The term originated with the protest of the reforming minority at the diet of Spires in 1529 against the catholic majority. As a general description of the anti‐catholic position, it was adopted with some caution: several of the churches into which the new movement dissolved were strongly opposed to each other, while conservatives were not anxious to stress the role of individual conscience in religious matters. The common protestant ground was rejection of papal authority, emphasis on the Bible, devotion to preaching, clerical marriage, and a more austere ceremonial. The main divisions of protestantism were Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Zwinglianism, with the Church of England claiming an autonomous and independent position.
Catholic polemicists argued that the appeal to private conscience must, in the end, lead to religious anarchy. Protestantism was not long in dividing—indeed it was born divided—over the nature of the eucharist, the role of bishops, the importance of good works, and the method of baptism. The fissiparous nature of the movement continued to the 20th cent., with splits, secessions, and schisms in most denominations. In the late 20th cent., falling membership, financial problems, and a more ecumenical spirit prompted a number of protestant reunions, but though relations between protestants and catholics are much warmer than in the 19th cent., reunification has yet to come about.