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Religion Library: Christianity

Schisms and Sects

Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka

first pages of the 95 theses, printed in Latin Source: Public DomainAlthough Luther intended his propositions as an invitation to debate within the Church, the theses prompted the second great split in Christianity, the Protestant Reformation. Luther acted at a time when the recently-invented printing press made it possible to reprint his theses. In six short years, 1300 copies were printed. The widespread dissemination of Luther's ideas made it difficult for the Church to simply reprimand him and sweep the problem under the carpet. Northern Europeans and their leaders, weary of Church corruption and yearning for independence from Rome, embraced Luther's criticisms. An airing of controversial tenets on a church door culminated in catastrophic violence and persecution, and a permanent splintering of the western Church.

Henry VIII Source: ideas infiltrated England, and in 1533, King Henry VIII severed the English Church from Rome's authority, thus creating the Church of England. In 1555, the Treaty of Augsburg created Lutheranism, permanently breaking this group away from Roman authority. More schisms followed. Huldreich Zwingli, the Anabaptists, and John Calvin all led reformation movements in Switzerland. Calvinists in England were known as the Puritans, proclaiming their desire to purify the Church of any reminders of Roman Catholicism.

In response to this tide of schisms, the Catholic Church tacitly accepted Protestant criticisms of corruption and undertook its own reformation. It initiated steps to bring increased integrity and accountability to seminaries, dioceses, and monasteries. Christianity emerged from the paroxysm of reformation ready to take great strides in mission, global exploration, and conquest.

Major Branches within Christianity

Study Questions:
1.     Was the earliest split of Christianity more about location or language? Explain.
2.     What was the Great Schism? What was the result?
3.     How did the crusades contribute to schisms of Christianity?
4.     Who was Martin Luther? What movement did he found and why?


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