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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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Although the concept of reformation is popularly so
exclusively associated with the Protestant Reformation
of the sixteenth century, “the hinge,” James Froude
declared, “on which all modern history turns,” the
religious idea of reformation is of great antiquity and
of equally great complexity. It requires careful defini-
tion in order to distinguish it from other forms of
renewal, renovation, revolution, rebirth, or restoration.
The idea of reformation must be distinguished from
deterministic, naturalistic, or supernaturalistic con-
ceptions of renewal. Reformation is a free act or a
repeated series of actions which are intended by the
reformer to recover, reestablish, augment, and perfect
certain essential values which at one time existed in
human society but which subsequently were lost or
impaired by willful neglect or due to a general decline
(Ladner, 1959). To be sure, ideas of renaissance and
renewal were frequently amalgamated with the idea
of reformation. Nor did programs for reformation
always correspond to the supposed historical original
or come up to the hoped-for potential reality. Never-
theless, reformation was always characterized by man's
evocative and creative effort to restore a more perfect
condition which the reformer believed to have existed
at some previous time. But while the reformer
emphasized recovery and restoration, remaking so as
to eradicate defects, he in some cases viewed reforma-
tion as an essential preliminary to further advance.
Thus in Western history the idea of a return to a golden
age has often been associated with a theology of hope,
an eschatological expectation that the kingdom of God
might be realized in whole or in part as a result of
successful reformation. The words “reformation” and
“reform” in certain contexts are interchangeable when
used in the general sense of improvement or restoration
of a better condition. But the term “reformation” has
come to be preferred for a movement which has
effected significant changes or improvements particu-
larly in morals or religious tenets and practices. “Re-
form” is preferred for an attempt to correct corrupt
practices, remove abuses, and change for the better
in any way and can be applied to a specific amend-
ment, frequently a political or legislative act, as the
term “reformation” cannot.

The idea of reformation in Western intellectual his-
tory was essentially a Judeo-Christian conception asso-
ciated first of all with personal regeneration and the
reformed life of the individual, secondly with the res-
toration of the ideal community life in the monastic
movement, and thirdly with a reform given institu-
tional status within the Church as the papacy under-
took to make the world safe for ecclesiastical ideals.
The advocates and carriers of individual and social
reformation in the sixteenth century reached a
prominence never again equalled in history, but the
religious idea of reformation has remained a vital force
down to the present time.

1. Reformation and Renewal. The idea of reforma-
tion looms largest and is most persistently recurrent
in Christian thought, but it is a variant of more general
renewal ideologies and has antecedents in pre-Christian
literature, especially Greco-Roman, and even in pre-
literate religious belief. Reformation must be distin-
guished from other types of renewal conceptions which
were more prominent in the pre-Christian era and
occurred sporadically also in later times. Gerhart
Ladner, distinguished authority on the idea of reform
in patristic thought, categorizes the more significant
renewal ideas to be distinguished from reformation and
reform as the (a) cosmological, (b) vitalistic, (c)
millenarian, and (d) conversion ideologies (Ladner,

(a) Cosmological renewal ideas are very closely re-
lated to and derived from the cyclical patterns of
diurnal and seasonal change and the life, death, and
procreative pattern of organic beings. The myth of the
eternal return reenacted in primitive religious rites and
reflected in early folklore and mythology was derived
from the beliefs in antiquity about the perpetual
cyclical recurrence of identical or at least very similar
situations, persons, and occurrences. The archaic men-
tality sought to negate the inexorable passage of time
and the inevitable corrosion and destruction which
accompanies it by positing a theory of new beginnings.
All archaic and traditional societies seem to have felt
the need for a periodical regeneration of the cosmos
lest entropy reduce all to a state of equilibrium and
usher in the stillness of death (Eliade, 1965). Examples
in classical culture are plentiful, such as the Stoic
doctrine of cosmic destruction and renewal, Hesiod's
myth of the Golden Age at the beginning of time, or
the Platonic cyclical correspondences and the Neo-
Pythagorean notion of a new world year introducing
cosmic renewal. This recurrence idea strikingly
symbolized by New Year celebrations, which in its most
radical form assumed the eternal cyclical and numeri-
cally repetitive renewal of the cosmos and with this
the renewal of humanity, could not be essentially
harmonized with the Christian view of history. It was
cyclical rather than linear, and deterministic rather
than taking into account man's freedom and the mean-
ing of his actions in history.

(b) The vitalistic renewal ideas are related generi-
cally to the human life processes of procreation and
growth. Thus the ideas of renaissance or rebirth and
of upward evolutionary development in social or


cultural history are by analogy based upon these
processes of life. The cosmological and vitalistic re-
newal ideas did at times fuse with each other and
combined with yet a third set of ideas.

(c) The millenarian renewal ideas were utopian and
messianic, looking forward to a period of perfection.
The millenarian expectations were derived from the
eschatological hopes raised by the New Testament
references to the thousand-year reign of Christ and the
saints at the end of time and were related to certain
apocalyptic notions expressed in the Old Testament
prophets (especially Daniel) and developed further in
the intertestamental period and expressed in the
Apocrypha. The millenarian hope anticipates a perfect
kingdom, in contrast to ideas of reformation which
were historically relative rather than absolute, and of
limited objective rather than perfectionist in goal.

(d) Within the Christian tradition the idea of spirit-
ual renewal through baptism, which is a “washing of
regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” is
related to personal rebirth and a beginning of the
sanctified life. But while a personal reformation with
implications for social improvement is associated with
the regeneration in Baptism, it is a product and is not
identical with the spiritual rebirth itself, given the
divine initiative in the Sacrament.

Various renewal ideologies, because of their deter-
ministic and cyclical nature, proved to be incompatible
with the Judeo-Christian conception of time and his-
tory moving in a linear and irrepeatable direction and
with the assumptions about man's genuine, if limited,
freedom to make history. Yet, at times certain aspects
of renewal ideology were adapted to and fused with
reformation ideas. The idea of reformation held up a
picture drawn from the past of the goal to be achieved
and called for a return to a better condition once
known by man. But it also presupposed that if man's
intentions and will were properly applied, man could
make progress in reforming himself, the Church, and
society in at least a limited but real way.

2. Medieval, Classical, and Biblical Terminology.
The terminology used for reformation was not always
clearly distinguished from the language of renewal
ideologies so that the substance of the conception and
the program for its realization need to be examined
in their historical context before a judgment is ventured
as to whether a movement in question constitutes
reformation, renewal, or a combination of both ideas.
Medieval linguistic usage employed the words
reformare and reformatio in a way parallel to such
words as regenerare (regeneratio, παλιγγενεσία),
renovare, innovare (nova vita), suscitare, resuscitare,
restituere, instituere, surgere, renasci, reviviscere
revive”), revirescere (“to grow green again”). The terms
reformare and reformatio had already occurred in
classical literature and were known in that context to
medieval students of the classics and to Renaissance
humanists. But the major sources of this terminology
in the medieval and Reformation periods were un-
mistakably religious and specifically biblical.

In classical usage the verb reformare and the noun
reformatio, which appeared a little later in the litera-
ture, did not initially suggest the active and willful
reestablishing of a former state of things or the creation
of a new value related to the old. In Ovid's Metamor-
(an adaptation of the Greek μεταμόρφωσις)
reformare refers to a miraculous physical restoration
and to a sudden rejuvenation of an old man for one
day. In Seneca and Pliny the younger reformatio refers
to a moral, educational, and political restoration. In
the Antonine and Severan periods of Roman history
the great jurists applied the term reformatio to legal
and institutional reform. Cicero, Livy, and postclassical
authors used the terms renovatio and renovare to refer
to renewal in various contexts (Ladner, 1959).

There were Old Testament examples of individual
reform, the restoration of the law in the days of King
Josiah (620 B.C., cf. II Kings 22, 23), and many
prophetic admonitions to repentance and reform. The
prophets were often in their own persons reformer
types. They foretold the new heaven and the new earth
in which even the wild beasts would honor the Lord.
Isaiah 43:19 reads: “Behold, I am doing a new thing.”
But the terminology current throughout Western reli-
gious history was drawn predominantly from the
gospels and from the epistles of Saint Paul. The New
Testament tied in the idea of rebirth with an eschato-
logical expectation of the coming of the kingdom and
a new paradise. Thus Matthew 19:28 reads: “Jesus said
to them, 'Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when
the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne....'”
The gospels also associate the spiritual regeneration
of the individual through faith and in baptism with
fitness for entering the kingdom of God. In John 3:3
Jesus says: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born
anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (renatus
fuerit denuo;
γεννηΘη̂ ἄνωΘεν). Saint Paul called for the
transformation of individual Christians, the improve-
ment in morals and return to their first love of the
congregation, and the preparation in the present for
the perfection of the post-resurrection life. Romans
12:2 reads: “Do not be conformed to this world but
be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you
may prove what is the will of God, what is good and
acceptable and perfect” (Burdach, 1918). The Vulgate
Latin used in the West rendered the Greek
μεταμορφου̂σΘαι as reformare or reformari. The two
nouns most common for reformation and renewal were


translated as follows: μεταμόρφωσις = reformatio;
ἀνακαίνωσις = renovatio. The prefix μετά in Greek can
be understood to imply a change or reversal rather
than a simple direct-line transformation and thus a
reformation rather than a simple renewal is suggested.
In Latin patristic writings things that are defuncta and
deformata need to be reformed.

3. Reformation as Personal Reform. During the
patristic period of the Christian era reformation
referred predominantly to individual reform or per-
sonal renewal. Reformation in the strictest sense of the
word meant the return to a previously established
norm, looking backward to something given rather
than forward to a goal still awaited. The norm in a
Christian context was a religious norm, the restoration
in sinful man of the original image of God, and
specifically the conforming to the likeness of Christ.
Through spiritual regeneration and growth in sanctifi-
cation and holiness of life, the individual Christian is
restored in part to that original image and similitude
of God which had been bestowed upon man, but which
had been lost by the fall of man into sin. Genesis
1:26-27 reads: “Then God said, 'Let us make man in
our image, after our likeness....'” Genesis 3:1-24
records the fall of man. The restoration of the image
of God in the new dispensation was given a concrete
and more tangible definition as the restoration of the
image of Christ. Through baptism, faith, and growth
in sanctification or holiness of life man is reformed after
the likeness of Christ, God-incarnate, the first-born
among the sons of God. The imitation of Christ entails
patterning the new man after the person of Christ, who
was in every respect perfect, loving, forgiving, and
gracious. The reformation of the individual in the
likeness of Christ remains partial and imperfect in this
present time, but will be consummated in the world
to come.

Two Scripture passages from the writings of Saint
Paul will serve to illustrate this conception of personal
reformation and renewal patterned after Christ. I
Corinthians 3:18 reads: “And we all, with unveiled
face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being
changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to
another; for this comes from the Lord who is the
Spirit.” Philippians 3:20-21 reads: “But our common-
wealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior,
the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body
to be like his glorious body, by the power which ena-
bles him even to subject all things to himself.” The
concept of reformation as a willed and intentional
return of the individual to the perfect norm, the image
of God and likeness of Christ, is amalgamated with
the idea of the spiritual renewal effected by the Spirit
on the divine initiative. Reformation is partial and
relative here in time and is perfected only in eternity.
The Greek and Latin patristic writers derived their
concept of reformation directly from the New Testa-
ment, but they developed the idea with slight varia-
tions in emphasis.

The Greek church fathers cultivated the idea of
personal reformation as a restoration of the image of
God and likeness of Christ. With a strong emphasis
upon the centrality of the incarnation the imagery of
the recovery of man's primal condition through the
spiritualization of man by faith in Christ was strongly
emphasized. Together with the recovery of the primal
condition imagery, the Greek fathers cultivated also
the notion of a return to paradise, man's first estate
before the fall. Man's final return to the paradise of
heaven could be anticipated by mystical participation
in the here and now. They also viewed the repre-
sentational embodiment of the kingdom of God on
earth in the Church, the mystical body of Christ, as
an ongoing reformation of the world. This conception
was more meliorist than optimist, for the prayer that
the Lord's kingdom should come implied an ongoing
process of becoming until the Parousia at the end of
time. The Christian emperor and the monastic groups
were chief guardians and most dedicated promoters
of the kingdom ideal.

While the creational and incarnational emphases of
Eastern thought are not absent from the Latin patristic
writings, a greater stress upon reformation in terms
of restoration understood morally and legally is appar-
ent. The shift in emphasis is evident in their very
vocabulary. Tertullian (ca. 155-220), for example, used
the word reformare to designate a return to a previous
condition, applying the term also to the general repe-
titiousness of the universe. He was possibly the first
to use the phrase in melius reformare, to reform for
the better. Cyprian, Arnobius, and Lactantius, a
fourth-century Christian poet who wrote on the dignity
of man, conceived of personal moral meliorism as
reform. Lactantius, fond of phoenix imagery, tied in
the idea of reformation with his notion of a coming
golden age and a glorious millennium at the end of
time. Thus, just as in the early phase of the eighteenth-
century romantic movement, restoration, through re-
form, of a golden age in the past was seen as a move
toward a more perfect condition yet to be realized
(Ladner, 1959).

Two heretical movements in Western Christendom
made substantial contributions to the concept of refor-
mation. The Donatists insisted that the validity of the
sacrament was affected by the administrant's state of
grace and opposed the readmission to the Church of
the lapsi or fallen, those who had denied their faith
in times of persecution. The Donatists were arch-


Puritans or purists who held up absolute ideals of
conduct and insisted that the entire Church had to be
reformed from top to bottom. The Pelagians undertook
a reformation within the Church and stressed the pos-
sibility for an individual Christian to will his own moral
reform and for groups of Christians to order social life
according to Christian moral law. Erasmus, and before
him Lorenzo Valla, learned from Jerome to pay tribute
to the contribution of heretics to Christian thought.
Not least of their contributions was the negative stim-
ulation they gave to Saint Augustine. As Robert of
Melun observed in the twelfth century, what the holy
fathers did not find controverted they did not defend.

In Augustine the orthodox idea of reformation found
an articulate spokesman. For him the reformation of
man meant a great deal more than the return of an
individual to the creational integrity of Adam, first man
in paradise. All historical reformations are related to
a creational process of formation which includes the
nontemporal act of conversion to God. Augustine, of
course, referred often to the restoration of the individ-
ual to the image of God or likeness of Christ. He
speculated upon the nature of time and the role of
numbers in leading man back to God. But above all
the idea of reformation in Augustine was given a dy-
namic character by its association with his grand the-
ology of history. The two kingdoms theory of his City
of God,
in which the “two churches” of Cain and Abel
and their followers served as the matrix for his idea
of reformation and provided the prevailing medieval
context for the concept, proved to be one of the great
formative forces in Western intellectual history. In the
final stages of Augustine's writings, stimulated by the
Pelagian controversy from A.D. 412 on, he developed
a grand scheme of double succession, one line derived
from Cain and another from Abel. Reformation in this
scheme, whether of a single person or of the collective,
meant rejecting Cain and returning to Abel. Reforma-
tion is conservative and even antirevolutionary, for
Augustine saw it as a conservation and renovation, a
return to that God-given and God-pleasing state of man
and order of society which in history has been con-
stantly threatened by the city of man, but never wholly
lost. A subtle change in the idea of reformation is
introduced by Augustine sufficiently significant for later
history to merit notice. His fixation on the virtue of
monastic life as a superior Christian way prompted him
to speak of reform in terms not only of the indwelling
Christ and of the imitation of Christ's person, but in
terms of obedience to “the law of Christ.”

Augustine's association of the Church with the city
of God, the two never being coterminous, pointed up
the Church's role as a carrier of permanent reform.
The Missale Romanum conveyed the message of God's
reforming activity not only into every cathedral but
into every village chapel in Christendom. The priest
at the preparation of the cup for Mass recited the
words: “God who has marvelously created the dignity
of human substance and has more wondrously reformed
it.” Not only did the idea of renewal and reform play
an important part in sacramental theology, but also
in restoring ecclesiastical order through periodic re-
forms of canon law. The revision of older conciliar
canons by later councils became a regular reformatory
procedure. But the predominant and most charac-
teristic expression of the idea of reformation during
the medieval period was in the constantly recurring
monastic reform movements.

4. Monastic Reform. In the long evolution of the
monastic ideal, the theme reformata reformanda, things
reformed must be reformed again, recurred constantly.
With its hermitic and cenobitic antecedents, monasti-
cism developed in the East, but received a unique
direction in the West. The monks withdrew from soci-
ety not only because it was easier to live a more perfect
ascetic life, but because there they could in isolation
anticipate the perfect life of devotion to God which
would ultimately be consummated in heaven. In the
West Saint Benedict linked monasticism with labor and
made of it a most valuable instrument of social and
economic progress. The glorification of work, however,
had a subversive by-product, for remunerative toil
produced wealth and no rules or regulations devised
by the order could prevent the monks from enjoying
the fruits of their labors. The passion for solitude, the
desire to reform monasticism by a return to primitive
poverty, drove the Benedictines into remote regions
and dense forests, but a few generations later the her-
mitage had become a crowded monastery surrounded
by serfs and tenants. For eight hundred years the
monastic tide rose and fell, with reformation followed
by decadence and a new effort at reconstruction
(Workman, 1918).

The first of the great Benedictine reforms was inau-
gurated by Benedict of Aniane, the “second founder”
of Western monasticism. A narrow escape from
drowning while serving as a soldier in Italy under
Charlemagne led him to enter the monastery of St.
Seine in Burgundy. He found the monasteries in a
deplorable condition, lands alienated to laymen, domi-
nation by cruel superiors, and disorder everywhere. He
withdrew to an isolated gorge on the Aniane in
Aquitaine and soon established a reputation as a pious
reformer. In 817 he presided over the important
Council of Aachen which aimed at a thorough refor-
mation of the monastic discipline. His rule was overly
rigid and a reaction toward decadence soon set in. In
order to counteract this decay Duke William IX of


Aquitaine around the year 910 founded a monastery
at Cluny in Burgundy. This house followed a strict
interpretation of the Rule of Saint Benedict. With the
Cluniac reform movement, however, a new principle
entered the picture.

The reform of the eleventh century in the brief span
of two generations completely altered the ecclesiastical
structure and its relation to the political order.
Monasticism had often been corrupted by the intrusion
of worldly materialism and political domination, just
as the proprietary church arrangement imposed the
control of secular lords on the local churches. If the
Cluniac monks could improve the secular clergy by
impressing their ideals upon the entire church and if
the Church could in turn exercise a real power and
influence upon worldly rulers, then the Church could
uplift the world rather than the world corrupt the
Church. The great Pope Gregory VII plotted the strat-
egy for the “Hildebrandine Reform.” He conceived of
it as “the struggle for the right order of things in the
world,” a moral crusade to free the Church from
subservience to theocratic royal government and lay
ownership of ecclesiastical institutions. The Cluniac
monasteries provided the spiritual inspiration and
dynamism for the movement, but the actual institu-
tional direction came from the Gregorian reformers
who aimed at a universal reform of the Church in a
legal-institutional and Rome-centered plan of action.
The program for the establishment of truth and justice
was based upon old Church law, the lex Christi incor-
porated in the decretum of Gratian and other decretals
of canon law. The Gregorian reformation aimed at
eliminating simony, clerical concubinage and marriage,
and lay investiture, and strove in a positive way to
spiritualize the entire hierarchy from lowest cleric to
the supreme pontiff. The Cluniac and Gregorian re-
form movements met with astonishing success, and yet
they were not without serious defects which became
evident in due course. The Cluniac movement suffered
from an institutional defect, for the burden of discipline
rested too exclusively upon the abbot of Cluny. The
Gregorian reform suffered from an analogous flaw, but
with a different effect. The assertion of Petrine or papal
jurisdictional primacy paved the way for those extrav-
agant claims to plenitudo potestatis asserted in behalf
of the papacy by some popes, canon lawyers, and
theologians in the later Middle Ages. The hierocratic
conception of his office held by Innocent III, verus
who presided over the grand Fourth Lateran
Council of 1215, and the extravagant claims to
preeminence asserted by Boniface VIII in the bull
Unam Sanctam (1302), prompted fierce opposition on
the part of secular rulers and precipitated the
Avignonese captivity and the great schism (Ladner,

The decay of Cluny evoked yet another monastic
reformation by the “white monks” or Cistercians, a
nobleman Robert of Champagne initiating the reform
effort. Once again as the Englishman Stephen Harding,
abbot of Citeaux from 1109 to 1134, set it forth, the
keynote of the Cistercian reform was a return to the
literal observance of Saint Benedict's rule. The real fall
of monasticism, however, as an independent force may
be ascribed to its papal dependence, for when it be-
came the auxiliary of Rome, it had clearly outlived
its initial religious purpose. Bernard of Clairvaux
(1091-1153) saw the dangers of ecclesiastical central-
ization and in a treatise De consideratione, addressed
to Pope Eugene III, he warned against bureaucracy
and fiscalism. He urged as an alternative a reformation
that would be ministerial and personal rather than
authoritarian and merely institutional. Because of his
stress on service and spirituality he was a kind of
transitional figure between Gregorian reform and the
mendicant movement.

About the time of the Cluniac and Cistercian reform
movements, other efforts were being made to reform
by a return to more primitive eremetical life
reminiscent of Eastern monasticism. Among these
orders may be mentioned the Camaldulians founded
by Romuald of Ravenna (d. 1027), the Vallombrosians
founded by Gualbert in the Appenines, the Carthusians
founded by Bruno of Cologne at Chartreuse in 1084.
Ivo of Chartres (d. 1117) in the eleventh and early
twelfth centuries attempted once again to bring
collegiate churches and cathedrals under monastic dis-
cipline. The Canons Regular of Saint Augustine
combined monastic and clerical callings in churches,
schools, and hospitals. But none of the efforts at refor-
mation within monasticism were of permanent dura-
tion. Nor were the mendicant orders able to establish
a lasting reformation of the Church.

The history of monasticism was the history of
constantly renewed reforms. The individual monk best
incorporated the “form” of Christ and the monastic
community best represented the body of Christ. Both
as individuals and communities the monks were to
fulfill as best they could the “law of Christ.” For the
mendicant friars this law was best expressed in the
commission to the disciples in Matthew 10 to go into
the highways and byways to serve and to save the lost.
Christ gave to Francis the great commission to reform
the Church in the well-known words: “Repair my
house, because it is, as you can see, in the process of
being completely destroyed.” Saint Francis initially
understood these words quite literally and with his own
hands rebuilt a number of churches. Soon, however,
he came to see his vocation in spiritual terms so that
his conception of reformation called for personal
penitence, poverty, humility, and a life of service to


mankind. Unlike various heretical groups or the
pauperes Christi in the late eleventh and twelfth
centuries, who emphasized absolute poverty as the
supreme good, Saint Francis stressed conversion as a
change of heart, the need to emulate Christ's life of
love and to lead the vita apostolica as a life of devotion
and service. In the Rules of 1221 and 1223 as well
as in his Testament Saint Francis insisted upon faithful
participation in the sacraments and humble obedience
to the hierarchical Church. His was to be a reformation
very personal and individual within the structure of
the Church.

As the conventual Franciscans in their turn grew
wealthy and worldly, the spiritual Franciscans became
“reformers,” urging the return to apostolic poverty and
the simple spirituality of Saint Francis. In the adherents
to Joachim of Floris' philosophy of history an
apocalyptic-utopian strain which threatened to lose all
historical concreteness developed. Joachim and his
commentator Gerard described the three ages of world
history as the Ages of the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Spirit. Gerard predicted the advent of the age
of the Holy Spirit for 1260, a new age in which the
Spirit, assisted by the Spiritual Franciscans, would rule.
Some Joachimite tendencies were even tied in with
extravagant and bizarre ideas such as Johannes von
Lichtenberger's astrological calculations. If reforma-
tion in the monastic tradition had meant moral purifi-
cation and a return to the norm of pristine purity, the
attempts to purge and reform among the spiritualists
were intended as preparation for the new and final
stage of human history. All eschatological expectation
concentrated on a breakthrough of an ideal time. Ref-
ormation signified the second decisive turning point
in human history and would inaugurate the third and
final era of world history.

5. Late Medieval Reform. The call for reformation
at the end of the Middle Ages was very different from
that sounded earlier. It was more shrill, strident, urgent.
It would be difficult to overestimate the devastating
impact on all areas of thought and life of the
“Babylonian Captivity” of the papacy at Avignon
(1309-77) and of the Great Schism, when there were
two or three claimants to the papal see at once
(1378-1417). Shocked reformers of various kinds
responded to the confused situation. William Durand
coined the phrase reformatio in capite et in membris,
calling for reform in head and members. The concili-
arists placed the blame primarily on the papacy and
curia and worked for administrative and constitutional
change. Typical of this criticism were the Speculum
aureum de titulis beneficiorum,
a “golden mirror”
reflecting the abuses of the benefices, and the Squalores
curiae Romanae.
A popular acrostic device which
appeared often in the literature was Radix Omnium
Malorum Avaritia
= ROMA; love of money is the root
of all evil. In 1410 Dietrich of Niem in his treatise
De modis uniendi et reformandi ecclesiam in concilio
argued that healing the schism had to be
accompanied by the cleansing of the Church. The
powers usurped by the papacy had to be taken away,
the beneficiary and financial policy had to be com-
pletely reformed, and the Church restored to the Via
its former condition.

The pre-reformers or “forerunners of the Reforma-
tion” had their individual diagnoses of ills and pro-
grams for reform. In the late Middle Ages there was
still general agreement that the reform of the Church
was the work of God Himself, acting through spiritual
men. There was considerably less agreement as to
which spiritually quickened members of the body of
Christ were authorized to lead an authentic reforma-
tion or what the best method for effecting a reform
might be. Marsiglio of Padua in his Defensor pacis
(1324) not only roundly assaulted abuses in the Church,
but proposed constitutional changes, on the analogy
of the city-state, which would diminish the
monarchical episcopate and introduce representative
principles. The new constitution of the Church would
not be democratic in honoring majority rule in terms
of numbers, but would take into account representation
by quality of office, order, and estate. William of
Ockham joined the Franciscans and protested in favor
of “evangelical poverty.” He was a severe critic of the
worldliness and wealth of Pope John XXII. Ockham
saw service as a basic character of the Church which
had the power of law, service to Christ first of all. The
external church whose societal structure involves her
in the sphere of worldly power must constantly be
pressed to conform to the “true church” of service.
John Wycliffe (1328-84) believed that zealous laymen,
sovereign rulers who are worthy Christians, must as-
sume the task of reforming where worldly and wicked
churchmen have defaulted and should be deposed.
Everyone whom the Holy Spirit moves is called to act
in behalf of the Church. Every Christian who lives
according to Christ's will becomes a reformer
automatically in the sphere of his personal life. In this
tradition the Bohemian reformer John Hus (1369-1415)
exclaimed, “O Christ, it will take a long time before
the proud priests will become so humble as to subject
themselves to the Church for sin, as thou, being
innocent, hast subjected thyself” (Schmidt, 1964).
Wessel Gansfort (ca. 1420-89) conceived of reform in
terms of a greater spiritualization of religious rites and
dogma, exercizing a considerable influence upon
Luther, at least by way of confirming him in stressing
the inwardness of religion.

An example of the way in which the religious idea
of reformation fused in the sacramental kingship con-


cept is provided by the fifteenth-century document
known as the reformatio Sigismundi. This widely
circulated treatise purported to be an account of a
vision of Emperor Sigismund which came to him as
he lay dreaming on his bed near the dawn. In the vision
Sigismund was commissioned to prepare a road for the
coming of the divine order, for all written law lacks
righteousness. The coming of the priest-king Frederick
is foretold, who will bring into being God's own order
by promoting a spiritual and secular reform program.
The document was clearly intended to support the
efforts of Emperor Sigismund (1410-37) to see the
Council of Basel (1431-49) succeed in reform. John of
Segovia, chronicler of the council, wrote: “Reform can
be understood either as the extirpation of evil or as
the increase of the gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Koller,
1964; Oberman, 1966).

The concept of reformation was given an imme-
diately practical technical meaning in the Empire
during the fifteenth century. Not only did poets and
pamphleteers demand “reformation,” but lawyers
worked on the revival of Roman law (important from
the twelfth century on) and the reform of the imperial
order, city and territorial law. The gravamina or
grievances of the Empire articulated regularly at the
Diets throughout the fifteenth century were often
coupled with appeals to the “good old law” and the
superior condition of things in former times. Thus the
Diet of Eger “reformed” feuding law and coinage in
1436. In the reform of city ordinances (Nuremberg,
1479; Worms, 1498; Frankfurt, 1509, etc.), the renewal
and restoration of the “good old law and customs” was
the program. The term “reformation” was given a legal
application in the modernizing of territorial law as in
the case of the 1518 “reformation of Bavarian territo-
rial law.” The lethargic Emperor Frederick III codified
a “reformation of the territorial peace” in 1442
(Maurer, 1961).

6. Reformation as a Historical Period. The idea of
reformation has come to be very closely associated with
the Protestant movement as an historical epoch. In
more recent ecumenical days the term “counter-
reformation” has given way in historical literature to
the more generous designation of “Catholic Reforma-
tion” in order to bring out the positive side of the
Catholic response to Protestantism. How the concept
came to be used so exclusively to designate not only
a development within church history but as a term for
an entire era of European history in general is an
interesting question and not at all so obvious as one
might suppose. For Luther himself did not use the term
to describe his movement as a whole. Luther used the
concept in the old legal sense and not in a utopian
apocalyptic sense. He spoke of reformation as the
creation of something new only in the context of the
reform of the universities and its faculties. He rarely
spoke of himself as a reformer or an innovator, seeing
himself rather as a mere vehicle used by Christ the
Word to effect change. He wished to “let the Word
rule” and not personally to lead a reform. While he
drank beer with Amsdorf, he opined, the Word of God
went forth into the world creating tumults. Only in
his early years did Luther use the term reformation
at all. The young Luther made his most comprehensive
statement regarding “reformation” in his Resolution
to Thesis 89:
“The Church is in need of a reform—
which is not the duty of one man, the pontiff, or of
many cardinals (as the most recent council has proved
both points), but of the whole world, even of God
alone. But the time of this reform is known to Him
alone who has founded the times” (Weimar Ausgabe,
I, 627, 27ff.; Schmidt, 1964). Luther did not exult about
effecting a reformation of the Church nor did he hope
to achieve it once for all times.

The term “reformation” was applied to the new
evangelical church orders which replaced the pre-
Reformation territorial ecclesiastical orders. In 1526
Luther himself drew up “The German Mass and Order
of Divine Service” in which he laid down the principle
that every church order had to promote faith and love.
When it ceased to do so, it had to be set aside quickly
and decisively in favor of one more conducive to true
spiritual life. An evangelical church order should never
lend itself to legalism or to hierarchical tyranny as in
the case of the papal order with its canon law. Uniform
church orders were justified only insofar as they were
necessary for right doctrinal and sacramental practice.
The church orders usually contained first a section on
dogma in which the agreement of the territorial church
with the general Lutheran confessions was demon-
strated. There followed then the rules for liturgy, hold-
ing of church offices, organization of church govern-
ment, discipline, marriage laws, school ordinances,
salaries, alms, and the like. The adoption of the new
church orders (Kirchenordnungen) in territories as they
turned Protestant was viewed as a formalization of
ecclesiastical reformation and occasionally, as in the
case of the “Cologne Reformation” of 1543, the term
was specifically used.

Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560) was reticent about
using the term “reformation” even in the old legal
sense. In the document of the Schmalkald Diet of 1537
the superscription De iure reformandi comes from a
strange hand. Only when the emperor in his proposal
of 1544 announced a Christian reformation did the
Saxons feel justified in assembling their recom-
mendations in the “Wittenberger Reformation” of
1545. At the Diet of Augsburg in 1548 a Reformation


guter policey was established. In the battle against the
Leipzig Interim in 1550 Pfeffinger and the conservative
Lutheran Flacius Illyricus undertook “the reformation”
of various rites such as confirmation. In his funeral
oration for Luther and again on the second anniversary
of Luther's death, Melanchthon evaluated Luther's
work and the reform effort, but without using the term
“reformation.” He distinguished five periods of church
history each of which was characterized by certain key
people and outstanding accomplishments. In the final
fifth period of church history Luther, Melanchthon
asserted, had relit the light of the gospel, but it was
really God who called the Church back to the pure
sources in the apostles and prophets. He still viewed
Luther as standing in a long line of teachers in the
one Church extending through all the past centuries
(Maurer, 1961).

The Lutheran church historians adopted this position
on the place of Luther and his work in church history.
Flacius Illyricus in his Zeugen der Wahrheit (Catalogus
testium veritatis,
1556; “Witnesses of Truth”) and the
Magdeburg Centuries (begun in 1559) referred to ref-
ormations in the Middle Ages in the old legal sense
and saw the late medieval reform ordinances as
prophetic of Luther's work. The Lutheran historian
Veit Ludwig von Seckendorf, author of the famous
Historia Lutheranismi, first equated Lutheranism and
Reformation. In 1688 he wrote against the Jesuit Louis
Maimbourg of the Lutheran movement as the reforma-
tio religionis ductu Dr. Martini Lutheri.
He spoke of
the Reformation as the “purification of the condition
of the church.” By this time general historians were
operating with the concept of modern times as distin-
guished from the Middle Ages, with the Reformation
and the Renaissance as twin sources of modernity. In
1685 the Lutheran historian Cellarius, schooled in
humanist cultural values, referred to the Middle Ages
as the medium aevum.

Like Luther and the other magisterial reformers,
Calvin was concerned with the substance of Christian
reform, not with personally leading a movement as
such. His intention was to affirm the preeminence of
Jesus Christ against all corruptions in religion which
diminish the centrality and sufficiency of Christ in
theology and in the life and form of the Church. His
teaching was not a new legalism or a gloomy predes-
tinarianism, but his aim was to promote the truth of
the gospel and the proper form of the church, as he
patiently explained in his Reply to Sadoleto (1539). In
his preface to Olivetan's New Testament (1535) Calvin
already laid down the determinative ideas of his theol-
ogy which remained the leading themes to the final
edition of his Institutes: man's blessedness is acknowl-
edging God as the source of good; the heart of Scrip
ture is Jesus Christ; and the Gospel is the Word of
God which confers faith. Calvin answered the question
of the religious meaning of “reformation” very
explicitly in a treatise On the Necessity for Reforming
the Church
(1543). He described Luther as a prophet
who spoke out for the Gospel against apostasy. He
denied the charge that the reformers were disturbing
the peace, laying the blame on those who had brought
the Church to a low spiritual estate, citing the words
of Elijah to Ahab: “I have not troubled Israel, but thou
and thy father's house in that ye have forsaken the
commandments of the Lord.” The reformers, he held,
were merely obedient to their vocation to preach the
Gospel. For Calvin, then, “reformation” meant pro-
claiming the Gospel of “good news of salvation” and
leaving the consequences to God. In doctrine and
practice the Church had come to diminish the purity
of the gospel by impairing the glory of Christ. The
saints were invoked instead of Christ alone. Men were
led to rely upon their own works of righteousness
rather than upon Christ's all-sufficient merit and mercy.
Sacramental practice was so distorted as to minimize
the importance of Christ as the central reality. Refor-
mation for Calvin, as for Luther, meant the rediscovery
and renewed proclamation of the Gospel (Gerrish,

A somewhat different emphasis is evident in the case
of the Zurich reformer. The Zwinglian “reformed”
reading of the reformation was rooted in the Erasmian
notion of a “renaissance of Christendom.” Zwingli
himself spoke of a “restoration of Christendom.” In
later years after the Zurich and Genevan Swiss
Protestant movements had been amalgamated in com-
mon confessions, this way of looking at the reformation
was given expression also by men in the Calvin tradi-
tion. In 1580, for example, Theodore Beza in his church
history referred to the “renaissance and growth” of the
reformed churches.

The radical or left-wing reformers, very commonly
in that century lumped together under the term
Anabaptists, had a bewildering variety of reformation
conceptions. A few ideas appear, however, with con-
siderable regularity and consistency. They expected
that in their sectarian groups, having separated from
official church and state, they would anticipate in the
here and now the coming of the kingdom of God. They
were for the most part pacifists and sought to imitate
Christ and to reestablish the pristine purity of the
primitive church. Whether Anabaptists, Spiritualists,
or Evangelical Rationalists, the radical reformers were
alike in their dissatisfaction with the Lutheran-
Zwinglian-Calvinist forensic formulation of justifica-
tion and original sin or predestination that seemed to
them to undercut the significance of their personal


religious experience. They believed that holiness or
sanctification could be achieved by the saints in the
here and now. They were martyr-minded like the early
Christians and society obliged them by persecuting
them horribly as subversives. But they persisted in
exercising those personal and corporate disciplines by
which they strove to imitate in their midst what they
construed from the New Testament texts to have been
the life of the original apostolic community (Williams,

If the Lutheran church historians contributed to the
development of the idea of the Reformation as an
historical epoch, the Swiss reformed church historians
also contributed to this usage. In the historiography
of the reformed churches the Reformation was most
often dated from 1516 with Zwingli as “the first of
all to reform the church.” The eighteenth-century
Enlightenment church historians accepted the Refor-
mation as a period, and added new motifs of inter-
pretation. With Johann Lorenz Mosheim, the “founder
of modern church history,” the view of the Reforma-
tion as a general European phenomenon gained wider
currency. He introduced the conception of the church
as a kind of sociological entity and stressed the impor-
tance of political factors. The Groningen professor
Daniel Gerde in his Geschichte des im 16. Jahrhundert
allenthalben in Europa erneuerten Evangeliums
gave to the Reformation a trans-confessional character
and treated it as a European movement. During the
nineteenth century as a result of the fervor generated
by the wars of liberation and the rise of nationalism,
the Reformation was viewed once again as a German,
French, or English phenomenon by many historians.
Historicism and a stress upon the social aspects of the
Reformation introduced new emphases. Thus the idea
of the Reformation as an historical conception was
enlarged from the narrower religious and ecclesiastical
framework to include the entire social, political, and
cultural development of Europe at the beginning of
“modern times.”

7. Reformation in Post-Reformation Times. The
classical Reformation of the sixteenth century made
such a tremendous impact upon the Western mind that
the religious idea of reformation was thereafter con-
sistently conceived in terms derived from it. Two spe-
cial emphases predominated in modern times. The one
was traditional in nature, namely, criticism of abuses
or of indifference within the Church accompanied by
a new call to revive the faith and fervor of the early
Christians and of the classical reformers or founding
fathers of each denomination. The second was the
persistent effort to apply religion to the reformation
of society.

In the second half of the seventeenth century and
into the eighteenth century, Pietism flourished as a
religious movement in Germany, Switzerland, and the
Netherlands. It was reformatory in the sense of making
an earnest, practical application of the abstract stand-
ards of orthodoxy to private life and to Christian com-
munity. When the Enlightenment and a loss of ardor
within the Church of England proved to be corrosive
of personal piety and lively faith, John Wesley's
Methodism served to revive religion in a way not
unlike the manner in which Puritanism in its day had
quickened religious fervor, largely within the structure
of the official Anglican church. The Moravian Brother-
hood served as a link between Pietism and Methodism.
The evangelical revival in the Church of England was
reminiscent of Luther's own reform efforts. Wesley was
a classical reformer late in time.

The Society of Friends with its Spirit-driven move-
ment was analogous to some of the small sects of the
sixteenth century. In the nineteenth century various
members of the Oxford Movement referred to the effort
of the Tractarians to rekindle the flame in Anglicanism
as a “reformation.” In America the Great Awakening
(especially in 1830-31), following the indifference to
religion of the revolutionary war period, was conceived
of as a reformation in the sense of an evangelical
revival. It, too, was influenced by Pietism's stress on
feeling. Charles Finney's Lectures on Revivals of Reli-
(1835) was the most powerful theoretical state-
ment of the revival experience.

Within the Roman Catholic communion there have
been two large-scale efforts to renew theology within
this century prior to the second Vatican Council. The
first was the movement known as modernism which
started before the turn of the century and was cut short
by Pope Pius X in 1907. The second came right after
the second World War, the so-called “new theology.”
This theological revival now in progress may well be
more lasting, for it has a broader base throughout the
Church and the seriousness of the Church's situation
in the world is more clearly recognized. In Catholicism
as in Protestantism, the Ecumenical Movement has
been hailed as an important part of the “New Refor-
mation” of the whole Christian church on earth, the
una sancta. The council Vatican II in its “Decree on
Ecumenism” referred “to that continual reformation
of which she [the Church] always has need.”

The application of religion to the reformation of
society was a more characteristic expression of the
Anglo-Saxon world than of continental Christianity. In
England one by-product of the new Methodistic piety
was pressure against slavery, child labor, and other
social ills. The Sunday School, Bible Society, and mis-
sionary movements were effects of religion's power to
reform the world. The wedding of nondogmatic


Christianity with American pragmatism in American
Christianity—e.g., in John Fiske's Cosmic Evolution
produced such efforts as the social gospel movement.
Following the lead of such nineteenth-century
theologians as Samuel Harris and Horace Bushnell, who
believed that America had a special destiny and mission
in realizing the kingdom of Christ on earth, the advo-
cates of the social gospel undertook the application
of the “social principles of Jesus” to American urban
and industrial society, de-emphasizing personal justifi-
cation and religious experience of a traditional kind.
Washington Gladden (1836-1918), Josiah Strong
(1847-1916), and, above all, Walter Rauschenbusch
(1861-1918), author of the highly influential lecture
series A Theology of the Social Gospel (1918), conceived
of the Church's task as the reformation of society
according to the will of God, whose kingdom is one
of peace, justice, and love. The Christian socialist
movement in Europe was a response to similar reform-
ing impulses, although in part apologetic in aim in that
it was offered as an alternative to Marxist materialism.

In the late nineteenth century American Christianity
joined hands with Europe in pressing ahead with a
worldwide program. John R. Mott, founder of the
World's Student Christian Federation (1895), called for
the “evangelization of the world in this generation”
and offered to mankind Protestant Christianity and
democracy as two sides of the same coin. In the
twentieth century churchmen have turned to solving
problems of a social nature with energy, pressing for
involvement in issues of peace, civil rights, race rela-
tions, education, and income for the underprivileged,
urban renewal, farm labor, and a host of similar issues.
In the words of the American theologian Robert
McAfee Brown, the Reformation of the sixteenth cen-
tury consisted of the rediscovery of the Church, while
the Reformation of the twentieth century centers in
the rediscovery of the world.

While history shows that the content of the religious
idea of reformation has through the ages been subjected
to varying modalities, certain elements have been
recurrent, if not constant. For reformation in Western
thought has indeed stressed man's intentional efforts,
multiple, repeated, and variegated, to reassert good old
values and by personal regeneration and individual
reform as well as by the restoration and improvement
of community life in the Church and the world to lift
man above low levels to which he has periodically
fallen. If one were to take a bold look at the whole
sweep of history, one might venture to conclude that
in the early centuries of the Christian era renewal
elements were very strong in combination with ideas
of personal reformation; that in the medieval and Ref-
ormation eras reformation of the individual and of the
Christian communities, regular and secular, was prom-
inent; and that in very modern times the reform of
society seems to loom large as the primary concern
of religious men in the West. The religious idea of
reformation has at all times been a powerful force in
history. Luther, the magisterial reformer, caught the
paradox implied in the religious idea of reformation.
He emphasized strongly that God “works within us”
but not “without us.” Reformation is God's work, but
at the same time it is man's work. To Luther the world
was “the sphere of faith's works,” one of the most
powerful organizing thoughts, Wilhelm Dilthey ob-
served, that a man has ever had (Gesammelte Schriften,
4th ed., Leipzig and Berlin [1940], II, 61).


The principal authority on the subject is Gerhart B.
Ladner, The Idea of Reform: Its Impact on Christian
Thought and Action in the Age of the Fathers
Mass., 1959), pp. 35, 9-34, 39-44, 63-107, 133-42; “Refor-
matio,” S. H. Miller and G. E. Wright, eds., Ecumenical
Dialogue at Harvard
(Cambridge, Mass., 1964), pp. 170-90,
especially 172-81. Other helpful titles include: Konrad
Burdach, Reformation, Renaissance, Humanismus (Berlin,
1918; 1926), pp. 37-42; William Clebsch, From Sacred to
Profane America
(New York, 1968); Jean Delumeau,
Naissance et affirmation de la réforme (Paris, 1965); Mircea
Eliade, Le mythe de l'éternel retour (Paris, 1949); idem, The
Two and the One
(London, 1965), p. 148; Wallace K.
Ferguson, The Renaissance in Historical Thought (Boston,
1948); Brian Gerrish, “John Calvin and the Meaning of
Reformation,” McCormick Quarterly, 21 (Nov. 1967),
114-22; Heinrich Koller, ed., Reformation Kaiser Sigismunds
(Stuttgart, 1964), pp. 4-5; Wilhelm Maurer, “Reformation,”
Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, V (Tübingen,
1961), cols. 858-73, 861-63; Heiko Oberman, Forerunners
of the Reformation
(New York, 1966); Robert D. Preus, The
Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism
(St. Louis, 1970);
Martin Schmidt, “Who Reforms the Church?” in S. H.
Miller and G. E. Wright, eds., Ecumenical Dialogue at
(Cambridge, Mass., 1964), pp. 191-206; Lewis W.
Spitz, ed., The Reformation—Material or Spiritual? (Boston,
1962); idem, The Renaissance and Reformation Movements
(Chicago, 1971); Charles Trinkaus, “In our Image and Like-
”: Humanity and Divinity in Italian Humanist Thought,
2 vols. (Chicago, 1970); George H. Williams, The Radical
(Philadelphia, 1962), p. 865; Herbert Workman,
The Evolution of the Monastic Ideal (London, 1918), pp.


[See also Christianity in History; Cycles; Enlightenment;
Faith; God; Heresy; Hierarchy; Perfectibility; Primitivism;
Prophecy; 8 dv4-19 dv4-20 dv4-21">Renaissance; Revolution.]