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

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Theological Aspects
  • Regional Settings
  • Confessionalization
  • Women
  • Art
  • Worship
  • Social Welfare
  • Radical Movements Of Reform

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Renaissance and Reformation The Reformation
Hans Hillerbrand, Wladyslaw Roczniak
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0058


The Reformation of the 16th century, sometimes known as “Protestant Reformation” in order to distinguish it from a Catholic “Reformation,” was a pan-European movement that called for reform of the Roman Catholic Church as well as the entirety of Christian society. For many of the reformers, however, more was at issue than mere reform; they called for a fundamental re-conceptualization of theology. The Reformation failed in influencing the Catholic Church. Martin Luther, the early leader of the movement, was excommunicated by the Catholic Church, but defiantly pursued his understanding of the Christian faith. As a result of the Reformation new Protestant churches with distinct theological profiles emerged. Several features have characterized scholarship on the Reformation. For one, the historiography of the Reformation has traditionally tended to followed confessional lines, with Protestant scholars painting a negative picture of the state of the Catholic Church on the eve of the Reformation, and an exuberant picture of the achievements of the reformers. Catholic scholars saw things the other way around. More recently a more judicious treatment, less confessionally oriented, of the religious turbulence of the 16th century has emerged. Also, historians of the Reformation have employed different conceptual frames of reference, particularly regarding the question of the primary factor (religion, politics, personal ambition, economics) of the turbulence. This bibliography considers the broad outlines of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Other entries consider the Reformation in England, France, and the German lands; the Catholic Reformation; the Radical Sects; and key Reformation individuals.

General Overviews

The Reformation is one of the most studied topics in European history. Its detractors and supporters both have long maintained its preeminence, for better or worse, among European religious and intellectual movements, underlying such findings by their scholarly output. The last thirty years especially have seen a considerable interest in bringing the totality of the Reformation experience to the public, with Cameron 1991, Collinson 2004, and especially Cunningham and Grell 2000 representative of such notable compilations. Chadwick 2001 concentrates on the Reformation’s beginnings, showing how new intellectual and theological trends began to affect a society ready for change. MacCulloch 2004 concentrates more on the Reformation experience of the British Isles, while Bossy 1985 subsumes the Reformation as a chapter in the long process of the dissolution of European religious homogeneity. Levi 2002 agrees to an extent, seeing the Reformation in terms of the long duré that connects it to the Renaissance and Humanism. MacCulloch 2004, on the other hand, stresses the Reformation’s uniqueness not only as a standalone movement, but as a precursor to many aspects of modernity. While Rublack 2005 stresses the primacy of political and social contexts, Hillerbrand 2007 emphasizes the centrality of religion in the Reformation’s development.

  • Bossy, John. Christianity in the West, 1400–1700. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

    A well-written account that sees Reformation as a bookend event in the broader context of the dissolution of medieval Christendom. The account is sympathetic to traditional interpretations of Christianity—less so to the “corrected” 16th-century version.

  • Cameron, Euan. The European Reformation. Oxford: Clarendon, 1991.

    A text encyclopedic in approach, with helpful summaries of the current scholarly emphases and consensus. Cameron’s research spans the entire geographical breadth of Europe, from Spain and Scandinavia to its eastern borderlands, and concentrates on the intellectual background of the movement, its theological and political undertones, as well as on the myriad of personalities involved.

  • Chadwick, Owen. The Early Reformation on the Continent. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    Surveys the Protestant Reformation through the 1560s, studying the shifts in values within the broad population, both urban and rural, as new ideas take hold about the Bible, marriage and women’s roles, and the order of worship.

  • Collinson, Patrick. The Reformation: A History. New York: Modern Library, 2004.

    Brief synthesis with a large reach, considering Erasmian pre-reform, the Lutheran revolt, other reform movements and Calvinism in particular, the Reformation in the British Isles, and the relation of the Reformation to politics and the arts.

  • Cunningham, Andrew, and Ole Peter Grell. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Religion, War, Famine, and Death in Reformation Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

    Fascinating overview of the Reformation era structured horse by horse—white, red, black, and pale—corresponding to the four themes of religious change, the consequences of war, food and famine, and death and dying, in an expanding Europe haunted by apocalyptic fear.

  • Hillerbrand, Hans J. The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century. Louisville, KY: Westminster, 2007.

    A comprehensive narrative that focuses on the understanding of the dynamics of the Reformation as an interplay of religion and politics with a healthy dose of serendipity. The book, however, takes issue with those who claim religion was not of primary importance to the spirit of the times.

  • Levi, Anthony. Renaissance and Reformation: The Intellectual Genesis. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

    Substantial overview of the 14th to 16th century focusing on the relation between religion and culture and highlighting the continuities between scholasticism, humanism, and Reformation thought.

  • MacCulloch, Diarmaid. The Reformation. New York: Viking, 2004.

    Magisterial synthesis in just under eight hundred pages, claiming world historical uniqueness for the Reformations, both Protestant and Catholic, as precursor to modernization and Enlightenment. Covers the Protestant rupture to 1570 in the first part; a “divided Europe” (1570–1648) fragmented into confessional units in the second; and social and cultural themes arcing across the whole period in the third.

  • Rublack, Ulinka. Reformation Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    A reappraisal of the Reformation that focuses on general European history and there again on social history, though with proper attention to religious happenings. The author accentuates the personality of the reformers themselves, as well as their social strategies and the politics of the place, as opposed to confessional issues, in tracing the early success of the Reformation.

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