The Protestant Reformation started in the 1500's when the Church started giving indulgences, or pardons for their sins, when someone gave money. The Catholic Church had always taught that when people die they cannot enter heaven before suffering some form of punishment for their sins in purgatory (a place between heaven and Hell). When a person was granted an indulgence, he was freed from some of his suffering in purgatory. In Germany a monk named Martin Luther wanted the Church to change many things it did. He didn't like the fact that they were selling indulgences. In 1517 Catholic fund-raisers began selling indulgences in Martin Luther's city of Wittenberg. In the same year Luther said that there was no basis in Christianity for the sale of indulgences and he drew up a list of objections to indulgences called the 95 Theses and nailed it to the Church door. The 95 Theses spread very quickly thanks to the printing press. Martin Luther believed that if men are sorry for their sins and have faith in God, they will be forgiven. He also believed that men do not win forgiveness by paying money. Many people in Germany agreed with Luther. Besides his beliefs the people had other Church practices they did not like. Martin Luther encouraged these discussions and not only attacked the pope but also criticized the German rulers. The Beginning of the Reformation Martin Luther was excommunicated, meaning no longer a member of the Catholic Church and could not receive any of its sacrements (baptism, conformation, marriage) by the pope. But Lutheranism, or Luther's ideas, spread. Many leaders of the German states agreed with Luther. More German leaders supported Martin Luther as his protests grew stronger. And that s when the Reformation began.
Christians who did not accept the rules of the Roman Catholic Church became known as "Protestants." Eventually, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, England and other countries broke with the Catholic Church and changed Christian rules to suit their own government and people. As a result, several Protestant religions arose in Western Europe.
The Catholic Church began its own counter-reformation to stop the spread of Prestantism. Religious orders, such as the Capuchins and Jesuirs, were organized to teach the Catholic faith to the young and carry on missionary work. By the 17th Century, the Catholic Church finally stopped the spread of Protestantism in Europe. It brought back into the Church some of the countries that had broken away during the Protestant Reformation.
20th century Europe bears the imprint of Reformation. Italy, France, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, the south of Germany, Austria, and Hungary, Poland, and parts of the Balkans in eastern Europe, have continued to be predominantly Catholic. The rest, Scandinavia, England Scotland, Switzerland, the north and east of Germany, and parts of eastern Europe have largely remained Protestant.