Personalities and Culture of Protestant Reformation

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The Reformation is perhaps one of the greatest periods of Christian upheaval in history. The New Christian religious sects started popping up and becoming major political and spiritual powers. John Calvin, Martin Luther, and John Knox rose against the Catholic church that was…broken at the time. The Catholic Church before the Reformation was corrupt. It is still corrupt and leads a perverted version of the faith. Martin Luther and John Calvin led changes in worship and church services.

The church changed dramatically during the reformation, so much so, that if someone from the current generation went back to this time, no one would recognize the Catholic church or any church for that matter. Music during this time was changing right alongside the men and women of the Reformation. Worship changed and become more easily heard and was not restricted to just the church.

The men that were prominent and helped lead the Reformation into being, also made some of the biggest changes to the way worship was done by the populace. The Culture during the Reformation was both dark and light. While there were many things going on during the time, War was probably one of the most defining. The Thirty-Years War occurred during this period and when it ended, many things in the culture changed especially the way Christ is worshipped in Europe.

John Calvin

John Calvin was the founder of the Protestant church, and even went to a Catholic school then put into Law by his father. He was a Lawyer before he was a reformer. However, he was a reformer and his church’s influence quickly spread from Switzerland to England when King Henry VIII was denied a divorce by the Catholic church.[1] The King made the Anglican Church the primary church of England and as a result, He was able to get his divorce. Of course, England flipped back and forth between Anglican and Catholic for a long time.

That is until Queen Elizabeth I stabilized and fully establishing the Anglican Church, making the Monarchy the head of said church. He used music and put it and scriptural reading together as part of his church. While he was in Geneva still working at his church, he preached hundreds of time. Surely preaching thousands of times, by the end of his life, he had a reputation as massive as Martin Luther. He was an authority and loved his church and held true to his beliefs even to his death. Today, John Calvin is loved and revered by many in the Christian world.

The best description of Calvin was written about by Jonathon Moorhead and said by Bruce Gordon, “John Calvin was the greatest Protestant reformer of the sixteenth century, brilliant, visionary, and iconic. He was also ruthless, and an outstanding hater. He dominated others and knew how to manipulate relationships. He intimidated, bullied and humiliated, saving some of his worst conduct for his friends.”[2] This is both amusing and terrifying information about John Calvin. The idea that a man can be described as both a visionary and a hater is amazing. However, Calvin really was truly a wonderful writer and thinker. His ability to interpret the Bible made him who and what he was. He was far ahead of his time in his theology and Bible exposition which probably helped his ability to preach and interpret the bible in a way that those in his congregation could understand.

Gordon through Moorhead says, “exile was Calvin’s ‘defining experience’ that ‘endowed him with his most powerful and resonant message: the Christian is never alone, for the Christian is at home in God’”[3] He was exiled from his native country of France and eventually ended up in Geneva which is where he began his own reformation. His reformation could be considered one of the most serious reforms against the Catholic church.  He eventually would go on to teach John Knox and influences him enormously. Exile is an opportunity for one to look in and reflect on one’s self or their relationships. There is some weight to these ideas. Traveling, being alone, and just anything that allows for peace. It allows for reflection. So, Gordon’s belief has weight behind it.

Martin Luther

Almost certainly the most prominent man during the Reformation and the person most give credit for starting the Reformation against the Catholic Church. Martin Luther is the man many Christians think about today with the 500th anniversary having passed just recently, and it is amazing to think that it has been 500 years for some. He was the first to revolt against the Catholic church in Wittenberg. His challenge was that the church had become perverted and corrupt. The belief that the church should look back to scripture and turn their backs on the things that had been taught for several centuries at this point. That being the saints, worship of Mary, and even pilgrimages.

The way Luther feels about the saints and pilgrimages was said very well by Towns, “In Luther’s mind, these were ’spurious inventions of the Church to line its coffers.’”[4] While it is true that the Church had gotten very wealthy, astronomically wealthy compared to even many of the Kings and Queens of the time, this would not be a problem had the church been taking that money and helping as much of the needy and those in poverty as they should have been. The Church is supposed to be a place for people to go for help.

In this time, it was a disgustingly corrupt perversion of what the church was supposed to be. Martin Luther found this to be backward and wrong. He publicly challenged the Catholic Church by placed ninety-five theses in Latin on the church in Wittenberg. He believed that the forgiveness and God’s grace came through faith in Jesus Christ and only through Christ. Luther gained support from some state rulers. It allowed them to break away from the Catholic church. Martin Luther’s ability to read and write well was a huge reason why he was able to do so well as a reformist. He was able to better able to translate his words to be better able explain things to the public.

For example, “in 1518, by the time he was ordered to stop publication of his first work in German for a wide public audience, he ensured that it was already on sale.”[5] His translation of the Bible into German instead of Latin had a massive impact on both German church and culture. He married Katharina von Bora, an ex-nun, and set the example for clerical marriage. This finally made it clear to the clergy that they could marry in the Protestant church and, of course, have children. This is something that was completely new, as the Catholic Church believed that the priests should not be allowed to marry or have children.

Abstinence in the church was always a huge thing for the Catholics, but this change was enormous and brought more people to the Protestant church. As there were too many people who may have wanted to be part of the church, but due to marriage and children, could not be part of the Roman Catholic church. There was a downside to everything that Luther did, however. There were revolts by the peasantry that were attributed to his pamphlets against the church. This and others were certainly downsides that occurred, and it is disappointing that these things would be misinterpreted in such a way.

Shortly after his marriage though, he was becoming increasingly occupied by organizing his church. He ended up putting forth a new worship service plan and even wrote a summary of the new faith. He even put up a supervisory body for the church. It is an amazing idea that he put down the foundations of the entire Lutheran church, but would anyone from that time recognize the Lutheran church today as their church? Truly, think it hard that any would.

John Knox

John Knox was another member of the Reformation. His reformation was based mostly in Scotland. He spent a great deal of time attacking females of the time which has dumped him out of the pantheon of heroes in today’s time. However, some of Knox’s closest friends and supporters were females. R. Holder says, “His correspondence with his parishioner and then mother-in-law demonstrates the depths of his inner vulnerabilities that he was willing to share.”[6] While he has some issues, He was still a hero during his own time. Anyone that might have read his recent biographies probably would see those things.

Knox was a preacher and a devout believer. He took in a literal sense the Old Testament’s wanderer role, as he traveled across Europe during his exile. One could see him as a prophet in the way he took the role of a wanderer like many of the disciples and preaching throughout Europe. Unlike, Calvin, we do not have his sermons outside of a few published works. It is deeply saddening for some. However, we do have The History of the Reformation in Scotland as one of his published works that share his thoughts. John Knox was born in the early 1500s in Scotland.

He had a university education at St. Andrews[7] and Glasgow University[8] and ordained into the priesthood in 1539, and even became a reformer in Scotland.[9] He heard the preaching’s of George Wishart and even served as his bodyguard, carrying a sword or claymore to protect him. Wishart was tried and executed for heresy by Cardinal Beaton of St. Andrews as and this caused an enormous outcry by the Protestant community. “The Protestants set out for vengeance. Taking the archbishop’s castle, they killed Beaton on May 29, 1546.”[10] Knox and his students apparently took refuge inside the castle due to all of the fighting and ended up eventually captured and forced to serve as a galley slave for the French.

Of course, he was later released for one of any number of reasons. For many, it was believed to be because the French wanted to avoid his Martyrdom. He made his way to London and started preaching in a position in Berwick-in-Tweed.[11] He eventually met his wife there, Marjorie Bowes. Eventually, they married in 1555, despite the reluctance of her parents.[12] Some believed that Knox’s preaching was very forceful against the Mass as an abomination. When Mary Tudor became queen in Scotland, he escaped into exile mostly to Geneva. He learned many things from Calvin in his time in Geneva, eventually returning to Scotland and preached the Protestant faith.

He ended up leaving again when the queen made him an outlaw wanting him dead. He would travel back and forth from Geneva to Scotland several more times, but eventually spent several years in Geneva with his Wife and his two sons were born there.[13] It is surprising just how much Knox went through. He was a refugee, exile, and a galley slave. He went through more than probably any other reformer. This would have affected his ministry and the way he thought of women. The difference between Knox, Calvin, and Luther is obvious. Calvin stuck to his Small Council of Geneva. Luther functioned alongside the prince. However, Knox took himself to the worldly powers and preached before several them.[14]

However, because of some of his teachings and writings about women, though originally meant for women as rulers, he lost his place in modern society as a good man for people to look to for theological teachings. During his time though, he was certainly as well known as Martin Luther and John Calvin in his own way. It is amazing to think of all the trials that John Knox went through. It is hard to imagine not having something against women after being treated the way he was by the Scottish Queen and Regent. However, with the heavy Feminism and the many Women’s rights activists of today’s society, it is certainly possible to see where he would lose his prominence as a Reformationist today. However, one must always remember that despite his views on women, he changed the world for Christianity just like Martin Luther and John Calvin in no less a way.

Music & Worship

When it comes to Music and & Worship, after knowing what music is, man needs to know the “Why.” Why should man worship God and make music for the worship of God? The reason, first and foremost, is because man was created to glorify and worship the Father, and the only other reason worth mentioning is because man will either be doing it for all of eternity, or man will be screaming from the depths of hell. When it comes to the time of reformation, however, Worship badly needed a reform. Corruption was rampant in the church and was a real problem. The Catholic Church had fallen into corruption and Tozer quoted it best as “the angel of the church of the Laodiceans made this charge and this appeal, ‘Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing…As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent’ (Rev. 3:17, 19).”

It very likely was a reason why so many Reformationists stood up against the church. The biggest changes were certainly brought about by the Lutheran and Calvinist reformations and then the English Reformation. One of the biggest influences on worship was certainly the Thirty Years’ War. Lutheran congregations began to sing together, and it was Luther that helped get the Bible into the hands of the German people, and then the hymnbook as well. Luther had the help of the printing press invented by Gutenberg as the biggest help to him in bringing those two things to the people. Luther believed that after theology, music followed closely as one of the most important factors in the congregation.

Luther himself was a musician. He was gifted when playing the lute and certainly believed that the scripture should be equally important to the songs of worship to the Lord. When one thinks about the Catholic faith and compares it to just the Lutheran faith, one can easily see which the common people would seek at the time. While the Catholic faith was corrupt, devoid of congregation singing, and unfocused on scripture, the Lutheran faith believed that the scripture should stand at the front with music standing just behind it with the entire congregation being able to participate in both. Martin Luther is believed by some to be the first Evangelical hymn writers, often composing tunes to his lyrics. Martin Luther placed the German Chorale in the role for worship.

While Calvin also made changes in worship in Geneva. He brought psalms to a prominent place in his Calvinist Reforms. Calvin was more radical in his changes of worship than Luther in that he rejected all practices done by the Catholic church. This meant that the instruments and songs that one is probably used to singing or hearing in the Catholic church were not permitted in the Calvinist churches. Something of note is that Calvin commissioned a French poet, Clement Marot, to set all 150 psalms to meter.

This ended up becoming something he had published as the Geneva Psalter in 1562.[20] Calvin’s approach was more unto the early church and the singing of psalms, while the Lutherans can be seen as more as a balance of early church and new songs of worship. The Catholic Church is a church of listening without singing, which is something completely unthinkable to many today. Calvinist churches can still be seen today though certainly not in large numbers. The Lutheran Church’s worship style is seen in nearly every church of today. As a matter of fact, many churches today struggle to keep the same balance that can be seen in the Lutheran Church’s worship style.

The Music of the Reformation changed several times, but most particularly in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. During the Renaissance period, the music changed to become what it would be for the first half of the Reformation period. It was more polyphonic and was considered the golden age of the acapella music style. Everyone that considered themselves “educated” was to be trained in Music and in Dance. This seems odd to some, but when one thinks about the renaissance, it was the period where nobility was starting to pull music away from the church.

The Music during the renaissance shifted away from the church into the Noble and Royal courts. It is obviously a time when secular music became, if not popular, then heard more often. It was also a time when instruments other than the traditional organ became popular. They were obviously played during court balls and such, allowing music to be more…emotional, as dances were both slow and fast. Emotions allowed songs to be slower or faster depending on the emotion involved. Sadder songs would obviously be played slower, and vice versa for Happier, Joyful songs. However, the Baroque period broke in roughly halfway through the Reformation period. The Baroque period changes music a great deal as stringed instruments made an appearance during this time.

The biggest additions to music during this time was Baroque Orchestra, Fugue, Opera, and the Oratorio genres being made popular. The Worship of the Reformation changed, but by no means was it just the Worship that changed. Music in general changed and the Song Writers and Playwrights of the time made an enormous impact, and many remain famous even today. To name a Few would be Bach, Vivaldi, Shakespeare and Da’Vinci, these artists changed the musical/entertainment world in their time. Their songs still hold considerable power over the music and entertainment of today.

Art and Culture

Art and Culture are inseparable topics, as Art is a facet of Culture. Art shows what the culture of the time looks like and how the people are seen. The biggest thing the Catholic church had going is that for much of the Reformation it had complete control over both the music and art of the time. One of the things you notice is that some of the art created during the Reformation is very representative of looking up to God’s realm of Heaven is Awe-inspiring and the idea that one can reach such a place is incredible to the masses at the time.

The Culture of the Reformation was probably an incredible thing to behold. There was a war between the Protestants and the Catholics called the Thirty Years’ War. It caused rifts and eventually spread, not just between Protestants and Catholics, but to the entire continent of Europe due to Political, spiritual and social issues going on between kingdoms and churches. The biggest thing that happened during the Thirty Years’ War was that the Pietists sprang up which believed that the goal of any worship is in the education of believers.

The culture of the time was constantly changing depending on where someone might be and what period of the Reformation they might be in. The Reformation held several periods of Art and even styles of Music including the High and Northern Renaissance, even the Baroque Art period. Each of these periods put out different unique pieces of art that were special to the cultures of the time.


  1. Bishop, Roger. 2017. ‘Martin Luther.’ BookPage (General OneFile) 23. Accessed March 26, 2018. http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A483701850/ITOF?u=vic_liberty&sid=ITOF&xid=ea1a3121.
  2. Christie, Francis A. 1906. ‘Review of John Knox and the Reformation by Andrew Lang.’ The American Historical Review 371-373.
  3. Holder, R. Ward. 2015. ‘John Knox Revisited’ The Expository Times (126): 521-29. doi:10.1177/0014524615589163.
  4. Morehead, Jonathan. 2011. ‘John Calvin.’ Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (54): 209-11.
  5. Towns, Elmer L., and Vernon M. Whaley. 2012. Worship Through the Ages: How the Great Awakenings Shape Evangelical Worship.
  6. Nashville: B & H Academic. Tozer, A.W., and Gerald B. Smith. 2006. Whatever happened to worship? Camp Hill, Pennsylvania: WingSpread Publishers.
  7. Wardle, Connie. 2013. ‘One who never feared: John Knox, man of faith and politics.’ Presbyterian Record 41.
  8. Whaley, Vernon M. 2002. Understanding Music & Worship in the Local Church. Wheaton, IL: Evangelical Training Association.
  9. Towns, Elmer L., and Vernon M. Whaley. Worship through the Ages: How the Great Awakenings Shape Evangelical Worships (Nashville: B & H Worship, 2012), 104.
  10. Moorhead, Jonathan.  “John Calvin,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54. No 1. (Mar. 2011): 209-11
  11. Bishop, Roger. 2017. ‘Martin Luther.’ BookPage (General OneFile).
  12. Holder, R. Ward. 2015. “John Knox Revisited” The Expository Times.
  13. Whaley, Vernon M. 2002. Understanding Music & Worship in the Local Church (Nashville: B & H Academic) 13.
  14. Tozer, A.W., and Gerald B. Smith. 2006. Whatever happened to worship? (WingSpread Publishers)

Cite this paper

Personalities and Culture of Protestant Reformation. (2021, Nov 26). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/personalities-and-culture-of-protestant-reformation/

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