The Reformation

 

Terms & People

Reformation       

Infallibility 

Predestination

Council of Pisa  

Transubstantiation      

Theocracy

Council of Constance 

Consubstantiation        

Act of Supremacy

Great Schism       

Protestant 

Counter-Reformation

Simony      

Lutheran   

Society of Jesus

Indulgence

Peace of Augsburg  

Inquisition

Ninety-Five Theses       

Calvinism

Wyclif        

Hus  

Luther

Tetzel        

Zwingli      

Calvin

Loyola

Significant Dates

1417    Council of Constance

1517     Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses

1555    Peace of Augsburg

                       

Chapter Outline

Earlier Threats to Church Influence

Abuses Within the Church

External Forces Weakening the Church

John Wyclif and John Hus

Martin Luther - Indulgences and Their Abuse

Luther’s Protest

Origin of the Protestant (Lutheran) Church

Calvinism

The Reformation in England

The Catholic Reformation or Counter—Reformation

 

The Reformation

The Reformation, or the challenge to papal authority, was inevitable as conditions changed in Europe, as men’s physical and intellectual horizons widened. The Catholic Church had performed great services for man­kind, but it could not continue to be both a religious and a political institution, because rising nationalities would not accept political interference from outside their own boundaries. In an age when middle class interests of trade and profit could be better protected by strong national governments, men would criticize the loss of national wealth through money payments to Rome, and directives from Rome that might appear to conflict with national interests. There were other causes for the growing struggle between King and Church, many of them the natural results of a changing world, some because of internal differences with the Church itself.

 

Earlier Threats to Church Influence

The new movements in literature, the emphasis upon individualism, and the growing consciousness of nationalism, all, directly or indirectly, threatened the position of the Church. One of the most serious disputes occurred in the late thirteenth century, when the French king, Philip IV, objected to the Pope’s contention that Philip could not tax the French clergy. The pope finally gave in, but the conflict resulted in Philip’s securing the election of a French clergyman as pope, and the moving of the papal court from Rome to Avignon in France. For nearly seventy years (1309 - 1377) the popes lived in Avignon in what was called the Babylonian Captivity in reference to the time when king Nebuchadrezza of Babylon took the people of Judah as captives to Babylon.

Papal prestige suffered severely, and many people resented the demands for funds for the new papal court in France. Furthermore, a French pope could lead not only to religious interference in the affairs of other countries but also political interference. In 1378 an Italian clergyman was elected pope by the College of Cardinals, the French cardinals elected their man at Avignon, and a third one was finally elected in 1409 A.D. at the Council of Pisa where 500 prelates and delegates from the states of Europe attempted to resolve the problem. Finally in 1417 A.D. the Council of Constance was able to secure the election of a pope which ended the Great Schism in the Church.

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Abuses Within the Church

But abuses had developed within the Church itself. Popes had become patrons of art as a consequence of the Renaissance, levied tithes of about 10 per cent on incomes, had permitted simony, the sale of church positions and Offices, and even allowed the sale of indulgences to help the building of St. Peter’s in Rome. This was the issue which Martin Luther was to criticize so severely.

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External Forces Weakening the Church

There were other forces destroying the unity of the Church, forces out­side the control of the Church, and largely the result of changing times and conditions.

(l) The Church had too much political power, (2) it was taking too much wealth from European countries to Rome, a loss of money which hindered trade in those countries, (3) it weakened royal authority by threats of excommunication and interdict, (4) it was regarded by many people as a foreign influence interfering in national affairs, (5) in an age of rising mid­dle classes and capitalism it frowned upon interest and profit, (6) and there were outbreaks of so-called heresy in religious teachings and prac­tices that did not conform to doctrines approved by the Church. Some of the heretical teachings were no more than attempts to maintain the prestige and power of the Church by trying to reform abuses.

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John Wyclif and John Hus

John Wyclif and his Lollards believed that the Church should be subord­inate to the State, and that salvation was a matter between man and his God. Another heretic was John Hus who was burned at the stake for similar beliefs.

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Martin Luther (1483—1546 A.D.)

The founder of the Protestant Reformation, the religious revolt by which the universal authority of the Church was destroyed, was Martin Luther.

The issue appeared to have been a simple one which the Pope could easily have resolved. Luther became a professor of theology at Wittenberg University, recently founded by the Elector of Saxony. Into the neighborhood came Tetzel, a Dominican friar granting indulgences in exchange for money to be used to complete St. Peter’s in Rome. Indulgences properly used could serve a very sound purpose. If the sinner were genuinely sorry and performed some penitential act, such as contributing to a charity or going on a pilgrimage, then other penances might be remitted or excused. Early indulgences had been issued to Crusaders who were excused from further penances. Unfortunately, lazy or corrupt churchmen abused indulgences by selling them as substitutes for penances.

Catholics like Luther did not at first deny the Pope’s right to issue indulgences, but they did believe that if indulgences were wrongly used then people would believe that all penances were removed by the mere payment of money. Martin Luther wished simply to reform the abuse of indulgences because he could not reconcile the sale of indulgences with a statement in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, The Just shall live by faith. This, Luther believed, meant that only sincere faith could lead to salvation. Such a position threatened the authority of the Church, which taught that a priest was a necessary intermediary between man and God. Were Luther ‘s point of view carried to its logical conclusion, then sincere faith would not need the services of the priest.

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Luther’s Protest

Luther invited public discussion by posting on the door of the Wittenberg Church his Ninety-Five Theses or propositions, in 1517. Luther was convinced that indulgences were harmful to good Catholics because people were putting their trust in an indulgence which by itself could do no good.

An indulgence cannot remit guilt, he wrote, and found himself in direct conflict with the Pope. Luther had not intended to cast any doubt upon the authority of the Pope, but he had in fact done Just that, since his argu­ments meant that he placed conscience and faith in the Bible above the infallibility of the Pope. If people believed that sincere faith was enough to achieve salvation, then they would no longer regard the intercession of the priest as necessary, or even recognize the Pope as head of the Church.

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Origin of the Protestant (Lutheran) Church

Summoned to appear at Worms to explain his conduct, he refused the order to recant. Within a few days he was excommunicated from the Church and declared to be an outlaw. By this time he was busy on his translation of the Bible into German, so that the people could follow his arguments on the authority of the Bible. He denounced the wealth of the Church, urged that money contributed by the German people for religious purposes should remain in Germany, and organized a completely new church separate from Rome. Much of the Catholic doctrine remained, but the basic changes were the elimination of confession, and a radical difference in the communion service. The Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, the miracle of the changing of the ceremonial wine and wafer into the blood and body of Christ, was changed to consubstantiation which holds that while the wine and wafer remain as such, they contain the real presence of Christ.

The early protests of Luther had now resulted in a separate church of his followers, the protestant Church.

Unfortunately, the act of denying the authority of the Pope led to bloodshed, for some princely supporters of Luther took the opportunity to seize church lands and wealth for themselves. Support of Protestantism became in some instances an excuse for plunder. In Germany peasant leaders took the opportunity to demand better conditions, and attempted to overthrow serfdom. Uprisings against landlords threatened the religious revolt, and Luther felt obliged to advocate severe measures against the thieving and murderous peasants.

The followers of Luther, known as Lutherans, organized local congregations, worshipped frequently in the same churches in which they had worshipped as Catholics, and translated the Bible into German and distributed thousands of copies to the people.

The Emperor was obliged to agree to the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 A.D. which provided that the ruler of each German state, and there were 300 of them, should decide whether his subjects should be Catholics or Lutherans. This was not religious toleration, since the people had no choice but to follow the religion their rulers dictated. However, Lutheranism was accepted by some German states as the official religion, and thus it became firmly established in parts of Germany.

In the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, Lutheranism became the official religion, and Roman Catholic church property was surrendered to the rulers. In Switzerland Zwingli broke with the Catholic Church and established Lutheranism.

Once a breach had been made, other religious groups developed, for if man could seek his own salvation then he could decide what form his religious worship should take.

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Calvinism

Another famous Protestant leader was John Calvin (1509 -1564 A.D.) who preached the doctrine of Predestination, that God, who knows the past, the present, and the future, must always know which men will be saved and which shall be eternally damned. Calvin became the virtual dictator of the city of Geneva, which became a theocracy, a state ruled by a church, since only those whom Calvin regarded as the faithful could vote and hold office in Geneva. There never was such a busybody in a position of high authority, wrote Preserved Smith.

Being a dictator, Calvin suffered no opinion but his own, with a consequence that during five years fifty-eight heretics were executed and over seventy were banished. Nevertheless, for both religious and political reasons Calvinism flourished and spread into England and into France, where Calvin’s followers were known as Huguenots.

The present-day Presbyterian, Congregational, and other religious denominations contain the basic features of Calvinism laid down by Calvin in his Institutes of Religion: simple worship, Bible readings, a sermon, prayers, and hymns.

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The Reformation in England

In England the Roman Catholic Church had long been criticized, and Eng­lishmen demanded that the English church, retaining Catholic ritual, be controlled by the nation. Circumstances provided the opportunity for the break. Henry VIII (1509-1547 A.D.), who had received from the Pope the title of Defender of the Faith for denouncing Luther, now in turn denounced the Pope. Henry wanted an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, whom he had married eighteen years earlier. He appealed to the Pope, but that dignitary, anxious not to offend Catherine’s nephew Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and powerful king of Spain, hesitated to satisfy Henry, who decided to act himself. He persuaded an English court to grant the divorce, and parliament to pass in 1534 the Act of Supremacy which de­clared the king to be the head of the official Church of England, which still accepted Catholic ritual. Later, it was to sever its connections with the Catholic doctrine and become a Protestant institution. Its practices were in time adopted by the Episcopal Church of the United States. It must be said that while many persons supported the English Reformation on reli­gious grounds, others supported it because they were rewarded with some of the valuable church property seized by Henry VIII and Judiciously shared with others.

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The Catholic Reformation or Counter-Reformation

With much of northern Europe becoming Protestant, the Catholic Church set out to reform its own internal abuses and to wage an active fight on behalf of its basic faith. The Catholics refer to this as the Catholic Reformation; the Protestants call it the Counter - Reformation.

From Spain came the essential and necessary missionary spirit. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) a soldier, became a militant crusader for the Catholic Church and founded the Society of Jesus, a new monastic order which par­ticipated actively in the world. For two hundred years the Jesuits were the chief teachers of Catholic Europe, conducting hundreds of schools, acting as confessors to ruling families, and becoming involved actively in politics. They were the active missionaries of the Counter Reformation, prepared to intrigue and to use force whenever necessary.

The Holy Office, or Inquisition, was the chief agent of the Church for the repression of heresy. Holding secret trials, and turning condemned heretics over to the secular government to be burned, it maintained a brutal reign of terror and successfully stamped out all heresy in Italy and Spain. It had little success north of the Alps, and by the end of the six­teenth century both it and the Counter Reformation had spent their force. The religious map of Europe was clearly defined, and in each country, whether Catholic or Protestant, the church was closely identified with national interests

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-from How to Prepare for the College Board Achievement Test: European History and World Cultures, by Leonard F. James, Barron's Educational Series, Inc., New York, 1968.