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The Protestant Reformation

All-Day Program

Saturday, November 18, 2017 - 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Code: 1H0298

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"Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre" [of Protestants in France], ca. 1572-84; by Francois Dubois

October 31 this year—Reformation Day—marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation that began with Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and continues to reverberate today. The Protestant Reformation, however, was not a single, uniform movement, as the name suggests, and its story is complex and multifaceted. It is viewed more accurately as a series of reformations that varied by religious concerns and by region, shaped by particular political and social contexts that had gestated during the medieval period.  

John M. Freymann, permanent military professor in history at the U.S. Naval Academy, reviews the emergence and development of the 16th-century reformations from the late Middle Ages into the early modern period, examining the major shifts in religious thought and practice, the consequences of which are felt even today.

9:30–10:45 a.m.   Late Medieval Background

The seeds of the reformations were sown at least a century before 1517, an era in which Europe was primed for reform. Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg, begins the new era with a protest against indulgences that grows into a full-blown reform of doctrine.

11 a.m.–12:15 p.m.  The Spread of the Lutheran Movement

Luther’s movement grows rapidly, too strong to be put down or contained, with social effects that are unexpected and sometimes violent. In Switzerland, Huldrych Zwingli initiates a reformation that agrees with Luther’s in many ways but is crucially different in others, especially in respect to the Eucharist. So-called radical reform movements emerge that are critical of both the Catholic Church and the “magisterial” (Lutheran, Zwinglian, and Calvinist) reformations.

12:15–1:15 p.m.  Lunch (participants supply their own)

1:15 –2:30 p.m.  Reformations throughout Europe 

John Calvin develops a systematic, powerful, and appealing reform theology that spreads across Europe outside the German and Scandinavian lands. The English Reformation begins with Henry VIII, with the country veering between Catholic and Protestant poles before it becomes decidedly Protestant in its own distinctive way.

2:45–4 p.m.  Aftermath

The Roman Catholic Church convenes the Council of Trent to fight Protestant movements and to put its own house in order. The Jesuits emerge as the most powerful religious order in Europe. Religious wars threaten to tear Europe apart, and a new religious landscape appears in the Americas.


S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)