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By the end of the sixteenth century each of the surviving religious groups identified itself with a succinct statement of belief called a confession. For Lutherans it was the Augsburg Confession, first advanced in 1530 at a meeting of the Diet, the representative body governing the Holy Roman Empire. It was further expanded and refined late in the century in a statement promulgated in 1577, called the Formula of Concord. For the Calvinists there were a variety of national formulations, including the Heidelberg catechism of 1563 in Germany, and Confessions for the Swiss (1566), the French (1559), the Dutch (1561), and the Scottish (1560). For Anglicans it was the Thirty-Nine Articles adopted in 1563. For Anabaptists there were a variety of local doctrinal statements, for example the Schleitheim Articles of 1527. For Catholics there were the decrees and canons of the Council of Trent, as promulgated by popes after 1563. The promulgation of confessions and the insistence on their use to control the belief of government employees, clergymen, and teachers, became one of the distinguishing features of the religious landscape in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. It helped states to consolidate their power, both against their neighbors and against supranational institutions like the Holy Roman Empire and the papacy. It made of this period an era of confessionalism and confessionalization. The resulting tensions led to a number of religious wars, in France between 1562 and 1598, in the Netherlands between 1568 and 1648, and within the Holy Roman Empire between 1618 and 1648. Only when governments stopped making decisions on religious grounds and moved to making them on more secular grounds, by 1648 in most areas, did this age of confessionalism end. Pockets of confessionalism remained in parts of Europe, however, and some of them survive into the present. It can be argued that the Reformation has not as yet completely ended.


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Robert M. Kingdon

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Reason to RetrovirusReformation - Lutherans, The Reformed, Other Confessions, Confessionalism, Bibliography