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Unit 2: How Trade and Travel Changed the World

Lesson F: Renaissance and Reformation

Activity 7: Reforming the Church

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Martin Luther [1]

In previous activities you learned that humanism played a role in challenging the cultural influence and the power of the church during the Renaissance. This can be seen during the Protestant and Roman Catholic Reformations of the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Protestant Reformation was based on complaints against religious leaders and general challenges to the power of the Church and the Pope. Reformers aimed to improve the practices and policies of the church, hence the name "Reformation." The Catholic or "counter" Reformation followed, in which Roman Catholic leaders responded to these challenges by reforming their practices and maintaining authority over Roman Catholics.

In addition to general criticism of the corruption in the church from many Europeans, historians point to a specific event in present day Germany as a key cause of the Reformation. A German priest and professor named Martin Luther voiced his discontent with the Church by creating a list of problems that had weakened the church's authority.

Luther nailed his "95 Theses" to the door of a church, sparking many others to proclaim their disappointment. One of the main complaints was the church's sale of indulgences. An indulgence allowed the Roman Catholic Church to take away some or all of a Christian's sins and punishment. At this time, indulgences were granted in exchange for donations to the church.

Another main criticism was the practice of simony, which many believed weakened the church's authority. Many thought that the buying or selling of spiritual things, particularly church offices, was not worthy of religious leaders. Similar movements spread throughout Europe in states such as England, Switzerland, and Hungary.


Page Notes:

[1] Source: This image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Portrait_of_Martin_Luther_as_an_Augustinian_Monk.jpg is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.