Реферат: Church Reform Essay Research Paper Church Reform

Church Reform Essay, Research Paper

Church Reform

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The Reformation of European religion in the 16th century cannot be generally attributed

to the secular spirit of the Italian Renaissance. Although the peasants saw bishops and

abbots as part of a wealthy and oppressive ruling class and rebelled against the Roman

Catholic Church for reasons primarily pertaining to the lavish adornments used by those

aforementioned, their power was not great enough, nor did their reasons carry enough

clout to start a reformation movement throughout Europe: that job was accomplished

by those already having some, however small, social or religious power, such as the

monk Martin Luther, the accomplished priest and lawyer Jean Cauvin, and King Henry

VIII of England.

The Lutheran and Calvinist Reformations were very similar in principle, although the

Lutheran Reformation was less widespread. Luther and Calvin held that not mere abuses

of the Roman Catholic Church needed correcting, but that the Catholic Church itself

was wrong in principle. Luther’s cause for reformation of 16th century European religion

came from his unnatural paranoia that he was damned. He had problems convincing

himself that his spirit was pure and that he would go to heaven; internal distress raged

within him about the awful omnipotence of God, his own insignificant existence in

comparison, and his apprehensiveness of the devil. His personal problems would not

yield to the existing manners of assuring oneself that he/she was headed for heaven

such as sacraments, alms, prayer attendance at Mass, and assorted “good works.”

Luther solved the problem, however, by believing that good works were the

consequence and external evidence of an inner grace, but in no way the cause of this

grace. He felt that if one had faith in themselves, the religion, and God, then good

works would manifest themselves because of it. This was Luther’s doctrine of

justification by faith. Luther was then involved in various events that provided for the

spreading of Lutheranism, albeit sometimes indirectly. The agitation that Lutheranism

was creating throughout Europe had revolutionary side effects where the reforming

religious spirit was mistaken for that of a social and economic one, especially in

Germany in the 1520s. A league of imperial knights, adopting Lutheranism, attacked

their neighbors, the church-states of the Rhineland, hoping by annexations to enlarge

their own meager territories. In 1524, the peasants of a large part of Germany revolted

due to thoughts stirred up by preachers that took Luther’s ideas a little too far: anyone

could see for himself what was right. The peasants’ aims dealt not with religion,

however. They demanded a regulation of rents and security of common village rights

and complained of exorbitant exactions and oppressive rule by their manorial overlords.

Luther, in seeing his original intentions fractured for other uses, redefined his position

more conservatively. Nonetheless, Lutheranism spread throughout the Scandinavian

and Baltic regions as well as Germany. Lutheranism was closely associated with

established states, inhibiting its widespread acceptance. The most widely accepted

form of Protestantism was Calvinism, to be discussed shortly hereafter. It is apparent,

however, that the Lutheran Reformation was clearly not because of the secular spirit of

the Italian Renaissance, but more because of the personal conviction of a apprehensive


At the age of 24, John Calvin, a Frenchman born Jean Cauvin, experienced a sudden

conversion; a fresh insight into the meaning of Christianity. He joined forces with the

religious revolutionaries of whom the best known was then Luther. His book, Institutes

of the Christian Religion, appealed to human reason itself. If dissatisfied with the Roman

church, people of all countries could find an idea that would most appropriately fit their

beliefs or the situation they were in. In general, Calvin was in agreement with Luther’s

criticisms of the Roman church and Luther’s fundamental religious ideas, such as

justification by faith and not by works. However, the two differed in the area of

Catholic Mass. Although both of them rejected transubstantiation, Luther maintained

that God was somehow actually present in the bread and wine used in the service while

Calvin regarded it as an act of symbolic nature. Calvin also took exception to two other

areas that Luther did not touch on: the idea of predestination and Calvinism’s attitude

toward society and state. Calvin felt that God, being Almighty, knew and willed in

advance all things that happened, including the way in which every life would turn out.

He knew and willed, from all eternity, that some were saved and some were damned.

Calvin, being a severe critic of human nature, felt that an elite few were saved. One

could believe in his own mind that he was among the saved, God’s chosen few, if

throughout all trials and temptations he persisted in a saintly life. Thus, the idea of

predestination became a challenge to unrelenting effort, a sense of burning conviction,

a conviction of being on the side of that Almighty Power which must in the end be

everlastingly triumphant. Only the most resolute people were attracted to Calvinism.

Calvinists, like Jesuits, were militant, uncompromising, perfectionist. Calvinists also

believed that true Christians, the elect or saved, should Christianize the state. They

would not be recognized as subordinate to the state. Calvinists hoped to remake

society into a religious community. In rejecting the institution of bishops, Calvinists felt

that the church should be governed by presbyteries and devout laymen, breaking up

the monopoly of priestly power and promoting secularization. At the same time,

however, they were trying to Christianize all of society (see Forward). The wide

adoption of Calvinism came mainly from groups who found Calvin’s Institutes to be a

method of organization. Because of Calvinism’s instrumental role in the development of

democracy and the Institutes’s ability to appeal to a large audience, Calvinism spread

throughout Europe, although in places like Germany where Lutheranism had already

taken root it was scorned by those who had already reformed (another paradox

between the similar religions, see Forward). Another instrumental religion during the

Reformation had formed due to religious differences with the Catholic church.

Throughout both of these major reformations, England remained virtually unchanged,

most likely due to its rather remote location in relation to the rest of Europe. England’s

religious orientation changed, however, because of a reason completely unrelated to

those of personal conviction or in revolt to the secular spirit of the Italian Renaissance.

In fact, Henry VIII prided himself on his Roman Catholic orthodoxy. In response to some

whisperings about the stir being made by Luther in the 1520s, Henry wrote a Defense

of the Seven Sacraments in refutation, for which the pope gave him the title of

“Defender of the Faith.” The reason for the change of religion in England was for the

simple fact of a lack of a male heir to the throne. Henry felt that an heir was essential,

especially when one recalled the anarchy from which the Tudor dynasty had extricated

England. Because his existing wife, Catherine of Aragon was old and unable to have a

child, Henry asked the pope to annul his marriage to her so that he may marry someone

else and have a son. The pope, however, would not annul the marriage due to the fact

that Catherine was the aunt of Emperor Charles V, whom the pope was in no position

to offend. Henry had no patience for the pope to balk at such a request when demands

for other annuls had been made in the past. He drove matters forward, putting in a new

archbishop of Canterbury, broke off connections with the Roman church, named himself

“Protector and Only Supreme Head of the Church and Clergy of England,” and married

Anne Boleyn. Thus, in one fell swoop, the situation had been alleviated. Henry’s original

intent was to maintain the Catholic practices while taking control of the religious

situation of his country. However, in 1536, he forcibly suppressed a predominantly

Catholic rebellion. The practice of continuing Catholic doctrines under a different leader

would not last long in England, as many people in England began to favor one or

another of the ideas of Continental Reformers. Upon 10-year old Edward’s, Henry’s son,

succession to the throne, Protestantism became the religion in England. However,

Edward died a short time later and was succeeded by his older half-sister, Mary, a

devout Roman Catholic. She tried to re-institute the Roman church in England and

made it more unpopular in the process. Upon her death, Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn’s

daughter, took the throne and England became Protestant once more. England’s

Reformation was associated the least with the Italian Renaissance, making it a perfect

example of the non-factor that the secular spirit of the Renaissance was.

The 16th Century Reformations represented a significant wave of change for all of

Europe subsequent to the Italian and Northern Renaissances. However, the various

Reformations of 16th century Europe by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and King Henry VIII

of England had little or nothing to do with the worldly and decided non-religious

attitude of the Italian Renaissance.

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