Reformations: Continuity or disjunction? (Reformations 2)

View other posts in the late-medieval and reformations series.

One of the more important scholarly questions regarding the nature of the reformations of the 16th century is the degree to which the reformations had their roots in what preceded or were something new that broke from what preceded. Most recent scholars of the reformation period would answer that it is far more complicated than choosing between the two, but that many scholars in the past have emphasized the “new” to the neglect of continuity.

A very important work by Steven Ozment (The Age of Reform 1250-1550, 1980) argues strongly and convincingly that, in many respects, the reformations were strongly rooted in the intellectual and religious traditions of the late middle ages. And by that he does not mean simply things like the movements which followed the lead of Wycliff in England or Huss in Bohemia (in the late 1300s and into the 1400s), to which we will return. There is a sense in which the reformations would not have happened without the important influences of the spiritual traditions of the Franciscans and Dominicans or the intellectual traditions of scholasticism, or the reforming agendas of certain popes (which we will explain soon).

The cultural history of late-medieval Christianity is worthy of study in its own right, but it is also the place to look if you want to understand the reformations. Luther and other “reformers” were part of this late-medieval world despite the changes that their movements brought, namely the birth of a new branch of Christianity now known as Protestantism.