however, the Reformation survived, and Luther’s legacy was preserved.


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