A Who’s Who of the Reformation

When people think of “the Reformation,” typically the name of Martin Luther comes to mind. After all, it was in 1517, 500 years ago, when he began his campaign against the sale of indulgences. But Luther was not the only player. In fact, there were a number of other key personalities, that made the Reformation happen.

I have taken a list of twelve historical figures, four of them prior to the Reformation, and eight of them during the 16th century, that interested Christians need to know about, in order to understand the story of what the Reformation was all about, and why it happened (Links and images via Wikipedia).

If you want to discover more about some of the other leading players, of the Protestant Reformation, I would highly recommend listening to the Here We Stand podcast, by DesiringGod.org, for a 31-day set of short, podcasts, six-minutes long each, for a different Reformer each day.



Saint Jerome (347-420 A.D.).

  • Early church scholar, from northeastern Italy.
  • Settled in Jerusalem, in an ascetic community.
  • Proficient in several languages of the classical period.
  • Over 1,000 years before Martin Luther, Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, later named the Vulgate. Latin was the official language of the Western half of the Roman empire.
  • But by the early 16th century, very few Western Europeans understood Latin. However, the only Bible translation was Jerome’s Vulgate. Therefore, only church scholars were able to read and study the Bible, in Luther’s early days.
  • By the Council of Trent, in the 16th century, a standardized version of the Vulgate was derived from Jerome’s original work, as the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church.

Augustine of Hippo

Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.).

  • Fifth century North African bishop, and prolific writer.
  • As a young man and budding scholar, Augustine lived a rather sensual and promiscuous life, before eventually coming to faith in Jesus.
  • Engaged in the Donatist controversy, regarding the nature of the church and the sacraments.
  • Engaged in the Pelagian controversy, regarding the doctrines of original sin and grace.
  • The most significant Christian thinker who influenced Western Europe.
  • Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk.

John Wycliffe

John Wycliffe (1320s-1384)

  • 14th century scholar at Oxford University, in England.
  • The “Morning Star” of the Reformation.
  • Translated the Bible into English, against the wishes and concerns of church authorities.
  • His grave was exhumed in 1428, where his bones were burned, after being declared a heretic.

John Huss (Jan Hus)

John Huss (1369-1415)

  • Late 14th, Early 15th century Czechoslavakian priest.
  • Familiar with John Wycliffe’s works; an avid church reformer.
  • Critic of papal authority, championing the final authority of the Bible.
  • Burned at the stake, as a heretic, at the Council of Constance.

Erasmus of Rotterdam

Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536).

  • 16th century disenchanted monk, turned man of letters, from the Netherlands.
  • Published the first scholarly and popular edition of the Greek New Testament.
  • His work demonstrated that the common editions of the Vulgate, derived from Jerome, were corrupted translations of the Bible.
  • Advocated reform, but remained a faithful son of the Roman Catholic Church.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther (1483-1546).

  • German monk, turned Bible scholar, turned leader of the Reformation.
  • At first, Luther protested against the corruption of the medieval church, just like Erasmus. But Luther went much, much further.
  • Used the printing press to spread his ideas about corruptive practices (and doctrines) in the medieval Western church.
  • Championed the doctrine of salvation: justification by faith, and faith alone.

Ulrich (Huldrich) Zwingli

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

  • Swiss priest who became the Reformation leader in Zurich, Switzerland.
  • Sought to use the power of the city-state to promote church reform.
  • Differed with Martin Luther over the nature of the Lord’s Supper.
  • First persecutor of the Radical Reformation; i.e. the Anabaptists.
  • Killed in a battle against Roman Catholic opponents.

John Calvin

John Calvin (1509-1564)

  • French leader of the Reformation.
  • Lived most of his influential years in exile in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • Tried to bridge the gap between Luther’s followers and Zwingli’s followers, with only modest success.
  • Wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion, the most influential writing of the magisterial Reformers.

King Henry VIII

King Henry VIII (1491-1547)

  • King of England during the early period of the Reformation.
  • Defender of the medieval church, who later declared himself Head of the Church of England.
  • He remained (mostly) a Roman Catholic theologically, but he employed advisors who were sympathetic to the Reformation, eventually steering England away from the influence of Rome.

William Tyndale

William Tyndale (1494-1536)

William Tyndale (1494-1536)

  • English scholar who translated the Bible into English.
  • Tyndale’s work became influential in shaping the modern English language, perhaps even more influential than William Shakespeare.
  • Martyred for his faith in Belgium.

Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556)

  • Archbishop of Canterbury, who assisted Henry VIII, in reforming the English church.
  • Wrote the Book of Common Prayer, the primary liturgical text for English speaking Christians, still in use today, among many Christians.
  • Martyred for his faith, in England.

Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603)

  • Queen of England, during the latter part of the 16th century Reformation period.
  • Guided the English church to take a moderate position between the Protestant movement and Roman Catholicism.
  • A savvy leader, she kept England from descending into the violent religious chaos that eventually enveloped mainland Europe.

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

2 responses to “A Who’s Who of the Reformation

  • Grainne McDonald

    What about Jacob Arminius?


    • Clarke Morledge

      Jacob Arminius, the leader of the Dutch Remonstrance movement, is also a good example of an influential figure in the Reformation, but he was more in the 17th century, several generations after folks like Luther and Calvin.

      Thanks, Grainne! And thanks for stopping by and contributing at Veracity!


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