whether this simple explanation suffices. McGrath also demonstrates that there was a rise in piety in the fifteenth century and that this interest was not only limited mostly to the laity butalso subsequently led to the criticism that sparked off the Reformation.
He later argues thatsocial practices, such as baptism and marriage, “...though ultimately based upon the textbooksof the theologians, often came to bear little relation to them. Folk-religion becameincorporated with Christian ideas.”
The individual may have been caught up in the desire for the sense of belonging, hope of salvation, protection, safety and moral guidance –in short,spiritual needs, but as Euan Cameron argues, Christian belief in the late Middle Ages was notas rigid as it has been made out to be. “The Christianity of the later Middle Ages was asupple, flexible, varied entity, adapted to the needs, concerns, and tastes (with all their undoubted crude, primitive features) of the people who created it. It was not an inflexibletyranny presided over by a remote authority. It left room for personal preference and privateor local initiative.”
Whatever the situation within the Church, the laity provided for their spiritual needs in their own way, because a lack of clearly defined rules made personalinterpretation and personal freedom possible. Yet the spiritual needs of the individual, such asthe hope for salvation, moral support and guidance, were very much a part of daily life, evenmore so than we can imagine today. Bruce Gordon summarizes the place of the Church withinsociety well: “[despite] the confusion...at the close of the Middle Ages there were few whowould question that the church, even in its fractured state, was the body of Christ in theworld.”
The individual and the Church, it seems, had a strong symbiotic relationship andmoreover a spiritual dependency, if only because Christianity was such a strong force in theWestern world. It is little wonder, that, as Cameron argues, “...there is growing evidence...,once they saw what it meant, many people did not want the Reformation, still less did they
Alister E. McGrath,
Reformation Thought- An Introduction
, (Oxford, 1988), p. 20.
Ibid., p. 21.
The European Reformation
, (Oxford, 1991), p. 19.
Bruce Gordon (ed.),
Protestant History and Identity in Sixteenth-Century Europe
, (Brookfield, 1996), p. 1.