ORIGIN & CAUSES OF REFORMATION

“The Reformation was caused by long-term political, social, and economic developments.” Discuss this statement.
The 16th century was a time when the acts and teachings of all religions came under a great amount of scrutiny. As a result, there was a great division from the dominant Roman Catholic Church which was known as the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation was a time in the history of Europe, when some people began to question some of the teachings of the Catholic Church and to challenge the authority of the Pope. It began in Germany in 1517 as a protest against abuses in the church. The supporters of this desire for reform were called “Protestants”. The Reformation took place in the 16th century rather than the 15th or 14th century because of the combination of three things in the right proportion.  Firstly, the papacy reached the lowest depths of unpopularity at the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century.  Secondly, this was precisely the time when the Renaissance was producing more powerful weapons of criticism, while the introduction of the printing press provided a vital means of communication.  Thirdly, the church could no longer depend upon a general political acceptance of its concept of universalism and now had to hold its own against the growth of nation states and nationalism. The 16th century Reformation is considered a religious movement, political, social, and economic reasons also led to the upheavals that challenged the dominance of the Catholic Church. The church had a long record of corruption and there had been attempts to reform it long before Luther. In the medieval age, the Roman Catholic Church dominated Western Europe and was leading all the Christians of Europe. As the church enjoyed abundant powers, several evils had crept into it. The renaissance created common sense and rationality. Since people were losing their faith in the church, they began to criticise worship and organisation of the church. The Pope enjoyed absolute powers and appointed clergymen in different countries. The church had its own court of justice. The church officials were free from state laws. The Pope could interfere with the state functions. So kings

were waiting for a chance to get themselves free from the Pope. Some church leaders had become worldly and corrupt. Many people found church practices such as the sale of indulgences unacceptable. The Schism in church in the 15th century lowered its prestige. Instead of one Pope, two Popes began to be elected, one by the French Cardinals and the other by the Italian Cardinals, respectively. This undermined the prestige of Pope and people lost faith and reverence for the holy institution. The roots of the Reformation lie far back in the High Middle Ages with the rise of towns and a money economy. This led to lines of development that all converged in the Reformation.  Firstly, a money economy led to the rise of kings who clashed with the popes over control of church taxes.  Secondly, the replacement of a land based with a money economy led to growing numbers of abuses by the church in its desperation for cash. Both of these factors seriously damaged the church’s reputation and helped lead to the Lollard and Hussite heterodoxy which would heavily influence Luther’s Protestant Reformation. On the political side, the church had frequently come into conflict with state rulers, especially with the Holy Roman Emperors. Powerful monarchs challenged the church as the supreme power in Europe. Many leaders viewed the pope as a foreign ruler and challenged his authority. European princes and kings were jealous of the church’s wealth. King’s power increased with the rise of nation states. They wanted to put check on the Pope’s international rights. So the kings accelerated the Reformation movement. The clergymen were involved in immoral practices, therefore, people’s faith in the church minimised. The church collected many kinds of taxes and duties from common people. That money was sent out of the country. Major portion of land was owned by churches. Not to pay taxes to the church was considered as an act of sin. In Western Europe, people employed in landed property of the church took oppressive measures. Thus, people also began to raise a voice against the Catholic church. The emergence of a strong middle classes also greatly contributed to the reformation. The middle classes protested against the dominance of the church because it was largely controlled by the upper classes and administered largely for their benefit. They looked down upon the artisans, merchants, lawyers, doctors, etc. who constituted the middle class and were not willing to associate

with them. The middle classes wanted to free the church from the control of wealthy aristocracy which looked down upon them and cared very little for their interests. The Reformation was also possible because of the technological innovation such as the printing press. It replaced the painstaking process of copying manuscripts by hand. The printed works could easily spread the ideas of religious reformers. Individual attempts for reforms were also made. John Wycliff (1329-1384) in England stated that the Bible was the sole authority. He stressed the role of faith – a free gift of God to everyone. He foreshadowed Martin Luther’s views in the early 16th century. He stressed personal communion with God, diminished the importance of sacraments and translated the Bible into English. His followers – Lollards - continued his ideas into the 16th century. John Hus (1369-1415) in Bohemia, his followers came to be known as Hussites. His ideas were similar to Wyclif. He was a religious leader in Bohemia who led a nationalist movement there. He was burned at the stake for his views. One of the significant factors that contributed to the cause of the Reformation was the rise of Renaissance humanism which created an intellectual climate. It provided tools of criticism and raised several issues at times which was related to the religion preached and practiced in those days. The challenge to papal supremacy that culminated with the Protestant reformation would have been unthinkable without the contribution of Renaissance humanism. The Italian Renaissance was at times marked by a de-emphasis on religion while emphasizing secularism and individualism among high Church leaders. Printing press facilitated the spread of humanism. Christian humanists of the Northern Renaissance criticized the church and questioned the validity of the Catholic Bible. Textual criticism and new translations of the Bible undermined Catholic authority. Ulrich Zwingli was trained as a humanist and as a preacher he used Erasmus’ edition of the Greek New Testament. John Calvin was influenced by humanism, especially the writings of Erasmus. After Martin Luther’s reformation, humanists turned many monasteries into schools. Political entanglements inevitably created heavy financial demands, and it was the methods used to meet these which created the bitterest hostility and provided the immediate background to the Reformation in Germany in 1517.

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