Coming out of the Dark Ages, the Renaissance was a time of rebirth and renewal in Europe. It was marked by a revival of Classical antiquity and great progress in the arts, literature, and science. But it was also a time of reformist movements within the Catholic Church.

So, what is the link between the Renaissance and Reformation? How did the Renaissance lead to the Reformation?

In this article, we’ll look at the changes that took place in Renaissance society creating an environment that was ripe for the Protestant Reformation.

How did the Renaissance Lead to the Reformation?

The Renaissance was a time of great change. Great strides were made in art, science, literature, music, and philosophy. But the Renaissance was also a time of change for the Catholic Church and for the relationship that people had with their faith and their religion.

Reformist movements were rampant, especially in Northern Europe which was far removed from Rome. In fact, one of the main reasons why the Renaissance was so important and why it is often considered a turning point in history is because of the Protestant Reformation and the split in Christianity that it created. The Reformation was by far the greatest impact of the Renaissance on the Catholic Church.

So how did the Renaissance lead to the Reformation?

Here are the changes to society that the Renaissance brought about which also set the stage for the Protestant Reformation:

  1. A Spirit of inquiry and questioning
  2. The Rise of Humanism & Classical Learning
  3. The Rejection of Religious Dogma
  4. The Introduction of Classical Learning
  5. The Printing Revolution
  6. Bold reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin
  7. Political support from Monarchs (like Henry VIII)

Let’s look closely at each of these ways in which the Renaissance led to the Protestant Reformation.

#1. A Spirit of inquiry and questioning

The Renaissance was, first and foremost, a change in how people thought. It was a rebirth of inquiry and questioning. People began to question the status quo and ask how things could be improved. Blind faith was no longer the only option.

This spirit of inquiry was also applied to how people thought about religion. People began questioning the practices and dogma of the Church, looking for ways to reform it to make it more effective and accessible.

#2. The Rise of Humanism and Classical Learning

Humanism was the underlying philosophy of the Renaissance. It is rooted in the idea that humans are capable of remarkable feats and that striving for perfection and wisdom across all facets of life is what it means to be human. Humanism believes in the capacities of the individual and the capability of individuals to think and reason for themselves.

The Renaissance’s influence on education can be traced to Renaissance Humanism, which saw the revival of Classical antiquity and classical learning. This included the ideas and philosophies of Ancient Greece and Rome which encouraged people to think for themselves rather than blindly following the dictates of authority figures like the Church.

Renaissance Humanists wanted to change religion by making it more humanistic. They believed in allowing salvation through personal faith rather than through good deeds only. They believed that everyday people should be able to read the Bible and draw inferences from it by themselves without the need for the clergy.

#3. The Rejection of Religious Dogma

Renaissance Humanism rejected the religious dogmas of the Church. It encouraged people to think critically and explore their own spiritual beliefs. This led to a questioning of how the Church was run and how it treated its followers.

The biggest difference between Renaissance Humanists and Medieval thinkers was how they viewed the Bible. Renaissance Humanists believed that the Bible was a tool of enlightenment and could provide spiritual guidance to individuals who read it and understood it on their own. This was in stark contrast to how Medieval thinkers and the Church viewed the Bible, which was as a source of religious authority and dogma that only Church officials were allowed to interpret.

And so Renaissance Humanism was a major shift in how people thought about the world, their faith, and how they interacted with the Church. Humanism rejected certain aspects of religious dogma and laid the groundwork for how reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin would approach Christianity.

#4. The Printing Revolution

Had it not been for the ability of Reformist ideas to spread across Europe, the Reformation may have never happened. The invention of the printing press in 1440 was a major factor in how ideas spread during the Renaissance and made it possible for reformist ideas to quickly reach large numbers of people.

Before the printing press, books were laboriously copied by hand, making them too expensive and rare for everyday people to own. But with the printing press, books could be printed and distributed quickly and cheaply. This allowed Reformers to spread their ideas more easily than ever before.

Access to the printing press also meant that the Bible could be translated into vernacular. This was an important aspect of the Reformation as it meant that everyday people could read and interpret the Bible in their native tongue without being required to learn Latin.

How did the Renaissance lead to the Reformation
Martin Luther’s Bible
(Image Source)

Martin Luther translated and published the Bible in German in 1522 and by 1534 had collaborated with others to also translate the Old Testament.

#5. Bold reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin

Needless to say, had it not been for bold reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli the Reformation may never have taken shape.

Martin Luther was a German theologian and priest who in 1517 wrote the 95 Theses which condemned the Catholic Church’s practice of selling Indulgences. He argued for better treatment of humans in their lifetimes rather than focusing and waiting on the afterlife.

As we saw earlier in this article, he wanted people to interpret the Bible by themselves and draw their own inferences from it and so translated the Bible from Latin into German.

Likewise, John Calvin was a French theologian and reformer who emphasized the sovereignty of God and the authority of the Bible. Ulrich Zwingli was the leader of the Reformation in Switzerland who opposed fasting during the period of Lent, promoted clerical marriage and introduced a new communion liturgy to replace the Eucharistic liturgy or Mass.

#6. Political support from Monarchs (like Henry VIII)

The Reformation also would not have been possible had it not been for the support of monarchs. Some monarchs simply supported it as a way to oppose the Pope in Rome. Others truly wanted to give their people the option of choosing between Catholicism and Protestantism.

When we think of monarchs supporting the Reformation, the first one that comes to most minds is Henry VIII of England. Henry VIII was raised a devout Catholic and wasn’t an immediate supporter of the Reformation. Only when the Pope refused his request to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, did he fully embrace the Reformation in 1533. In fact, this is one of the reasons why the Renaissance was late in reaching England.

The first ruler on the continent to embrace Protestantism was Albert Hohenzollern of Prussia. He converted to Lutherism and established a church in his kingdom – the Duchy of Prussia. One by one, other duchies in the Holy Roman Empire followed – the Duchies of Silesia, Franconia, Wurttemberg and Pomerania.


So, how did the Renaissance lead to the reformation? The Renaissance instilled a spirit of inquiry and questioning based on Humanism and classical learning. These were prerequisites for the shedding of religious dogma and the beginning of the Reformation.

The Printing revolution allowed for reformist ideas to spread rapidly across Europe. The actions of bold reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin accelerated these changes and the political support from key monarchs and rulers helped firmly establish Protestantism in Europe.