Roland H. Bainton
The Reformation disrupted the religious unity of Europe in the sixteenth century and established over and against the Roman Catholic church a group of churches known as Protestant. At the same time the spirit of reform within the Catholic church led to an improvement in morals and a more precise clarification of doctrine. These statements seem sufficiently objective, but there are some Catholic historians who use the term Reformation for the Catholic reform and refer to the Protestant as the pseudo-reformation, while the Protestants call their movement the Reformation and characterize the Catholic response as the counter-reformation. Others again avoid the issue by talking of the Zeitalter der Glaubensspaltung, the age of the confessional split. Whatever the terminology, the Church of Rome was confronted in the sixteenth century for the first time since the barbarian invasions with a sizable and continuing Christian rival.
Apparently then, the sixteenth century marked a great discontinuity with the Middle Ages. Some would date from this period the beginning of modern times. But others would narrow the gap, some by claiming that the Reformation merely brought to completion a disintegration already long under way -- the vessel was already cracked and the Reformation merely gave the tap which caused the pieces to fall apart -- and others by saying that the vessel did not fall apart and the Reformation was, after all, not so distinct from the Middle Ages.
We may begin by inquiring into the state of Christendom at the end of the medieval period. The thirteenth century is commonly regarded as the peak of power, prestige, and inner cohesion of the medieval church. This was the century of Pope Innocent III, of Francis and Dominic, of Bonaventure