The Reformation

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Course Level:
Course Length:
15 weeks

“Intellectum valde ama”
(Greatly cherish the intellect)

– St Augustine

Course Description

Continues HST 451. Major religious movements of the sixteenth century in their political, social, economic and cultural contexts, from Christian humanism through the Wars of Religion.

Commenting on the successful establishment of ecclesiastical reforms in his native Germany, Martin Luther famously asserted, “I did nothing. While I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.” Given Luther’s own doctrinal presuppositions, his theological interpretation of events is entirely understandable. Even he, however, recognized that such an explanation ignored the many social, cultural, political, and economic factors from which the sixteenth-century reforming movements benefited.

The aims of the present course are to examine the various reformations of the early modern era especially in the light of such historical factors. Important theological emphases will by no means be ignored or “explained away” (as they may be by some social historians), but primary attention will be given to the broader historical conditions, contexts, and consequences of the sixteenth-century reformations.



  • To introduce students to the various social, cultural, political, and economic factors which affected and were affected by the reformations of the early modern era;
  • To introduce students to, and to engage students in, some of the classic and contemporary historiographical debates regarding the sixteenth-century reformations;
  • To develop the student’s facility with the historian’s craft, including especially the abilities to read critically, think analytically, and write persuasively.



Coming to terms with an age vastly different from our own will require, among other things, some focused reading. Reading means books, and you will need two:

  • Andrew Pettegree (ed.), The Reformation World (Routledge, 2001)
  • Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation: A History (Penguin, 2005)
  • Primary source excerpts will also be assigned and made available.

The assigned readings are not meant to be the final word on any given subject, but they will prepare you to be an informed participant in classroom discussion. Therefore it will be assumed that you have “read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested” the appropriate pages before the class period for which they are assigned. To this end, it is strongly suggested that you compile clear and comprehensive notes on all readings. Especially recommended for inclusion in such notes are brief statements of the author’s thesis or theses, summaries of arguments and evidence provided in their support, and any questions or comments elicited by the reading.



Assessing your intellectual development means, alas, that graded assignments will be a feature of this course. These will be of several types:

  • One midterm and one final exam, each consisting of short answer and essay questions.
  • One research paper (of apx. 20 pages) in which is investigated an approved topic of your choice.
  • Any other short assignments, such as pop quizzes or brief reaction papers, which the professor may deem beneficial for the assessment or improvement of study skills. 

Each of the major assignments will be weighted equally, with any additional assignments not to total more than 10% of the final grade. Submitted work will be graded on a scale of 1-100, with A+ assigned for marks 98-100, A for 93-97, A- for 90-92, and so on. As appropriate, a less objective assessment of factors such as individual effort, class attendance, and participation in discussion may be taken into consideration when calculating final grades hovering near the border between two marks. Requests for “extra credit” assignments will not be considered, so please do not ask.

As academic dishonesty undermines the very goal of liberal education, all forms of cheating and plagiarism will be penalized with a grade of zero for the assignment involved, and all instances will be reported to the proper authority, which may result in dismissal from the college. Students are strongly encouraged to familiarize themselves with the college catalogue’s Academic Honor Policy and the Hillsdale College Honor Code.



While common sense should make any detailed course policies unnecessary, a few specific comments are perhaps warranted.

Attendance, though not strictly mandated, will be crucial to successful performance in this course. If you must absent yourself for any reason, you will remain responsible for the content of the day’s lecture and discussion. Moreover, attendance without focused attention and engagement will serve no good; it is therefore requested that no food be eaten in the classroom, that all cell phones be silenced and stored away, and that personal attire not be distracting. Similarly, to prevent distractions to yourself and others, the use of laptop computers will not be permitted in class unless permission is granted in light of extraordinary circumstances.

Finally, please be aware that missed exams cannot be made up unless permission has been granted by the professor prior to the date of the exam; similarly, papers submitted after their due date will be penalized one letter grade for each day they are late unless a rare extension has been granted by the professor prior to the date due.

Course Outline  

The course outline on the following pages represents a tentative ideal which may or may not be met during the semester. While we will do our best to remain on schedule, the professor reserves the right to modify the outline as deemed appropriate. In the event that any minor changes do occur, these will be announced in class. Any major changes will also be advertised via e-mail.

The topics for daily class meetings, selections from the primary source readings, and any assigned chapters from the Pettegree collection, are listed below. MacCulloch’s narrative survey is much more difficult to divide into readings relative to daily topics, so this has not been attempted. Instead, chapters 1-2 should be read by September 28; chapters 3-12 by November 16; and chapters 13-17 by December 11.


Western Christendom on the Eve of Reformation


W/9/2                     “Reformation(s)”: Coming to Terms with Terms

F/9/4                      Late Medieval Piety: Two Views [Pettegree, 1 & 2]

Examination of Juan de Rabe (1518)

WittenbergCastle Church, Catalogue of Relics (c. 1517)

Desiderius Erasmus, The Praise of Folly (1509)

John Colet, Convocation Sermon (1512)


M/9/7                     Late Medieval Piety: Two Views (cont.)

W/9/9                     Apocalypse Now? Death, Dying, and Religion

Gabriel de’ Mussis, History of the Contagion (c. 1350)

Bishop of Bath and Wells, Diocesan Decree (1349)

Anonymous, The Art of Dying Well (c. 1435)

Johann Tetzel, Sermon on Repentance and Indulgences (c. 1517)


F/9/11                    The Great Upheaval: Urbanism and the Agrarian Crises

Edward III, King of England, Ordinance of Laborers (1349)

ThomasBasin, History of Charles VII and Louis XI (1487)

John Hales, On Enclosures and Inflation (1548)

Ludovico Guicciardini, On the City of Antwerp (1560)


M/9/14                  Root of All Evil? Church, State, and Money

Anonymous, The Reformation of the Emperor Sigismund (c. 1438)

Johann Agricola, Commentaries on German Proverbs (1528)

Ulrich Hutten, Appeal to the Saxon Elector (1520)

Simon Fish, Supplication for the Beggars (1529)


W/9/16                  The Empire(s): Territorialism and the New Monarchies

French Synod of Bourges, The Pragmatic Sanctions (1438)

The German Estates, Grievances Presented to the Diet of Worms (1521)

English Parliamentary Act in Restraint of Appeals (1533)

Jean Bodin, Of the Commonwealth (1576)


F/9/18                    Ad Fontes: The Humanist Program [Pettegree, 4]

Francesco Petrarch, Letter to Tommaso de Messina

Lorenzo Valla, On the Alleged Donation of Constantine (1440)

Desiderius Erasmus (?), Julius Excluded from Heaven (1514)


M/9/21                  The Question of Authority: The Conciliar Experiment [Pettegree, 3]

Jean Froissart, Chronicles(c. 1388)

Nicholas of Cusa, On the Supremacy of General Councils (1440)

Decrees of the Council of Constance (1412-1418)


W/9/23                  Naming Roses: Nominalism and its Implications

William of Ockham, Lectures on Lombard’s Sentences (c. 1319)

William of Ockham, Quodlibetal Questions (c. 1322)


F/9/25                    Interior Castles: Mysticism and the Modern Devotion

                                                Meister Eckhart, Defense against Heresy (1326)

                                                Anonymous, The German Theology (c. 1350)

Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing (c. 1375)

                                                Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (c. 1415)


W/9/28                  Reformers, Pre-Reformers, Heretics: Late Medieval Dissent

Bernard Gui, The Inquisitor’s Manual (c. 1320)

Pope Gregory XI, The Condemnation of John Wycliffe (1382)

Council of Constance, Condemnation of John Hus (1415)



The European Reformations


W/9/30                  “German Hercules”: Luther and Early Lutheranism [Pettegree, 5 & 6]

Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520)

Martin Luther, On Christian Liberty (1520)


F/10/2                    Print, People, Propaganda: The Press and its Effects [Pettegree, 7 & 29]

John Foxe, Acts and Monuments (1583)

Martin Luther, The Passion of Christ and Antichrist (1521)

Council of Trent, Rules on Prohibited Books (1563)


M/10/5                  Zwingli and the Swiss Alternative [Pettegree, 10]

Ulrich Zwingli, Interpretations and Justifications (1523)

Ulrich Zwingli, The Sixty-Seven Articles (1523)

Ulrich Zwingli & Martin Luther, The Marburg Colloquy (1529)

The Swiss Cantons, First Treaty of Kappel (1529)


W/10/7                  The Reformation in the Cities

Account of the First Zurich Disputation (1523)

Imperial Diet of Speyer (1526)


F/10/9                    Saints or Subjects? The Anabaptist Quandary [Pettegree, 14]

Caspar Braitmichel, The Hutterite Chronicle (c. 1542)

Michael Sattler et al., The Schleitheim Confession (1527)

Peter Riedemann, Account of Our Religion (c. 1545)


M/10/12                                People’s Reformation or Peasants’ Revolt? [Pettegree, 8]

Sebastian Lotzer and Christoph Schappeler, The Twelve Articles (1525)

Martin Luther, Admonition to Peace: A Reply to the Twelve Articles (1525)

Martin Luther, Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants (1525)

Michael Eisenhart of Rothenberg, Journal Entries (1525)

Hermann Mühlpfort, Letter to Stephan Roth (1525)


W/10/14                                The Princely Reformations on the Continent [Pettegree, 9]

Imperial Diet of Speyer (1529)

Philip Melanchthon et al., AugsburgConfession (1530)

Charter of the Schmalkaldic League (1531)


F/10/16                  Mid-Semester Recess

M/10/19                                Mid-Term Exam (A)

W/10/21                                Mid-Term Exam (B)

F/10/23                  Royal Supremacy: Early Tudor Reform [Pettegree, 13]

English Parliamentary Act of Supremacy (1534)

Miles Coverdale, Preface to the Complete English Bible (1535)

English Parliamentary Act Abolishing Diversity in Opinions (1539)

Henry VIII, Speech to Parliament (1545)


M/10/26                                “The Most Perfect School of Christ”: Calvin and Geneva [Pettegree, 18]

John Calvin, Preface to Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536)

John Calvin, Preface toCommentary on Psalms (1557)

Syndics and Council of Geneva,Ordinances for the Supervision of Churches (1547)


W/10/28                                Concordand Discord: Lutheranism beyond Luther [Pettegree, 15 & 22]

Nicholas Gallus et al.,The Magdeburg Confession (1550)

The Religious Peace of Augsburg(1555)

Jakob Andreä et al., Formula of Concord (1577)


F/10/30                  Drawing Boundaries: Confessions and Confessionalization

M/11/2                  “The Monstrous Regiment of Women”: Later British Reformations [Pettegree, 21 & 23]

Giovanni Michele, Report on the State of England (1557)

John Foxe, Acts and Monuments (1583)

John Knox, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558)

English Parliamentarian Act of Uniformity (1559)

 John Field and Thomas Wilcox, Admonition to Parliament (1572)


W/11/4                  Reformations on the Fringe: Eastern Europe [Pettegree, 11]

F/11/6                    Reformations on the Fringe: Spain and Italy [Pettegree, 16 & 17]

Gasparo Contarini et al., Advice Concerning the Reform of the Church (1537)

Juan de Valdés, Letter to Giulia Gonzaga (c. 1540)

Don Benedetto, The Benefit of Christ (1543)

Don Fernando Valdés, Spanish Inquisition Ordinances (1561)


M/11/9                  Rome: Catholic Reformation or Counter-Reformation?

Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent(1546, 1547, 1563)

Pope Paul III, Approval of the Society of Jesus (1540)

Ignatius Loyola, Letter to Peter Canisius (1554)


W/11/11                                A House Divided: The French Wars of Religion [Pettegree, 12 & 19]

Michele Suriano, Report on the State of France (1561)

Jacques-Auguste de Thou, History of His Times (c. 1600)

The Edict of Nantes (1598)


F/11/13                  Two Dutch Revolts: Independence and Arminianism [Pettegree, 20]

Michele Suriano, Report on Philip II of Spain (1559)

Emperor Charles V, Proclamation Against Heretics (1550)

King Philip II, Letter to Duchess Margaret of Parma (1566)

Philip II, Proclamation Outlawing William of Orange (1580)

William of Orange, Defense (1581)

Jacob Arminius, A Declaration of the Sentiments of Arminius (1608)


M/11/16                                Empire Undone: The Thirty Years War

Elector Johann Georg of Saxony, Letter to the Protestant Union (1608)

John Rushworth, Historical Collections (1659)

Gustavus Adolphus, Manifesto (1630)

Gustavus Adolphus, Letter to the Ambassador of Brandenburg (1630)

Anonymous German Preacher, The Tears of Germany (1638)

The Peace of Westphalia (1648)



Western Christendom in the Wake of Reformation

(To allow fuller attention to be given to the final researching and drafting of term papers,

primary sources will not be assigned during the semester’s concluding weeks)


W/11/18                                The Question of Success

F/11/20                  The Holy Household: Women and the Family [Pettegree, 24]

M/11/23                                A Reformation of Manners? [Pettegree, 30]

W/11/25                                Thanksgiving Recess

F/11/27                  Thanksgiving Recess

M/11/30                                Reformations and the Arts [Pettegree, 25, 26, & 27]

W/12/2                  Rethinking Nature: Witchcraft, Magic, and Science [Pettegree, 28]

F/12/4                    A Grand Irony: Church, State, and Toleration

M/12/7                  Representation and Resistance: Two Political Legacies

W/12/9                  Protestantism and Capitalism: Revisiting Weber

F/12/11                  New Worlds, Lost Worlds: Colonization and Evangelization


** Final Exam: Saturday, 19 December, 8.00am **