Conditions developing in Medieval Europe laid the groundwork for the Reformation. The Church led by the pope by the 10th century was the clear authority in moral and religious issues throughout Christendom and in the 11th century launched the Crusades with that moral authority. By the 13th century, however, the Church had become vunerable because of the greed, ignormance, and imorality of its officials at all levels. Huge expamses of land probably exceeding over one fifth of Europe's arable land had come into the hands of the Church denying taxes to state coffers and land to the peasantry. The Great Schism added to the Renaissance and Black Death of the 14th century began to erode the Church's moral authority. These trends were notable throughout Europe, but were especially apparent in Bohemia, England, France, and Germany.
Conditions developing in Medieval Europe laid the groundwork for the Reformation. The Church led by the pope by the 10th century was the clear authority in moral and religious issues throughout Christendom and in the 11th century launched the Crusades with that moral authority.
By the 13th century, however, the Church had become vunerable because of the greed, ignormance, and imorality of its officials at all levels. There are many accounts from this period of the moral failings and ecesses of churchmen men falling far from the moral standards they preached.
Huge expamses of land probably exceeding over one fifth of Europe's arable land had come into the hands of the Church denying taxes to state coffers and land to the peasantry. The wealth of Church estates and the potential income to be have was a powerful driving force in Enngland and Germany. The desire of a land-hungary peasantry for a share of that land helped to asage whatever spiritual quams the faithful may have held.
The Great Schism occurred in 1378 as a result in the disputed succession after the death of Gregory XI. The cardinals chose a Neoploitan, Bartolommeo Prignano, pope as Urban VI at the conclave in Rome. Afterwards, several catdinals claimed they had been unduly pressured by the vilonence perpetrated by Urban's supporters. They elected Clement VII who took up residence in Avignon, France. This continued including rival successions. Finally at the Council of Pisa (1409), both rival popes, Gregory XII and Benedict XIII, were deposed and Alexander V elected as pope of a reunited Church. While this ended the Schism, the "Babylonian Captivity" of popes at Avignon weakened the authority of the papacy.
Although generally classified by most scholars as the last century of the medieval era, the 14th century is generally seen as the beginning of the Renaissance and the beginning of a modern state of mind. "Renaissance" means "rebirth" in French and describes the cultural and economic changes that occurred in Europe beginning in the 14th century. The precise time is difficlt to set and of course varied accross Europe. The Renaissance began at Firenze around 1300 and gradually spread north. Even so, the indicators that constitute the Renaissance did not reach other areas of Europe 1-2 centuries. It was during the Renaissance that Europe emerged from the Feudal System of the Middle Ages. The stagnant Medieval economy began to expand. The Renaissance was not just a period of economic growth. It was an age of intense cultural ferment. Enormous changes began in artistic, social, scientific, and political endevours. Perhaps of greatest importance was that Europeans began to develop a radically different self image as they moved from a God-centered to a more humanistic outlook. Such an intelectual movement could not but weaken the intelectual foudations of the Church and ythe God-centered universe it preached.
The medieval plague, commonly referred to as the Black Death, was the most cathestrophic epidemic in recorded history. The plague is believed to
have been brought west from China. Europeans had no resistance to it in much the same way that smallpox brought by Europeans was to desimate
Native Americans in the 16th and 17th centuries. The plague ravaged Europe from 1347-51. There were also serious subsequent outbreaks as well.
The plague often killed whole families, in part because family members could not bring themselve to abandon each other. Villages were devistated. An
estimated 1,000 villages were completely destroyed. Historians estimate that about one-third of the European population died in the plague. The
plague, however, had a profound impact on Europe beyond the incalcuable human pain and suffering of those affected. As strange as it may sound, the
plague set in motion cultural and economic trends that played a major role in shaping modern Europe.
Johan Gutenberg and other in the 1430s began to use moveable type for printing. The printing press and moveable type resulted in a communications revolution every bit as important as the modern communications revolution. It is no accident that the Reformation emerged less than a century later in the heady intelectual stew created by the revolution in communication. intelecThese inventions permitted the publication and drsimination of ideas to a degree never before possible. People all over Europe were exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking. Religion given its importance was one of the principa; subjects of discussion. The Catholic Church had never been anxious fopr the public at alarge to study the Bible. After the development of printing, large numbers of Europeans could afford copies of the Bible. Many wanted copies in their own labguage--not in Latin. It was not only the public at lrge that was affected, but printing also promoted scholarly debate. Scribes who once laboiriously copied manuscripts by hand now had time to think and debate the issues in these manuscripts. The impact was to help move Europe from unhinking vebneration of the past to a new inquisitve approach. [MacCulloch]
These trends were notable to varying degreesa throughout Europe, but were especially apparent in Bohemia, England, France, and Germany. Much of this was associated with struggle between the papacy and developing national temporal rulers (emperors and kings) for supremecy.
John Huss in Bohemia was influenced by the 14th century English reformer John Wycliffe. He was subsequently executed as a heretic (1415). This caused the Hussite Wars which mixed te religious wars with Bohemnian nationalism. It was supressed with great difficulty by the papacy and Holy Roman emperor. Bohemia was to be a string supporter of the Reformation when it was launched in the 16th century.
English authorities enacted the statutes of Mortmain (1279), Provisors (1351), and Praemunire (1393) had significantly restricted the Church from acquiring additional land, appointing ecclesiastical officials, and excising civil judicial authority. Great amounts of land were, however, in the hands of the English monestaries and abbeys. English reformer John Wycliffe was one of the first to successfully chalenge the papacy on the sale of indulgences, pilgrimages, and saint worship. He was esecially critical of the moral and academic standards of priests. He made the first translation of the Bible in English and began preaching in English so the common person could understand the principles of the Faith. Even so, it was to be desire of Henry VIII, proclaimed "protector of the Faith" by the Pope, for a new wife that would spark an iknternatuional incident and launch the Reformation in England furing the 16th century.
The French monarchy by a concordot with the papacy (1516) achieved much of what it wanted in terms of avhieving supremecybover thev French church.
Otto I was created the Holy Roman Empire (962). This began a contest berween pope and emperor for supremcy, a conflict which involved the German nobility and its desire for local supremecy. The Investiture Controversy rocked Germany in the 11th-12th century. Henry IV, the Emperor of Germany was humiliated by Pope Gregory VII at Canossa (1077). Henry was forced to dress as a pentinent and stand barefoot in the snow for 3 days outside the Castle of Canossa where Pope Gregory was quartered. This was a major reason that Germanyb did not develop a strong nation state like several other European countries. Enduring resentment between the papacy and the Empire as well as rising German nationalism which object to submission to a foreign papacy as well as papal taxation made Germany fertil ground for the growth of the Reformation and it was just these concerns that would drive a young monk named Martin Luthur.
The papacy was able to use its authority within Italy including control of the civil government in the Papal States and the Holy Inquisition elsewhere to limit whatever sentiment there was for reform.
Spain fired with the zeal of the Reqconquista and wih souls closely monitored by the Spanish Inquisition was a firm supporter of the papacy anf Hoily Mother Church when the Reformation came.
Brown, Peter. The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity, A.D. 200-1000 2nd edition (Blackwell paperback: 2003), 625p.
MacCulloch, Diarmaid. The Reformation: A History (Oxford University Press, 2004), 750p
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