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Q&A

The idea of two reformations instead just one reformation

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Were there historians of Christianity that claimed a similar claim to that there were actually two reformations instead just one?

I understand that both social movements operated in pretty much the same eras in Europe (excluding other similar possible movements before them) so both of them could be grasped as reform makers.

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General comments (4 comments)

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I posted this as a comment to the very helpful answer (from my POV) from @gmcgath‭. It struck me that it would be more useful as an additional answer, by way of complementing the general outlook of that answer.

My summary restatement of the idea is: the Reformation is one thing (the general religious upheaval in Christian Europe in the 16th century),1 or it is many (the distinctive variety of local, regional, national expressions of those upheavals) — but it is not "two". And the Unitarian movement is not connected with this scenario at all (and so, a red herring).

Three items of bibliography reinforce this main take away:

(1) So, for example, the singular "The Reformation" in the title of the authoritative Volume 2 of the New Cambridge Modern History [NCMH] (also on Archive.org).

(2) Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations, 2nd edition. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. (The first edition can be borrowed at Archive.org.)

(3) Walter Klaassen, Anabaptism: Neither Catholic nor Protestant, 3rd edition. Pandora Press, 2001. Klaassen provided a summary of his thesis in a 1985 article which can now be found online.

These titles make clear how they support this answer: the clue is the singular of the NCMH volume, the plural in Lindberg's title, while Klaassen's subtitle provides his thesis statement pointing again towards "many".

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"The Reformation" wasn't a single shift, with or without Unitarianism. Its starting point and best-known aspect was Luther's break withe the Catholic Church. Zwingli started a similar movement in Switzerland, coming into public controversy shortly after the Diet of Worms. The strict Anabaptists broke away from Zwingli. Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church for personal reasons.

The founder of Unitarianism as a formal movement was Francis David of Transylvania. His ideas influenced John Sigismund, who ruled the Ottoman-dominated part of Hungary. Sigismund issued an edict of tolerance in 1568, which went far beyond the Holy Roman Empire's declaration that rulers could choose between Protestantism and Catholicism.

You can break these "reformations" up into as many or as few as you like, but there isn't much support for singling out the Unitarian movement as a second reformation. Its long-term influence in allowing reasoned analysis into religion was strong, but it didn't have that much influence over the religious landscape of Europe at the time.

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If someone wants to downvote my reply, fine, but it would be helpful to the community to say exactly ... (2 comments)
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The Other Reformation

On the other hand, on the Catholic side, the Church, at the time of Luther's exit, had already been undergoing a good 1500 years worth of fairly constant reform.

The first act of "reformation" seems to have been when St. Paul rebuked St. Peter over his change of habit to no longer break bread with Gentiles. Many other acts of "reformation" have taken place since. Some examples of individual reformers include St. Francis (13th century), who effected a reform by modelling Jesus's life in prioritizing the poor, the afflicted, the dispossessed and ignored. The very people the church structure was ignoring. St. Catherine of Sienna ended the Avignon papacy. It took some further bickering and the Ecumenical Council of Constance to resolve the issue once and for all. St. Charles Borromeo dealt with a rather scandalous church in Milan in the 1500s.

Corporate reform within the Church has also been an ongoing project through the means of the Ecumenical Councils. These councils have been responsible for clarifying (but never innovating) a number of Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, the nature of Christ and the like.

And reform continues, even up to the present day with Orthodox and Catholics working on ways to heal the East-West split; Catholics and Anglicans working towards reunification (very slowly!), from the Oxford Movement up to the establishment of the Ordinariate; the clerical sex abuse scandal and its sequellae; social reforms such as combating socialism, defending human life and even ways of battling climate change.

I think the take-away here is that, at least in the Catholic understanding, there is only one work of "reformation" and it is constant, be it on the individual level or on the broader level of matters of church governance and theological understanding. This is because the Church has always understood itself to be a divine organization with a bunch of fallible humans at the controls. Contrary to the idea of "proto-protestantism", Catholic reform is always done within the context of the apostolic faith and in the embrace of the Church founded by Jesus and not as a matter of irreconcilable revolt or dissent that leads to schism and separation and its sequellae, the ultimate devolution & abandonment of doctrine that follows. The precise opposite of what reformers are supposed to strive for!

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"Reformation" vs. "reformation" (1 comment)

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