Early guys like John Wyclif, Jan Huss, Erasmus, and Thomas More paved the way for thinking of how things could be done differently in the Church or at least of Christianity being different than how the Church taught (heretical views according to the Church).
The new wave of learning and thinking, which had a decidedly secular bent, challenged the traditional view in which science, philosophy, and Church-based theology were all the same thing.
The humanism aspect focused more on the individuals and humans than on the spiritual realm.
The renewed interest in Latin and Greek also enabled people to look at the Bible itself.
The invention of the printing press around 1450 allowed new and radical ideas to be mass produced and quickly widely distributed.
The northern Italian city-states didn’t much like papal interference.
The burgeoning kingdoms in France and England, and the various German princes liked the interference even less.
The strong centralized governments didn’t want other entities that could lessen that centralization. Also, men with power don’t like sharing it much.
In many places, the upper clergy had become more like secular rulers instead of religious authorities.
The Church owned massive amounts of land and was part of the feudal system.
Immorality had become rife in the higher clergy with simony and non-celibacy becoming the norm.
The popes themselves had become rather decadent and worldly with luxury, non-celibacy, and exercising secular power.
The papacy was also increasingly political as powerful families competed to put their members on the throne of St. Peter.
Pope Leo X (pope from 1513-1521), for example, was Lorenzo the Magnificent’s second son. He continued the Medici ways of luxury and patronage, but with Church money.
Upon being elected, he said, “Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.” And he did… he nearly bankrupted the Church which was no small feat.
Pope Leo X
The (almost) next pope was Clement VII, Leo X’s cousin and Lorenzo’s nephew/adopted son (Lorenzo’s brother was killed in an assassination plot that nearly got Lorenzo too).
Pope Clement VII Look familiar?
In this environment comes Martin Luther
Luther was an Augustinian monk and a pretty devout one at that.
He was on his way to becoming a prominent lawyer (which very much pleased his miner father) until he got caught in a violent thunderstorm and swore he would enter the monastery if he survived.
He lived and followed through on his oath (which very much dis pleased his miner father).
As a monk, he gave his life over to severe dedication and privation, hoping his devotion would reconcile him to God. It only served to emphasize his sinfulness and separation from God, however, and starting around 1510, he came to the theology that salvation is a gift of God that comes through faith alone.
Luther was especially put out by the sale of indulgences.
According to Catholic theology at the time, if one sinned, you could repent and be given the sacrament of penance. While the blame for the sin is gone, the sin is not erased and you must still be punished for it through temporal punishment on earth or in purgatory. God’s justice demands it.
You can, however, lessen the amount of punishment by performing acts of merits (you gain heaven through Jesus, not the act – you merely lessen the punishment through the act).
You can also be spiritually assigned merit by the Church via its treasury of merit. This is typically done through prayers and such. This transfer of merit is an indulgence .
In Luther’s time, indulgences were being abused.
Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar, was given authority by Pope Leo X (yes, the Medici one) to sell indulgences in order to build St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican (you know, the one with the big dome).
Luther was put out AND cheesed off.
Tetzel A 1517 indulgence from Tetzel that reads, “By the authority of all the saints, and in mercy towards you, I absolve you from all sins and misdeeds and remit all punishments for ten days.
This spurns Luther to post his famous 95 theses on the door to the Wittenberg chapel on October 31, 1517.
The 95 theses argued against the way indulgences were being used for profit and how they were being presented as a way of being able to buy your way into heaven.
The theses were copied and sent off to a printer who promptly made copies and then the theses were getting distributed all over the place.
Luther had a three tiered platform:
Salvation comes through faith alone and not through good works
The Bible is the sole authority and not Church dogma or the pope.
People of faith were equal and didn’t need others to interpret the Bible for them.
Luther’s actions didn’t go over well with the Church, but it was relatively slow to act since it didn’t take him all that seriously. As far as they were concerned, he was just a rebellious monk who needed to be whipped back into line.
Pope Leo X sent some theologians north hoping to quell the disturbance. He referred to Luther as a drunken German who will change his mind when sober.
Once word gets out, though, it’s too late to stop it. Luther only becomes more radical, rebellious, and insistent.
Luther’s is tried for heresy and the Edict of Worms is issued, but he gets out of town and comes under the protection of Frederick the Wise, the ruler of Saxony.
He translates the Bible into German so that common people can understand it (they didn’t know Latin so well) and eventually becomes the leader of the full-fledged movement of Lutheranism.
On the downside…
Luther was a big time anti-Semite who thought synagogues should be burned, Jews’ property and money seized, and the people forced into labor or expelled. Oh, those crazy Germans.
He actually did succeed in getting some Jews expelled and the pamphlet in which he made the claims is sometimes called the blueprint for the Nazi pogrom program.
He also came out against the Peasant Revolt
The peasants were trying to apply Luther’s ideas of egalitarianism to the social sphere. Luther came out against them and the German princes crushed the revolt, killing around 100,000( !!! ) peasants in the process.
The peasants didn’t much trust Luther after that.
The political aspect of all this is that some of the German princes used the Reformation as an excuse to throw off the yoke of the Church and gain power over their realms. This led to a series of wars until the Peace of Augsburg in 1555.
The Peace declared that princes could decide what religion would be practiced in their realm: Lutheranism or Catholicism (and only those two).
People could move to a place that practiced their religion.
Other religions were persecuted.
England also goes Protestant
It was done by this handsome devil:
King Henry VIII of England
Henry needed a male heir. Unfortunately for him, his wife, Catherine of Aragon (daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain) bore him only one daughter. She had other children, but they were either stillborn or didn’t live long.
When Catherine turned 42, he was fairly certain no male heirs would be forthcoming. Thus, he needed a new wife.
The Catholic Church didn’t permit divorce, but it would grant annulments, which essentially say the marriage wasn’t legal to begin with.
Henry tries to get his marriage annulled on interesting grounds in 1527. It doesn’t work because Pope Clement VII doesn’t want to cheese off Spain and especially didn’t want to cheese of the HRE Charles V (Catherine’s nephew) whose troops were kinda occupying Rome at the time.
So, Henry still needs a male heir, but can’t get a legitimate one without a new wife, which means divorcing his current wife, which the Catholic Church won’t allow, or annulling his marriage, which the pope won’t grant.
What’s a king to do?
Henry takes over.
He calls Parliament and in 1534 it passes the Act of Supremacy, which makes the English king the head of the Church in England, not the pope.
As the head of his own church, Henry can now allow his own divorce. Good thing since he had already secretly married Anne Boleyn in 1533.
Henry goes on and seizes all Church land in England, including the monasteries. Considering the Church owned some 20% of the land, this wasn’t chump change.
Henry VIII stuff
Henry was an interesting guy.
By most accounts, he was daring and pretty handsome in his youth.
He was fluent in English, Latin, French, and Spanish.
He was quite athletic and good at jousting, tennis, and hunting.
He was a decent poet and composer.
Henry at 18
He had six wives.
Catherine of Aragon
Left by Henry when no male heir.
One of Catherine’s servants.
In 1536, she’s accused of adultery and treason. Henry locks her up and has her executed.
Her sister was a mistress of Henry’s.
Henry was nice and got a skilled swordsman to behead her.
Henry married her 11 days after Anne’s execution.
She was one of Anne’s servants.
Finally bears a male heir.
Dies almost two weeks after the birth.
Anne of Cleaves
Married in 1540
Was a political marriage for Henry.
Once the political advantage was gone, Henry has the marriage annulled.
She fares pretty well.
Henry found out she had affairs before getting married and may have committed adultery.
Got Parliament to pass a law declaring it treason for an unchaste woman to marry the king.
She’s beheaded two days later in 1542.
She survives Henry who dies in 1547.
One more thing… that painting at the beginning is a Hans Holbein. Check the detail.
So out of those six wives, Henry has three kids that make it out of infancy: Mary by Catherine of Aragon, Elizabeth by Anne Boleyn, and Edward by Jane Seymour.
This causes problems.
Becomes king in 1547 at the age of nine.
Dies six years later of tuberculosis, arsenic poisoning, or syphilis.
During his reign, however, English Protestantism was significantly advanced and developed.
Last words: “Oh my Lord God, defend this realm from papistry and maintain Thy true religion.”
Queen from 1553-1558.
Also known as Bloody Mary.
Mary was Catholic and she didn’t like the whole Protestant direction the country had been going in.
She turns England back toward Catholicism and has 300 dissenters executed.
She also considered herself the only legitimate child of Henry VIII.
Dies of probably ovarian cancer in 1558 at the age of 42.
One of England’s greatest rulers if not THE greatest.
Kinda ironic considering how desperate Henry was for a male heir.
Reigns from 1558-1603
She had a rough time of it early considering that her mother, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded when Elizabeth was only three.
The title of ‘princess’ was taken away from her.
Henry dies when she’s 13 and she goes to live with Catherine Parr.
She becomes fluent in English, Spanish, French, Italian, Latin, and Greek.
When she’s 21, she spends two months in the Tower of London (not a pleasant place) because she was implicated in an overthrow plot against Queen Mary.
She’s coronated at the age of 25.
Elizabeth steers the state back towards Protestantism and again breaks with the Roman Catholic Church.
Institutes various reforms, such as allowing priests to marry, services would be in English and not Latin, vestments were somewhat simplified.