Martin Luther (1483–146)
Considered the founder of the German Reformation, Luther began his religious career as a priest and Augustinian monk. As a doctor of theology and professor of biblical studies, he developed (and experienced) a doctrine of justification by faith that stood in opposition to the teaching of the church. The 95 theses on indulgences that he posted on the door of the church in Wittenberg eventually led to a massive movement of reform. He was a prolific writer of books, treatises, pamphlets, and hymns for disseminating the ideas of the Reformation.
John Wycliffe (1320–1384)
Wycliffe was an English philosopher, theologian, pastor, and preacher. He maintained that the Bible was the sole criterion of doctrine, and this led him to challenge the authority of the pope and some of the prevailing teachings on the Eucharist and to call for a complete reform of the church in England. Wycliffe, whose views were condemned by the Church, was the inspiration for a translation of the Bible into English which was undertaken by his followers after his death.
John Huss (1369–1415)
A Czech priest and well-known preacher in Prague, Huss was deeply influenced by Wycliffe, whose teachings at the time were widespread through Bohemia. When the tide turned against such calls for reform, Huss was silenced, excommunicated, expelled from Prague, and his followers placed under interdict. He was ultimately tried for heresy, condemned, and burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.
Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531)
Zwingli was a Swiss priest and pastor, a devoted admirer of the humanist teachings of Erasmus and a zealous student of Scripture (he taught himself Greek and learned the letters of Paul by heart). In Zurich he was made “People’s Preacher,” calling for political and religious reform in the church. The city council gave Zwingli its full support. Outside forces, however, led to armed conflict, and Zwingli, while serving as chaplain, was killed on the battlefield on October 11, 1531.
William Tyndale (1494–1536)
A student at both Oxford and Cambridge, in 1522 Tyndale conceived the idea of translating the Bible into English. Opposition was strong, however, so he left for Germany to undertake the project. He never returned to England. Though he never completed the Bible, his translations, made directly from Greek and Hebrew, became the basis for later English versions. The work remained highly controversial, however, and in 1535 he was arrested and later burned at the stake.
John Calvin (1509-1564)
Calvin was a French theologian and pastor. He became familiar with the ideas of humanism and of Martin Luther while studying civil law. His growing sympathy with the Reformation movement forced him to leave France in 1535. He was persuaded to come to Geneva to assist in organizing the Reformation there, but left for Strasbourg two years later at the invitation of Martin Bucer. After serving three years as pastor in that city (where he also produced an enlarged edition of his Institutes) he returned to Geneva, where he spent the next fourteen years establishing a church and civil society according to Reformation principles.
John Knox (1513–1572)
Knox was a Scottish Reformer whose early work as a private teacher came under the influence of continental reformers. Ordained a preacher in Glasgow, he was taken prisoner by the French, released, and eventually became chaplain to Edward VI of England and assisted in the revision of the prayer book of 1551. In 1553 he met John Calvin before returning to Scotland, where his preaching and writing met with great success. Finally, after some time serving the English Church in Geneva, he spent the rest of his life working to establish the Reformation in Scotland.