The Reformation: Religious and Cultural Change Essay

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The Reformation: Religious and Cultural Change
Heading into the Sixteenth century, the Roman Catholic Church was undoubtedly the dominating religious power in Europe. This was the time before the Great Reformation, begun by theologian and monk, Martin Luther. Martin Luther challenged the Catholic Church and its practices, hierarchy, and Biblical interpretation. The accepting and all class incorporation of the ideologies of the Reformation, effective propaganda used by Luther and other reformers, and powerful factions that developed from the Reformation lead to these new ideas being spread throughout Europe and the Americas. The Protestant Reformation destroyed religious unity of Western Europe. Scholars, and for the first time scholars challenged the Catholic Church with new ideas on Christianity. This impacted several things throughout Europe such as the ability of the middle and lower classes having access to the Bible, the view of Christianity throughout Europe and America, and a change in art from a religious theme to a more secular view. The middle class started listening to men like Luther and his theory of “justification by faith”, and they revolted against the church. The man who stared the Reformation was Martin Luther, due to his concern with the possibility of achieving salvation. In 1517, Luther began to criticize the power and corruption of the Pope and the Catholic Church. Even before the groundbreaking work of Martin Luther, there was an overriding displeasure with several facets of the Catholic Church. A main source of this corruption within the church was the abuse of power by the Popes, the highest office held in the Catholic Church. A form of this that came to light was the practice of indulgences, which was forgiveness from God given by the Pope that had begun to be sold to Christians to fund the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica. The idea of money cleansing the soul of the sinner did not sit well with many and was looked upon as one of the ways the Catholic Church had become corrupt. These types of corruption were the perfect social backdrop for, and a main reason for, the quick spread of Protestantism. In other words, people were looking for a change in the Catholic Church, and when that change came, it was spread quickly. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted the famous 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg. The theses’ stated the faults of the church, and were very bold about Luther’s view of the corruption. Luther developed an order of theology known as "justification by faith" meaning that there was nothing that the believer couldn't do to earn salvation, apart from having faith and that only Jesus Christ could grant salvation. These theses’ were widely distributed and read while more and more people began to understand that the indulgences and strict rules were deplorable. In 1518, Luther was charged with heresy and was given 60 days to appear in Rome, during which he refused to recant his theses’. Three years later in April 1521, he was forced to appear in front of Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms, where “Luther and all his followers, known as Lutherans were outlawed.” (Sayre 566) With his life in danger Luther went into hiding at Frederick’s Wartburg Castle. During this time Luther translated the Bible into vernacular German so that the Bible would be “available to ordinary people, in the language they spoke on the street, so that they could meditate for themselves its meaning without the intervention of a priest.” (Sayre 566) These theses’ were a form of revolt, and perhaps the first and most imperative advancement Martin ever made as a reformer.
The dissatisfaction of influential citizens of Europe was crucial to the spread of the ideals of the Reformation because it was these officials that often decided if the propaganda and ideologies of Protestantism would be allowed to be practiced and acted upon by the lower classes in which they possessed much influence. The