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4.3 Causes of the Reformation

There were several instances of injustice practiced by the church. Yet it was difficult to openly criticize or defy its teachings. The manifestations of discontent against the church began long before Martin Luther challenged the church. Thus there were several causes, both remote and immediate, for the outbreak of the Reformation. The following were the remote causes of the Reformation:

Spirit of Inquiry

The transition from the medieval to the modern period involved changes in every field in Europe. The church was bound to feel the impact of these changes. The original thinking of certain scholars led to the rise of a spirit of inquiry. People began to question the church and its teachings owing to the Renaissance movement, the revival of the secular and human spirit of ancient Greece and Rome, the geographical discoveries, the Crusades, the contact with the east as well as the scientific inventions and discoveries.

However the clergy discouraged any criticism which was severely dealt with. Thus, in the 13th century, the Albigenses of southern France criticized the Christian priesthood and were wiped out by indiscriminate massacres. The followers of Peter Waldo, known as the Waldensians, criticized the luxurious life led by the clergy. But they managed to survive despite severe persecution.

The Decline in the Prestige of the Pope

The Pope’s power began to decline gradually, with the rise of powerful Kings. For example, the French King Philip IV (1285-1314) succeeded in establishing the right to tax church property, inspite of severe opposition by the Pope. He also compelled the Pope to reside at Avignon in France, instead of at Rome, after the Pope’s interference in his political affairs. This ’Babylonian Captivity’ lasted for 70 years and greatly damaged the Pope’s prestige and power.

The election of two Popes, one by the Italian Cardinals and another by the French Cardinals, created a further setback. In 1409, a third Pope was elected by a joint sitting of the two groups of Cardinals, creating further confusion. The Great Schism arose since Christians in Western Europe were divided in their recognition of the three Popes. The matter was settled in 1417 when a new Pope was elected and accepted by all, at the Church Council of Constance. However, the power of the Pope further declined owing to this Schism and more criticism.

Moral Opposition

During the 14th and 15th centuries, strong criticism was leveled against certain practices of clergymen whose lives were regarded as scandalous and immoral. Several scholars raised their voices in opposition to certain Catholic teachings and practices. Among them was John Wye (1320-1384), an English priest and professor in the University of Oxford who declared that the Pope was not Christ’s representative on earth, but an anti-Christ. He did not believe that monasticism was not a true part of Christianity, or that the sacraments were effective when an evil and wicked clergy administered them. He also felt that individual Christians should only be guided by what they read in the Bible. He recommended that the Church should be subordinate to the State. Wye is regarded as the "Morning star of the Reformation", since he challenged the church, a hundred and fifty years before Martin Luther. Inspite of being condemned by the Pope, Wye had many followers including country gentlemen, politicians and poor people. His followers known as the Lollards grew in numbers in England. The English Kings, Henry IV and Henry V, tried to stop the spread of the Lollard movement through fines, imprisonment and burning.

After Wye’s death, his writings were spread in Bohemia by John Huss, a priest and professor in the University of Prague. The Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund invited John Huss to attend a general church council at Constance where he was burned at the stake in 1415. This led to a popular outbreak in Czechoslovakia. The Hussite Wars lasted for many years and led to several concessions by the Pope, before the restoration of the Catholic Church in that region.

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4.0 Introduction
4.1 Meaning
4.2 Importance of the Reformation
4.3 Causes of the Reformation
4.4 Spread of Protestantism
4.5 The Counter Reformation
4.6 Consequences of the Reformation
4.7 Dates & Events
4.8 Points to Remember

Chapter 5


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