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Protestant Reformation Essay

996 words - 4 pages

The renaissance period marked radical changes in many fields, this includes religion. The so-called Protestant Reformation was the split within western Christian Church initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other early Protestants. Calls for reform came form all sectors of the European society and it is this dissatisfaction that explains why the ideas of Martin Luther evoked such extreme responses, there was already a ready audience. Although there had been significant attempts at reform before Luther, the date usually given for the start of the Protestant Reformation is 1517, when Luther published The Ninety-Five Theses. As he developed his ideas, Luther gathered followers, who came to be called Protestants. The word protestant derives from “protest” drawn up by a small group of reforming German princes in 1529. At first Protestant meant a “follower of Luther”, but with the appearance of many protesting sects, it became a general term applied to all non-Catholic western European Christians. Within the first decade of the publishing of his ideas much of central Europe and Scandinavia had broken from the Roman Catholic Church. While much of the reformation is credited to Martin Luther, one can argue that it is more the combination of him during that specific time along with the development of a more sophisticated printing press that led to the ‘success’ of the reformation.

By the time Martin Luther started publishing his ideas there not only existed great dissatisfaction among the European Christian community but the new technology of printing press allowed for the spread of his ideas. Many printed works included woodcuts and other illustrations, so that even those who could not read could grasp the main ideas. Hymns were also important means of conveying central points of doctrine, as was Luther’s translation of the New Testament into German in 1523. Sixteenth-century Europeans were deeply pious. Despite- or perhaps because of- the depth of their piety, many people were highly critical of the Roman Catholic Church and its clergy. Papal conflicts with rulers and the Great Schism (was a split within the Catholic Church from 1378 to 1418. Several men simultaneously claimed to be the true pope. Driven by politics rather than any theological disagreement) badly damaged the prestige of the church leaders. Papal tax collection methods were also attacked, and some criticized the papacy itself as an institution. Court records, written descriptions of bishop’s visitations of parishes and even popular songs and printed images show widespread anticlericalism, or opposition to the clergy.

Much of the criticism towards the Roman Catholic Church was administrative rather than theological. In the early 16th century critics of the church concentrated their attacks on clerical immorality, clerical ignorance and clerical absenteeism. Charges of clerical immorality were aimed at a number of priests who were drunkards, neglected the rule of celibacy,...

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