History of Christianity in the Reformation Era

Course No. 690
Professor Brad S. Gregory, Ph.D.
University of Notre Dame
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Course Overview

We are the cultural descendants of the Reformation era, says Professor Brad S. Gregory in these 36 lectures on one of the most tumultuous and consequential periods in all of European history. Regardless of whether we ourselves are religious, says Professor Gregory, our modern preference for belief bolstered by doctrine is "a long-term legacy of the efforts to educate, to catechize, to indoctrinate, that began in a widespread way during the 16th century."

Understanding the Martyrs

But despite these ties, it still takes a major effort of historical imagination to enter the minds of those who were willing to suffer martyrdom or martyr others for what we would regard as minor doctrinal differences.

This course is designed to take you inside the minds of those who supported the Reformation and those who resisted it. It treats the three broad religious traditions that endured or arose during these years:

  • Roman Catholicism, both as it existed on the cusp of the Reformation and as it changed to meet the Protestant challenge.
  • Protestantism, meaning the forms approved by political authorities, such as Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Anglicanism.
  • "Radical" Protestantism, meaning the forms often at odds with political authorities, such as Anabaptism.

The goal is to understand historically the theological and devotional aspects of each of these three broad traditions on its own terms and to grasp the overall ramifications of religious conflict for the subsequent course of modern Western history.

Central Characters

The Reformation era produced many influential figures, including:

Erasmus (c. 1466-1536): The leading Christian humanist of the early 16th century, whose "philosophy of Christ" sought the gradual moral improvement of Christendom.

Martin Luther (1483-1546): An obscure monk and professor in 1517, but by the spring of 1521 he had defied both the pope and Holy Roman Emperor on behalf of his understanding of Christian faith and life. The reaction of the Church drove him to more and more radical positions.

Charles V (1500-1558): Holy Roman Emperor from 1519 until 1556, and staunch defender of Catholicism and opponent of Protestantism. In 1521, he issued the Edict of Worms condemning Luther.

Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531): The reformer whose influence was responsible for the abolition of Catholicism and the adoption of Protestantism in the Swiss city of Zurich. His sharp disagreement with Luther over the nature of the Lord's Supper found dramatic expression in the Marburg Colloquy of 1529, preventing a political alliance between Zwinglian and Lutheran cities and setting the Lutheran and Reformed Protestant traditions on divergent paths.

Thomas Müntzer (c. 1490-1525): An apocalyptic reformer who preached violent revolution during the Peasants' War of 1525. Originally sympathetic to Luther, Müntzer progressively moved away from and ridiculed him as a panderer to princes. In 1525, he led several thousand underarmed peasants into battle at Frankenhausen, where they were slaughtered. Shortly thereafter, Müntzer was captured and executed.

Henry VIII (1491-1547): The English king at whose behest the country severed its longstanding institutional links to the Roman Catholic Church and created a separate national church under royal control.

Ignatius Loyola (1491?-1556): The founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), the most important Catholic religious order of the Reformation era.

Jan van Leiden (1509-1536): The self-proclaimed prophet-king and ruler of the Anabaptist Kingdom of Münster in 1534-1535. Under van Leiden, the "New Jerusalem" practiced communal ownership of goods and polygamy. A siege finally broke the regime in 1535, and Jan was executed.

John Calvin (1509-1564): The leading reformer and theologian in the second generation of the Protestant Reformation. Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is the single most important Protestant theological work of the Reformation era. Calvinism became the most dynamic, influential form of Protestantism in Europe in the second half of the 16th century.

John Knox (c. 1514-1572): An impassioned, uncompromising Calvinist reformer who played a leading role in the Scottish Reformation.

Menno Simons (c. 1496-1561): The most influential Dutch Anabaptist leader in the wake of the ill-fated Anabaptist Kingdom of Münster.

Henry IV (de Navarre) (1553-1610): The French king whose conversion from Calvinism to Catholicism in 1593 helped bring an end to the French Wars of Religion with the Edict of Nantes in 1598.

Questions to Ponder

Throughout, Professor Gregory raises questions that any student of the period must ponder. Here are a few:

  • Was the late medieval Church vigorous or, as Martin Luther and others came to insist, horribly corrupt?
  • How did Renaissance humanism shape such towering figures of the age as Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and Ignatius Loyola?
  • What factors caused Protestantism to take hold in some places but not in others?
  • How did the Reformation produce not only Protestantism but also modern Catholicism?
  • How do the events of the Reformation reveal the shifting balance between religious and secular authorities?
  • Does it make sense to speak of a single Reformation, or were there several?
  • Did the Reformation(s) succeed or fail?

A Rewarding Scholar and Teacher

Professor Gregory received his Ph.D. from Princeton University. He is currently the Dorothy G. Griffin Associate Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Notre Dame. He has also taught at Stanford University, where, in 1998, he received the prestigious Walter J. Gores Award, Stanford's highest teaching honor. At Stanford he also received the Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2000.

His award-winning book, Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe (Harvard University Press, 1999), reflects many of the themes introduced in this course. In a review, The Times Literary Supplement (U.K.) wrote: "Salvation at Stake is a book which nobody working in the field of Reformation and early modern history can afford to pass over. And it is not just required reading; it is rewarding, too."

Thoughts on the Reformation

"This is an extraordinarily important period for understanding the modern world and its characteristic assumptions," says Professor Gregory. "Part of my goal is to show the ways in which this distant world has impinged on our own.

"The lectures will consider the three broad traditions of the Reformation—Catholicism, Protestantism, and 'radical' Protestantism. Until recent decades, the dominant way of approaching this period was through confessional or Church history, which in America and much of Europe tended to be written from a Protestant standpoint.

"In this course, by contrast, I will examine all three of these traditions equally and evenhandedly under the inclusive rubric of 'early modern Christianity.'

"The approach in this course, then, will be deliberately cross-confessional and comparative, attempting to understand the men and women in these traditions on their own terms, and in relationship and conflict with each other. This will enable us to grasp the significance of early modern Christianity as a whole in ways that I do not think are possible if we focus primarily one tradition, or if we favor one of the three traditions over the other two.

"The long-term payoff will be a better understanding of the relationship between the world of early modern Europe and our world, to which it gave rise."

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Early Modern Christianity—A Larger View
    From 1500 to 1650, modern Christian pluralism took shape in Western Europe. Catholicism persisted and was renewed; various forms of Protestantism grew, including some radical strains. We will seek a contextual understanding of each tradition, in both its own terms and as it affected and was affected by the others. x
  • 2
    The Landscape of Late Medieval Life
    To grasp the Christianity of the era, we must learn the broad demographic, material, social, and political contours of the time. x
  • 3
    Late Medieval Christendom—Beliefs, Practices, Institutions I
    In this lecture and the next, we map the complex interrelationships among basic Christian beliefs, institutions, and practices in the Europe of 1500. This lecture discusses the official beliefs, particularly in God's providence and the sacraments, which shaped religious life. x
  • 4
    Late Medieval Christendom—Beliefs, Practices, Institutions II
    The basic institutions and practices of late medieval Christianity are inseparable from its beliefs. The understanding of time was liturgical, with Christian beliefs and worship structuring the days, weeks, and the year as a whole. x
  • 5
    Vigorous or Corrupt? Christianity on the Eve of the Reformation
    The church c. 1500 displayed both problems and signs of renewal, including strong lay piety and widespread efforts at reform. The perceived corruption and the urge to reform go together: The Reformation emerges not from spiritual indifference, but from widespread concern and intense religiosity. x
  • 6
    Christian Humanism—Erudition, Education, Reform
    A key intellectual force, especially in the north, was Christian humanism. Led by Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536), humanists pointed back to the Hebrew and Greek Bible and the Church Fathers in order to draw fresh lessons for religious and moral reform. Both Protestants and Counter-Reformation Catholics would learn much from this movement. x
  • 7
    Martin Luther's Road to Reformation
    In 1517, Luther was an obscure monk and academic. Four years later, he was defying both pope and emperor on behalf of his understanding of Christian faith and life. What were the factors that helped him succeed and become one of the most influential figures in history? x
  • 8
    The Theology of Martin Luther
    What are the three core ideas of Luther's theology? What made them so subversive of numerous late medieval Christian beliefs, practices, and institutions? How do these ideas differ from the common misconceptions about them that persist even today? What role did they play in the debate between Erasmus and Luther that came to a head in 1524-25? x
  • 9
    Huldrych Zwingli—The Early Reformation in Switzerland
    Deeply influenced by Christian humanism and Swiss urban values, Zwingli spearheaded the early Reformation in Zurich during the 1520s. His ideas differed from Luther's in interesting and significant ways that would set Lutheranism and Reformed Protestantism on distinct paths. x
  • 10
    Profile of a Protest Movement—The Early Reformation in Germany
    In the early 1520s, the evangelical movement became a force in southwest Germany. Outstripping the control of Luther or Zwingli, this was an impatient, zealous urban protest movement directed against many traditional Catholic practices. x
  • 11
    The Peasants' War of 1524-1525
    This bloody and failed revolt in the German lands was the largest mass movement in European history prior to 1789. How did the early evangelical movement interact with existing religious, political, and social tensions to produce this explosion? How did it shape the Reformation. x
  • 12
    The Emergence of Early Anabaptism
    "Anabaptism" is a general name for radical Protestant groups that rejected infant in favor of adult baptism. First arising near Zurich around the time of the Peasants' War, these groups suffered severe persecution in its wake. They endured, but in more self-consciously separatist and circumscribed forms. x
  • 13
    The Spread of Early Protestantism—France, the Low Countries, and England
    In the 1520s and early 1530s, Protestant ideas spread north and west, but the Reformation was not yet a widespread movement outside German-speaking lands, and local conditions shaped small Protestant communities in different ways. x
  • 14
    The Henrician Reformation in England
    Anti-Roman yet not Protestant, the Reformation that Henry VIII launched in England was a series of political acts, beginning in 1532, that subjugated the church to the Crown. Rooted in Henry's dynastic concerns, the early English Reformation displays the growth of secular power. x
  • 15
    Defending the Traditional Order—Early Catholic Response
    Both ecclesiastical and secular authorities defended Catholicism, attacking the Reformation as another in a long line of medieval heresies. What arguments and methods did they deploy against Reformation views? x
  • 16
    The Rise and Fall of the Kingdom of Münster
    The sudden rise and fall of the Anabaptist Kingdom of Münster (1534-35) in north Germany is one of the Reformation's wildest episodes. The armed destruction of the increasingly radical and apocalyptic reign of prophet-king Jan van Leiden left peaceful Anabaptists laboring under intense official suspicion. x
  • 17
    John Calvin and the Reformation in Geneva
    Calvin (1509-64) towers over second-generation Protestantism. Shaped by humanism, legal study, and exile, his theology stresses God's sovereignty and majesty, providence, predestination, and Christian activism in the world. x
  • 18
    Catholic Renewal and Reform in Italy
    Why is it useful to distinguish between Catholic Reform and the Counter-Reformation? What do seminal events such as the founding of the Jesuits and moves toward a general council tell us about the Church in the 1530s and 40s? x
  • 19
    The Growth and Embattlement of Protestantism
    Protestantism faced shifting prospects in England, France, and the Low Countries, including the Emperor Charles V's defeat of the Schmalkaldic League in 1547. Why, despite such setbacks, did the Protestant movement continue to grow? x
  • 20
    Calvinism in France and the Low Countries
    In the 11 years after 1555, first in France and then in the Low Countries, Calvinism saw growth—and growing conflict. Earlier Protestant counsels on passive disobedience began to give way to ideas of active resistance. x
  • 21
    John Knox and the Scottish Reformation
    Here you study the emergence of Scottish Protestantism, focusing on the crucial role of the fiery preacher and radical John Knox in promoting Calvinism and shifting Scotland's allegiance from France to England. x
  • 22
    Menno Simons and the Dutch Mennonites
    After Münster, ex-priest Menno Simons became the leader of the largest Dutch Anabaptist group. Despite the reinforcement of persecution, his theology of biblical literalism, personal regeneration in Christ, and discipleship in a pure community of like-minded Christians could not bar the way to schisms. x
  • 23
    The Council of Trent
    What makes Trent (1545-63), the most important ecumenical council between the Fourth Lateran in 1215 and Vatican II in the 1960s? How did Trent manage to blend Counter-Reformation and Catholic Reform themes in a way that would reshape Roman Catholicism for centuries to come? x
  • 24
    Roman Catholicism after Trent
    How did popes, bishops, clergy, religious orders, and laypeople use Trent's decrees to accomplish the educational, pastoral, and spiritual renewal whose fruits were becoming highly visible as the 16th century waned? x
  • 25
    Going Global—Catholic Missions
    Catholicism became a planetary faith in the 16th and 17th centuries, thanks to missionaries who went with Iberian merchants and colonizers. What differences typically marked missionary efforts in Asia as over against the Americas? What accounts for these? x
  • 26
    The French Wars of Religion
    Punctuated by massacres and assassinations, these religio-political struggles between Catholics and Huguenots lasted from 1562 almost through the end of the century. x
  • 27
    Religion and Politics in the Dutch Revolt
    After the Iconoclastic Fury, Philip II of Spain sent the Duke of Alva to punish its perpetrators. The fighting left the south Catholic and Spanish-ruled, while the north declared itself the United Provinces of the Netherlands and made Calvinism its official religion. x
  • 28
    Elizabethan England—Protestants, Puritans, and Catholics
    From the outset, Elizabeth wanted to re-establish a Protestant Church of England with minimal socio-political unrest. By the end of Elizabeth's long reign, Catholics had become a small minority. But the more radical Protestants—called Puritans—remained a threat to the Anglican settlement. x
  • 29
    Confessionalization in Germany
    This term refers to the long-term efforts by states and churches to form distinct Christian traditions, whether Lutheran, Calvinist, or Catholic, in German lands. Similar processes were at work in other countries. Divisions were hardening, even though the process remained incomplete and subject to local variations and institutional limitations. x
  • 30
    France and the Low Countries in the 1600s
    What were the different ways in which the southern Netherlands, the United Provinces, and France, respectively, resolved the problems posed by Christian pluralism? How did each country's chosen solution work? x
  • 31
    The Thirty Years' War—Religion and Politics
    The Thirty Years' War (1618-48) was the most destructive of all the early modern European wars of religion. It finally closed with the Peace of Westphalia, which set the basic religio-political contours of modern Europe. x
  • 32
    Revolution and Restoration in England
    What made the mid-17th century a time of such political and religious turmoil in England? What fed the exceptional religious dissent and radicalism of the period? How were the monarchy and the established church restored after Cromwell? x
  • 33
    The Impact of the Reformations—Changes in Society and Culture
    Here you survey the deep, long-term influence of the Reformation era on many aspects of European life, including marriage and the family, religious art and architecture, and literacy and education. x
  • 34
    Were the Reformations a Success?
    What standard or standards should we use to define success? Should we cast our sight broadly, or according to more carefully parsed criteria? Does "success" mean something different depending on one's level of analysis? x
  • 35
    Reflections on Religious Change and Conflict
    What are the three large changes that set Reformation-era Christianity—whether Catholic or Protestant—apart from the Christianity of late-medieval times? What accounts for the explosive nature of religious disagreements during this era? What is the biggest challenge we face in trying to grasp early-modern Christianity as a whole? x
  • 36
    Expectations and Ironies
    The several Reformations bore fruit that would have surprised and dismayed the originators: None, for instance, wanted to "disestablish" Christianity from official status and power. Yet at the same time, neither Christianity nor religion in general has been overthrown or disproved by modern thought or institutions. How then do we describe the situation that the Reformations have left to us? x

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Your professor

Brad S. Gregory

About Your Professor

Brad S. Gregory, Ph.D.
University of Notre Dame
Dr. Brad S. Gregory is Dorothy G. Griffin Associate Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Notre Dame. He earned a B.S. in History from Utah State University; a B.A. and Licentiate degree in Philosophy from the Institute of Philosophy of the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium; an M.A. in History from the University of Arizona; and a Ph.D. in History from Princeton University. Before taking his position at...
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History of Christianity in the Reformation Era is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 89.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Merely a Veneer of Historical Objectivity This was not one of my better course purchases. In my opinion, it is an unabashedly Roman Catholic perspective that merely gives a facade of scholarly objectivity while subtly attempting to dilute the theological and societal wrongs of what had become an apostate system. Professor Gregory talks about the Pope being the Vicar of Christ and of getting this status from Peter as though it is an incontrovertible fact. I think Protestant theologians know differently. The whole Papacy concept and institution are heretical and cannot be substantiated by anything but the poorest Biblical hermeneutics. In my view Professor Gregory attempts the history of Christianity in the Reformation Era not sufficiently from the perspective of scholarly historical objectivity, but too much from the perspective of Roman Catholic theology, a theology which the Protestant Reformers successfully challenged. This course is not much more than a subtly disguised apologetic for Roman Catholicism. The course gives a variety of important historical details most of which are interpreted in what seems to be a self-serving manner aimed at diluting the arrogance, avarice, and decadence of a religious system founded substantially on human philosophy rather than sound Biblical theology. This, of course, does not abrogate the fact that there were numerous true saints in the leadership, clergy, and laity of the Roman Catholic Church both before and after the Protestant Reformation. Additionally, it does not mean that the Protestant movement was devoid of both political and economic opportunism, as well as theological struggles.
Date published: 2014-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Historically Thorough & Well Balanced Scope This course is a comprehensive study of relevant factors that preceded, enabled and arose during the Reformation Era (1500 -1650). The material lays out the social & demographic factors of this period such that comprehension of the driving factors of the Reformation period have a context for understanding. I observed that the course was not judgmental but rather a relevant history of this critical period in Christianity. I found that reading each chapter summary 'before' the lecture better suited my learning style. This is not a 'fly by' overview of the Reformation movement. Living in the 'Bible Belt' I wanted to better understand the evolutionary factors that led to the current factions within Christianity. I suggest that this Course is a building block in that pursuit.
Date published: 2014-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful History The course was a wonderful description of the complexities of the reformation. Though each event of the time period was discussed briefly, it did show the progressive nature of the historical events. Like watching Dominos fall. Very informitive and fun presentation to listen to.
Date published: 2014-11-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Key Period in Christian history Audio Review: Dr. Gregory presents a well researched, well organized and detailed history of Christianity during the Reformation Era. His focus is on the century and a half between 1500 and 1650 though he introduces the subject with a discussion of medieval life and religious practice starting at the end of the Black Plague ca. 1450. For those like myself with only a cursory understanding of the European history and religion of this timeframe, this course is an enlightening experience. Dr. Gregory does a very good job of providing historical context for the Reformation Era and explains all of the competing attempts to reform the Christian church. He eloquently establishes that this was indeed a reform movement that was not intended to create various Christian denominations, but rather on reforming the practices and corruptions of the church. He not only takes the student through the movements of key reformists such as Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox and Menno but goes into some detail about the reform responses within the Catholic church. The story of the reformers is adeptly interlaced with the monarchical changes in each state as he covers the unique situations of France, England, the Low Countries, Sweden and the Holy Roman Empire (and its feudal states) as they each have their own interconnections of church and state. Dr. Gregory is a very capable lecturer who speaks with inflection and moves a pace consistent with maintaining one's attention. With the exception of one short period where he talked about various woodcut art used to mock corrupt priests, relying solely on audio for this course was sufficient. My learning goals for this course were to understand better how the religious practice, reforms, tolerance or lack thereof, persecution and wars affected my European ancestors who left the Rhine region in the early 18th century for Colonial America. The course more than met this objective. Dr. Gregory clearly had an objective in this course of presenting the people, the church, and the church reformers of this time as reasoned people who were doing what made sense for the context of their time. Even though he made the point repeatedly that the bulk of the people were illiterate, he characterizes them as people of deep faith who practiced religion as a major part of their lives to make sense of the world, even as there were disagreements as to the nature of that practice and differences regarding the importance of practice versus beliefs. Throughout the course he does a great job of reminding us to keep the context of the times in mind in examining events. However, in the last lecture he goes off script a bit as he talks about the divergence of Christianity into multiple denominations and sects leading to the rise of secular and/or state power (what about the medieval divine right of Kings?) and when he talks about the subsequent enlightenment and the scientific revolution not providing a triumphal alternative to the reliance on religious faith and practices during the Reformation Era. This invokes an intellectual bias that detracts from the scholarly and balanced approach he used throughout the rest of the course. I would recommend this course to anyone who seeks to understand the history and impact of religious reform during an important period in modern history. However, I would recommend that the student take the very last lecture with a grain of salt as it has elements that are more opinion than fact, unlike the rest of a fine course.
Date published: 2014-10-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Job This course has provided a detailed overview of an incredible time in our Christian history. The lecture format is very good, as is the presentation. I recommend the DVD version because it adds a sense of presence.
Date published: 2014-10-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course This is definitely among the best Teaching Company courses I've taken. The breadth of Prof. Gregory's approach is truly impressive, and his decision to weave together Catholic, Protestant, and Anabaptist histories as a seamless web makes for a really comprehensive and valuable overview of this complex period. Absolutely first-rate.
Date published: 2014-10-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive and balanced Easy short recommendation: the usual Teaching Company history course. The professor is engaging, well-prepared, passionate about his subject and eager for his listeners to understand. I would like to comment on the impression that several reviewers have left that he is somehow "pro-Catholic." I'm not religious myself and listened very carefully and I have to say I didn't see any evidence that he favored any religious tradition. Indeed, I thought he did a remarkably good job of presenting Catholic, Protestant and more radical points of view. I came away with a greater respect for each as well as more understanding for the importance of religion for thoughtful people. It is a difficult subject to teach since, as he repeatedly emphasized, our 21st century point of view has a really hard time grasping the life or death nature of the dispute to the people involved. The right belief saved souls; the wrong ones damned them. If you are interested in more details about Lutheran, Calvinist or Catholic beliefs, there are lectures to study in more depth. This is a terrific introduction to those as well as an important subject if you're just interested in the development of secular governments that followed this period.
Date published: 2014-06-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from History of Christianity in the Reformation Era Best not to listen if you are tired the poor man just drones on and on. If your interest is the history of minutia this course is for you.
Date published: 2014-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! Rich, wonderful, interesting course. Nice balance of information about evolving religious views and their impact on the broader geopolitical context. I learned a lot!
Date published: 2013-11-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Valuable Course What I liked 1. Comprehensive overview of the different reforming groups within the Protestant movements. 2. Setting the stage for the Reformation: an excellent overview of the social, religious and political situations during this time period. 3. Including attempts at Catholic reforms, as well as the Protestant reforms. 4. Being more evenhanded about the bad, as well as good results for Protestant reforms. 5. Trying to sum up all of this at the end. What I didn't like as much. 1. Mostly the professor's style. He's definitely not as adept at presenting his material. Presentations are a bit stilted. He really needs his notes. Makes the lectures more formal. Neutral 1. His vocabulary is awesome. He obviously has studied Latin and is quite comfortable with using Latin cognates. I found it refreshing, but it may cause problems for some who don't understand his vocabulary. Definitely recommend this. I don't have to agree with everything taught in a course to appreciate the quality of the presentation.
Date published: 2013-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wide-ranging overview of the "Reformations" Yes, "Reformations" plural, as Prof. Gregory frequently points out. This course explores how the Catholic church, the "mainstream" Protestant reformers (Luther, Calvin), and the "radical" Protestants (Anabaptists) each attempted to reform the One Church between about 1500-1650. The course outline includes biographical studies, geographical studies (France, England, Low Countries, etc.), and topical lectures. I am a Protestant and fairly well-versed in Reformed theology, having read thousands of pages by Luther, Calvin, and others. I have also studied the Reformation from the point of view of church music (and have taught that subject). I appreciated the Prof's approach; expanding the timeframe of the study to look at the subject from a variety of viewpoints. The Prof indeed teaches at a Catholic university, but unlike some other reviewers, I didn't find his presentation particularly biased. In fact, I found it refreshing NOT to hear it taught in a "good guys/bad guys" fashion. (And yes, I did use the AUDIO version which I thought was quite sufficient for this course.) Certainly, there were topics left uncovered, but even I (who thought of myself as reasonably well-read on the topic) learned a lot of new material. Especially interesting were the "wrap-up" lectures which discussed the consequences of the Reformation, both intended and otherwise. This is a fascinating chapter in history that has affected much more than just how Christians worship. Use this course as a starting point, and then follow up with further readings in your own denominational history.
Date published: 2013-03-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Worst course I have experienced I have enjoyed the teaching companies courses for years. All the courses so far have appeared objective until the presentation by professor Brad Gregory. The history of christianity in the reformation era is presented with a clear bias losing all obectivity and casting doubt on his presentation of the reformation. He does has accurate information from what I have researched on the topic, but it is the way he presents the information that is the problem. His vocal sounds and descriptors voice are for the most part complementory towards the catholic church and negative for the reformers showing his prejudice against the reformation movement. His course leaves the listener with the impression that the catholic church was run by compassionate, careing people who are above reproach compared to the misguided degenerate reformers. Evidently there was no reason for the reformation becasuse everything that might have been wrong with the church was corrected in the counsel of Trent which inspired the church to save the savages in the rest of the world including the poor deluded reformers in the north who could not agree on anything. Despite this one poor presentation the teaching company I continue to look forward to other outstanding couses presented in the great courses.
Date published: 2012-11-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting but biased I have ordered many of the Great Courses and have enjoyed almost all of them. They almost always will have interesting things to learn. This is even true of this course, the History of Christianity in the Reformation Era. That is why I would recommend it, even though I do not give it the highest rankings. The main problem for me, is the definite Catholic bias of the professor. If you are Catholic, you will probably like this history course. I would much rather recommend the Great Courses titled "The History of the Catholic Church" (by Cook, who is a Catholic) and "Luther" (by Carey, an Anglican).
Date published: 2011-11-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A well organized approach to Reformation History Professor Gregory tackles an ambitious topic: Reformation history 1500-1650, and succeeds in providing a coherent historical audience. His lecture style is very organized, beginning with a road map, listing key topics, and always finishing with a wrap up. Sometimes an outline approach to lecturing can become clunky, but this style suits Gregory and his topic well. He slowly moves the history of Protestants, radical Protestants, and Catholics forward. I particularly enjoyed the lectures on Zwingli, the 30 years war, and the English Reformation. This course is a great historical companion to Professor Carry's theology-driven course on the History of Christian Theology.
Date published: 2011-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Religion is a topic that does not always reach and grab everyone, yet it surrounds us. Professor Gregory has done an outstanding job with describing the conflict with tradition and power of the Catholic Church with those wanting to reform the Church which resulted in a competing vision of Christianity. I did not feel that he was pro-Catholic at all, but gave a very balanced view. It has helped me shape my own views of religion and understand the underpinnings of Protestantism with the foundation built upon Catholicism. This is great stuff!
Date published: 2011-05-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great and enjoyable course! Dr. Gregory did an outstanding job with this course. He was able to take an exceedingly complex subject and present it in a simple and enjoyable manner. I also appreciated his great connections among the different branches of the Reformation and with the present religious situation. I just wished he had taken more time defining the terms he used (like anabaptists, radical protestants, etc.).
Date published: 2011-03-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well done Just to respond to some of the criticism of this course: Yes, Professor Gregory does have a very methodical way of proceeding. He lays out each lecture in advance, explaining what topics he is going to talk about. But he does NOT spend a lot of time on this (especially compared to some other TC instructors I could mention, *cough, Professor Liulevicius, cough*) and frankly I like a course that is well organized like this one. Now Professor Gregory does have a bit of a stiff delivery. He doesn't seem totally comfortable. I recommend just getting the audio, especially because there are virtually no visuals, and what ones there are (like the maps) are pretty bad.
Date published: 2010-12-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Religious insanity on a grand scale I can now say confidently that I know far more about this than most religious people in our time – although, admittedly, this is not saying much – because no one is much interested in knowing much of anything – so much so, I am almost embarrassed to speak of my interest in this. But now that I have started, let me continue. Why don’t we know much about this? Partly because it is so complicated – so many things were happening in so many places. Professor Gregory does a good job of switching scenes frequently, just to keep his students interested. It is almost like reading a serialized story, which is structured to keep the reader coming back for more – to see what crazy thing is going to happen next. There is enough craziness, and enough blood and gore, to satisfy anyone. This is one of those cases where truth is stranger than fiction. Which is probably one reason why their religious descendent’s prefer to gloss the whole thing over. As with any objective religious history, nobody comes out looking very good.
Date published: 2010-08-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of Christianity in the Reformation Era In my estimation, everything about this course was 5 star. Dr. Gregory has such a knowledge of the subject and uses this knowledge not only to inform us about the history of the era, but to make comparisons, draw conclusions and generally inter-relate the material so we not only learn but THINK. Dr. Gregory is a born teacher, so well organized and focused on what he thinks we need to know. He makes this complicated period of history very "learnable" and exciting. I loved the course and do wish he taught more TC courses.
Date published: 2010-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb course I thought this was an excellent course. The material was very well organised. Professor Gregory demystified the Reformation - or rather Reformations - and presented the story in a way which was clear without in any way being simplistic. I would take issue with those who have complained about Prof Gregory laying out what he is going to do, giving a quick summary at the end of the lecture, then doing a recap at the beginning of the following lecture. I found this immensely helpful. It represents the best of modern pedagogy, making recall of the material much easier. Not only that, I wasn't always in a position to access the course on a daily basis, and the short summaries helped to re-ground me in the material. Prof Gregory is a sure-footed guide in complicated terrain,and I know from his handling of the Scottish Reformation that he is both even-handed and knowledgable. I have no hesitation in awarding the course five stars.
Date published: 2009-12-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from II've 50 Teaching Co lessons, this returned I found parts of this presentation good, such as that of the English break with Rome. However, one can well leave these lessons thinking that the Reformation was caused by the various protesting groups. For example, the 30 Years War is briefly covered and one knowing little of that war, might well assume it was the Swedes that were wrecking havoc in Germany, killing some 8 million. In truth, Catholic armies ramaged over the farm land with their armies and cavalry for a good 10 years before the Swedes entered the fray. Most died of starvation, not direct military action. We are told that not everyone wanted the Reformation, just look at the people in Spain and Italy; the author fails to mention that peoples of those Italian states and Spain were controlled by the Inquisition (read Gestapo). If I remember correctly, nothing is said about the expansion of Lutherism into the Scandinavian countries. Finally, too few maps and those the author used are terrible.
Date published: 2009-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Balanced, Insightful, but Mechanical Dr. Gregory is a professor at Notre Dame but don't expect a Catholic apology. This course is a very balanced look at the Reformation era from the perspectives of Catholics, mainline Protestants (e.g., Lutheran and Reformed), and radical Protestants (e.g., anabaptists). It does address the issues one would expect to hear: constraints that prevented the papacy from quashing the Reformation right at the beginning, disagreements within Protestantism, and scandals on all sides. He spends more time on Huldrych Zwingli than I had expected but it was totally justified. Dr. Gregory's presentation is a bit mechanical, though. He adheres to the introduction/outlined presentation/summary formula is a bit distracting. I recommend taking this course in conjunction with the course on Popes and the Papacy: A History and The Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Rise of Nations.
Date published: 2009-12-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A piece of podium craftsmanship I found this to be an exceptionally high quality course and am anxious to counter a couple of unfavorable reviews and help boost the overall rating into the top tier. Professor Gregory's lecture style is exactly what I want in these courses. He is not robotic or excessively formal in his style of speaking. And yet, he delivers his lecture with near perfect fluency; there are no stammers or trailing-off sentences. It is the sort of fluency that one achieves when a lecture is carefully prepared, probably fully written out, but not quite memorized and certainly not read. So his delivery retains a quality of freshness and spontaneity, although he delivers one fully crafted sentence after another. I should add, also, that his speech is quite expressive, not at all monotonous, but it is an academic ~lecture~, not a flashy bit of showmanship. One reviewer called him "pedantic" and complained about his emphasis on previewing and summarizing. Those criticisms, with which I strongly disagree, held me back a long time from buying this course. Some courses have disappointed me, because I felt that they had a tedious, PowerPoint quality. I am wary of uninspired presentations that are put together in a mechanical way following all the latest communications "research." Because I have these feelings, I thought that I knew what the other reviewer was talking about and gave his remarks great credibility. Professor Gregory is extremely well organized and well prepared, and he does preview and summarize each lecture. However, I did not find this aspect to be stiff or tedious in the least. His preview and summary remarks are fluid comments; they are not recitations of bullet points. As to him being "pedantic," I hardly know what to say, except that I strongly disagree. He tells no jokes, makes no pop culture references. He moves -- pleasantly and interestingly -- right along with the business of discussing the history of Christianity in the Reformation era. That might be "pedantic" in a bar; it seems to me just right for a university-style lecture course. Another reviewer was very harsh and gave this course a single star. Given the number of reviews, a single review like that is very damaging to the overall score. Opinions will, of course, vary, but a one-star rating is hardly more than an act of vandalism. OTOH, I acknowledge that that highly disgruntled student wrote a lengthy review taking issue with the treatment (or neglect of) the personalities involved in this history. The reviewer seemed to know a lot and to be very involved in the material, perhaps with a religious feeling toward the actors involved. Perhaps he had a point -- I don't know. But I do know that it was entirely unjustified to rate this excellent course as low as he did over a quarrel he seemed to have with Professor Gregory's perspective. I wish that I could leaf through the catalog and pick courses based only on the subject matter and just assume the quality of the presentation. I have found, however, that presentation quality varies widely and is critical to getting a lot of benefit and enjoyment from a course. At the end of the day, we only have each other to rely upon for opinions on the quality of the courses. It is very troubling to me when a high quality course is damaged by harsh reviews. There are plenty of courses that deserve rough treatment. This definitely is not one of them.
Date published: 2009-11-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent but incomplete This course failed to include any lectures on the most interesting aspect of the Radical Reformation, namely, the history of Socinianism and the re-emergence of antitrinitarianism. Both of these developments were the direct result of the printing of the Bible and its widespread availability to scholars during that time and the subsequent questioning of religious doctrines. The term Socinianism was given to a group in Italy founded by Lelio Sozzini and later led by his nephew Faustus Socinus (1539-1604). As the views of Faustus Socinus became more widely known, it became necessary for the group to leave Italy to avoid persecution. The Socinians immigrated to Poland where they found a tolerant religious and intellectual climate as well as other likeminded individuals such as the followers of Michael Servetus (burned at the stake under the orders of John Calvin in 1553 for his antitrinitarian views). They thrived in Poland opening universities, the most famous being in Racow, and published an extensive volume of literature subsequently translated into other languages (including their famous statement of faith known as the Racovian Catechism). By the mid 17th century the Socinians were forced to leave Poland by the Catholics, however, their ideas found widespread appeal among intellectuals in Europe and England (Isaac Newton) eventually finding their way to America. How Professor Gregory failed to include this fascinating and important history in his discussion on the Radical Reformation, thereby giving the impression that the entire Radical Reformation only consisted of groups such as the Hutterites, Anabaptists, and Mennonites is a very serious omission. A few reviewers commented that they thought Professor Gregory exhibited a slight bias towards both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. If that is correct it is not all that obvious. However, the same conclusion can not be made of Professor Gregory's discussion of the Radical Reformation.
Date published: 2009-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of Christianity in the Reformation Era As the title suggests, this is an excellent course about the history of the early modern era and Christianity. It is not, as one negative reviewer apparently expected, a series designed to delve deeply into the lives of key players and their individual experiences. (For that, I would recommend a course specific to Luther.) As other reviewers have noted, the listener can expect to have each lecture presented in an extremely organized manner, including periodic reminders of the bullet points being covered, as well as a timely wrap up. Some car audio listeners may feel a bit confused about jumping back and forth across European borders and the specific geography and principalities being discussed. To be fair, the professor explains early and often that the various reformations affected different regions in different ways. I cannot imagine a more effective way to present more than 150 years of early modern European history. In short, I will listen to the lectures again, to further absorb the information. After all, it is history, including all the warts of dates, names, treaties and royal edicts. It is certainly worth another listen before passing it on to my share group with a hearty recommendation. It is one of the best ninety bucks I have ever spent on a Teaching Company course.
Date published: 2009-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superlatively good history This course is extremely well organized, and the content that you will learn from it is even better. I have listened to several of the Teaching Company's history courses, and this is the most historiographically sophisticated of the lot. While he doesn't make these points in an obtrusive manner, Brad Gregory quietly tackles questions such as whether religion is an autonomous force in history--i.e., whether it is just a byproduct of economic or political interests. He shows convincingly that religion has its own causal efficacy, and goes beyond this relatively simple point to show the interplay of religious ideas, their crystallization in institutions, and political power. He also does a fantastic job of helping you get inside the heads of people living at the time of the Reformation. It is in part by seeing how differently these people experienced the world that you come to understand how important the Reformation was in reshaping the assumptions we hold today. It is helpful to have some background in the Middle Ages before listening to this course, and Philip Daileader's excellent lectures would make a good prequel. But this is not essential. Prof Gregory has enough on the place of religion in medieval society prior to the Reformation that you will know what you need to know if you start with this course alone. I did a history B.A. at Yale University and my wife is a Ph.D. candidate in history in one of the country's top departments, so I know a bit about history and how it can be taught. This is as good as you're going to get anywhere. If you fully internalize this material, you will have learned as much as any graduate student taking a semester-long course on the Reformation, and probably more. Why? Because you will have a clearer synoptic understanding of the topic than most students who must immerse themselves in a welter of confusing detail and, as a matter of professional training, are encouraged to manufacture their own critique of everything, whether or not criticism is really merited. Lastly, let me say that, if you're looking for a way to understand what modernity is all about, this course, coupled with Leo Damrosch's brilliant lectures on the Enlightenment Invention of the Modern Self, would be as good a place to start as any. Thank you and congratulations for a simply superlative course, Prof. Gregory!
Date published: 2009-09-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Pedantic Professor We all know that old saying: "tell them what you are going to say, then say it, then tell them what you said." Professor Gregory follows this stricture with a vengance. Each lecture begins with a review of what was said in the previous lecture. That is followed by a discussion of what is going to be said in the present lecture. During the lecture, the professor periodically stops to remind the listener of what he has just said. Then at the end of the lecture, he reviews what he said in that lecture, and then gives an overview of what he is going to say in the next lecture. Then the next lecture begins with a review of what was said in the previous lecture . . . well, you get the idea. If these were lengthy lectures of an hour or two, this might make some sense. But these are only half-hour lectures. And there are 36 of them. What a pity to waste so much time on so many previews and reviews -- 36 times over. Added to this, the professor has a rather pedantic, mechanical speaking style. I found it hard to get through this course, with my mind wandering during the professor's prolonged repetitions and revews. Maybe I was spoiled by the courses I took on the Reformation in college, where the professor was such a brilliant speaker that he had us on the edge of our seats. So I know this material can be made fascinating. If you are looking for good, solid information about the Reformation, this course will provide that. Just don't expect it to be provided in a lively or particularly interesing manner.
Date published: 2009-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and entertaining I strongly encourage anyone intetrested in the Reformation Era to turn to Prof. Gregory's course. Not only do his lectures give a general overview of Late Medieval social and political life, but this lecture series also covers in great detail the Reformation histories as they were experienced by the people in various Central and Western European countries. Well paced, easy to follow and entertainingly brainy, Prof. Gregory offers a social, political and religious narrative from multiple perspectives.
Date published: 2009-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from rock solid intro to the Reformation This was one of my first introductions to the Reformation, and while I have, in some ways, gone beyond it, it is only because I have stood on the shoulders of a giant :) There are two outstanding qualities to this course: its impartiality, and its comprehensiveness. In Reformation studies, it is *very* easy to fall into the trap of confessional historiography, even when one tries to avoid it. Professor Gregory manages to leap right over this trap, probably because of his academic research background (which was cross-confessional). Moreover, Professor Gregory also manages to squeeze in all of the important information for a beginning student of the Reformation, which is quite a feat. Obviously this means that there will be some limitations on detail, but these limitations are not at all impediments to the value of the course. I recommend the companion course "Europe and the Wars of Religion"; but be warned that it does not seem to be available any longer on the Teaching Company website.
Date published: 2009-05-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding! This is simply a great course. Not only is Dr. Gregory a compelling lecturer, his pace is just about perfect. There are three great things about these lectures. First, Dr. Gregory strikes the right balance between social history and theology. Second, Dr. Gregory has a wonderful command of the course materials (primary and secondary sources). Third, it is difficult to tell where Dr. Gregory's own allegiances lie. That's the sign of a great set of lectures on a topic like this one, where strong personal convictions often dominate.
Date published: 2009-03-21
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