In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section German Reformation

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Source Editions
  • Historiography
  • Worship and Ritual
  • Confessionalization
  • Religion and Politics
  • The Reformation of the Cities and Countryside
  • Propaganda
  • Women
  • Other Reformers
  • Reformation and the Other

Renaissance and Reformation German Reformation
Hans Hillerbrand, Wladyslaw Roczniak
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 April 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0055


In the 16th century, “Germany” existed only as a kind of shorthand term to designate the German-speaking lands of the Holy Roman Empire that encompassed, in addition to these, large areas such as the Low Countries, eastern France, and northern Italy. It was in these German-speaking lands that Martin Luther first voiced his theological concerns, and it was there that the major theological controversies of the 16th century were fought. Here, the first generation of Reform leaders emerged; the new Reformation liturgy was first put into practice; pamphlets circulated in a propaganda war in support of Reform; marginal persons, such as women and peasants, were drawn into discussions that at first involved only reformers and their princely or patrician patrons; and Protestant views on perennial outsiders—Jews and Turks—were first articulated.

General Overviews

Though the place of the Reformation as a preeminent watershed event—a bridge, so to speak—between the medieval world and mind and modernity has now been seriously compromised, there is no question that the movement itself had an indelible effect on European and world history and especially on the history of Germany. Wohlfeil 1982 and Hsia 2007 present a general introduction (one older and one newer) to the German Reformation itself as well as to some of the relevant historical issues and debates that have exercised the field. Dixon 2002 offers an introduction heavy on the political element, whereas Köhler 1951 stresses the theological. Scribner and Dixon 2003 attacks the Reformation’s historiographic centrality by portraying it as a single (and unfulfilled at that) movement among many that aimed at societal renewal.

  • Dixon, C. Scott. The Reformation in Germany. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002.

    The best brief introduction to particular aspects of the German Reformation in the early part of the 16th century; concentrates on the meaning of the movement for the German people, and especially emphasizes the role the German princes and their territorial entities played in the propagation of the new set of beliefs.

  • Hsia, R. Po-chia, ed. History of Christianity. Vol. 6. Reform and Expansion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    Exemplary essays by noted authorities who take the story of Reformation from the movement’s first stirrings all the way to the height of the Catholic countercampaign, paying particular attention to the reform’s German roots.

  • Köhler, Walther. Dogmengeschichte, als Geschichte des Christlichen Selbstbewusstseins: Das Zeitalter der Reformation. Zürich, Switzerland: Max Niehan, 1951.

    Despite a somewhat unusual structure, this is the best introduction to the complicated theologies of the 16th century.

  • Scribner, Robert W., and C. Scott Dixon, eds. The German Reformation. 2d ed. Studies in European History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

    This somewhat idiosyncratic collection of essays posits the Reformation as only one of several movements for social and spiritual growth and renewal and speaks to its incomplete nature.

  • Wohlfeil, Rainer. Einführung in die Geschichte der deutschen Reformation. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1982.

    Although a bit older, this narrative is interspersed with brilliant insights concerning the historiography of the German Reformation.

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