The Protestant Reformation Term Paper

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The Protestant Reformation began as a movement by one monk to correct the injustices of the Catholic Church. Its roots, however, ran much deeper than that. The Northern Christian Humanists of centuries before believed that the Christian faith had once been a simple religion, twisted and distorted through time and incompetent papal authority. Although Martin Luther meant only to make corrections in the flawed faith, a split occurred in the Christian Church. From the rapid spread of Reformation ideas, it is obvious that others were concerned with the welfare of the Church as well. Reformers such as Zwingli and Calvin became popular and vied for the right to practice their religion openly. Unfortunately, the religious activities of the time were so entangled in the economic, social, and political forces of the time, that what started as a statement ended as a revolution in the Christian Church. The economy of the time was a hard mix of prosperity among the upper and middle classes, and extreme poverty throughout the majority of the land and peasants. Because the economic prosperity of the late 15th and 16th centuries did not directly affect the lower class, who were kept in submission by lords and extreme taxation, the peasants embraced new forms of religion. The Anabaptists were a group of laborers who were adversely affected by the economic change of the age. They felt that the church should be a voluntary association of believers who were all equal. Such radical ideas could be linked to the dissatisfaction among the lower class and peasants. Parish priests, however, were also unhappy with the unfairness of the Church. While they suffered with the commoners to pay their bills, the Pope and cardinals were enjoying a life of luxury at their expense. They were continually subjected to new taxes to benefit the Pope and Rome, and were threatened with excommunication and certain damnation if they resisted. Increasingly, one could buy titles of significance in the Church while it was nobles who were usually the officials selected to fill the highest positions such as cardinals. The hawking of indulgences for the Pope's building fund for a new basilica in Rome was what truly angered Martin Luther into action. The acquisition of these indulgences supposedly assured one's time in purgatory to be shortened. Martin Luther, however, contested that there was biblical reference neither to indulgences nor to purgatory. He maintained that these indulgences were being forced on people already laden with huge economic burdens, simply to build up the Pope's treasury and to create funds to build St. Peters Basilica. The social activities of the era were also catalysts for reform in the church. The Northern Christian humanists had studied early Christian writings and determined that the church's theology had been clouded over many ears with certain untrue dogma. In order to purify the Church, they felt that society would need to be educated and a return to true Christianity would be initiated. Followers of the Devotio Moderna, or Modern Devotion, held the view that traditional beliefs should be de-emphasized in favor of a more direct and personal approach to religion. While this was not a huge movement, it laid the groundwork for the Protestant feelings of directness with God. Priests were not needed to talk to God; it could be done by anyone through prayer. In addition, the Address to the Nobility of the German Nation, Martin Luther cited the Pope's claim to be the only one who could interpret scripture. Appealing to people's individuality, Luther deduced that the Bible should be interpreted by each person in his or her own manner. In addition, his new form of religion ended the common worry of 'What must I do to be saved?' He outlined a simple guideline that should be followed for salvation: faith alone. His message was received quickly by the sympathetic Germans.


Also, there were intense political movements, which helped countries to embrace Protestant ideas. The Pope claimed to be the head of Christendom. This meant that he, in essence, had universal temporal authority over all secular rulers and their people. It greatly angered the German princes to be held accountable to a higher authority, but they were often subdued because, "The bolt of excommunication is ever in readiness". The Protestant Church allowed the act of governing to be done by the secular rulers alone without papal interference. The Catholic Church's assertion that the church is superior to the state was replaced with the Church being dependent on and coexisting with the state. Anabaptists went so far as to totally separate church and state. The members of the radical group were not even allowed to hold a political office. Also, Germany had a long tradition of dissatisfaction with papal policies and power, and had grown independent of the Holy Roman Emperor's authority. Likewise, even the Catholic portions of Germany did not want to be held accountable to the emperor. Similarly, in Switzerland the Catholic Church was removed with the consent of secular authorities. These governments realized that they enhanced their own strength by refusing to answer to a higher ruler such as Holy Roman Emperor. The underlying causes of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century were economic, social, and political in nature. Financial burdens, humanist ideas, and corrupt popes set the stage for a Europe that was ready to welcome change. These changes gave more power to the local rulers and even the people themselves. Allowing church and state to exist together peacefully ended some religious arguments as well as prevented hostilities in the future. The severing of the Christian church had consequences that were both positive and negative. An affirmative action was the Counter Reformation, which the Catholic Church experienced as a result of the schism the Christian Church underwent. Negatively, however, persecutions of Protestant sects persisted for many years causing thousands of people to flee their homelands in search of religious freedom. Overall, the Protestant Reformation opened new avenues of thought and prepared Europe for even more changes that were soon to come.

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