History of the Reformation
I have been reading a lot about the Protestant Reformation and one of the things that people don't understand about it is that it was not a one time event. The Catholic church got too big and got corrupt, as it faced little opposition. The situation was opposite of the churches in the east. People tried to reform the Catholic church and bring back a genuine faith, for hundreds of years.
Originally, the Catholic church and the medieval kingdoms in Europe, after the demise of the Roman Empire, in the west, were both very weak. They both decided to support each other and so religion and government became the same thing. The church was the only unifying factor, in the region. The church gave legitimacy, to the king and the king protected and raised money, for the church.
In the first half of the medieval period, called the dark ages, many people starved to death and almost every part of Western Europe was ruled by tiny kingdoms, that most people have never heard of. Scotland, England, and Wales did not become recognizable, until the second half of the medieval period. Countries like Germany and France were originally part of the same empire and the only difference was language. The Vikings called the Dutch and the Anglo-Saxons by the same name. Portugal did no come together, until around 1300 and Spain was not recognizable until the end of the medieval era. Italy did not become one country until the 19th century and what people think of modern Germany did not occur until about the same time.
There was a lot of fighting over how much power the church should have and how much power the government should have. Some of the greatest fights were between the Holy Roman Emperor (medieval Germany) and the pope. The pope was accused of being the Antichrist, hundreds of years before Martin Luther. Around 1100, there were many reform movements, that happened throughout Europe, and in the following centuries. Martin Luther was not even the first Protestant reformer. There were a number of Catholic orders, that were created around 1100-1200, like the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Cistercians. They were created, to help promote a more genuine faith, in the church and society. Later, there were also many Christian mystics and philosophers calling for similar reforms and genuine faith.
There is another major situation that is poorly understood about medieval Europe. In the areas of the former Roman Empire, in the west, were converted to Christianity, before the fall of the Western Roman Empire. But, Northern Europe took hundreds of years to convert. Even Central Europe was not all converted, until the Renaissance. Eastern Europe was a big mix of Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Pagan, and various less known Protestant denominations. For centuries, Christians in the British Isles were tortured, to try to convert them to paganism, by the Vikings.
Many things throughout history keep on resurfacing and many things never change. The origin of questioning everything and everybody having a different opinion and driving reforms and divisions, based on their ideology, started mainly with the Protestant Reformation. There were many simultaneous religious reforms, at the same time. And the British had an entirely different, although related, Protestant history, than the rest of Europe. The Protestant Reformation was the first major western revolution and its legacy still inspires most reforms movements and revolutions today.
The Reformation Today
When most people study European history today, most focus on the economic and political reasons, for the start and the success of the Reformation. The more important thing is that people did actually believe these things, of their own free will, and were willing to suffer and die, for their beliefs. Just like today, everybody had their own opinion and, like with both Christianity and Islam, they each believed that their particular convictions were the one true doctrine and faith.
It is interesting, to see this from the point of view, of the contemporary world, we now live in. With the Internet and the corruption of the media and business, we no longer trust anyone. Technology allows us to find out more than ever before and we can easily find something, to reinforce our opinions, no matter what they are. But we are at a loss of determining what is eternally and objectively true.
For people, who want to know what the truth about religion is, who believe there are certain spiritual absolutes, there is no one clear direction. Many good, honest, and devout people believe so many different opinions, that can't all be true, but no one is able to determine what is important and what is not. If most true believers in Christ were asked what are the essential of their faith, they would say everything in their theology and each person would have a different idea. I think I know what the essential things are, but no one thinks like I do and I am as fallible, as anyone else.
I think there is an over reliance now on theology and the point of how we are to live our lives, worship God, and help other people is lost, in a lot of this elaborate theology, so that religion, to many devout Christians becomes reduced, to defending their particular set of theological beliefs. If we are to be honest and objective, many of our ideas are wrong.
We have to consider, that it is likely we are all completely wrong, about vital parts of our faith. It is important, to realize, that God is not going to judge us, on our theology, because we are all equally wrong, but rather on our hearts. I wish there were a way to keep our dedication, to our beliefs, but sill be able to accept others, for who they are and avoid all this conflict (over things that we cannot be certain about or all agree upon).
Theology has always been a necessary evil. If you believe what the Bibles says, that it is clear about, there is no need for doctrine. There is a good reason, for all this emphasis on doctrine, even confusing doctrines, like the Trinity, and for not compromising, on anything. The reason why doctrine evolved was that people came up with bizarre, unbiblical ideas. Some of these ideas form the basis, for a number of "churches", that claim to be Christian, but are not (many of which originated in the United States, in the last couple hundred years). There have been movements, like the liberal theology in the church and the New Age movement, which are actively trying to sabotage and discredit the obvious doctrines in the Bible, that they do not like.
But, there must some limit, to this lack of compromise. Devout Christians need to find some core set of beliefs (that is clear cut in the Bible) and allow differences, in the other areas of doctrine. The church has way too many divisions, that have agreement on all the doctrine, for those things (that the Bible is obvious about).
I think the reason why God allows this lack of certainty, in doctrine, is that people can become arrogant, if they think they know the truth and everyone else is wrong. The truth in the Bible is absolute, but we are not. Many Christians may see this as relativism, but I believe that this is part of being humble before God. God seems to really hate arrogance, which is understandable, if you have any appreciation, for how perfect God is and how even the saints and martyrs have done nothing, compared to what God has done for us. Even if we had never sinned, we would still be mortal and insignificant, compared to God.
European History, After the Reformation
Before the English, the French, and the Germans got their empires and became world powers, the Swedes, the Polish, and the Turks were some of the greatest powers in Europe. The Habsburgs, who came originally from Austria, were traditionally Catholic and owned both what is now Germany plus the entire Spanish empire, at its height. But the Portuguese were the first Europeans, to build an empire in Asia. People hear about the 100 year lease Britain got from the Chinese for Hong Kong, but the Portuguese got a lease for 500 years for the Chinese port city of Macau. The Portuguese became a world power, until they became victims of Spain trying to conquer them, as each owned an entire hemisphere, at the start of the European colonial empires.
Dutch history is very intertwined with British history. The English basically came to Britain from what is now the Netherlands. During the Hundred Years War, where the English pillaged France for 100 years, the English allied with the Kingdom of Burgundy (which is now the Netherlands). The English Navy fought the Dutch 3 times and lost every time. Most of the achievements of the modern world like the stock market, central banks, international trade, free enterprise, and freedom of religion all came from the Dutch originally. They were later copied by the British and later the Americans. The English finally joined up with the Dutch. In a variety of treaties they divided up colonies, and the British got India, whereas the Dutch got Indonesia (which is much larger than India and much wealthier, before the industrial revolution).
Most of the successes of the French and the British came much later and for only a couple hundred years total. The British were like Microsoft or Google, with nothing original, but just became powerful, by being at the right place, at the right time. When the Industrial Revolution happened, labor was worth most of the cost of goods and commodities were worth little (the opposite of most of history). The Industrial revolutions started in England, with the automization of wool production, because of small climatic changes, that allowed them to grow more wheat. The reason the British, French, Germans, and Americans became world economic powers was because they had the largest supplies of coal and steel, which were necessary for the production of finished goods, like: guns, ships, and trains. If the outside world and the common people, in Europe, did not value these higher technology goods, more than commodities, then these countries would have never become world powers.