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Through the 16th and 17th centuries, there was a considerable amount of change in people’s belief systems. When change comes too quickly, it can often be difficult to apply without friction. The degree by which this friction presented itself in Europe and America during the 16th and 17th centuries shows the destructive nature the clash of ideologies can have, particularly when they are challenging centuries-old beliefs.
This essay will examine the clash that occurs when traditional ideologies are challenged. Taking a look at the deadly results in Europe, before analyzing the consequences of reformation efforts in America, will provide a clear picture of the inevitability of conflict arises from a change in ideology, no matter where that change takes place. The Thirty Years’ War is just one of the examples where change can create a considerable amount of conflict. The war affected much of Europe, including France, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden. However, the Holy Roman Empire was not the first to be challenged by the issues. Essentially, every European nation was struggling with attempting to cope with the various changes that were occurring in this period. The continent was strife with conflict about religion, which was fueling angry political, economic and social backlashes against the traditional confines established by religion. France is one of the greatest examples of the conflict that was being faced at the time, due to its active participation in historical events that helped define the boundaries between religion and secularism. Assassinations and widespread warfare that occurred in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries was fueled by much contempt that was ignited by Reformation, Counter-Reformation and the Scientific Revolution, which would later spread to America.

Some writers and thinkers believed they were more enlightened than those around them. This was primarily in Paris and London, and resulted in this minority setting out to enlighten the masses. These thinkers believed human reasoning could be a tool to fight against superstition, ignorance and tyranny, all with the goal of creating a better world, which is why the movement is called “Enlightenment.” Two primary targets of these thinkers was the hereditary aristocracy and religion. While many people took part in the Enlightenment, three primary players led to its domination.

Early on, Voltaire and his followers in France were struggling to lay down the values of tolerance and freedom in a culture that had a Church and monarchy that was opposed to essentially everything that the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution stood for. This made him one of the most important players in the success of the Enlightenment. Two other significant people in the uprising of Enlightenment are Michel de Montaigne and Rousseau. Montaigne was a great thinker and he was primarily known for his essays that questioned how cultures can impose their beliefs on others. He believed people had no right to impose their dogmas that are based on cultural habit instead of absolute truth, (Brians, 1998). Rousseau is celebrated as being distrustful of the aristocrats, and he made much of the progress of Enlightenment due to his forceful nature, (Brians, 1998).

Similar to the rest of Europe, France was troubled by the religious division. The nation had been united by the allegiance in the Roman Catholic Church, but the 16th century changed much of that. John Calvin’s teachings were spreading rapidly. Calvin had been a French pastor and theologian in the Protestant Reformation, and was a prominent figure in developing Christian theology, which was later dubbed Calvinism. He initially trained as a humanist lawyer, but divided himself from the Roman Catholic Church close to 1530. This was when religious tensions created a violent uprising towards Protestants living in France. He fled the country to Basel, Switzerland. Here, he published Institutes of the Christian Religion. This led him to be recruited to reform his church in Geneva. Calvin was pivotal in Reformation (Pine, 2013). “Many of the friars, disgusted with the spectacle of wealthy higher church officials who had no spiritual vocation at all, converted to Calvinism and worked to spread the new movement” (France, n.d.). Many of the people in the upper class, who were possibly looking at the church’s wealth that was poorly used, often converted to Calvinism. Many of the nobles also converted, and this was often because they thought Calvin was right in his views, but others converted because they thought Calvinism was a good excuse to resist the increasing power of the kings in France. This religious tension is what led to the French Wars of Religion between 1562 and 1589, (France, n.d.).

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When these wars started, it was difficult for them to end. However, in 1572 there was a lull in the fighting, and King Charles IX was committed to making peace. He decided to have his sister marry Henry of Navarrer, who was a Calvinist leader. Due to the religious tensions, King Charles was told that he could not trust the Calvinists, and he arranged to have the Calvinist nobles attending the ceremony killed. This resulted in the word spreading that it is acceptable to murder Calvinists. Instead of achieving his original goal of securing peace, King Charles IX had done just the opposite in listening to his advisors in the murders of the Calvinist nobles. The murderous wedding eventually resulted in many people settling their private disputes by killing Calvinists, (France, n.d.). For example, debtors killed creditors who were Calvinists; students killed Calvinist teachers; those who were rejected suitors killed the Calvinists who turned them down. In fact, 13,000 people were eventually killed in the “Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre,” due to the religious tensions caused by Reformation, (France, n.d.). Henry of Navarre would eventually convert to Catholicism in order to save his life; however, he turned back to Calvinism when he gathered his Calvinist forces and led his army to multiple victories. He had secured all of France by 1589, except for Paris, (France, n.d.). Then, he once again converted to Catholicism in order for the Parisian to accept the Calvinists as their monarch. This allowed him to not destroy their city, but he was able to colonize the land, and include it in his list of dominions. This shows that conflicts between Reformation and Counter-Reformation affected the way the lands were colonized.

The Roman Church developed a large portion of the Counter-Reformation.  The Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuits to lead their campaign in support of the Catholic doctrine. “Counter-Reformation forces upheld papal authority and ensured that canonization and veneration of saints remains a cornerstone of celebratory ritual” (Jackson, 2013). The presence of the church was also to be generously financed and encouraged. The Counter-Reformists held three issues at their core. Two of them involved helping clarify the various doctrinal issues so that there could be the resolution of internal disputes and to solve abuses among the clergy. The other was to organize a crusade against infidels. The Counter-Reformation halted, however, after Ignatius of Loyala died in 1556, which preceded the ending of the Council of Trent, (Jackson, 2013).

The tension presented by the conflict between Reformation and Counter-Reformation resulted in many wars. In addition to the aforementioned Thirty Years War, was the Peasants War. This war began in 1524 and was a response to Martin Luther encouraging democratic reform. It was also a reaction to the unbalanced social system that was caused by the religious conflicts. “Luther, initially sympathetic to the peasants, was eventually appalled by the war and angrily addresses the warring faction in his pamphlet, against the thieving and murderous gangs of peasants” (Jackson, 2013). The sectarian groups were a representation of the attempt of easy redemption, rather than of spiritual elevation, however. Luther’s Reformation vision was set back by the social revolt.

In addition to the conflict between Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the Scientific Revolution had a profound effect on war, colonization and exploration. Louis XIV threatened to take over Europe, and religious differences were laid aside by other countries looking to oppose his exploration and colonization efforts, (Sommerville, 2013). These bonds were created partially because religion was becoming less of a concern, and the Scientific Revolution was beginning to take precedence. This allowed these nations to join arms against France’s exploration efforts. Specifically, the two powers rivaling France were Holland and England. Not long after, science would spawn the industrial revolution (Sommersville, 2013).


How Rationalism took Shape in America

The Great Awakening and Enlightenment had a great effect on the political, scientific and education foundation in America. This was shown through the various transformations that occurred in American during these cultural phenomena that can be defined as being major time periods in the development of the United States that we know today. In taking a close look at the changes that occurred in the U.S. during these time periods, it should be noted that there was a wave of religious revival that swept through New England, and this increased the conversions of the people to the church.

This transformation was a new way to apprehend the truth that was presented by God. These truths were through the senses and the Congregational Church divided to split into the Old Light and the New Light factions. In the outset of this transformation, it was noticed that there were the supporters of the revival and they were called the New Lights in New England and then there were the New Sides that were in the Middle Colonies. These emphasized primacy of the emotions. The New Lights were the justification by the faith, enthusiasm, itinerant evangelizing, the revival and the radicalism. For example, thousands of people travelled to see George Whitefield for the words that he spoke about the church, and this helped lead the Great Awakening. Another New Light Preacher was James Davenport, who was a proponent of loud music and of disturbing peace late at night in a powerful extemporaneous sermons. He was also active in burning idols. Then there was Gilbert Tennent, who was also a prominent preacher who helped convert many people to the church, (Brief, n.d.).

Also included in the church was the Old Lights, or Old sides, which downplayed the emotion and they emphasized rationalism in the idea of the church. The old Lights were the ones who believed in intellect, modernization and predestination. This included the justification through the world that men could help bring to the salvation through the times, while exercising the observation and instruction against the enthusiasm of the church, (Brief, n.d.). The Enlightenment stretched from approximately 1680 to 1820 and began fundamentally from the Europenan colonization of the Americas. When discovering the New World, this proposed a lot of the new questions about the society, art, religion, nature and the government. The question at the time was “Did American Indians represent the fundamental state of nature from which all human societies developed?” (The American, 2009). There was also the question about whether the fundamentals of state and nature that the human societies developed were represented by the American Indians. These were just a few of the questions that were asked during this time.
The Enlightenment represented a time when there was a more rational approach to the ideas that were presented during the Great Awakening. The ideals were more based on physical fact, rather than the words that were described in the Bible. This is a period at which America started to turn away from the ideals that were proposed by the church and they were told that there was a more rational way of living. Without the major breakthrough of the Enlightenment, the U.S. could not have moved ahead the way in which it had. This mainly included doing away with a strict church ideal and focused more on rationalism, (The American, 2009).

When looking at the history of early colonies in the United States, it is not hard to realize that people discriminated based on the culture from which a person originated. The brutal conflicts between colonists and Native Americans; the unrested souls during the Salem witch trials; the enslaved victims of poverty and dangers — all portrayed a society of prejudice, skepticism and difficulties. Yet, among colonies, there were significant differences of treatment toward different people, including to Native Americans, Africans and loyalists, (The American, 2009).Think about Virginia colonists, which used those differences to earn a financial profit. Virginia is a colony founded by the Virginia stock company, which primarily focused on finding gold and other profitable materials, (The American, 2009). Those who landed were composed of labourers and gentlemen who either worked to death, or did not work at all. As the colonists searched for instant wealth, they neglected planting corn and other work necessary to make their colony self-sufficient. It was their goals that determined their development, which switched from gold prospecting to agriculture, and then to slavery. Their treatments toward those who were different depended on how much profit they could garner from them.

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Compared to the Virginia colony, the New England colony was more complicated. New England is a religion-based colony. Pilgrims first came to be independent from the Church of England. They wanted to practice their religions without being controlled by anyone, including natives. Then puritans came to build a model of Christianity. They imagined that everyone should welcome their arrivals because they are God’s chosen people; they were privileged and blessed. The loyalists lived in each of the colonies and there were both urban and rural areas in which they practiced various trades. Some of the areas and the social niches had a larger percentage of the Loyalists than any of the other groups, (Mitchell, 2012).
It is inevitable to mention this influential person when talking about “a model of Christianity:” Winthrop was a famous reverenced politician. He is recognized as one of the most esteemed leaders of America. Yet, his policies were exceedingly authoritarian: he resisted attempts to broaden voting and other civil rights beyond a small amount of religiously approved individuals; he and his colleagues expelled those different nonconformists who were considered to be “political threats,” such as Roger Williams, who was speaking the “truth” and Ann Hutchinson, who criticized the sermons and has too much influence on the colonists. He also opposed unconstrained democracy, calling it “The meanest and worst of all forms of government,” (Mitchell, 2012). These examples make it evident that the New England government was so obsessed with authority that it did not want to share it with anybody, including its citizens. To the governors, conformity is more important than fairness.
Furthermore, the puritans even tried to convince Indians to become Christians. John Eliot converted 200 Indians to Christians, (Mitchell, 2012). This piece of information shows that the puritans tried not only to control people within the community, but also to expand it. Massacres took place as well. Think about the Pequot war, when innocent people were murdered indifferently. Watching corpses piled up like hills, these so called “puritans” even considered it a sign that God was on their side (Mitchell, 2012). They treated non-puritans as beasts, without realizing that the blood that is being shed will splatter across their own faces and consciences (Mitchell, 2012).

Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution had profound effects, on the development of both Europe and America, and this led to a tremendous amount of conflict and deaths. These ideologies caused any political solidarity based on religion to quiver, before eventually falling into a massive number of wars and murders that sculpted the colonization and exploration efforts. The Thirty Years War provides a solid example of the contention due to reform, the issues Martin Luther had in his conquest ambition provides an interesting example of the type of affect the Scientific Revolution had on colonization and exploration. Without the tensions that were caused by the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution, there would have been no place for progress in the world, and society would be stuck in a time where the mindless babble of dogma ruled the political atmosphere. Religion has been the source of much of the contempt throughout the ages, and without a rational scientific approach to which society commonly adheres to in the modern era, the murderous antics of Christianity could still be dominating the lives of many.

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By Hanna Robinson

Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.

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