I find myself in basic agreement with Heiko Oberman on the nature of the Reformation struggle over authority. He argued that the clash between Rome and Protestants was not a clash between tradition and Scripture alone, but a struggle over the nature of tradition.This is a widely held view, and it is a view that is probably commonly taught in history courses of various stripes, but I think it is mistaken. It is the sort of revisionist view that often gets invented by intellectual historians who are looking for the common thematic trend that will help to unify their accounts into something interesting and memorable. It is true, of course, that intellectuals at the time of the Reformation did, indeed, argue about things that were related to the question of the nature of the tradition, but ultimately the real struggle at that time was motivated by concerns that had very little to do with religion. As more and more historians of the period are coming to argue (my favorite in this regard is Eamon Duffy, but there are others) the period was marked by plenty of non-religious struggles that were dressed up in religious clothing in order to inflame partisanship on both sides. The Reformation was driven not so much by intellectual struggles over how to interpret Scripture or where to vest the authority to make such interpretations, but by social, political, and economic clashes that were emerging out of the Medieval milieu and marking the beginning of the modern age, with its struggles between rich and poor, ruling and oppressed classes, democrats and aristocrats, etc.
These are the sorts of forces that usually shape history, not the debates taking place in academia. While it may be true that many made their political allegiances on the basis of this or that theological paradigm, it is certainly true that far more made their theological choices on the basis of their political and social allegiances already in place. To put that another way: the Reformation was not an intellectual struggle over authority in the Church, but potential secular authorities struggling over political power. This is particularly true in England but the same forces were at work on the Continent. This is why the present day differences between Protestantism and Catholicism are so distressing: they have their origins in political struggles that have long since been settled, yet they continue to keep faithful Christians apart who no longer (if they ever did) have any good reasons to be separated from one another. Nowadays, of course, when you get Catholics and Protestants in the same room, they act like they have real differences, but many of those differences were invented over time in order to justify the separation that had already taken place as a consequence of the outcomes of the political struggles. In some cases, such as Catholic and certain conservative Anglicans, it is slowly being discovered that the putative differences were not so communion-severing as was sometimes thought. In other cases, though, the bad feelings run too deep for any sort of quick healing. But with calm and thoughtful folks like Mike Liccione, Carl Trueman, and Francis Beckwith involved in the discussion, one may be permitted to hope for the best.