protestant reformation




The Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church was a major 16th-century religious revolution. A revolution, which ended the ecclesiastical supremacy of the pope in Western Christendom and resulted in the establishment of the Protestant, churches. With the Renaissance that preceded and the French Revolution that followed, the Reformation completely altered the medieval way of life in Western Europe and initiated the era of modern history. Although the movement dates from the early 16th century, when Martin Luther first defied the authority of the church, the conditions that led to his revolutionary stand had existed for hundreds of years and had complex doctrinal, political, economic, and cultural elements. Conditions Preceding Reformation From the Revival of the Holy Roman Empire by Otto I in 962, popes and emperors had been engaged in a continuous contest for supremacy. This conflict had generally resulted in victory for the papal side, but created bitter antagonism between Rome and the German Empire; this antagonism was augmented in the 14th and 15th centuries by the further development of German nationalist sentiment. Resentment against papal taxation and against submission to ecclesiastical officials of the distant and foreign papacy was manifested in other countries of Europe. In England, the beginning of the movement toward ultimate independence from papal jurisdiction was the enactment of the statutes of Mortmain in 1279, Provisors in 1351, and Praemunire in 1393. These statutes greatly reduced the power of the church to withdraw land from the control of the civil government, to make appointments to ecclesiastical offices, and to exercise judicial authority. The 14th-century English reformer John Wycliffe boldly attacked the papacy itself, striking at the sale of indulgences, pilgrimages, the excessive veneration of saints, and the moral and intellectual standards of ordained priests. To reach the common people, he translated the Bible into English and delivered sermons in English, rather than Latin. His teachings spread to Bohemia, where they found a powerful advocate in the religious reformer John Huss. The execution of Huss as a heretic in 1415 led directly to the Hussite Wars, a violent expression of Bohemian nationalism, suppressed with difficulty by the combined forces of the Holy Roman emperor and the pope. The wars were a precursor of religious civil war in Germany in Luther\'s time. In France in 1516, a concordat between the king and the pope placed the French church substantially under royal authority. Earlier concordats with other national monarchies also prepared the way for the rise of autonomous national churches. As early as the 13th century the papacy had become vulnerable to attack because of the greed, immorality, and ignorance of many of its officials in all ranks of the hierarchy. Vast tax-free church possessions, constituting, according to varying estimates, as much as one-fifth to one-third of the lands of Europe, incited the envy and resentment of the land-poor peasantry. The so-called Babylonian Captivity of popes at Avignon in the 14th century and the ensuing Western Schism gravely impaired the authority of the church and divided its adherents into partisans of one or another pope. Church officials recognized the need for reform; ambitious programs for the reorganization of the entire hierarchy were debated at the Council of Constance from 1414 to 1418, but no program gained the support of a majority, and no radical changes were instituted at that time. Humanism, the revival of classical learning and speculative inquiry beginning in the 15th century in Italy during the early Renaissance, displaced Scholasticism as the principal philosophy of Western Europe and deprived church leaders of the monopoly on learning that they had previously held. Laypersons studied ancient literature, and scholars such as the Italian humanist Lorenzo Valla critically appraised translations of the Bible and other documents that formed the basis for much of church dogma and tradition. The invention of printing with movable metal type greatly increased the circulation of books and spread new ideas throughout Europe. Humanists outside Italy, such as Desiderius Erasmus in the Netherlands, John Colet and Sir Thomas More in England, Johann Reuchlin in Germany, and Jacques Lefèvre d\'Étaples in France, applied the new learning to the evaluation of church practices and the development of a more accurate knowledge of the Scriptures. Their scholarly studies laid the basis on which Luther, the French theologian and religious reformer