Explain the relationship between Martin Luther and the Treaty of Westphalia

Published 13 Mar 2017

Feudal relationships that were dominant in Europe till the beginning of the second half of the seventeenth century acted as a brake on further economic progress. The Catholicism was the main supporter of feudal order. It professed the right of the nobles and monarchy for the absolute power in society. However, at that time a new social class, the bourgeoisie, emerges that makes claim for having ascendancy over the social order. The bourgeoisie is involved in the accumulation of significant wealth at that time and needs the expansion of its rights in state government.

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The current economic situation of those days assisted the consolidation of a new (Protestant) church, the founder of which was Martin Luther. The idea of this new church was based on Martin Luther’s statement that a man reaches “salvation” not through the church (Catholic) and its ceremonies but rather through the “faith” bestowed to a man directly by God. This position refuted the claims of the clergy for domination in society and state government. For the bourgeoisie this thesis meant the possibility to abolish feudal rule and that was exactly the reason why the bourgeoisie and other social classes united around that doctrine in their struggle against the feudalism. In other words the struggles against the Catholic Church became one of the ways to exercise bourgeoisie’s struggle against the feudalism and for its privileges.

The Feudal-Catholic respond, that emerged in the form of military confederation of Catholic German states, Catholic League, in1609 had its purpose to restore the supremacy of the Catholicism in those countries where the Reformation made its position firm. Tension between Catholicism and Protestants eventually ignited into of the Thirty Years’ War. This reactionary union included the German emperor, Catholic rulers of Holy Roman Empire and Spain. The Catholic League was opposed by the military-political Union of Protestant rulers of South and West Germany and several other Protestant German states, which was founded in 1608 and was called Evangelical Union.
Western Europe became divided into two military camps with the military tension hotbed in the center that led to the big war which involved most of the major European continental states.

As it is known this war ended with the Peace of Westphalia that officially recognized the Dutch Republic and Swiss Confederation (those were the states where the Protestant Church was dominating). The end of the Thirty Years’ War eliminated the papacy’s role as a supranational power and meant the triumph of Martin Luther’s ideas over the Catholicism.


  • Davies, Norman (1996) Europe: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Hooker, Richard (1996) Martin Luther.
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