The seeds of the Reformation that were planted in Germany sprouted into full bloom as they made their way into the English empire. To trace the pathway from Wittenberg to London, one must follow a series of circuitous routes, but the origin of that movement in Wittenberg is unmistakable, and its influence continues even to this day.
The rapid spread of the Protestant Reformation from Wittenberg, Germany, throughout Europe and across the Channel to England was not spawned by the efforts of a globe-trotting theological entrepreneur. On the contrary, for the most part Martin Luther’s entire career was spent teaching in the village of Wittenberg at the university there. Despite his fixed position, Luther’s influence spread from Wittenberg around the world in concentric circles — like when a stone is dropped into a pond. The rapid expanse of the Reformation was hinted at from the very beginning when the Ninety-Five Theses were posted on the church door (intended for theological discussion among the faculty). Without Luther’s knowledge and permission, his theses were translated from Latin into German and duplicated on the printing press and spread to every village in Germany within two weeks. This was a harbinger of things to come. Many means were used to spread Luther’s message to the continent and to England.
One of the most important factors was the influence of virtually thousands of students who studied at the University of Wittenberg and were indoctrinated into Lutheran theology and ecclesiology. Like Calvin’s academy in Geneva, Switzerland, the university became pivotal for the dissemination of Reformation ideas. Wittenberg and Geneva stood as epicenters for a worldwide movement.
The printing press made it possible for Luther to spread his ideas through the many books that he published, not to mention his tracts, confessions, catechisms, pamphlets, and cartoons (one of the most dramatic means of communication to the common people of the day was through messages encrypted in cartoons).
In addition to these methods of print, music was used in the Reformation to carry the doctrines and sentiments of Protestantism through the writing of hymns and chorales. Religious drama was used not in the churches but in the marketplace to communicate the central ideas of the movement — the recovery of the biblical Gospel.
Another overlooked aspect of the expansion of the Reformation is the impact of the fine arts on the church. Woodcuts and portraitures were produced by the great artists of the time — Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein, Lucas Cranach the Elder, and Peter Vischer. The portraits of the Reformers made their message more recognizable, as it was associated with their visage in the art world.