The Age of Reformation  


During the high Middle Ages, many people in Europe were unhappy with the Roman Catholic Church. The growing resentment toward the church remained a problem throughout the 1500s. Events like the Black Death and wars caused a breakdown of the medieval feudal system, which was centralized under the pope. Independent nation- states began forming during the Renaissance. The merchants and tradesmen wanted to have more control over their lives than the feudal system allowed. Princes and rulers of the new nation-states resented the power of the church, too. Rome was very involved in local politics and made sure that church property and the goods made in monasteries could not be taxed. Rulers of the northern regions were frustrated that a lot of gold was sent to Rome. They felt they could make better use of the money to meet the needs of their growing governments and their people.

By the 1500s, the Roman Catholic Church was the wealthiest and most powerful institution in Europe. Many church leaders lived like kings instead of priests. Most of the church leaders came from the aristocracy and the rich. They lived easy lives of luxury, supported by the poor workers. Humanism, with its worldly ideas, luxury, and immorality, replaced Christian ideals.

As early as the 14th century people started to demand that the church reform or change. The church leaders of the 15th century failed to make the needed changes. The calls for Reformation focused people's attention on existing problems and sometimes even exaggerated them. This added to the public’s general dissatisfaction with the church.

Meanwhile, most of the priests and monks who came into daily contact with ordinary people were peasants from the lower class. Their superiors often failed to train and educate these priests, so people did not respect them. They were poorly educated and could not speak Latin well. Therefore they made a joke of religious services and were not taken seriously.

Martin Luther, a German monk and professor of theology, thought that selling indulgences (or promises of forgiveness of sins) was the church's way to steal money from the people. He made his views public in October 1517, when he nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral. These complaints were just the first of Luther's attacks on the church. His preachings, writings, and speeches broke apart the unity of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther's work led to the establishment of the Protestant groups throughout northern Europe, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and England.





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