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Martin Luther was born in 1483 in Germany. He joined a monastery when he was
twenty-one and became a friar. Luther eventually became upset with the Catholic Church
because he felt it was more interested in making money than in helping people. He
thought that some of the popes acted like ruthless monarchs instead of spiritual leaders.
During a pilgrimage to Rome in 1510, Luther saw priests that were living like royalty
instead of like monks. He knew that priests were making money by selling indulgences.
An indulgence is a pardon from a priest for sins committed. Some people believed that
buying indulgences would get them into heaven in spite of their sins.
Luther believed that the church was not carrying out the teachings outlined in the Bible.
He thought that a person could get into heaven by reading the Bible and having faith in
God. Based on this notion, he believed that a person did not have to be a member of a
church. He also thought that this meant that the Catholic Church, popes, and priests had
no real authority. At the time, the Catholic Church was very powerful and discussing
Luther’s beliefs was risky.
Luther eventually wrote down the things that he felt needed to be changed in the church.
Luther’s ideas were called the “95 Theses” and were written in 1517. He then nailed his
list to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The printing press had recently been
invented, which helped Luther’s theses spread across Germany. His theses came to the
attention of the pope in Rome. Luther was condemned by the pope and the emperor.
Luther abandoned the Catholic Church and began a new religion, which is now known as
Other people sided with Luther and protested against the Catholic Church. New churches
sprang up and came to be called “Protestant” churches because they were protesting
against the Catholic Church. This period of history came to be known as the Protestant
Europe soon became split between the Catholics and the Protestants. If not for the
printing press, news of Luther’s 95 theses would not have spread as quickly and the
Protestant Reformation may never have occurred.
Once the Reformation began, the Catholic Church knew that it needed to make changes.
Many bishops, nuns, and priests had already been trying to reform the church from
within. After the Reformation, a movement began within the church that was known as
the Counter-Reformation. Its purpose was to work against the effects of the Protestant
Reformation. The Counter-Reformation was the church’s attempt to reduce the popularity
of Protestantism in Europe.
St. Ignatius of Loyola became one of the leading figures of the Counter-Reformation. St.
Ignatius was born in 1491 in Spain. He was a soldier who was wounded in a battle
against France. While recovering from his wounds, he began to study religion. He left the
military and became a priest.
Ignatius was unlike the corrupt church officials of the time. He lived in poverty and was
devoted to self-discipline. He founded the Society of Jesus, which is an order of priests.
Members of this society are known as Jesuits. Jesuits often became missionaries around
the world. Ignatius’ life of poverty and dedication advanced the Counter-Reformation
because he was a good example of how the church wanted its members to live.
In the beginning of the 16th century, many events occurred that led to the protestant reformation. Clergy abuse caused people to begin criticizing the Catholic Church.
The central points of criticism were the following:
- The church sold tickets of indulgences (forgiveness) from sins for money. This suggested that the rich could buy their way into Heaven while the poor could not – quite the opposite of what the Bible says.
- Many people did not understand the sermon, because it was in Latin.
- Religious posts were often sold to whoever was willing to pay the most money for them. This meant many priests did not know much about Christianity. So they told the people many different things. Some of those things had little to do with what was written in the Bible.
The greed and scandalous lives of the clergy had created a split between them and the peasants. Furthermore, the clergy did not respond to the population needs because they did not speak the local language, or live in their own diocese. The papacy lost prestige. The recent invention of the printing press helped spread awareness of the Church’s abuses, and coordinate a response. In 1515, the pope started a new indulgence campaign to raise money for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica, a church in Rome. This was the last straw for Martin Luther, a Catholic monk from Germany. On October 31, 1517, he nailed 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg chapel in protest. Luther, who appeared as an enemy of the pope, was excommunicated.
In the beginning, Luther had not planned to separate from the Catholic Church or to create a new religion; he wanted to reform the Catholic Church.
In 1524-1525, millions of peasants rebelled against the nobles in the name of equality of the humanity in front at God. Many countries in Europe followed the trend of Protestant reformation and Europe was divided by denomination. This brought religious wars such as the French Wars of Religion.
The Pope reestablished the inquisition to combat heresy. The Catholic Church responded to the protestant reformation with the counter-reformation. Force was not entirely successful, so the Pope created new religious orders like the Jesuits. These new religious orders were charged to combat Protestantism while educating the population to Catholicism.
Protestant denominations have multiplied in different forms, especially in Protestant countries. Catholic countries such as Spain and Mexico for a long time forbade Protestants to immigrate, and Protestant countries sometimes forbade Catholics. Protestants are influential in the United States and the English Canada. After the Seven Years War the British imposed the Quebec Act granting freedom of religion in Quebec, hoping it would become Protestant.
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Task 2: In your opinion, what was the most important cause for Martin Luther to believe the Catholic Church was in a deep crisis?
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