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Causes Of The Reformation


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Published in: Education, Spiritual
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Causes Of The Reformation

  1. 1. Causes of the Reformation in Germany Richard Fitzsimmons Strathallan School
  2. 2. Historical debate … <ul><li>The Church was on the brink of collapse – as a result of the abuses and corruption, the Church could no longer provide for the spiritual needs of the people. By extension, this means a Church unable or unwilling to reform itself. The old A Level question used to describe the Church as a ‘rotting edifice ready to topple’. </li></ul><ul><li>The Catholic Church was in a healthy state generally, providing a good ‘service’ for the people despite isolated cases of bad behaviour, ignorance among the clergy etc. This was a thriving Church, the evidence for which was the continued and increasing lay involvement in local churches and parishes. </li></ul>There are two broad interpretations of the state of the Catholic Church on the eve of Reformation …
  3. 3. Causes of the Reformation in Germany … <ul><li>Invention of the printing presses made the spread of ideas to a mass audience quicker and more reliable </li></ul><ul><li>Renaissance thinking encouraged greater questioning of the Bible, and a search to recover ‘uncorrupted’ texts from the original languages </li></ul><ul><li>Beginnings of German nationalism, and hatred of foreigners, particularly Italians </li></ul><ul><li>Unpopularity of Rome among most Germans – to do with the amount of Papal taxation leaving Germany and going to rebuild St Peter’s in Rome </li></ul>Cultural causes Social causes
  4. 4. Causes of the Reformation in Germany … <ul><li>Long-term economic hardships in some parts of Europe </li></ul><ul><li>Depressed condition of German peasants and lesser nobility was blamed on Church greed </li></ul><ul><li>Beginnings of price inflation </li></ul><ul><li>Fragmentary nature of the HRE, weakened the ability of emperors to influence events or resist the Papal demands for money </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of strong central institutions – no imperial army, regular taxation or effective machinery of government </li></ul>Economic causes Political causes
  5. 5. Triggers of the Reformation in Germany … <ul><li>Martin Luther’s personal doubts </li></ul><ul><li>Indulgence selling in 1517 </li></ul><ul><li>Rapid transmission of Luther’s works </li></ul><ul><li>University environment in which Luther worked </li></ul>Religious Cultural Social <ul><li>Declining social status of some elements of German society – Imperial Knights and peasants in the face of stronger princes and towns </li></ul>Political <ul><li>Multi-national Empire distracted Charles V’s attention </li></ul><ul><li>Support/protection that Luther received from Elector Frederick the Wise </li></ul><ul><li>Imperial distractions with France and Italy </li></ul>
  6. 6. Was the Papacy to blame … ? <ul><li>Renaissance Popes hardly set a good example for the faithful … </li></ul><ul><li>- Alexander VI (1492-1503): owed position to electoral bribery, tried to bring the Church under control, but quickly fell from grace – string of mistresses and illegitimate children. Politics and family advancement were more important than religion. Died by poison at a dinner party. </li></ul><ul><li>- Julius II (1503-13): better known as the warrior Pope, more concerned with politics and fighting – conflicts with both France and the HRE </li></ul><ul><li>- Leo X (1513-21): obsessed with re-building St Peter’s basilica in Rome </li></ul><ul><li>Whilst we have seen that most things are relatively ok in the Church universal, nevertheless we need to be able to explain the Reformation somehow… corruption did exist, particularly at the top of the Church hierarchy </li></ul>
  7. 7. Why had the Church been challenged in the past ? <ul><li>The Bohemian reformer Jan Hus (burned in 1415) had attacked the corruption of the Church, authority of the Pope (John XXIII) and communion (he wanted it in both kinds). He was summoned before the Council of Constance where he refused to recant his ideas. </li></ul><ul><li>The English reformer John Wyclif (died 1384) had argued that Scriptures were the only true authority, and he attacked indulgences. He was burned posthumously. </li></ul><ul><li>Both men espoused ideas that Luther took up later, but neither had started a popular or successful movement – perhaps there was something special about Luther and his environment ? </li></ul><ul><li>Corruption undoubtedly existed at the top of the Church hierarchy, but did people really care anyway ? This corruption did spread down into the other ranks of clergy, but was hardly widespread. It left the Church open to attack, but not enough to bring it down … in fact, the Church had been attacked before … </li></ul>
  8. 8. Did Humanism have the key ? <ul><li>Humanism was an intellectual movement that sought to study, understand and translate the original sciptural texts so as to recover uncorrupted interpretations. </li></ul><ul><li>By questioning the veracity of the scriptures, the Humanists put the spotlight on other areas of concern in the Church – morality of the clergy, interpretations of key catholic doctrines (purgatory, indulgences, penance etc). </li></ul><ul><li>BUT, they were no threat to the Church, they were part of it. </li></ul>Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536)
  9. 9. Conclusions ? <ul><li>There is scant evidence to support the claim that the Church was in imminent danger of collapse as it entered the 16 th century … </li></ul><ul><li>Corruption and abuses of position and power had been part of clerical life for centuries, but whilst it may have been regarded as the norm amongst the higher clergy, people were beginning to notice it more often at lower levels </li></ul><ul><li>Issues of Papal supremacy and authority which had been a feature of the 15 th century were not going to go away, but again were to come to prominence in Luther’s protest </li></ul><ul><li>Anticlericalism, and the peculiarly German environment, may have contributed to Luther’s eventual revolt in 1517-20. </li></ul><ul><li>Whatever the motive, Luther’s rebellion was to prove radical and one that would eventually split the Church in many directions in the following two generations. </li></ul>