In recognition of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, you may decide to read about the reformation. You will quickly encounter the names of a vast number of people, so I would like to prepare you by introducing some of them.


Groote, Gerard. Though he lived in the 1300’s, the work of Groote shows us that the common people already knew that the church needed reforming and that they had to do it themselves, because the church officials were not taking on the task. Groote was a Catholic priest in the Netherlands. He gathered lay people around himself who wanted to live a life of serious devotion to God and to help society. Branches sprang up in many other cities, and these groups eventually founded hundreds of schools throughout central Europe.  They later called themselves Brethren of the Common life. They held certain views that remind us of the coming reformation: they were critical of clergy who were immoral, and zealous to see the church purified. They were one of many such groups that were emerging throughout Catholic Europe.

Jimenez. (or Ximenes).  Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros, Francisco is an example of an official who did take leadership in reforming the church. He was a government official in Spain, and later made into a bishop and cardinal. He became the personal counselor to Queen Isabella. He yearned to purify the church, and so from his high position he insisted that the monasteries follow their moral guidelines. In this way his work was similar to previous movements of reform that had occurred throughout church history — these movements usually aimed at moral reform. returning the monasteries to greater sstrictness about morality. He commanded that clergy give up their concubines and preach every Sunday. He foreshadowed the later reformation emphasis on educating pastors by starting many seminaries. He also exemplified the reformation emphasis on the Word of God by publishing the complete Bible with the original Greek and Hebrew in columns alongside the ancient Latin version. This book was used as a reference when the reformers translated the Bible into their countries’ languages.

Wycliffe, John. He was a Roman Catholic priest in England in the 1300’s. He earned a doctorate from Oxford University, and from that position of prestige he advocated for a number of themes that resurfaced in the 1500’s, the Reformation century. He said that the Bible had higher authority than popes or councils. He had the Bible translated from Latin into English, and organized teams to go around England preaching the gospel in simple language.  Those hand-copied translations and the preachers provided supporters when Reformation ideas came into England. He expressed doubts about whether the position of pope was ordained by God, and felt that transubstantiation was not the correct way to explain holy communion.  Church officials were unable to reign him in, because he had support in high places. The king liked his teachings that each country should have more authority to appoint local church officials and decide how many church fees should be forwarded on to Rome, and especially the idea that the one-third of the country owned by the monasteries should not be exempt from taxes. He died a natural death, but 40 years later his bones were dug up and burned by church authority.

Hus, Jan (also written John Huss). He was a Catholic priest in Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic). He was a popular preacher in Prague. Accused of spreading the ideas of Wycliffe, he was  burned at the stake in 1415. He did not follow Wycliffe’s more radical ideas (he did not criticize the position of pope and did not attack transubstantiation), but he did criticize selling indulgences (papers to shorten time in purgatory), and regarded the Bible as the final authority.  His followers, the Bohemian Brethren, gained permission to give both bread and wine at communion. These followers continue to the present day, and are now called the Moravians. One charge against Luther in 1521 was that he held to the ideas of Hus.


Erasmus, Desiderius. He attended one of the Brethren of the Common Life schools and later became a Catholic priest. He lived during the same era as Martin Luther, and in fact they commented on one another’s books.  He published many books that used satire to criticize the immorality and misuse of money that he saw in the church — it had become common to buy one’s way into church positions, and for church officials to use church money to lead lavish life-styles. He was a leading Christian humanist. Humanists were scholars that lived during the Renaissance period. Those in Italy studied the writers of ancient Greece and Rome in the original languages, but in northern Europe these skills were applied to studying the Bible. Erasmus found and compared 4 of the available Greek manuscripts, and published a Greek version of the New Testament with his best conclusions as to the correct wording. This provided reformers with a version to use when translating it into local languages. He published books that used satire to criticize the immorality and misuse of money that he saw in the church — it had become common to buy one’s way into church positions, and for church officials to use church money to lead lavish life-styles. He promoted reform of behavior by encouraging people to follow the example of Jesus.


Luther, Martin. Luther provided the spark that turned the yearnings for reform into a lasting movement. He attended one of the Brethren of the Common Life schools. He later became a monk and was ordained as a Catholic priest. Despite zealously performing the expected disciplines in the monastery, he was tortured by the worry that God would not accept him because his love was not a perfect selfless love. His superior thought it would help him to become a professor of Bible, and it was during his Bible studies that he was impacted by the Bible’s teaching that salvation is by grace through faith. This insight relieved him of his anxiety – he later wrote that the “heavens were opened to him,” and he devoted the rest of his life to applying this gospel truth to the issues in the church. In 1517 his document questioning of the sale of indulgences (the “95 Theses”) sparked a reaction throughout Europe that marks the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. After he raised further questions about existing church teachings, he was expelled from the Catholic church in 1521, and later that year he was declared to be an outlaw by the emperor (Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, which consisted of Germany and northern Italy). The prince of his region (Frederick the Wise of Saxony) however protected him from arrest, and during a time of hiding he began translating the Bible from the original Greek and Hebrew into German, using the Greek edition that had been prepared by Erasmus. The rest of his life was spent defending and implementing his insights, up to his death in 1546.

More about Luther                See the  Why Study Luther Power Point

Zwingli, Ulrich (or Huldreich). He was trained as a Christian Humanist, corresponded with Erasmus, studied Greek and Hebrew, and became a Catholic priest. He became convinced that scripture must be the only authority for teaching, and said that from Luther’s writings he found the encouragement to openly teach this.  He also experienced a time of inner struggle. For him, it was the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. ” When after a long time he felt he was able to forgive his enemies, he then realized he could not force God to do the forgiving, but could only fall back on God’s grace. (reference: page 94 in Aland in reference list below). His desire was to find the correct scriptural rules about how to be a true Christian, which can be contrasted with Luther’s emphasis, which was on how to find a forgiving God. While Luther accepted church customs that were not forbidden by scripture,  Zwingli was against anything in the church that was not commanded in the Bible, so in 1524 he convinced the city council inn Zurich to remove images and organs from the churches. He rejected purgatory and indulgences, and said it was lawful for priests to get married. He prepared a Bible translation in the local language in 1529. In that year he met with Luther. They agreed on 14 out of 15 points, but disagreed on how to explain communion. They agreed that communion was not a sacrifice, but while Luther taught that Christ was “in” the bread, Zwingli disagreed and looked at communion as just a remembrance of how Christ brought about our forgiveness.  Therefore Luther refused to shake hands with Zwingli when they parted, saying, “you are of a different spirit.” The Catholics of the surrounding regions raised an army to fight against the followers of Zwingli, and he was killed in battle in 1531. His followers continued his movement for a while, then eventually merged with Calvin’s followers.
More about Zwingli

Calvin, John. He was a Catholic priest in France who had studied with Christian humanists and knew Latin and Greek. He read Luther’s writings, accepting Luther’s views on God’s Word as sole authority, and salvation by grace through faith. He then had to flee France, and when he arrived in Geneva, Switzerland in 1533, the person who had already begun spreading reformation teachings there convinced him to stay and help. Though rejected at first, he was invited back in 1541 and convinced the city council to declare the city Protestant and pass rules for appropriate Christian living. He wrote the book “Institutes of the Christian Faith” which explained protestant teachings in a systematic way. The first edition was short, similar to Luther’s catechism. Luther found this book in a bookstore and spoke highly of it. Each later edition was longer, and some differences from Luther appear in these editions. He differed from Luther in several ways.  His emphasis was on how to explain Biblical teachings in light of the fundamental truth of the sovereignty of God, as compared with Luther’s prime emphasis on the forgiveness of God. Since God was in charge of all, Calvin taught that God predestined who would and would not be saved, while Luther did not want people to worry about whether they were predestined, and used predestination as a way to comfort believers. Calvin reasoned that since one is predestined to be saved, then baptism does not make one into a Christian, but is a sign that the person belongs to God’s people. In regards to assurance of salvation, Calvin would have told people to look at their lives, whereas Luther would have told people to look at God’s promises. Calvin did not say that Jesus was “in” the bread of communion, but rather came “with” the bread as a “sacramental presence.”
More about Calvin      Ten Differences between Luther and Calvin
A summary of Calvin’s Institutes


Melanchthon, Philip. Melanchthon was a co-worker with Luther. Melanchthon was not his real name, but was a Greek translation of it (you would use a Greek translation too if your name was Mr. Black Dirt – in German, Schwarzerd). He was not a priest, but a scholar who was praised by Erasmus for his knowledge of Christian humanism. He knew Greek and Hebrew, and in 1518 he got a job teaching Greek at Wittenberg University, the same university where Luther was teaching. He soon became a follower of Luther, rejecting transubstantiation and seeing justification by faith as central. He wrote a systematic description of Luther’s thought in 1521, and so in 1530 he was chosen to defend Luther’s ideas before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V by writing the Augsburg Confession, which remains an official document of Lutheran teaching. After Luther’s death he and others took part in conferences to reconcile the followers of Luther and Calvin, largely in regards to how to explain communion He even went so far as to rewrite his Augsburg Confession to make the communion explanation more acceptable to Calvinists. That is why some older church buildings in America have the letters UAC carved above the church door — it stands for Unaltered Augsburg Confession, showing they did not accept the rewritten version. Melanchthon’s first name, Philp, was used by those who called themselves “genuine” Lutherans to describe those who were trying to compromise – the compromisers were called “Philippists.”
See his  systematic theology          See the Augsburg Confession,

Spalatin, Georg. He was a Catholic priest and a Christian humanist. He met Luther and then, from his position in the government of the prince in Luther’s region, Frederick the Wise of Saxony, he was able to persuade Frederick to protect Luther when the Holy Roman Emperor declared Luther an outlaw in 1521. (that was when Luther had made his famous statement, “Here I stand, I can do no other). As a learned scholar, Spalatin worked with Melanchthon in writing the Augsburg Confession. As a diplomat, he defended Lutheranism when representing Saxony, a key region in the Holy Roman Empire, which ruled the area we now call Germany. The emperor, Charles V, wanted all the regions to return to Catholicism, but he could not force them to, because he needed their soldiers for his wars against France and against the Ottoman Turks.  So he gave the Lutheran princes a temporary truce, but in 1529 during a brief period of peace he ended the truce and demanded that everyone become Catholic. The Lutheran princes wrote a document of protest, and it is from this document that the term “Protestantism” originates. Fighting though continued until 1555 when each region did win the right to proclaim itself either Lutheran or Catholic.

Chemnitz, Martin. He is called the “second Martin” because he preserved Luther’s insights when they were questioned by other reformers after Luther’s death. He began as a student of Melanchthon at Wittenberg University. From 1567 he supervised all the churches in a major German area (Brandenburg). After Luther’s death, the Lutherans began to disagree among themselves about issues like free will, sanctification, and explaining communion. Those who were seen as wandering from Luther’s positions were called names like “Philippist” and “Crypto-Calvinist.”  After years of patient dialogue, Chemnitz got them to agree on the issues, and then wrote a document called the “Formula of Concord” in 1577 which documented the agreement, This document was made part of the Book of Concord, published in 1580. This book also includes two writings by Melanchthon (the Augsburg Confession and a more detailed explanation of it called the Apology), and three writings by Luther (his small and large catechisms, and a document applying the gospel to current issues, called the Smalcald Articles.)
See the Book of Concord


Bullinger, Johann. He took over as preacher after Zwingli died. Like other protestants, he taught that we are justified by faith not works, though we then bring forth good works, summed up by love and keeping the ten commandments. He admitted that the church is invisible (you cannot pick out the true believers), but exists where the Gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered. He was a writer of the “First Helvetic Confession,” a statement of the reformed faith in Switzerland, in 1536. (Helvetic is the Latin term for Switzerland). In 1566 he wrote the “Second Helvetic Confession,” which was accepted by followers of both Calvin and Zwingli, thus uniting them to form the movement now called “the Reformed.”   His idea that the Christian State and the Christian Church are to be united influenced the Church of England.
See the the “Second Helvetic Confession,  Helvetia is the Latin term for Switzerland.

Grebel, Conrad. Grebel had Christian humanist training and was at first a supporter of Zwingli. But he defied Zwingli and the city council in 1525 by rejecting infant baptism and re-baptizing an adult friend. This began the movement later called the “anabaptists”   (“Ana” means “again).  As this movement spread throughout Europe it was persecuted by Lutherans, Calvinists, and Roman Catholics alike, because it insisted on separation between church and state (most others felt that the state must support the church.) After the peasants war of 1525, many peasants joined the Anabaptists, because they had thought Luther would support their rebellion, but instead Luther said the gospel should not be used for political purposes, and encouraged the nobles to suppress the rebellion.


Sattler, Michael. He had been a monk, but became an anabaptist. He led a meeting in 1527 which produced a document (the Schleitheim Confession, named after the city where the meeting was held) which stated the beliefs that came to be held by most Anabaptists: that God’s Word is a means of grace, through which people are brought to faith by the Holy Spirit; that true Christians must not take oaths, and that the church must consist only of believers (most others acknowledged that both true and false members could be found in the church). He wrote hymns for the Anabaptist movement. He was burned at the stake in 1527.  See the Schleitheim Confession,

Menno Simons. It was Menno who showed that anabaptism could be a Bible-based, peaceful movement. He had been a Catholic priest in Holland who left the Catholic church in 1536 and became an Anabaptist. He stressed pacifism and non-resistance. His followers are called Mennonites. They practice adult baptism, discipleship, close communion, and excluding people when necessary in order to keep the church pure. The term “magisterial reformation” is used for the movements begun by Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, because they depended on the government (the magistrates) to bring about the changes in the church. The movement begun by the Anabaptists, who taught that the church should not be linked to the states, is sometime termed the “radical reformation.”


Farel, William (or Guillaume). He taught philosophy in Paris, then was converted to the Reformation viewpoint, accepting the sole authority of the Bible and salvation by grace through faith sometime before 1521. He fled to Switzerland, where he preached and debated with the priests and bishops in many towns. He succeeded in getting the city council of Geneva to declare support for the reformation in 1536.  Because of the difficulties, he succeeded in talking Calvin into staying in Geneva to help him. He later concentrated on being a pastor in another part of Switzerland. He produced a Bible translation into French in 1525. He wrote a summary of the reformed faith, and he produced church services for reformed churches in Switzerland.

Beza, Theodore. He had been a lawyer in Paris, and fled to Geneva after accepting the Reformation viewpoints in 1548. He assisted Calvin at Geneva and became his successor after Calvin died. He was a Greek scholar and produced the Greek version that was the basis for the King James Version. He took part in translating the Psalms into French verse for use in church services. He emphasized church discipline, that is, casting people out of church if they do not repent of public sins. In general, he made Calvin’s positions more rigid — this was also happening in the second generation of the other protestant movements. He said that Christ had died only for the elect, which Calvin had not taught This led to a rebuttal by his student Arminius later (in 1610), which developed into Arminianism, that all who believe are saved. This was rebutted by the council of Dort, stressing double predestination, leading to a permanent split among the followers of Calvin.


Tyndale, William. As a Christian humanist teaching at Cambridge university, he became convinced that the Bible alone should be the basis for church life and faith, and that every believer should be able to read it in his own language. When he translated the New Testament from Greek to English in 1525, the reformation in England had not yet occurred, and so he had to escape to Europe to have it printed and smuggled back into England. He was burned at the stake by Catholic authorities in Holland in 1536 before he could finish the Old Testament. Just a few years later, King Henry VIII commanded that an English Bible be placed in every church in England. That Bible was largely based on Tyndale’s work. In the following years other English translations appeared, culminating in the Authorized Version of 1611 under King James I.

Cromwell, Thomas. He was an official for King Henry VIII. He agreed when Henry decided to make the church in England independent of the pope. Though Henry still held Catholic beliefs, Cromwell secretly was attracted to protestant views, so he was glad to carry out any policies of the king that were in line with protestant ideals. For example, Henry told him to put an English Bible into every church in England. He carried out the king’s command to dissolve the monasteries. His downfall came because of a marriage. After Henry had his third wife killed, Cromwell saw a way to bring protestant influence, and a valuable military alliance, into England by suggesting he marry the daughter of one of the German protestant princes. The painter sent to do her portrait made her look beautiful, but when she actually arrived in England and got married to Henry, he found she did not look like the painting. She was sent back to Germany, and Cromwell was beheaded.

Cranmer, Thomas. Cranmer was a Roman Catholic priest in England during the time that King Henry VIII decided to ask the pope to annul his marriage because it had produced a girl, but not a male heir. This was not an unusual request during medieval times, but the pope was not in a position to grant the request, because the Holy Roman Emperor had imprisoned in Rome for taking the side of France in their ongoing war. The emperor was the nephew of Henry’s wife and therefore would not favor ending that marriage.  So the pope procrastinated, but after years of waiting Henry lost patience and proclaimed that he was now replacing the pope as head of the church in England. He appointed Cranmer to the highest church position in England (Archbishop of Canterbury), and Cranmer then(in 1533) fulfilled Henry’s wish to have his first marriage annulled. He did it again a few years later for Henry’s second marriage, which had produced a girl. The third marriage did produce a boy, who became King Edward VI when Henry died. Edward gave Cranmer a free hand to change the Church of England into a Protestant Church. Cranmer provided an English language church service, called The Book of Common Prayer. Cranmer was responsible for the official document declaring the doctrines of the church of England (The 42 Articles), aided by reformers from Europe who had been influenced by John Calvin. Cranmer rejected the Catholic view that communion is a sacrifice, and phrased his communion prayer as a “sacrifice of praise,” in the words “we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice.”  The next English ruler, Mary (called Bloody Mary), brought Catholicism back to power in England, and executed Cranmer in 1556. After Mary died, the next ruler, Queen Elizabeth, undid Mary’s return to Catholicism and confirmed the Church of England as independent, with Protestant theology but retaining the Roman Catholic governing system of rule by bishops.

Browne, Robert. He was one of many who wanted to purify the church in England further even after Queen Elizabeth had restored independence from the pope in 1558. They were called Puritans, and what they meant by purifying was “looking less like Catholics and being more like Calvin’s church in Geneva.” Some simply wanted an end to formalized services and wearing robes, but others also wanted an end to using bishops (the episcopal system). Following the model of the Reformed (Calvinist) churches, they wanted churches to be run by elected leaders who would meet in regional councils to enact policies (the Presbyterian system). Browne went further still, advocating complete separation from the church of England (People like him were called separatists). He and his followers (first called Brownists) felt every church should be independent and self-governing (a congregational system). He began holding independent services in 1580, and for this he was imprisoned 32 times and then exiled, though later in life he did return to the Church of England. Separatists were not legal in England until 1689, and in the meantime, many Puritans and separatists emigrated to New England, where they established congregational churches.


Knox, John.  Knox was a Catholic priest in Scotland. He accepted reformation ideas that he heard from a traveling preacher, and he spread these ideas while protected in a castle until the castle was conquered by Catholic forces. He was arrested and sent to the galleys for almost 2 years. During the time of King Edward VI he assisted in bringing Protestant ideas to England, and in fact was the personal chaplain to Edward VI.  When Mary became queen of England, he fled to Geneva and led the church for English speakers there. When it was safe to do so, he went back to Scotland. In 1560 the Scottish parliament adopted the Scots confession of faith that had been written by Knox and others, accepting the Presbyterian method of church governance for Scotland. (This method means “rule by Presbyters,” which is the Greek word for elder.) This method was meant to distinguish them from the Church of England, which used the Episcopal system (rule by bishops), Adopting this system in Scotland was complicated by the fact that the queen at the time (Mary Queen of Scots) was Catholic and married to the King of France, who was a defender of Catholicism. She called French armies into Scotland, and the Scots appealed for Queen Elizabeth to send English armies, who defeated the French, enabling the Presbyterian system to be established.


Henry of Navarre. (Navarre is a region in France). Henry was a nobleman who protected French Protestants (called Huguenots). Other nobles favored Catholicism, and there were years of battles between armies representing both sides, and a country-wide massacre of thousands of protestants.  Then the King of France died, and Henry was next in line. However, most of the country did not accept him as king because he was a protestant. After 7 years of battles against Catholic nobles, Henry decided to state that he had become a Catholic. He famously said, “Paris is worth a mass.”. He was then accepted as king, with the title Henry IV. He then decreed that Protestants were to be protected (this decree is called the Edict of Nantes, proclaimed in 1598). This protection continued until it was removed by King Louis X!V is 1685. After that a large number of French protestants emigrated to America.


Contarini, Gasparo. He was an Italian diplomat who became a bishop and cardinal. He was part of a group pushing for reform in the Catholic Church. Pope Paul III asked him to produce a report about what needed reforming in the church. The pope began to carry out the recommendations for moral reform, but  the protestants got hold of a copy of the report and used it to show how badly the church needed reform. The next pope therefore put it on the list of forbidden books. (That is the same pope who restored the Inquisition in Italy, in 1542).  In 1541 Contarini took part in a meeting (Council of Regensburg) with Melanchthon and others to formulate a document that would be acceptable to Protestants and Catholics, but the document was rejected by both sides. It was the last attempt at bringing Catholics and Protestants together.

Borromeo, Charles.  He was an archbishop who established training centers in Italy and Switzerland, and produced a Catholic catechism.  He was one of the leaders of the Council of Trent. That council met off-and-on between 1545 and 1563. The Council ended some of the practices that had led to the desire for reform. Indulgences and church positions could no longer be bought with money. Priests could not marry or have mistresses. The council also rejected many of the theological points made by the Protestants. The council rejected the teaching that people are saved by grace alone. The council affirmed that purgatory exists and people there can be helped by our prayers. Mary was affirmed as a perpetual virgin. The term transubstantiation was reaffirmed as the only acceptable way to explain the Lord’s Supper, and it was confirmed as being a sacrifice for sin (In the 1800’s, Catholics developed a more nuanced teaching that In the Lord’s Supper, we present again Christ’s one-time sacrifice to God.) The pope was reaffirmed as central and necessary. These teachings of the council are the content of what is called “the Catholic Reformation” or “counter-reformation.”

Loyola, Ignatius. He founded the Society of Jesus, also called the Jesuits,  He wrote the book Spiritual Exercises based on his religious development after he had been wounded as a soldier. With his companions, he offered his services to the pope to do whatever they would be commanded. The pope made the group official in 1540. The Jesuits pushed back against the expanding Protestants by preaching, education, and making use of beautiful architecture (Baroque-style churches).  They also sent missionaries to foreign lands, including India and China.

Teresa of Avila. She was a Catholic nun in Spain. At age 40 she came to a new level of devotion. Her writings record her visions and her advice for prayer and self-discipline. She started a new order of nuns that would be more strict, called the “discalced (that is, barefoot) Carmelites. (the Carmelites were a subdivision of Franciscans). In this way she was continuing the previous Catholic tradition of reformation as returning monasteries to higher levels of strictness. Her friend, a monk named John of the Cross, established similar monasteries for men. In fact throughout the 1500’s, many Catholic monks and nuns established stricter versions of the existing orders like Franciscans and Benedictines, and even started new orders.

Martin Bucer. He attended a Brethren of the Common Life school, then joined a Roman Catholic monastery and became a priest. He admired the Christian humanism of Erasmus. He heard Luther defend himself at a hearing, and so became a follower of Luther, being excommunicated from the Catholic church. He was one of the first of the reformers to get married, and it was to a former nun. His church was near the boundary of Germany and Switzerland, so he tried to get Luther and Zwingli to agree. When Calvin was exiled from Geneva for 3 years, Calvin went to Bucer’s city and picked up Bucer’s ideas about double predestination and about governing the church using presbyters and deacons. Bucer did not approve of persecuting Anabaptists; he accepted infant baptism but in sensitivity of the Anabaptist emphasis on personal confession of faith, Bucer introduced confirmation back into Protestantism. (the reformers had stopped having confirmation because it was one of the seven sacraments). He helped to write the Swiss declaration of faith that was presented to the emperor in 1530 alongside Melanchthon’s Augsburg Confession. Though the emperor did not accept either one, he invited Bucer to join in meetings to try to get Protestants and Catholics together again. He met with Melanchthon to try to get all the Protestants to come together. When the emperor defeated the Protestants in battle, he fled to England where he was a professor at Cambridge and worked with Cranmer to create the Book of Common Prayer.  In his person he thus touched practically every major theme in the Reformation era.



Highlights of Christianity from its beginnings to now
Downloads of Creeds and Confessions

The LCMS Reformation Website has more articles on individual people, with pictures and Bible studies, including an “Interactive Timeline.”

Lutheran Hour Ministries has new Bible studies about Martin Luther.

Vision Video has a DVD called This Changed Everything.  It consists of 14 sections, each 8 to 12 minutes long. It covers the major reformers: Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and the events in England. There is a study guide with scripture verses and discussion questions.

There are video clips about many of the reformers on youtube. Clicking on any of the following will allow you to see not only one video but links to related videos. Luther.   Zwingli      Calvin

You can see pictures of the people by searching their name on Google images.


Resources used for this web page:
Encyclopedia Britannica edition © 1989
Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church. © 2000
Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church. © Augsburg 1965
Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity. © 1977
The Third Reformation by Carter Lindberg.
The Church from Age to Age. © Concordia Publishing House 2010
Four Reformers, by Kurt Aland. © Augsburg Publishing House 1979



Erastus, Thomas. Presbyterians created the term Erastian in 1643 as a term of abuse for those who urged state supremacy. Erastus himself was a physician from Switzrland. He advocated Zwingli’s viewpoints while a teacher at Heidelberg, including his view of communion. He opposed George Withers (a Puritan) by saying that excommunication is not scriptural, and that civil authorities can punish sin. But the Presbyterian system was imposed in Heidelberg in 1570, and Erastus fled when Lutheranism was reinstituted there from 1570-86.

Reuchlin, John.  He was a Christian humanist who studied Hebrew with a rabbi and advocated for greater knowledge of Hebrew. Luther used his grammar and dictionary of Hebrew when translating the Old Testament into German. Melanchthon was his nephew.

Lefevre. Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples, also called Jacob Faber. He was a Catholic priest in Paris who was influenced by the ideals of the Brethren of the Common Life. He was a Christian humanist who taught philosophy at the University of Paris. He had a crisis in his religious thought in 1505, and came to believe that the Bible should be the only authority for church teaching, and in the importance of justification by faith. He wrote a commentary on the writing of St. Paul in 1512, which influenced Luther. He translated the Bible from Latin to French in 1524, and this helped the spread of Luther’s ideas in France, but the Catholic authorities demanded that it be burned. One of his pupils was William Farel, who fled to Switzerland and preached the reformation view of faith in many cities there.

Coverdale, Miles. He was a priest, monk and bishop in England who “absorbed Lutheran opinions” (he spoke against worshipping images and regarding the mass as a sacrifice). In 1529 he helped Tyndale with his translation of the Old Testament, and in 1535 he produced a translation of the entire Bible, building on Tyndale’s work. When Henry VIII decreed that a Bible must be placed in every church, Coverdale produced a version called the “Great Bible.” It combined his and Tyndale’s versions, plus another version made by Tyndale’s friend John Rogers called the Matthew Bible. (John Rogers was burned at the stake in England in the time of Queen Mary).  More about Bibles: After 1575 a Bible called the “Geneva” Bible (because it used the French Bible from Geneva as a reference) was widely used in homes in England. In 1568 the “Bishops’ Bible,” commissioned by Queen Elizabeth was created by revising the Great Bible.  The King James version that was issued in 1611 referred to all these Bibles; 90% of its words are the words chosen by Tyndale. Meanwhile, to aid Roman Catholic mission work in England, the Douay-Rheims version (named after two French cities that English Catholics had fled to) was translated from Latin into English  (New Testament 1582, Old Testament 1609.)

Estienne, Robert. In a French Bible printed in Switzerland in 1558, he was the first to introduce the system of numbering verses still in use today.


Bugenhagen, Johannes. 1485-1558.  He became a Catholic priest, was stimulated in Bible study by Erasmus, and joined Luther’s movement after reading some of his writings. He became Luther’s father-confessor and often took Luther’s place in the pulpit when Luther was traveling. He shaped Lutheranism by giving directions to the regional churches. After Luther’s death, he worked with Melanchthon in looking for common ground between followers of Luther and Calvin.

Ulrich von Hutten. He came from a knightly family. He was a scholar and Christian humanist who after meeting Erasmus pushed for moral reform. After reading pamphlets by Luther, he joined in criticizing the popes. He told the northern Europeans about the research in Italy that had shown that the pope’s claim to have authority over a strip of land across central Italy was based on a forged document. Zwingli granted him a safe place to live.

Sickingen, Franz von.  He was a knight, and is called a “benign protector” of Luther and the Reformation. Some of the people who took refuge in his castle included Hutten, Oecolampadius, and Bucer. (source: The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, Minneapolis:Augsburg 1965, page 2164)

Agricola, John. He was a pupil and friend of Luther and Melanchthon. After Luther’s death he taught theology at Wittenberg and took part in many of the meetings between opposing reformers, which made followers of Luther suspect him of compromise.

Jonas, Justus.  A priest and a Christian humanist who corresponded with Erasmus. He translated many of Luther’s writings between Latin and German. He took part in the meeting between Luther and Zwingli and helped Melanchthon to write the Augsburg confession. He also was a mediator between the Lutherans with Bucer and Agricola. He took unbiblical readings out of the traditional liturgy and both wrote and advocated for Lutheran hymns.

Andreae, Jacob. A follower of Luther and a professor of theology from 1561, he took part in conferences to find common ground among Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists. He worked with Chemnitz to write the Formula of Concord.

Flacius, Matthias. He was born in Croatia, and studied with Luther in 1541. After Luther’s death he was the leader of those who called themselves “gnesio-Lutherans,” those who felt they were upholding the original doctrines of Luther over against those who were compromising, who were labeled Philippists and Crytpo-Calvinists. After his death in 1575, his movement was replaced by that of Andreae and Chemnitz who did succeed in solving the disputes among Lutherans.

Osiander, Andreas. He was a Lutheran pastor involved in the debates with Zwingli in 1529 and before the emperor in 1530. Other pastors opposed him for teaching that we are forgiven because Christ lives in us, rather than forgiven by God’s decree, one of the results of which was Christ living in us, so he was opposed by both the gnesio-Lutherans and the Philippists.

Brenz, Johannes. A Lutheran pastor who became recognized as a spokesman of Luther’s thought. He stressed that Christ was present in communion because Christ’s two natures are always together, as opposed to the Philippist’s teaching that it is because Christ can do whatever he wants. He stressed importance of repentance along with justification by faith.


source: The Third Reformation (see resource list above)

Carlstadt, (also spelled Karlstadt). He was a supporter of Luther when they were both teachers at Wittenberg, expelled from the Catholic Church in 1520.  He was the first to hold the Sunday service in the local language, emphasizing that it was not to be regarded as a sacrifice, and distributing both bread and wine. He later came into conflict with Luther by taking a more radical approach than Luther. Like Zwingli, he felt that only what was actually mentioned in scripture could be done, so he removed images from the church. He taught that the scripture is not powerful enough — we must be taught by the Spirit alone, quoting the verse “it is the Spirit that gives life –  the flesh is no avail.”  (John 6:63).  He discarded the word “sacrament,” regarding communion as a sign of grace already received, but not a “means” of grace.” Luther coined the term “schwärmer” for those who felt they had insights directly from the Holy Spirit without the written Word of God. (The term reminds us of the “swarm” around a beehive.)

Muentzer, Thomas. He was a scholar of Latin Greek, and Hebrew.  Since he was attracted to Luther, he was called a “Martinian.” He studied with Luther at Wittenberg and Luther placed him as preacher of a church in 1520. He wrote the first liturgies in German. He later took a more mystical view, saying that our “inner light had more authority than the written scripture. He expressed doubts about infant baptism and about the term “justification by faith” (he felt it gave a false assurance to people who had not really repented).  He felt common people should have self-rule, and his ideal was a “democratic communism.” He won over some of those who had followed John Huss.  He became a leader in the peasant’s war of 1525. They wanted the right to select their own pastors and the abolition of serfdom. At their height, they wanted the emperor to grant them land for their own democratic state.  They set their hopes upon Luther, but he told them to submit to authority and that the gospel was not meant to be used for political purposes. The princes defeated the peasants, and Muentzer was executed.

Francke, Sebastian. He began as a Catholic priest, then left it to become a Lutheran pastor. He then rejected the reformation teaching because of its “sparse ethical fruits” — making people work less. He decided that the death of Christ was of no value. What is important is the “inner Christ” that reveals that portion in us that did not take part in the fall of man.

Hoffman, Melchior is known as “father of the Dutch Anabaptists,” though some of his doctrines are different than those in the Schleitheim Confession. For example, He wrote, “the doctrine of justification by faith makes Christ an idol, displacing a life of discipleship by lip service.”  He taught that Christ has only a divine nature, for “the divine spirit cannot be bound to earthly creatures


Poland. John Laski or John of Lasco was a Polish Catholic priest who had lived with Erasmus. He accepted reformation positions in 1542. In England during King Edward’s reign, he was pastor of the foreign congregation in London. When Mary came to power, he escaped to Frankfurt where he pastored a church for refugees from England. In 1556 he returned to Poland and organized the Calvinist churches there.

England. High Latimer was a Catholic priest who while teaching at Cambridge University met people who were influenced by Martin Luther. He was friends with the English leaders Cromwell and Cranmer, and agreed that the king should separate England from the pope. Placed on trial, he admitted he did not believe in purgatory or the veneration of saints. During the time of Edward VI, his preaching attracted large crowds, but when Queen Mary came to the throne, he was burned at the stake.

Scotland. George Wishart was a teacher of Greek. He met Hugh Latimer at Cambridge, accepted the reformation ideas, and was accused of heresy. He returned to Scotland, where he was a major influence upon John Knox. In 1548 he was burned at the stake.

Scotland. Patrick Hamilton. He read and accepted Luther’s writings while a student at the University of Paris. He promoted Lutheran views at St. Andrews University in Scotland and later from a house-church. He was burned at the stake. (source: the Lutheran Witness May 2017 page 21)

Netherlands. Heinrich Moeller (also called Brother Henry) was a monk in the same order as Luther, and eventually became a student Luther in 1516. He held high positions in the Augustinian order in the Netherlands, but because his Lutheran views became known, he had to leave his position and was burned at the stake. (source: the Lutheran Witness May 2017 page 20)

Italy. Vermigli, Peter Martyr. He was a Catholic monk in Italy who accepted reformed teachings by reading books by Zwingli and others. He fled to Europe, where he became known as a debater for protestant viewpoints, especially for debating against transubstantiation. He taught that Christ’s body is in heaven, not in bread and wine, which brought him into conflict with Lutherans. When Edward was king of England, Cranmer invited him to teach at Oxford, and may have influenced Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer and 42 articles. When Mary became queen, he fled to Switzerland.

Denmark. A priest named Hans Tausen studied  at Wittenberg and broke with Catholicism in 1524, and began to preach Lutheran sermons.. The Reformation gained ground under a new king, Christian III, who invited Luther’s associate Bugenhagen to assist in reorganizing the church.

Sweden. Olavus Petri studied at Wittenberg — he was there when Luther wrote the 95 Theses — and brought the Lutheran ideas to Sweden. He saw to it that the Bible was translated and wrote at least 5 hymns. The King, Gustavus Vasa, opposed the Catholic church, supported protestant ideas, but there was also conflict when the king took authority that Olavus felt belonged to the clergy.  A meeting of church officials adopted justification by faith and the authority of the Bible, and determined that the monasteries should be closed. The church service changed gradually,

Finland. Mikael Agricola was leader of the Reformation in Finland, leading it in a peaceful way without violence. He studied at Wittenberg under Luther and Melanchthon. His writings including his translation of the Bible into Finnish provided a foundation for the literature of that country.

Switzerland.  Oecolampadius, original name John Hussgen. He had Christian humanist training, studied Greek and Hebrew, and became an associate of Zwingli and an admirer of Luther, though he debated for Zwingli’s position in the meeting with Luther. He led reformation in Basel Switzerland. He died shortly after Zwingli.


Walther, Johann. He worked with Luther in producing a hymnal in 1524 for the movement’s churches (followers of John Hus had published the first hymnbook earlier, in 1501). A hymnbook published by Joseph Klug in 1526 included Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” and became a pattern for subsequent Lutheran hymnals. Because Luther encouraged the use of hymn singing in the Sunday service, the Lutheran church became known as the “singing church.”

Osiander, Lukas. His Lutheran hymnal, published in 1586, was the first to use 4-part harmony (the earlier hymns had only been sung in unison). His book included Psalms set into rhyme as well as hymns.

Marot, Clement. He began translating psalms into French verse to be sung to popular ballads even before the reformation, for the court of King Francis of France. He was drawn to reformation thought, and when he was opposed because he published his Psalm translation, he fled to Geneva where he stayed for a time. Calvin used many of these Psalm translations in worship services, for Calvin did not allow hymn singing, since he did not see it commanded in the Bible, and allowed only the singing of Psalms. After Marot left, Beza continued the work of translating Psalms.

Bourgeous, Louis. He wrote many of the tunes for the Psalm translations used in Geneva, including the still well-known “common doxology,” known as “Old Hundredth because it was originally written for Psalm 100. The many French Psalm translations were collected into a book called the Genevan Psalter in 1562. It also included melodies for the Ten Commandments and for Simeon’s Song (Lord, now let your servant depart in peace) which was sung after communion in Geneva.

Sternhold, Thomas He began translating Psalms into English verse while he was the official in charge of King Henry VIII’s wardrobe. These also were meant to be sung to popular ballad tunes. In 1562, songbooks were published that included English hymns as well a Psalms, using 4-part harmony, and making use of some of the tunes from Geneva. The Scottish hymnal of 1564 included even more tunes from Geneva, because John Knox had spent time as pastor of a church of English-speakers there.

Palestrina (Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina) was a music director in St. Peter’s church in Rome. He wrote 93 musical settings of the words of the church service (the mass) plus hundreds of other religious pieces. He was a master of the style of music in which each voice has a different melody (the polyphonic style).


Michelangelo. His sculpture “pieta” (showing Christ taken from the cross lying on Mary’s lap) was completed in 1500, and the gigantic sculpture of David in Florence in 1504. He was a primary designer of St. Pete’s cathedral.

Albrecht Durer. Created many woodcuts on biblical themes.

Hans Holbein. He painted many portraits, including Erasmus and Luther.

Lucas Cranach (the elder) in his position as the court painter in Wittenberg painted portraits of the major Protestant and Catholic figures of the time. He invented a type of woodcut that uses two blocks: one to print the lines and the other for the colors (called chiaroscuro).


St. John of the Cross.  He had much the same role for men as Theresa of Avila had done for women, founding highly disciplined monasteries and developing a prayer life that led to visions.

Francis Xavier. One of the founding Jesuits who became missionary to India and Japan.

Matteo Ricci. Jesuit missionary who was sent to Macao in 1585 and arrived in China in 1601.

Marguerin de la Bigne.  In 1575 he wrote a book about the church fathers showing their continuity with Roman Catholic teaching and thus showing that not only Protestants could appeal to authors such as Augustine for support.

Philip Neri. A priest who established spiritual conferences men that grew into a new order, the Oratorians, named after the place they originally met. Their interest in fine music led to use of the word “oratorio” for multi-sectional choral works on biblical themes.

Peter Canisius. A Jesuit who attended the Council of Trent, he spent his life defending Catholicism in Germany, starting 18 schools and printing many catechisms. To the rosary sentence “Hail Mary, Mother of God” he added the phrase “pray for us sinners.”

Popes during the 1500’s, with dates of service:
Julius II. 1503-13. A warrior who concentrated on control of the papal lands. He authorized the indulgence for building St. Peter’s church in Rome that Luther wrote against. He commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine chapel.
Leo X. 1513-21. Of the Medici family. He excommunicated Luther.
Adrian (or Hadrian) VI. 1521-23.Tried but failed to slow the spread of the Ottoman Turks.
Clement VII. 1523-34. Of the Medici family. He denied annulment to England’s Henry VIII. He authorized a new, strict monastic order, the Capuchins.
Paul III. 1534-49.  Started to implement reforms suggested by Contarini, authorized the Jesuits, initiated the Council of Trent.
Julius III. 1550-1555. Did not continue the reforms started by Paul III.
Paul IV. 1555-59. Founded a religious order, the Theatines, that worked on reforming the church from within and was thus an important part of the Catholic Reformation.
Pius IV. 1559-1565. Concluded the Council of Trent and began to implement its reforms.
Pius V. 1566-1572. He continued implementation of the Council of Trent; he excommunicated Queen Elizabeth of England.
Gregory VIII. 1572-1585. Continued implementation of the Council of Trent by establishing seminaries. He authorized Jesuit missions to China and Japan. He approved two new orders, the Oratorians and Discalced Carmelites. He authorized the Gregorian Calendar, in common use today around the world.
Sixtus V. 1585-1591. He added to papal finances by selling church offices. He built the Lateran Palace and the Vatican library.
Clement VIII. 1592-1605. Involved with Henry of Navarre becoming Catholic in order to be accepted as King of France.


William Perkins.  A leader of the Puritans, professor at Cambridge University.

John Foxe. A puritan preacher known for his “Book of Martyrs.” It told of English people who died for their beliefs starting in the 1300’s, but mostly those protestants killed by Queen Mary. Early versions published as early as 1554, the completed version came out in 1570. After that, he often wrote to Queen Elizabeth, asking that Anabaptists and Jesuits not be put to death.