THE CAUSATIVE AGENTS OF
The Protestant Reformation spawned by Martin Luther in 1517 was actually not the first viable reformation attempt within
the Roman Catholic Church. Since the death of St. Augustine in 430 AD there had been several reformations attempted and completed.
These reforming actions were generally accomplished by the Popes or even the bishops of the Church in a more local community.
The reformation challenged the social, religious and the traditional setting
of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church had flourished relationally and financially during the period
prior to the reformation that we often refer to as the European Renaissance (1300 – 1517 AD). During the Renaissance
people had contributed cheerfully to both the infrastructure of the church and to the priesthood. The laity took pride in
their local churches, often paying for the decorations of the elaborate church altars, and often purchasing side altars in
the name of their families to make a dominant representation not only in the community, but also in the actual setting of
the Roman Church was very diverse in its applications, and representations. There were many variations in worship, local traditions
and even in its various relationships with Papal authority in Rome. During the Renaissance the traditions of the Church often were the primary source for interpreting the Scriptures. This would be one of
the main catalyst for change by the reformers during the Reformation. The Scriptures
themselves would be used to interpret the traditions of the Church by those protesting the church. The reformation never rejected “tradition” completely, but it made the Bible the norm by which traditions could be interpreted.
the surface of the pseudo-contentedness of the Roman Church, there were two foundational criticisms that were generally discussed
amongst the laity (non-religious) of the church. There was basically no other options when it came to church preference or
religious life for the vast majority of the European population, so it was only a matter of time until an attitude of discontent
would boil over in some form of desired adjustment or reform.
of the major criticisms that came out of the laity was that of the moral behavior in the Catholic priesthood, including the
bishops and the various religious orders and their leaders. Often times the priests and bishops would have a concubine living
with them somewhat out of sight. Since they were supposed to be celebant this gave them the appearance of “living in
sin”. In some communities it was overlooked, but in the vast majority of parishes it was often severely frowned on by
Many of the monks and nuns residing in the local monasteries were considered to be lazy, irresponsible simply living
off of the supportive donations of the laity, and not accomplishing the necessary responsibilities thought to be pertinent
to their obligations in spiritual growth and life in the Church. Some contemplative orders were especially criticized because
of the very nature of their existence. These contemplative groups live most of their lives sequestered in the monastery or
convent, dedicated to meditation and prayer.
The laity also issued a typical criticism of the sacramental system. The early dissenters and reformers (William Tyndale and Jan Hus) of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries had sown the seeds of such thinking regarding
the practicality of a two-sacramental system (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper)
as more Biblically enforceable then were the typically accepted seven sacraments.
was also the doctrinal issue of sin, and its relationship to eternal life and destiny. There were three basic ways in which
the mortal soul experienced the transition into eternity. To die “in grace”
meant the baptized Christian go directly to heaven. To be “in grace” meant that one was in a state of complete
repentance and right relationship with God through Christ.
If a person would die harboring unconfessed mortal sin, a sin which
requires the sinner to cognitively choose to reject the Biblical moral laws of the Bible, they would go directly to hell,
without entering purgatory first. If a person would die in venial sin, a more
personal and attitudinally focused unconfessed wrong, they would go to purgatory, where their sins would be purged from them
so as to make them enter eternal bliss in heaven with God. Since the doctrine of purgatory
cannot be articulately discerned from Scripture, it caused the people of the Church rely solely on the Church’s tradition
to sustain this doctrinal.
Another irritant that contributed to the Protestant Reformation was that of
the selling of indulgences. This is probably the most notable cause rendered for the initiation of the Reformation
of the 16th century. Indulgences were sold and often given to those who produced monetary offerings and/or good
works for the benefit of the Roman Church. When this was done, an official certificate of sorts was issued to the recipient,
which in some measure and to effect gave them “time off for good behavior” in purgatory.
were not new to the Renaissance. Many of the crusades were initiated by the issuance of indulgences to the military participants.
Others who gave of their resources, talents and skills in the building of the massive cathedrals and churches across Europe
for several centuries received indulgences as partial or complete compensation for their contribution.
Indulgences were not sold in the marketplace like a loaf of bread, as commonly taught by many contemporary fundamentalist
evangelical Protestants. They were often petitioned for by the desiring laity, and sometimes the Church refused to issue them.
Were there abuses when it came to the selling of indulgences. No doubt there definitely were abuses throughout the Holy Roman
Empire. But, what we must realize is that the problem was not the central issue or the massive syndrome that it has been made
out to be over the last five hundred years.
Finally the last major issue was that of Canon (Church) Law. These are the traditions by which the church ruled and
ordered the society it was directly connected to. The Roman Church was deeply engrained in local and regional politics, both
monetarily and governmentally since the crowning of King Charlemagne as King of the Holy Roman Empire on Christmas day of
the year 800 AD by Pope Leo II. The issues that entangled “Church and State” were complex and deep and often pulled
on each other for support and power. These were the concerns that were first and foremost on the minds of concerned parishioners
throughout the European continent and the British Isles.
one of the most vital catalyst’s for the initiation came from the hand of a Christian humanist/philosopher named Desiderius
Erasmus. Erasmus translated the Vulgate Latin Bible back into Greek for scholarly use. It became the tool that Martin Luther,
William Tyndale and Thomas Bilney all used to draw their theological and ecclesiastical interpretations of Scripture from.
It has been said that Erasmus laid the egg of reformation by translating the
New Testament into Greek for scholastic use. Luther hatched it by using the Erasmus
text to define his 95 Theses in 1517.
Luther’s act of nailing the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany was not an act of rebellion,
but a simple invitation for scholarly and theological debate that had been done by many others, many times before over various
issues that needed to be addressed. Luther’s timing and content