Lenz, Megan

 In 16th Century Europe, religion was the ultimate societal structure. Every subject in the kingdom practiced Roman Catholicism, as mandated by all-powerful priests heading the church. Led by Martin Luther in 1517, the Protestant Reformation aimed to change the socially accepted beliefs promoted by the church. Outlined in his “95 Theses”, Luther argued against the concentration of power in papal authority and their sale of private indulgences, said to absolve sins. Martin Luther called for a return to the Bible for spiritual guidance, rather than relying on supposed tradition as told by the church. He encouraged a schism to develop between the Catholic Church and the ruling entities of Europe, ultimately setting the precedent for separation of church and state as seen in modern democracy today. As more and more people began to join this widespread movement, contempt for the feudal system arose, causing serfs and those of lower social class to move away from feudal lords and accept a different form of governing body, commonly returning to kingships. This movement signaled the beginning of the modern era, allowing the emergence of promising new cities and a promising middle class that had not existed beforehand.

The Protestant Reformation resulted in many lasting changes in society. Since it had such a wide following, ranging from Germany to Switzerland, the social structure of 16th century Europe underwent a vast change. Society moved away from the Roman Catholic Church and its priests as an influential, almost ruling, entity, and refuted the formerly practiced system of feudalism. This resulted in a more stratified society, including that of more social classes, such as a prosperous middle class. Martin Luther served as the agency for this social change, presenting new ideas through his “95 Theses” and carving a new path for others to follow him on. Once people began to hear what Martin Luther revealed about the church, the social value system shifted from believing solely in the church’s teachings to questioning those same teachings, which was unacceptable during the time period. By creating a new path to follow, Luther changed the social structure by dividing its people based off their values, allowing people to choose what they wanted to believe. Ideological and cultural social change both occurred during this reformation. Ideologically, people’s thoughts about the Roman Catholic Church shifted from all-trusting to extremely skeptical, resulting in less people believing what the Church had decreed. This also encouraged the beginning of new churches and religions, such as Protestantism. After Martin Luther stimulated a schism between the churches and ruling state, the emergence of new ideas was commonly accepted, when before, the church had to accept and acknowledge something as fact for it to be so. As for culturally, this removal of trust from the church changed the idea of society, where more subjects were equal than before with the feudal system. The Protestant Reformation created lasting changes in the society formerly connected to the church, ultimately shaping society into a drastically more modern form.