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The Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation marked a time of great religious, social and political upheaval. For the first time in history the Christian church was permanently shattered. The Reformation originated from a trend in returning to the biblical days of Christianity and a renewal of morality. Unfortunately the Catholic religious leaders didn’t share in the renewal of morality. The Renaissance popes were partially responsible for the decline of the church;however, it was the Church’s past history and changing social, political and economic factors that lead to the Reformation’s sucess.

Commercialization of the Holy See was common for most popes, but , according to Barbra Tuchman, three of these men took particular advantage of the practice. Innocent VII is the earliest acknowledged pope during the Renaissance to have taken liberties with the church’s finances. Although he engaged in the practices of simony and the selling of indulgences, his most noted mistake was raising donations for a Crusade that never took place. In 1486 Innocent announced a crusade, as well as at the same time declaring a tithe on all churches, benefices and ecclesiastical persons of all ranks.

Military lans were drawn up but, in the end, no great army ever assembled or departed from Europe’s shores. Instead, in a twist of irony, the Vatican wound up hosting an infidel in the form of Prince Djem, the sultan’s brother. This arrangement confused the general public and the papal status fell in the eyes of the public. Papal status was further weakened by Innocent’s successor Alexander VI. Alexander thrived on simony. He acquired the office of pope by buying out his chief rivals and openly boasted about this feat. Alexander went on to sell a total of 43 cardinalships, including to his own family.

After the murder of his ldest son, Alexander was inspired in a proposed Bull to try to reform the church by reducing the incomes of the cardinals as well as mend other wicked ways; however, provisions caused Alexander to return to normal and he never issued the Bull. Perhaps if the Church had reformed during Alexander’s reign, Leo X would never have taken office. Leo is most noted for writing to his brother “God has given us the papacy-let us enjoy it”. Leo took this credo to heart and was considered the most extravagant pope and one of the great spenders of his time. He is most known for commissioning the rebuilding of St.

Peter’s, as well as several well known works of art, and for his continuous festivities during his reign. In order to fund his expenditures his chancery created 2000 salable offices, grossing an estimated total of 3 million ducats. Unfortunately this sum still proved insufficient for Leo’s largesse. He poured countless amounts of money into idle wars and lavish displays. At his death he left the Papacy over 800,000 ducats worth of debts. His enormous expenditures left the Church in the lowest possible state of repute with the public and gave Martin Luther the right atmosphere to revolt.

The church’s reputation continued to decline because of the corruption of church institutions. Plural holding of offices lead to absenteeism and the practice of ad commendam. The first Renaissance pope, Sixtus IV, took great advantage of appointing whomever he wanted in the College of Cardinals in the interest of political favor. He often chose the younger sons of great families, giving no thought to whether or not they were qualified to hold the position. He gave the archiepiscopal see of Lisbon to an eight year old child and the see of Milan to an eleven year old boy, both sons of princes.

During his 13 years of ule he “so thoroughly secularized the College that his successors followed his example as if it were the rule”(74). The College of Cardinals became a bastion for power hungry individuals. Most cardinals were of high class families who bought the rank. Conditions in the College declined during Innocent VIII’s rule. As secularization advanced appointments were given more frequently to laymen, sons and brothers of princes or designated agents of secular kings and monarchs of which none had any sort of ecclesiastical training.

Perhaps the greatest example of buying ones way up the ladder is Giovanni de Medici, made abbot at ge eight and later to become the fifth Renaissance pope, Leo X. Absenteeism occurred as cardinals collected many different bishoprics, abbeys and other benefices as a way to augment their incomes. In the words of Lorenzo de Medici the College of Cardinals was a “sink of all iniquity” full of men with high incomes and low morals. As corrupt morally as the cardinals were, the popes proved themselves to be their equals in corruption. The highest church officials waved away their vows of chastity and every pope used the office to enrich his family.

The pope to set the stage for nepotism was Sixtus IV. During his time in office he bestowed the red hat of a cardinal on five nephews and a grandnephew, made another a Bishop and used his influences to marry of four of his nephews and two of his nieces into the ruling families of Italy. Sixtus’ favorite nephew, Pietro Riario, led a movement of uninhibited licentiousness and extravagance in the College of Cardinals. This situation was not new : however, whereas other popes made an effort to retard the moral decline, Sixtus did nothing.

Eight years later one of the most morally corrupt cardinals in the College became pope Alexander VI. Alexander “proved as close to the prince of darkness as human beings are likely to come” (Tuchman,88). Alexander literally seemed to thrive on sin. Perhaps his best known and most depraved incident was his participation in the Ballet of Chestnuts. There, guests danced and crawled around on the floor of the Vatican naked, then afterwards were rewarded for coupling most often with courtesans while Alexander, Cesare and Lucretia Borgia looked on. The Ballet is but a small part of Alexander’s depravity.

He loved committing adultery, and preferred his mistresses marry. He fathered three children as a cardinal and our others while he was pope, the most famous of these being Cesare Borgia and Lucretia Borgia. Alexander used his power in order to ensure the best marriages for his children and a triumphant career as a leader for Cesare. The last Renaissance pope to use his office to advance family fortune was Leo X. Having no children of his own, Leo focused his efforts on his first cousin Giulio, bastard son of Giuliano de Medici. First he legitimized Giulio’s birth through an affadavit.

The boy went on to become a Cardinal and ,later on, the last Renaissance pope, Clement VII. Overall, Leo distributed five cardinalships among is cousins and nephews. Problems broke out when Leo decided to obtain the duchy of Urbino for his nephew Lorenzo. He poured thousands of ducats into an empty war on Urbino, leaving the Papacy in financial wreck. The Papacy was too entrenched in its own lack of morality to provide any sort of spiritual guide for the commoners. The biggest crime of the Renaissance papacy, according to Tuchman, was politicization of the Holy See.

As a major landowner in Europe the Church also functioned as a political power. The popes’ greatest mistake was to entangle themselves in numerous political alliances instead of tending towards the piritual concerns of their followers. The first pope to introduce this “period of unabashed, unconcealed, relentless pursuit of personal gain and power politics”(Tuchman,73)was Sixtus IV. He is most famous for his involvement in the Pazzi conspiracy. In anger towards the violence of the Medici’s punishment of the Pazzi, he excommunicated Lorenzo de Medici and all of Florence.

This use of spiritual power for secular purposes blackened Sixtus reputation because of the harm done to the Florentines and their economy, and because his reaction raised suspicions about the pope’s personal involvement in the conspiracy. Sixtus eign was so “rancorous” that after his death Rome exploded into three weeks of riot and plunder. His successor Innocent VIII did no better in the political arena than Sixtus did. Innocent was plagued by the King of Naples constantly harassing the papacy.

When the King’s army marched on Rome, Innocent sought help, arousing France’s interest. The King of Naples was temporarily frightened into a peace agreement, but later on he scorned the Pope and incited many Papal states into rebellion. Innocent drew up a Bull to excommunicate the King but never issued it. The conflict was finally resolved with a marriage between Innocent’s niece and the King’s grandson. This conflict diminished the Papacy’s status. Pamphlets were drawn up calling for an overthrow of the pope and foreign powers became lax in upholding duties towards the church.

When Innocent’s successor Alexander VI took over the papacy, Italy, constantly warring among its states, was an attractive place for France and Spain to exert their power. Upon appointment, Alexander took care of the papacy’s political fences by judiciously marrying two of his children to politically powerful families and expanding the college of cardinals to include appointees from all he powers; however, France still created trouble for the papacy. The French king, Charle’s VII, wanted to act upon the French claim to Naples.

He called a committee to draw up a plan to make his march through Italy look like a crusade for reform of the Church with intent to depose Alexander. The French were triumphant in conquering Florence and they paraded into Rome. Negotiations insued and Alexander granted the French passage through papal territory to Naples. No mention of reform was ever made during discussions. Alexander’s reign was one of extravagance and immorality, not religion. Alexander’s uccessor, Julius II was no better at maintaining the religious and moral standards of the papacy. Julius was known through out his reign as the “Warrior Pope”.

His all consuming passion was the restoration of the “political and territorial integrity” of the Papal States and embellishment of his See. Julius began with a campaign to regain the cities of Romagna, in which he was, through much manipulation, successful. He continued in his goals by fighting to recover Bologna and Perugia. Here the pope stunned Europe and scandalized the Christian community by personally leading his army during battle. Julius’ years as pope ere continuously focused on battle and bloodshed, not the moral safety and guidance of his flock, and the people were becoming increasingly dissatisfied as each pope came and went.

Under Leo X the Protestant Break occurred, permanently shattering united Christianity under the Roman See. Leo was the exact opposite of his predecessor, Julius. Leo enjoyed peace and harmony. He hardly noticed Luther’s revolt in Germany. His only response was to issue a Bull in 1518 excommunicating all who didn’t believe and preach the Pope had the right to sell indulgences. This proclamation was hardly effective, but the Pope was oo busy with his opulent lifestyle to care. At Leo’s death the papacy and the church were left at the “lowest possible repute because of the Lutheran sect” according to historian Francesco Vettori.

The next pope, Clement VII, experienced many hardships during his reign. The German states converted to Lutheranism one by one. Clement alienated England from the Church by refusing to grant Henry VIII a divorce from Charles V’s aunt. Final humiliation came on May 6,1527 with the sack of Rome by Spanish-German forces. Christians terrorized fellow Christians in a riot of fire, pillage, plunder, murder and rape. The sack was the visual representation of how far the image of Rome had sunk and been demeaned by its rulers. It was viewed as divine punishment for the worldly sins of those in the church hierarchy.

Within approximately 64 years the papacy had disgraced the reputation of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church was in decline before the Renaissance popes even took power. During the fourteenth century the popes lived in Avignon, France because of pressure from Phillip the Fair. This period of time is referred to as the Babylonian Captivity. The Babylonian Captivity badly damaged the prestige of the papacy. The seven popes who lived at Avignon focused mainly on bureaucratic not spiritual matters. Italy suffered from the lack of stability the papacy had provided and Rome’s economy became poor from lack of tourists.

Many people pleaded for the papacy to return to Rome. Pope Gregory XI brought the papacy back to Rome but didn’t live to reign. The cardinals elected Urban VI. Urban had excellent intentions for reform; however, he went about his goals in a thoroughly distasteful manner. The cardinals declared Urban excommunicated and elected Clement VII, who set up his administration in Avignon. The Great Schism ad begun. The powers of Europe aligned themselves either with Urban or with Clement, depending solely on political lines. Those countries who supported France aligned with Clement.

The impact of the Northern Renaissance, especially Christian humanism, aided the Protestant reformation.. France’s enemies sided with Urban. The Great Schism confused the common people and weakened the religious faith of many. The Schism was the great scandal that “rent the seamless garment of Christ” as the Church was called. This scandal produced cries for reform. The two colleges of cardinals summoned a council at Pisa to epose both popes and elect another. The council ended in disaster because neither pope would resign, causing a three-way split.

Another council met and succeeded in deposing the Roman pope and the pope at Pisa, limiting the Avignon pope’s influence and electing a new pope, Martin V. Martin dissolved the council, ending the councilor movement. Nothing was done about reform as it ought to have been. Many of the parish priests were uneducated and barely literate. Christian humanists in the north scoffed at how ignorant these men were. Further up the church hierarchy pluralism and, as a result, absenteeism ere becoming permanent problems. Many clerics held many benefices but rarely visited them.

Instead the clerics would pay a parish priest to fulfill the spiritual duties of a particular church. Many of the clerics held secular offices as well as religious benefices and were paid by the church for working for the state, thus downgrading the importance of tending the Christian flock. The Catholic Church was in so much decline that the Renaissance popes were just part of the downfall. Protestant reformers all used ideas and arguments based on the writings of well known Christian humanists. The humanist whose writings formed the basis or most reformers was Erasmus of Rotterdam.

Although quite the Anabaptists were quite radical at times, their views followed some of what Erasmus taught. Erasmus was a confirmed pacifist. In his essay Julius II Excluded from Heaven, Erasmus condemned the warrior pope for his behavior by asking “what kind of monster wears the garment of a priest over the bristle and clink of bloody armor”. Both Erasmus and the Anabaptists believed that to be truly holy one must be a pacifist. The The majority of the Anabaptists were non-violent and made no attempt at revising the social or political order of the world around them.

Other Protestant reformers favored peace but could not attain it. Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss reformer, originally adopted a pacifist attitude towards the world. Unfortunately he had to abandon this view in order to combat the efforts of the Swiss Confederation to resist the spread of Zwinglism. Zwingli later died on the battlefield, fighting to defend his views. The life of Zwingli very much resembled Erasmus’ and Zwingli’s beliefs were based heavily on Erasmus’ writings. Like Erasmus, Zwingli was a Christian humanist schooled in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Zwingli’s interests centered particularly around the Bible.

Erasmus’ Greek edition of the New Testament allowed Zwingli to arrive at the conclusion that much of what the Catholic church preached had no scriptural basis and therefore shouldn’t be followed. Zwingli was also to follow Erasmus’ example in “The Shipwreck” and preach against superstition and veneration of saints. Most of these sermons were aimed at the abuses, not the institution from which the abuses came. Another great sermonizer was the most well known Protestant reformer, Martin Luther. Luther strongly supported “The Shipwreck”‘s argument against the veneration of saints.

In Luther’s religion all saints days were bolished and not even the Virgin Mary was venerated as a saint. Yet another of Erasmus’ ideas Luther adopted was Erasmus’ “Philosophy of Christ”. Erasmus believed “all can be Christian, all can be devout and.. all can be theologians. ” Luther used this philosophy to found one of the major doctrines of Lutheranism: the church consists of the entire community of Christian believers. Luther believed that every man could act as his own preacher. In order to accomplish this everyone must become literate enough to read the Bible.

Luther also abolished the church hierarchy. Later on he would add four types of clergy, but ll jobs remained equal in merit. Luther believed that one didn’t have to be a member of the clergy to attain salvation. G-d was a merciful G-d and salvation was granted through G-d’s action, not good works. Erasmus’s beliefs supported and aided many of the Protestant sects beginnings. As far back as the fourteenth century church doctrine was being challenged. One of the earliest reformers was John Wycliff during the early fourteenth century. Wycliff identified the Catholic church as “the anti-Christ”.

Wycliff and his followers, the Lollards, met an untimely death for their heresy. John Hus, fifteenth century Bohemian reformer, was also killed for his preachings against the church. Both of these men appeared in the wrong place and at the wrong time to be able to be much of an influence on the Church. It wasn’t until the sixteenth century, when German reformer Martin Luther appeared, that any motions towards a reformation occurred. Martin Luther, much like Hus, was a man of peasant background and great courage. Luther’s conflict with the Catholic church began with his attack on indulgences.

He invited discussion about indulgences by posting his famous Ninety five Thesis on the door of Wittenburg Castle. In this document Luther stated “The pope has no power to remit any guilt except by declaring it… remitted by G-d” (Thesis 6) In this statement Luther stated what was to be one of the two pillars of the Protestant movement: People are saved by the decision of G-d alone. The other pillar was the idea of solo fide: by faith alone does G-d send man his grace. Luther rejected the Catholic notion that salvation relied upon good works, such as fasting and pilgrimages.

Luther argued that such things “can be done an impious person and only hypocrites are produced by devotion to these things. Faith was the only way man could achieve salvation in Luther’s view. Luther also emphasized that, being the word of G-d, Scriptures were the final authority on religion. In Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our G-d”, he wrote “God’s Word forever shall abide/ No thanks to foes, who fear it”. Whereas in Catholicism the Latin Vulgate is the final authority in Scripture, Luther argued that every man could interpret Scripture for himself.

To aid in this task Luther had the Bible translated into German. He rejected the church hierarchy, as well, in favor of a “priesthood of believers”. To Luther, all work was sacred. One didn’t have to become a monk or priest to serve G-d in his occupation. Luther also reduced the number of sacraments from seven to two. The only two sacraments Luther retained were baptism and the Eucharist; however, Luther favored the idea of consubstantiation instead of transubstantation during the Eucharist. Luther’s follower, John Calvin, was the second generation of church reformers.

Like Luther, Calvin also believed in salvation by faith alone; however, Calvin placed more emphasis on God’s omnipotence and man’s insignificance. Calvin also became ost well known for his idea of predestination. Calvin believed that some people, called the elect, were destined to be saved, where as all others, the reprobate, were to be damned. Calvin did, however, identify three indications that one was to be saved: an open profession of faith, a decent and godly life and participation in the two sacraments of baptism and communion. Calvin differed from Luther in believing the Eucharist to be symbolic of Christ’s body and blood.

Luther believed that Christ is present after consecration of the bread and wine. The difference seems insignificant to the outsider, but did resent a difference between Calvinists and Lutherans. Several different reformers’ doctrinal challenges to the Catholic Church caused the Protestant Reformation to succeed and the split between Protestants and Catholics to be permanent. Europe’s economic, social and political climate contributed the most to Luther’s success. Luther was an eloquent, charismatic man who appealed to the many classes. Secular officials resented the privileges the church claimed.

Monks and nuns paid no taxes and were exempt from civil duties. The monasteries where they lived often occupied large amounts of land. Protestantism gave civil officials the right to claim the Church’s land and place clergy under civil law. Intelligent and educated people were dissatisfied with the quality and irregularity of church sermons. As a result, many prosperous burghers paid learned men to deliver about a hundred sermons a year, each lasting forty-five minutes. Luther’s ideas attracted many of these endowed preachers and in certain cities these preachers became Protestant leaders.

Christian humanists were attracted to Luther’s simpler service and his emphasis on a return to the early church. Peasants were attracted by Luther’s tatement ” A Christian man is the most free lord of all and subject to none”. Luther was of peasant stock and he sympathized with the peasants’ plight; however, Luther abandoned his support of the peasantry after they used his statement as an invitation to incite a rebellion. Luther meant that a Christian man only had freedom to obey the Word of God, instead of the Catholic church.

Luther supported the secular rulers and later in his theology subordinated the church to the state. Luther’s theology appealed especially to women as well as the social classes. Luther exalted the home, which he stressed was the domain of he woman. Luther’s argument that all vocations are equal in the eyes of G-d gave dignity to those who performed ordinary, everyday tasks. Protestants abolished the practice of confession and declared sex a natural part of life, freeing women from the embarrassment and guilt of sharing their sex lives with a confessor.

Luther also stressed marriage for clergy members, giving priest’s concubines and mistresses the status of legal and honorable wives. Luther’s idea of educating girls, as well as boys, in the catechism also proved attractive to women. Politically Luther appealed to the German princes. Luther’s translation of the New Testament into German evoked national pride, German nationalism and strong anti-Roman sentiment. This inspired Frederick of Saxony to welcome Luther into Saxony and inspired other princes, such as Phillip of Hesse, to tolerate Protestant reformers.

Luther urged princes to seize the Church’s property and bring about moral reform in the church. The Church owned large tracts of land in Germany and German princes realized the opportunity to gain wealth by breaking from the church. A steady stream of duchies, margravites, free cities and bishoprics became followers of Luther. The Protestant princes llied with one another to form the Schmalkaldic League in order to fight the efforts of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, to return the princes to Catholicism.

The French king, Francis I, supported the Schmalkaldic League in their resistance against Charles. Although Charles won every battle he couldn’t get rid of Protestantism in Germany. The Church’s past history and Europe’s changing political, social and economic climate contributed more to the Reformation’s success than the Renaissance popes did. Had Luther lived in a different time and a different area his Reformation would have been cut down like its predecessors.

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