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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Reviews

History of Christianity in the Reformation Era is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 82.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive, insightful, and well done I've taken a lot of TC history courses, including many on religion, Christianity, and its impact on history. Prof Gregory's course on Christianity on the Reformation was a delight. He's a very good speaker, and clearly loves the material. I learned a lot, and hope that he does more TC courses. The course opens strongly, and I found every lecture interesting. Prof Gregory covers what we know of actual Christian practices in the late Medieval period, some of which is contrary to popular conceptions. That leads into the reasons for the Reformation, and Martin Luther's conclusions and actions. The course then gets into very interesting discussions of the theology of what later became the Protestants, theological differences among Luther, Calvin, and others, the effect of the new religion on local politics (e.g., Calvinist Geneva), and then the broader wars of religion of the 1500s and 1600s. It's another great course worthy of that name.
Date published: 2018-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic course! This is my favorite Great Course so far. The professor is engaging and exceedingly adept at condensing information and presenting it in a way that the listener can understand and remember. Most important to me, though, is that the course is balanced and fair to all sides in this conflicted era so long ago.
Date published: 2018-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great perspective on a pivotal era I enjoyed this course a great deal. I think the topic in question is one of the most interesting in European and world history, and I felt Prof Gregory did a very good job balancing between continent-wide developments, the specifics of distinct geographies and territories, as well as between the various camps of religious belief and the different strands within each camp. Tying all that together is not an easy task, but I felt that it came together very well, both with a good level of detail and the general trends and outcomes overall. Generally I thought his presentations were even-handed and fair-minded to all camps. I did think there were occasional leaps of faith, pun intended. For example, I didn't buy that because communities voluntarily spent money on church events, that means they were actually happy with their church on the eve of the Reformation. But even so I appreciated a possible alternative to the conventional wisdom in that regards, it certainly makes you think, as do some of the possibly ironic long-term consequences to the Reformation which he outlines at the end of the course. Thank you professor.
Date published: 2017-10-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from great for your future preacher!!! I bought this for my grandnephew who is a very precocious 12 year old who has been asked to preach at times in his church. I think the presentation is just the history a young Protestant or anyone who lives in this world of multiple religions needs to learn. Why did we have so many differences of opinion in one religion, Christianity let alone all the religions? Great for adults also.
Date published: 2017-09-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extremely Helpful Most people of the Book would like to know WHAT to believe. Reading the Bible is recommended as the ultimate answer, but association with others who have gained different insights in their readings can lead to confusion. Of course, if the Bible speaks to each person individually and if each individual has different needs, such confusion is the norm and not unhealthy. However, when others say things that conflict with what we have learned to date then the question is whether what that person is saying is helpful or harmful to our own path. This course gives excellent insight into different views of Biblical content and the religious history behind those views. The course does not present ideas as debate material but rather tries to summarize historically how people understood the Bible. Sometimes we are left at a historical impasse, for example, when Zwingli states that Christ’s presence in the Eucharist was only spiritual vs Luther (and Catholicism’s) affirmation that it is real. Are the apocrypha valid Biblical books? The 1500s Anabaptist’s view that baptism is only valid in adults conflicted with 1500s parents' interests for dying babies. Certainly God guides the world yet was Erasmus right that human beings play a role in responding to His call or was Luther correct that salvation was entirely God’s initiative? Where does God’s guidance end and where is free will? Good questions and this course will help you answer that in the tiny slice of the universe that you will see in your life. Personally, my wife and I had hours of enjoyment comparing what we ourselves thought vs. the perspectives presented here. Should any of this shake us irrevocably or lead us to permanently reject all views other than our own? I don’t think that’s the intent; rather I gained opinions that might be useful when some new difficulty presented itself. The Bible, after all, is written to be a personal guide yet is inclusive to all. Maybe one person’s life hinges on Eucharistic presence or absence. But the nice part about this course is that it allows one to better understand other’s strengths and weaknesses in Biblical interpretation, identify why some things just seem silly for our personal journey, and when or how we should be involved with a large church body. In the end, there will Bibles on many laps in cancer Hospice suites. This course will help you decide what you need and why you need it from that Bible.
Date published: 2017-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from If you had to choose ONE history course.... Prof Gregory's course was one of the first few that I purchased. By now I have listened to over 40, and this remains at the top of my list.OK, Prof Barnhart's course on Ancient MesoAmerica was a solid challenger, but I would still give the nod to Prof Gregory perhaps because this series tells a compelling story from beginning to end. His authoritative but easy listening voice, grasp of the subject, (one of those 'how does anybody KNOW that much?' courses), compelling character descriptions (and these were VERY compelling characters,) accessible yet academically rigorous approach, and ability to explain complex theological disputes make for outstanding listening. As my review title implies, if you had to choose a single course of pre-20th century history, this would be that course in my opinion.
Date published: 2017-06-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Good, Reasoned Approach First, I appreciated Dr. Gregory's commitment to an unbiased historical presentation. It's important to note this is a course about history, not theology. I have strongly held theological beliefs, yet it was easy for me to listen to the professor's treatment of history from three Christian traditions. Dr. Gregory's delivery is more about asking questions than delivering dogma. This is the heart of learning for me. Dr. Gregory's lecturing style is perfectly suited to an audio media format. I don't think I would want to watch him deliver his lectures, but listening to them in 30-minute segments was just right. His vocal expression is more like story-telling than lecturing and really did keep me interested in what was coming next. He has a scholarly approach that provides a lot of information in a compelling way. The surprising and refreshing thing, for me, was that a strong academic scholar could make a case for faith throughout history. So while I did NOT find a bias toward one Christian tradition over others in this lecture series, I think I DID find a defense of faith itself.
Date published: 2017-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The title says it all. I was first of all amazed at how prepared Professor Gregory was. He presents a truly enormous amount of material, much of it never heard before, in a tight, logical fashion which is really appealing to me. A great teacher of a complex subject.
Date published: 2017-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great overview This is a great overview of the Protestant reformation. It does not go into great detail about Luther but it does give the listener a general idea as to what led up to and caused it to happen and it's results.
Date published: 2017-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of Christianity in the Reoformation Era I took AP European History in High School and learned something about this topic. But, this course has been so far much more informative and educational.
Date published: 2017-02-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Poor presentation skills... As a professional speaker, I really wanted to like this course, but watching someone stand in front of a music stand and read bullet points, was too much after the third DVD. Never looks at the camera, sways back & forth, doesn't seem to know his material--I'm sorry--we're returning this one.
Date published: 2017-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from For those like me who did not have a clear understanding of the reformation after reading several books about it, this course will provide a clearer understanding.
Date published: 2017-02-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very slow & ponderous History of Christianity during the Reformation The presenter reads all from the podium ! Very bad. He never strays far from the podium – like he does not know what to say next. Not very exciting. Very SLOW – could – should have covered the same material in 1/4 of the time. Seems fairly accurate – on people, places & dates, bends over backwards to not lean for or against the Reformation – I wonder if he does have a bias?? Shows a few OLD maps, with most not relevant to the topic, not annotated, no high lights. Has a few pictures – only of old men, with no labels of name nor dates showing. No graphics of any use. Not recommended. This one is going back.
Date published: 2017-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of Christianity in the Reformation Era I have had opportunity to listen to only five of these outstanding lectures thus far, but I will listen to the rest on our next trip. I have no question about their value and worth. The professor is thorough, nuancing the complicated history of this period. I have been a student of many of the Great Courses; this is one of the best. 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, is an appropriate time to revisit this turbulent and magical period of Christian history. Five Stars all around!!
Date published: 2016-12-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Introcution This was a thoroughly enjoyable course. I enjoyed the Professor's style, and he provided a great deal of information about the time period. I'd studied the Catholic part of this presentation before, but tying the other major religions in was a great benefit.
Date published: 2016-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent coverage and presentation I found the professor to be very knowledgeable and he covered the material in quite a bit of detail. Regarding his voice and speaking style, he's exactly like CNN's Gary Tuchman. The reason I checked that I would not recommend the course is simply that I think most people would not be interested in the material in general. I was not particularly interested in this specific subject before listening to the course and that didn't change. That definitely is not because of any shortcoming of Professor Gregory or his presentation, and I definitely would consider other courses by him. The course was recorded shortly after 2000. However, this is not an area where there have been major new discoveries, so that is not a problem. Several things I was unaware of that I found particularly interesting were the term Reformation*S*, the fact that after awhile the SAME objections that had been raised against Catholicism wound up being raised against Protestantism, and dividing the "players" into THREE groups: 1) Catholicsm, 2) MODERATE Protestantism, and 3) "RADICAL Protestantism". I've had over 50 religion courses and I have never heard of "Radical" Protestantism or that type of categorization, although I had previously heard of the particular sects in other TGC courses. Although Prof. Gregory does discuss a moderate amount of theology, this IS primarily a HISTORY course. Also, he points out that the EFFECTS of the various divisions and interactions have continued to persist in the 19th and 20th centuries and into the 21st century, but he is not a historian of those periods, so he only discusses the continuing effects in broad terms.
Date published: 2016-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Your First and Best Stop for Daunting Detail This course assumes that you can get interested in minute details of earlier Christian belief systems. if not, buy something else. if yes, this 18-hour course could not be better. The professor announces his intention to present the opposing sides in the Reformation on their own terms, so that they themselves would agree that he had represented them correctly. As far as I can tell, he delivers on that promise. When discussing Catholics, he sounds like a pre-Vatican II Catholic. For Lutherans he sounds Lutheran and for Calvinists, Calvinist. (You hear some distance between him and his subjects for Anabaptists, but he seems fair there as well.) He does comment on events from a 20th/21st century viewpoint, but always notes when he is doing so, and reminds us how the 16th/17th century would have felt about us. The course covers Germany, France, England and the Low Countries, with passing reference to Italy and Spain. I wish it also covered early Unitarianism - Michael Servetus and the Socinians in Poland, where the Edict of Torda provided a period of religious tolerance. But what's covered is well covered, with scads of detail, quotes, and statistical evidence to support a well-knit story. So, you've been cautioned and encouraged. Know what you're getting, and then BUY!
Date published: 2016-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beyond Superb I noted with some distress that a number of our fellow listeners gave this course one- and two-star ratings. With all due deference to these listeners, I cannot see any way to give this course fewer than five stars out of five. I’d like to thank Professor Gregory for this remarkable work of scholarship. Listening to this course when it came out on audiotape in 2001 is what created my voracious appetite for all things TTC/TGC. Prior to this course, I had only listened to one TTC course, a dull six-audiotape course on Jewish mysticism taught by soporific professor Kalman Bland (an apt name if ever there were one). That course (now happily out of print) turned me off of the TTC from 1996 until I unexpectedly received a print catalog in the mail in 2001. Intrigued by the title of this course, I decided to give TTC/TGC one more try and am certainly glad I did. These courses have educated me far beyond any level that a brick-and-mortar school could ever hope to--and I have Professor Gregory to thank for getting me started on this journey. Professor Gregory’s arrangement of the material is perhaps this course’s best selling point. He balances his time between the Lutheran Reformation, the Radical Reformation, the Henrician Reformation, and the Swiss Reformation. I’m thankful that Professor Gregory distinguishes between the magisterial and radical Reformations; most presentations on this subject just lump all of these movements into one undifferentiated blob. Needless to say, he also deals with the Catholic response to these movements, the Counter Reformation. Because of the religious biases of authors who write on the subject, most works concerning the Reformation are tinctured by propaganda. Not so this course. Professor Gregory highlights the brilliance and foolishness of men and ideas on both sides of the Reformation divide. I reject the claims made other listeners that Gregory tilts Catholic in his presentation. I personally have no affection whatsoever for Catholicism yet found myself completely agreeing with his critical assessment of the Reformation’s legacy in the “Expectations and Ironies” capstone lecture. I’ve now owned this course for over fifteen years and still count it among TTC/TGC’s top five products.
Date published: 2016-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Historical overview This course provides quite a comprehensive overview of the many Western European Christian transformations of the 16th and 17th centuries. This is a course in religious history, not theology. As such, it does not go into great detail in explaining the theology of the plethora of Christian divisions of this era. It explains the theology only as much as is necessary to understand the history as it evolved from these theological transformations. This is a time of great divergence in the Christian church, in fact religious transformation is probably the most dominant historical change of this era. Many different movements are discussed – starting (obviously) with Luther’s reformation and moving on to Zwingli and Calvin. Many other more esoteric sects are given some coverage such as the Anabaptists and the Quakers. The English Reformation gets quite a large chapter dedicated to it. This is my third course on the topic. The first was “The Renaissance, the Reformation and the Rise of Nations” given by Professor Fix. This is a wide survey course covering all of the narrative and analytical history of the early Modern period. The Reformation was one central chapter of this course and it served well as a first introduction to the topic. The second course was “Luther: Gospel, Law and Reformation”. This course was more of a theological course and dealt quite in depth with Luther’s new theology and biography. Other new forms of Christianity of the Reformation age were treated only in context to Luther’s Theology. I was interested therefore to hear an in depth historical narrative of the Christian transformations of this era and their respective repercussions. This is exactly what this course is about. It discusses the new forms of Christianity as they arose, their motivations (usually discontent with the other that were already present), and how these new forms interacted with the economic, political and foreign relations aspects of Western Europe as all of this was unravelling. Many, many aspects are touched upon. This period was especially volatile in Germany and led to many religious wars. Eventually, the special approach which Germany’s small kingdoms would take after the peace of Westphalia – each king will decide on the religion of his territory. Spain, the hugely wealthy empire of the early 16th century will become the sick man of Western Europe in this context – losing all of the wealth acquired in the Americas through wars of Religion. Netherlands would become an autonomous Reform Republic – the first of its kind, in many respects (though not exclusively) due to its special religious evolution. The point is that in order to understand Early Modern and Modern Western History, one must inevitably understand the transformations of Christianity and Christian history in this period – and this course provides a very good overview. I found Professor Gregory’s lecturing style to be interesting and easy to follow, and the content interesting and very relevant and crucial for understanding Modern Western history. The course was easily worth the time and effort.
Date published: 2015-12-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Protestant Perspective It is impossible not to let your own perspective color topics about closely held beliefs. While I respect the professor, his views on Catholicism are a bit tough to accept. Imagine that you are an American Patriot watching a course on the American Revolution. The professor gives you significant background on the state of England to start and says that we need to understand all sides of the conflict including the English, the English sympathizers, the rebels, the Canadians and Benedict Arnold. As the course unfolds you have significant lectures on how the British felt about the conflict and how the Americans were trying to break up the glory of the British empire. The lectures were well done even if slightly startling in focus and more British leaning than you might expect. Toward the end of the course he states that based on the disarray of the US after the conflict, the huge war debt, the failure of the first American government, the British invasion of 1812 and the bloody revolutions that the American Revolution inspired that the American Revolution did more harm than good. The Americans are to blame for the dissolution of the Greatest Empire in History. The Canadians were the ultimate winners because they got their freedom without all the bloodshed. That is the experience of a Protestant watching this course. In some ways this isn't a bad thing. It is good to get the other fellow's perspective and see that Martin Luther isn't a hero to everyone. The lectures are indeed well done. The Anabaptists and the like get a good amount of coverage and it is fascinating to see what their beliefs entailed and how they effect us today. Lutheranism and Calvinism are both covered in solid depth and there is much to learn here. Hence the four stars. It is the acceptance of the Pope and Catholicism as a mostly blameless, competing religion rather than the corrupting influence that had virtually destroyed Christ's message for temporal gain that is tough for this Protestant to swallow. Having just finished an excellent course on the Renaissance which presented the corruption of the Papacy prior to the Reformation, I can't believe in the 'Holiness' of the Pope. Nor do i believe that the Reformation was a failure because it splintered the church away from the Universal church when that church was manifestly corrupt and self serving. Rather the very existence of the America I live in and the technology i am using to create this review are testaments to the success of the Reformation. Every meaningful idea that has driven the scientific revolution was opposed by the Catholic church. Every meaningful invention that has driven the industrial and technological revolutions was created in Protestant lands. Look at the histories of Spain and England and their contributions to the modern world for the relative values of the two religious views. So i am in the odd position of believing the whole perspective of the course is seriously flawed, yet the vast majority of the individual lectures are well done and a fine learning experience. While i wouldn't recommend it to my Protestant friends who can be very conservative, I think for more broadminded Protestant, Catholic or Agnostic friends this is a good course.
Date published: 2015-09-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Access problems need attention I had some trouble accessing the files for this course and others, irrespective of the three browsers I used, and conclude that the distribution server was overwhelmed. While I was finally able to download the files, it was a frustrating experience. I had no desire to purchase the files on media at this time, which would have been the reasonable alternative...but for a considerably higher price.
Date published: 2014-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well organized and covers a lot ground I'm amazed at how much material this course covers (geographic, historic, doctrinal) in an exceptionally well organized presentation. Excellent preamble on Catholic thought to set the stage for the events which were to follow. So well organized that you won't get lost among all the story lines this course follows.
Date published: 2014-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Strong, powerful lecture series... An important, engrossing series of lectures covering an absolutely critical period in Christianity, superbly presented by a young professor who is gifted with a real flair for teaching; his presentation is free from tics, his voice easy to understand, his comprehension of his subject matter so evident... indeed, he made me want to listen, eager for more. Some of the reasons behind the anti-clericalism movement in the early 16th century that Professor Gregory speaks of, made me think of the current heretical "Prosperity Gospel" movement (also referred to as "Word of Faith") with televangelist preachers such as Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, T. D. Jakes, Paula White, Benny Hinn and Creflo Dollar... with their multi-million dollar mansions, luxury cars, yachts, private airplanes, expensive clothes & jewellery, high living and travelling in grand style! Professor Gregory sets the necessary groundwork so expertly, leading to lectures 7 and 8 on Martin Luther, who was Professor of Biblical Theology at the University of Wittenberg, holding second-ranking in the Augustinian Order, when he nailed his 95 theses to the church door in 1517, creating the initial catalyst for the Protestant Reformation. In comparison with Luther, Zwingli comes across as rather dull, though it must be said that Luther was, unfortunately, strident & nasty at times. Dr. Gregory emphasises that religion was not separate from the rest of life in the 16th century, in stark contrast to today. This has to be kept at the forefront of the mind at all times. In an age with no radio, TV, Internet etc, the printing press had a deep and wide impact in getting across the reformation message to the general public; pamphlets were distributed, and although the literacy rate was only about 5%, one literate person could read the contents aloud to a crowd, thus dissemination was fairly easily achieved and the "rebellion" spread across Europe, creating leaders and martyrs. 36 lectures is perhaps a bit long for this subject, but Dr. Gregory maintains interest throughout and is to be congratulated on a strong, successful course, with emphasis on the development of the Protestant churches as well as on the reformations within the Catholic church . I have found this series invaluable in my studies. Bottom line: highly recommended! One little point: Professor Gregory used the term "more unique" in lecture 16 (perhaps the weakest lecture, on Münster). The word "unique" is an absolute; it cannot be qualified; one thing cannot be "more unique" than another. I mention this misuse of "unique" because it is a common error with Great Courses lecturers, and I hope someone will get the word to them!
Date published: 2014-12-11
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
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