How Much Do You Know About the Protestant Reformation?

By: Torrance Grey
Image: National Geographic

About This Quiz

Only in deep and serious theological debates can the grilling and eating of sausages be seen as an act of defiance! Believe it or not, this was a show of rebellion during the Protestant Reformation. This happened in Zurich, Switzerland, right in the city center. The culinary culprits were defying the Roman Catholic Church's ban on meat during Lent.

But that's only one moment of lightheartedness in a historical period that was far more serious. It sparked wars and cost many lives, and the changes it made to the now-worldwide religion of Christianity are with us to this day. How much do you know about this period in Christian history? What sparked the Reformation, and who was chiefly responsible? How did a king's marital affairs come into play? Why did southern Europe largely remain Catholic, while Northern Europe became Protestant?

Our quiz will test you on all these points and more. It will start easy -- you probably know who know nailed 95 theses to a church door -- but eventually get deeper into the details. The Reformation wasn't really one movement, after all. There were different branches of Protestant thought, some of which disagreed with one another quite violently. Fortunately, the debate between the Catholic and Protestant sides of Christianity is much more civilized today!

Which of these is the central figure of the Protestant Reformation?

When people think of the Reformation, they immediately think of Luther. It was a radical act on his part that launched the break from the Catholic Church, where other reform attempts had largely petered out.

How many theses did Martin Luther nail to a church door?

This reminds us of one of our favorite student bloopers. A history professor, Anders Hendriksson, compiled a short history of religious life according to his students' papers, including this gem: "Martin Luther nailed 95 theocrats to a church door." Ouch!

In what year did Luther nail his theses's to the door?

Luther made his stand at the beginning of the 16th Century. He died about 30 years later, in 1546.

To which of these did Luther make his main objection?

Originally, indulgences reduced the time spent in purgatory, and were earned through saying of prayers and committing good works. However, by Luther's time, they were being sold outright, sometimes under the claim that they would absolve sin entirely and allow a sinner into heaven.

"Sola scriptura" is the word for which central belief in Protestantism?

This phrase comes from Latin, as will many other phrases you see in this quiz. During the Reformation, nearly all European theologians wrote in Latin, regardless of their native language.

Which of these is NOT a key person in the Reformation?

John of Patmos came much earlier. He wrote the book of Revelation while exiled on the island of Patmos.

In what city did Luther make his radical act of rebellion?

You can see All Saints Church today, but the original doors were burned in the 18th century. They've been replaced by bronze doors with the text of Luther's manifesto on them.

Which pope did Luther anger with his act?

Leo X had been selling indulgences for money to rebuild St. Peter's Basilica. This was probably part of the reason he was stung by Luther's criticisms.

True or false: An indulgence was only valid for the sinner who earned/bought it.

People could also buy indulgences on behalf of deceased loved ones, to reduce their time in purgatory. This is similar to the modern Mormon practice of evangelism to the dead.

The Protestant doctrine that faith alone saves is called ______________.

This is, again, Latin. Don't confuse it with the doctrine of "sola scriptura."

Why was Henry VIII important to the Reformation?

Henry's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had not produced a male heir (at least, that had survived past infancy). Henry wanted this marriage annulled so he could marry Anne Boleyn. When the Pope denied him, it set the stage for the English Reformation.

Henry VIII also declared himself _____.

Henry made himself head of the Church of England in order to be able to make the rules on marriage and annulment, as he wanted. (Side note: he almost might as well have been a bigamist, since he took six wives, the last five in relatively quick succession.

Where was Luther "tried," in effect, for his beliefs?

The Diet of Worms (the name, we admit, sounds funny to English speakers), was called by Emperor Charles V. Luther was expected to renounce his ideas, but did not. Conventional wisdom claims he said, "Here I stand; I can do no other," but there is no actual evidence of this.

What was the ultimate result of Luther's "heresy"?

Luther was not killed, though some other early Protestant figures were. He was excommunicated, which was a terrible punishment for a devout Catholic of that time, but since Luther already had his doubts about the Church's moral purity, it didn't appear to trouble him unduly.

Which of these reformers came before Martin Luther?

Martin Luther wasn't the first to desire a change in Church policies. Hus and Wycliffe both preceded him, though they aren't as firmly associated with the Reformation.

What nationality was reformer Huldrych Zwingli?

Zwingli objected in particular to the practice of fasting during Lent. His followers grilled and ate sausages in Zurich's city square as a protest.

Which of these northern European countries did not, in the main, turn Protestant?

You could include France in this short list, if you consider it a northern European country. But most others consider it southern, and like Spain and Italy, it has remained majority Catholic.

Which of these greatly aided the spread of Protestantism?

The printing press allowed for theologians to spread their ideas more widely than those in earlier eras. In this way, the Reformation was a technological revolution as well as a theological one.

What nationality was reformer John Wycliffe?

Wycliffe was an English reformer who preceded Martin Luther. His teachings inspired the later reformer, Jan Hus.

Which of these reformers was executed?

Jan Hus was guaranteed safe passage to his trial, but was never allowed to leave after being found a heretic. Instead, he was burned at the stake.

To which of these Catholic ideas did Luther also object?

The idea that priests have to intercede with God for ordinary people is commonly called "sacerdotalism." Luther believed that each believer can approach God through prayer and attain forgiveness through individual repentance; formal confession is not necessary.

Was Martin Luther married?

Luther wasn't married when he wrote the 95 theses, but later married a former nun. They had six children together.

Which of these wars grew out of the Reformation?

In some ways, the Thirty Years' War presaged World War I -- it was a struggle of European nations for pre-eminence on the continent. What started as a clash between Protestant and Catholic states grew into a much larger fray that killed 8 million people.

What ended the Thirty Years' War?

The Holy Roman Empire and the Protestant powers signed several peace treaties in the region of Westphalia. Then they all drove off in camper vans with pop-up tops. (Sorry ... that joke probably only landed with people well over 35!)

What nationality was Jan Hus?

Hus was part of what is called the Bohemian Reformation. This was later the title of a song by Queen ... oh, wait, that's something else!

Martin Luther practiced which of these professions?

Some of these aren't exactly "professions," but Luther followed all these paths. He also composed music.

The Protestant figure, John Calvin, believed in predestination, which means what?

Predestination or election means that God chooses those He wishes to save, who are then divinely directed to hear and accept the message of salvation. The opposite doctrine is Arminianism, which teaches that salvation is available to all (though not all choose it).

Which country gave us the Puritans?

The Puritan movement came some time after Luther's reforms. The Puritans believed the Church of England still had a lot of "Popish" traditions that needed to be purged.

Into which language did Luther translate the Bible?

Luther translated the Bible into the language of his homeland, then called Saxony. This was consistent with his belief that Christians should approach the scriptures, and even God, without the intervention of a priest.

What did the Anabaptists believe?

By "adult," these radical reformers meant an age when a person could make a true confession of faith. People can argue about what age that is, but infancy certainly doesn't count.

Which of these groups grew out of the Anabaptist movement?

Both the Amish and the Mennonites grew out of the Anabaptist tradition. Despite the similarity of the names, the Baptists did not.

What was the Defenestration of Prague?

Duke Ferdinand was a devout Catholic, and unpopular with Bohemian protestants. They showed their displeasure with his ascension to princehood by throwing his representatives out a third-floor window. This, in the main, sparked the Thirty Years' War.

Which of these things stains Martin Luther's legacy?

Luther advocated for the seizure of Jewish assets and their expulsion from Christian regions, which disappoints his modern admirers. (Just to be clear, though, he was not rumored to do any of the other three things).

Luther is honored today by _____.

If you're not familiar with Reformation Day, that's probably because it is usually on October 31, and overshadowed by the popular holiday of Halloween. Some churches move it to the nearest Sunday on the calendar, calling it Reformation Sunday.

True or false: Martin Luther King's parents named him for the 16th-century theologian.

The key word is "parents." They actually named him Michael. The civil rights leader changed his name later in life.

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