By necessity, the progression of history is built on the foundations of the past. While many historians center their theories concerning the origins of modernity on the Reformation, voyages of discovery, and the Scientific Revolution, these changes that characterize early modern Europe are as much a continuation of as a break with medieval Europe. In effect, the seemingly radical transformations that we associate with early modernity are little more than variations on previous themes, rooted deeply within the history of medieval Europe. After all, the division of history into epochs is nothing more than an intellectual practice; there was never a tangible threshold separating the Medieval from the Modern. Through the process of examining three major theories of the origin of modernity and tracing each one's relation to the past, we come to see that early modern Europe was as much a period of radical change as it was a continuation of pre-existing trends. .
The Reformation is often depicted by historians as one of the great turning points that separate medieval and modern Europe. In fact, the history of the time period does reflect a distinct change. The major development that the Reformation wrought was to break down the popular idea that there could be only one Christian church capable of saving souls, the Catholic Church. This movement sprang from Martin Luther's argument that questioned the necessity and function of the church, in effect claming that the church had fundamentally misunderstood itself and its role. Luther supported, as evidenced in his Sermons and Table Talk, the sanctity of scripture above that of the church. In his eyes, a true Christian is faithful to the claims of scripture above any religious institution's tenets. For Luther, the largest divergence that this caused from the Catholic Church was his belief that only faith can save us through God's grace (a belief fixed in his personal interpretation of Romans 1:17).