In general, Protestants are adherents of the religious organizations that broke off from the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, or of any religious body formed from them. The term "Protestant" was first adopted by those who protested against the decree of the second Diet of Speyer in 1529. Later the term was applied to all reformers, all opposing the doctrines of the Church.
In the sixteenth century the Protestant revolt took place, this beginning of a multitude of heresies, this sad event that has divided Christendom for centuries. In the year 1517 Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk of Erfurt, Germany, taking offense at what he believed was a lack of appreciation for him at Rome, combated the teaching of the Church on indulgences. It must be understood that he had many good points and the Popes during that era were not the greatest role models or held up the ideals Christ had intended for His Holy Church. This had been brought crystal clear by the rogue Pope Alexander VI and his successors Pope Pius III, Julius II and Leo X who was the Sovereign Pontiff when Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the cathedral. None of these Popes had a clue how to deal with this enlightenment movement and rebellion. In truth, they were more interested in building up the coffers and building the magnificent monument of St. Peter's employing the masters Michelangelo and Raphael. Yes, it was a low point in Church History, but as Jesus says "the gates of hell will not prevail against it" and indeed she withstood this onslaught of rejection by hundreds of thousands who protested various tenets of the Faith.
Pope Leo X commanded Luther to retract his teachings; upon his refusal, he was excommunicated, in 1520. His heretical teachings spread like wildfire over Germany, occasioning religious wars; peace came only with the Peace of Augsburg, in 1555.
The Council of Trent met (1545-1563) to set forth in a clear manner the errors of the Protestants, by explaining the true doctrine of the Church on those points. At that time, religious training had relaxed; many did not know the true doctrines. Among the errors of Luther were these: that there is no supreme teaching power in the Church; that temporal rulers have the right to interfere in ecclesiastical matters; that the Bible is the sole guide to faith; that every man should interpret the Bible according to his own mind; that faith is sufficient for salvation; that the priesthood does not imprint a special character on the soul of a man, and that everybody is or can be a priest, as a result; that Penance is not a sacrament, but a mere invention of the Church; that the Mass gives no special grace; that there is no Purgatory, etc.
In the beginning, Protestantism spread rapidly. Whole countries, led by their rulers, adopted its doctrines. In Switzerland Zwingli and Calvin; in England Henry VIII, about this time increased the defections from the Church. But soon there were other kinds of Protestantism, all with varying doctrines.
Today the divisions and subdivisions of Protestantism are too well known to need comment Great numbers of Protestants are returning to the Faith of their fathers and we are seeing this in entire congregations converting to Catholicism. There will be many more, but not all. Yet, as the divisions subdivide, the Church continues to grow.
Protestant denominations may be placed into three groups.First, those that require a church to be able to trace its origin to apostolic times. They believe in a priesthood established by Christ, and commanded to offer sacrifice and administer the sacraments. The High Church Episcopalians belong to this group and with the new concordat signed Sunday the Lutherans could follow suit. Unfortunately the High Church Episcopalians deny a fact: their succession of bishops was cut when they separated from the Catholic Church, and so they have no valid orders. Hence they cannot have any sacraments except Baptism and Matrimony. The Anglican orders were declared invalid under Pope Leo XIII in 1896, after the question of their validity had been thoroughly examined.
The second group are those that do not believe in the theory of "all religions are the same," but do not have an organized hierarchy. They insist on their own brand of Protestantism, requiring prospective members to study their doctrines. They consider Holy Scripture as the only rule of faith and of life. Some of them accept the Apostles' Creed, and teach justification by faith alone. Lutherans, especially the Missouri Synod and some bodies of Methodist and Episcopal churches belong to this group.
The third group are those that declare Christ their personal Savior, and believe in Baptism as indispensable; although some bodies do not hold the latter doctrine. Every Christian, according to them, must be a member of some church, on account of the practical benefits from church membership, from organized religion. But, one church is just as good as another. To this group most of the bodies of Baptists, Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, and Congregationalists belong.