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The Reformation of The Catholic Church - Martin Luther

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Martin Luther was born during an incredibly distressed age, and this was the tense transitional period between the Middle Ages and the Modern Ages. During this progressive time, outdated ways were becoming unfavoured, and new innovations and means of change were uprising at a rapid rate. At this time there was also a surging rise in change of political and ideological systems, one being humanism, due to the many geographical discoveries being made at this time along with the advancements in communications such as the printing press. The rise in humanism led Luther to create a new way of researching and studying the Bible, which meant going back to the old texts of the Bible and going against the traditional views of scholars and initiating resistance from the Church. 

He was increasingly angry at the clergy offering indulgences, this being promised forgiveness from sin, whether for someone still living or for someone who died and was thought to be in purgatory (a place of purification after death to transition into heaven). Luther concluded that Christians are not saved by their own efforts, but rather their faith, which would place him in incredibly hot water with the Church as this idea went heavily against their major teachings. He challenged the statement that says in order to enter heaven, you must follow every single element of the Catholic Church exactly and dedicate your lives to the Catholic Church, otherwise you will be shunned upon. He referenced the Bible and showed that faith towards the religion is powerful enough and will initiate a plan from God for you. He then wrote the 95 Theses, a book dedicated to highlighting the injustices provided with ‘indulgences’ and papal abuses. The 95 Theses strongly encouraged two main ideas; that the Bible is the central religious authority and that humans reach peak salvation by their faith and not actions for the Catholic Roman Church. In 1519, after attempting to convince other citizens on his findings, Martin Luther decided to create a series of informative pamphlets published due to the printing press, going by the names of On Christian Liberty, On the Freedom of a Christian Man, To the Christian Nobility and On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church. The printing press and transition into the Modern Age allowed these to become easily accessible throughout Europe, being reprinted over 14 times with at least 1,000 copies being printed each time. John Wycliff’s movement of reformation strongly influenced the beginning of the movement following Martin Luther, after his Bible was translated into English to spread his reformation ideals. In addition to this, Martin Luther also chose to post his 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This action was indeed the spark to begin the Protestant Reformation, as it paved a new way to perceive ideology within the Church and challenged injustices when felt necessary by the people. This was incredibly uncommon at this time as it was highly risky to challenge any figures of authority, and even with the new wave of change upon them, it had the capacity to lead to serious consequences.

The Church’s first response towards Martin Luther and the 95 Theses was to maintain public power and control and claimed publicly that it wouldn’t work to reform the Church into a heresy. Everyone who supported this movement of the sale of unbiblical indulgences were excommunicated, meaning they were instantly excluded from participation or involvement of any kind within the Catholic Church. This again had incredibly severe consequences for the person being excommunicated, as in a typically Catholic-dominated Western society it was economically and politically risky to be excluded from something that held such great power. This technique of reclaiming power and removing the people’s voices worked excellently well during the movement of John Wycliff, this being the Lollard movement. It resulted in many followers persecuted, killed or losing wealth. By 1438 the Lollard movement had completely burnt out after beginning in 1384, and the Catholic Church were hoping that ideally this same result would return by excommunicating and punishing all those involved in the Martin Luther movement. This immense division in beliefs created tense social and political division amongst citizens, as well as heavy pressure applied to those of higher authority. Martin Luther was sentenced to death in 1521 after being declared a heretic, however he was protected by German nobles and therefore stayed alive, despite being desperately wanted as an unrepentant excommunicate. When they were unable to kill Martin Luther, the Catholic Church attempted to restrain him and Protestantism using methods of military power, which resulted in a war lasting thirty years from 1618-1648. Spain and France, these being ones of high traditional Catholic power brutally attacked the followers of Martin Luther, and the followers were benefited by Sweden and Germany, as they were countries in support of Protestantism. After 30 years of horrific events regarding Church reformation, the war concluded with a draw and Protestantism remaining strong and still continuing to pressure the Catholic Church. During the extensive war the Church’s Counter Reformation begun, however it had already begun decades ago after the establishment of the Council of Trent in 1545-1563, it was just beginning to be pursued further during the war. The Council of Trent sought to establish the solid foundations for the doctrines for the Catholic Church to meet the standards of the Protestant Reformation, and to address the abuses regarding indulgences. It also required for priests to receive higher quality education, held to higher standards of discipline and to further involve the Church’s laity within this movement. This was an incredibly smart choice, as it benefitted both parties by providing relief to injustices in the Church and showing that the Church wanted to improve and listen to the concerns of the people. Whilst it did take them a while to comprehend these ideas, the advancement of the Modern Ages decidedly motivated the Catholic Church to progress and adapt to the new times and use methods other than outdated ones of military pressure and banning.     

In conclusion, looking upon his research, Martin Luther began to question the values and integrity in which the Bible was written upon, and in combination with this frantically evolving time period he wished to change the Bible into one fitting modern values to move with the new age. He was the foundator of the Protestant Reformation. Also, this was incredibly uncommon at this time as it was highly risky to challenge any figures of authority, and even with the new wave of change upon them, it had the capacity to lead to serious consequences.

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