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Module Forum: Germany in the Age of the Reformation (HI242)

Module Forum: Germany in the Age of the Reformation (HI242) Reformation Impact

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  1. The most significant effect of the Reformation was undoubtedly the impact that it had on politics and power structures across the Holy Roman Empire. Secular princes saw a notable increase in their overall power, which was largely as a result of the decrease in status of the Catholic Church. There was, going forwards, a greater focus on individual status and ‘further gain’, rather than on the power of collective organisations. Furthermore, the Peasants’ War was highly significant in demonstrating the shifting power structures in the Empire at this time, as it demonstrated the direct impact, as well as the ‘ripple effect’ of a popular movement, which had social, political and economic consequences, both in the short term and in the long term.

  2. The greatest impact of the Reformation was its contribution to the formation of a German identity. Luther's vernacular translation of the Bible was vital to the development of the German language, and the engagement of German citizens with Protestant ideology allowed them to distinguish themselves from the wider Holy Roman Empire. The Reformation also contributed to discourse over identity during the Enlightenment and Romantic periods, indicating that its significance to German self-image was enduring. Given the divided nature of the Germanic region during the early-modern era, the Reformation can be seen as a catalyst for unifying the German people. 

  3. The Reformation had the most significant impact on education. The use of catechisms, removal of saints, more simplistic churches, and the translation of the bible from Latin to German gave many, both male and female, a chance to understand their religion at a less superficial level. As a result of a better education, and the humanist ideas that shaped it, and along with the preaching’s which spoke of the good that would come from living a godly life many in the peasantry viewed themselves in a more positive light. They saw themselves less as a group, as had been the case in medieval society, and more as individuals. It also resulted in many becoming more assertive in both societal and religious matters.
  4. The emphasis on ‘personal faith’ marked a paradigm shift in the religious perception of ‘work’. The liberation of worldly pursuits from the perception of association with Original Sin put secular ‘work’ on an equal footing with religious ‘work’. The secular identity of an ‘individual’, shaped by his or her profession, became crucial in society, as honourable employment and a moral lifestyle were seen as forms of ‘divine service’. The Catholic Church lost its erstwhile monopoly on religious belief and despite conflicts, the official tolerance of doctrinal diversity paved the way for the gradual acceptance of a pluralist society.

  5. The most siginificant impact of the Reformation was that of its cultural impact and the creation of a protestant ideology within Germany. The Lutherbibel was the first work ever to be printed in standardised German and that in combination with the advent of the printing press marked the birth of Hochdeutsch. This was a fundamental first step in the creation of a national German identity. The German national protestant identity that it would give rise to would dictate German politics for hundreds of years to come, from the rise of Prussia and to eventually inspire Bismarck's reunification of Germany and his policies of the future such as Kulturkampf and thus arguably the rise of German militarism that would shape the world dramatically in the world conflicts at the beginning of the 20th Century.

  6. The most significant impact of the reformation was its impact on religious self-identification, which became more central as Catholicism stopped being universal. This led to increased attempts to control relgiousity through visitations etc. There was increased conformity within confessions as a result, despite the time it took to change popular belief.


    A significant impact, which is often overlooked, is the printing press which evolved as a result of increasingly advancing technological innovation. It enabled Luther to exploit the opportunity to disperse his teachings in a revolutionary manner, allowing him to promote Lutheranism in both Germany and the rest of Europe. Furthermore, Lucas Cranach played an important role, as well as numerous woodcuts, which could be found in contemporary places of worship and education.

  8. One of the most significant impacts of the reformation was the spread of literacy due to the focus on individual piety based on the appropriation of Scripture. The use of catechisms also encouraged more children to read increasing literacy rates. The decisions to translate and publish the Bible’s New Testament in German allowed a sense of unity due to the creation of a single vernacular and made the message of the Reformation accessible and established Lutheranism in Europe. Luther’s ideas of translating the Bible led to many others following his example such as Tyndale.