What do you think? Was the Protestant Reformation really a revolution?
Many Catholic as well as Orthodox thinkers and writers have re-named the Protestant Reformation. Instead of calling it a "Reformation," they are calling it a "Revolution."
What is the difference? In short..."
The Meaning of Reformation
A Reformation is an act of "re-forming" something." The first definition over at Dictionary.com will suffice for our purposes:
"the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, unsatisfactory, etc."
When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the door at Wittenburg on Oct. 31st, 1517, is this what he intended? I am quite sure it is. Luther (as well as later major reformers, such as John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli), who were all priests in the Roman Church, were very unsatisfied with reforms within the church and saw many corruptions in the same.
Initially at least, I think Luther really did want the Roman Catholic church to admit it's errors and clean house. Obviously, that didn't happen, at least in Luther's time and the rest is history... AKA, the Protestant Reformation.
But again, many claim that it wasn't so much as reformation as it was revolution. So, what is a revolution?
The Meaning of Revolution
Once again, the dictionary definition will suffice:
"an overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed."
To summarize, a revolution is a complete upending of a system of governance and laws. A revolution goes beyond a movement to change something from the inside out to be a movement of destruction and replacement.
So, did the Protestant Reformation destroy the Roman Catholic Church? Obviously not. Did the Protestant Reformation "replace" the Roman Catholic Church?
Well, sort of.
From the early centuries of the church right through to the Middle Ages, the ONLY game in town (at least in the West) was the Roman Catholic Church. If you went to church on Sunday (which almost everyone did), you went to your local Parish. There was no 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Baptist Church to go to.
After the Protestant Reformation, many, many, many denominations (some claim as many as 30,000) and splinter groups were spun off. Although it's outside of the parameters of this post, the primary doctrine behind this splintering was and is, Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). This doctrine essentially teaches that The Bible ALONE is the sole source of our authority in all matters of faith (WHAT we believe) and practice (HOW we should act).
So, in essence, EVERYONE reading the Bible became their own Pope (or at least their own Bishop). This idea fed right into the Enlightenment, where ultimately, everyone decides what is right in their own eyes.
Is it fair to say then that the Protestant Reformation was also a Revolution? Yes, I think it fair to say so.
Many Christians especially, I think Protestant Christians, see only good in the Protestant Reformation. Many Roman Catholics see only evil in the Protestant Reformation, thus the label: "Revolution."
Does it have to be completely black and white? This or that? My way or the highway?
Like so many things in life, the truth is rarely that well-defined. There were and are many wonderful consequences to the Protestant Reformation. There were and are many evils that abounded as a result of the Protestant Revolution.
In conclusion I will say this. Revolution is sometimes required. Reformation is always necessary. Semper Reformanda!