The Dominican monk Savonarola (1452-1498) could be considered, to some extent, to be a precursor of Luther. In Florence he advocated austerity in the practice of religion and the removal of any pictures in places of worship. However, his influence was short lived – he ended up burnt at the stake.
In the XVIth century the ideas of the Reform Movement spread quickly. Many movements sprang up which were inspired by humanism : the most well-known, most powerful of these was spiritualism, led by Juan de Valdès, a Spaniard exiled in Italy. Venice opened its doors wide to the Reform Movement, with the University of Padua, which was close by, becoming the main centre where followers of all religious persuasions could engage in dialogue with each other.
In the duchy of Ferrara, Renée, the daughter of Louis XII, and a follower of Lefèvre d’Etaples, married Duke Hercule d’Este, who had joined the Reform Movement ; she welcomed into her home both Clément Marot and Calvin himself, just before he returned to Geneva. But the support she gave to the Reformers led to her being accused of heresy and summoned before the court of Inquisition. When her husband died, she returned to France.
The Reform Movement in Italy suffered several blows at the hands of the Inquisition and after the Council of Trent (1545-1563) it disappeared completely. Some people, for example numerous inhabitants of Lucques, felt they had to emigrate to Geneva, the Swiss cantons or Germany.
However, the Piedmont valleys, to the west of Turin, (also known as the “Waldensian valleys” after the early reformer Pierre Valdo) were an exception. These valleys had been obtained permission from their ruler, Duke Emmanuel-Philibert of Savoy, to hold public religious services which were different to that of their prince and of the majority of the population (the Treaty of Cavour, signed in June 1561). But apart from this unusual case, the Reform Movement was never really able to take a proper hold anywhere in Italy.
It can be said that Protestantism has never really existed in Spain. Even though Erasmus had a certain influence on Spanish spirituality, when Juan de Valdes tried to circulate a translation of Luther’s work, he did not make much headway. The Inquisition reacted violently, and after the great “book-burnings” of Valladolid and Seville (1559-1562), during the reign of Charles V, the “Reformed tradition” disappeared completely.
Protestantism in the Low Countries
The history of Dutch protestantism basically consists of a long-drawn out battle against Spain, who held sway over the country in the second part of the XVIth century and at the beginning of the XVIIth century ; independence was finally achieved by the United Provinces, who later became the kingdom of Holland. During the XVIIth century, Calvinism gradually became the main religion.
Protestantism in England in the 18th century
The Industrial Revolution brought with it many significant changes in society. Against this back ground the Methodist Revival movement was born. Talented preachers would address large crowds in the open, calling them to “conversion”, a deep spiritual experience. A similar Revival movement appeared in the Anglican Church.
Protestantism in the Scandinavian countries
At the beginning of the XVIth century, Scandinavia consisted of two kingdoms : one was made up of Norway and Denmark and the other Sweden and Finland. They both loosely belonged to the same confederation (the Union of Kalmar) which disintegrated at the time of the Reform movement. Lutheranism soon became the main religion and this favoured the constitution of national Churches which could each retain the use of its own language – they were all under State control. Today, even if the churches are not full, the influence of Lutheranism can still be deeply felt in the life of these countries.
Protestantism in Belgium
Although the Low Countries and Belgium (which was in fact part of the latter for several centuries) had shared a common history in the past, the consequences of the events shared by both countries were quite different : in Holland the population was mainly calvinist, while in Belgium catholicism was the prevailing religion.
Protestantism in Hungary
By the end of the XVIth century, protestantism had spread throughout most of Hungary. Despite the opposition of the Counter-Reform movement in the XVIIIth century and persecution by the Habsbourgs, it continued to play an important role on the religious scene in Hungary.
Protestantism in Switzerland
Reformed protestantism is deeply rooted in Switzerland because of Calvin, who lived in Geneva and Zwingli, who lived in Zurich.
The Swiss Confederation goes back to the XIIth century ; it was built up over the years and by the beginning of the XVth century the Thirteen Swiss cantons at the heart of the Confederation had become totally independent from the Hapsburg Empire.
Protestantism in Germany
The Lutheran Reformation movement was a crucial event in German history. This theological and religious revolution had a major effect on German politics, language and culture. Today Germany has several religious tendencies in its midst, but protestants remain in the majority.
Protestantism in England in the 20th century
Throughout the 20th century the Church of England became progressively more and more independent from the State ; it was run on increasingly democratic lines, with the laity taking greater responsibility in ecclesiastical affairs. The Anglican Church was active in the ecumenical movement.
Protestantism in England in the 16th century (separation from Rome)
Henri VIII’s divorce led to the start of a national Church supported by Parliament. After eleven years of religious turmoil following the king’s death, Anglicanism was established by Elizabeth I in 1559.