Three surprising ways the Protestant Reformation shaped our world


Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.

 Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.

Editor’s Note-Alec Ryrie is the author of “Protestants: The Faith That Made the Modern World” and professor of Christian history at Durham University in England.


(CNN)If you’re a Protestant, the anniversary of the revolution Martin Luther set in motion 500 years ago this Tuesday is a big deal. But even if you’re not, it should be. The Reformation was one of the decisive events that made the world we live in, for better or worse.

Luther and his followers weren’t trying to reshape the world: they were trying to save it. They had a gospel to proclaim and thought the end was near. But in their urgency they trampled down the walls that had kept life in Western Christendom neatly ordered.
Luther outflanked the power of the Catholic Church hierarchy with a new communications technology, the printing press, that allowed him to speak directly to the people. When he was finally dragged before the assembled majesty of church and empire in 1521 and ordered to renounce his errors, he refused, insisting that his conscience was captive to the Word of God, a higher authority than any pope, bishop or king.
Suddenly, everyone had a voice and no one could tell anyone else what to believe. Luther’s radical appeal to the total supremacy of personal faith would trigger nearly 200 years of religious warfare.

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