The Political Undercurrents of the Reformation

Posted: March 12, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Book Reviews, Church History, History
Tags: , , ,

Peter Leithart passes on an observation from William Cavanaugh’s Theopolitical Imagination: the Reformation took hold in kingdoms where unresolved tensions remained between the monarchy and the papacy.  In France and Spain, the papacy had ceded powers to the kings, and thus the monarchies lacked a critical incentive to support a break with the church.  England, Scandinavian kingdoms, and some of the German states supported the Reformation, as did some French nobles who resisted the French king’s quest to centralize powers.  I had not thought about those differences before.

I’ve found the political context of the Reformation to be  just as interesting as, although less edifying than, the theological disputes.  With the evolution of centralized monarchies in Europe from the 1000s to the 1600s, the Reformation came at a time of transition for the kingdoms of Europe, as power was shifting toward kings and the central state and away from the nobles and papacy.  Some kingdoms, like the Holy Roman Empire, never were able to make that transition.  So the ambitions of kings, princes, and nobles (as well as nobles’ and peasants’ desires to protect their traditional rights) combined with doctrinal issues and discontent with church power and corruption to shake up all of Western Christendom.


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