Era of CHURCH REFORM-1453-1648 AD

Before 1500, Christians in the West saw urgent need for transformation. The Christian Church had acquired great wealth, while its people suffered from abuses related to the buying and selling of offices in the church.

Clergy and monks collected money from uneducated believers by endorsing pilgrimages, the worship of relics, and the sale of indulgences (the lessening of punishments for sin). The papacy in the middle ages was often corrupt and sometimes divided, as in the Great Schism of 1378-1418, a period in which the western church was split by competing popes.

Significant attempts at reform included the Franciscan and Dominican Orders, and the work of Wycliffe and Huss.

In about the year 1450, Johann Gutenberg developed a printing press and years later this new technology helped reformers spread their ideas much more broadly than had been possible before. Prior to this occasion books could only be dispersed as quickly as they could be written by hand.

In 1479 The Spanish Inquisition was established and multitudes of people were persecuted and killed for any slightest hint of heresy. It was also a time of corruption and monks preached about repentance and personal reformation. Believers who read the New Testament soon realized that the Papal Church’s governing was far removed from its contents.

Humanism was an initial contributor to the Era of Reform. This fourteenth and fifteenth-century intellectual movement sought to return to ancient classical writings. Dissatisfied with medieval scholasticism, some of these scholars sought to recover Scripture in its original languages.

Desiderius Erasmus, a Dutch humanist and Catholic advocate of reform, produced a critical edition of the Greek New Testament. Although he wrote against the Roman Catholic Church, he never became part of the Reformation movement. Many reformers and biblical scholars used this Greek text rather than the Vulgate, the Latin translation by Jerome that had been a standard since the fifth century.

Humanists also disapproved of exploitation in church and society, calling for simple piety and classical learning.

A broad variety of people were active in the reformation period. The many who protested abuses in the church came to be called "Protestant."

Most Protestants shared a strong commitment to Scripture alone as the authority for Christian faith and life, and proclaimed a message of justification by grace through faith.

There were, however, important differences among them in terms of theology, the sacraments, and strategies for carrying out restructuring. Protestants ranged from traditionalists, who retained much from medieval Catholicism, to radicals, who completely rejected medieval Catholicism. Some of the more conservative groups were given legal status as official or state churches.

In 1517 Martin Luther, a monk, Bible teacher, and theologian in the tradition of Augustine, publicly criticized the sale of indulgences with his Ninety-Five Arguments. He had accepted the pope’s supremacy until he read the Forged Degrees. He declared that the pope’s authority was not according to Scripture. This attack on sparked the Reformation.

Luther insisted that human traditions contradicted Scripture, and Scripture alone must be authoritative. Many reformers of other practices were also inspired by Luther but also criticized him and others for not going far enough with their reforms.

Menno Simons, for whom the Mennonites are named, advocated peaceful measures for reform. Many of the radicals were Anabaptists, which meant re-baptisers. They reserved baptism for adult converts only and they taught that people baptised as infants would have to be re-baptised as adults.

Neither the Catholics nor the more conservative Protestants recognized Anabaptists or other radicals as legitimate and therefore suffered great persecution for their beliefs.

Today many Christians, though not directly descended from the Anabaptists, insist on baptizing only older children and adults.

The Reformed division of Protestantism stressed disciplined pursuit of the Christian life. The Reformed tradition differed in the understanding of the Lord's Supper and its practice in the Christian community. The premier theologian was John Calvin, leader of reform of the City of Geneva. Calvin's summarized Reformed theology demonstrated practical concern for the Christian life and his standards became Protestant Doctrine.

The most powerful Reformed acknowledgment, was the concept of God's covenant with believers.

The Reformed churches took hold in Scotland under John Knox, held their strength in the Netherlands. In France the Huguenots, French Calvinists, endured great persecution.

Reformed theology later activated Puritanism in England and America.

The English Restoration took an exceptional course. In order to secure a male heir to the English throne, King Henry VIII sought to re-marry. First, however, he needed his present marriage annulled. The pope refused, and this led to Henry's 1534 "Act of Supremacy" declaring himself, the King to be the head of the Church of England.

After Henry VIII a long period of instability ensued as English Catholics and Protestants vied for control. A brief return of Catholicism occurred under "Bloody Mary." During her reign (1553-1558) many Protestants were put to death. Exiles fled to Geneva and other centres of reform where they learned Calvinist theology and strategies which they later sought to apply in England. In 1558, Mary died and was succeeded by the moderate Elizabeth I.

Under Elizabeth, a traditional reformer, a middle way was sought between Catholicism and Protestantism.

The Authorized "King James" Version English Bible of 1611 powerfully united the country and its reformed religion in the English language for centuries to come.

The Catholic Church vigorously opposed the Protestants and this reaction has long been called the "Counter Reformation." Sixteenth-century Catholicism had strong movements which expressed a Catholic Reformation in its own right.

First was the Council of Trent (1545-1563), a gathering of bishops and theologians, called by Pope Paul III. This council lasted through the reign of four popes and it rejected Protestant theology but sought to reform many of the abuses that had afflicted the church and brought about the Reformation. The outcome strengthened the pope's authority and that of bishops. It affirmed the role of tradition, together with Scripture, as authoritative.

A second far-reaching event was the formation of the Society of Jesus (Jesuit Order), by Ignatius of Loyola in 1540. This order vowed obedience to the pope, sought to combat false teaching, educate people in the Catholic faith, and spread that faith throughout the world. Jesuits soon carried Catholicism to many parts of the world. The Order became powerful and gained harsh opposition as the direction of methods got out of hand and was forbidden by the pope, but later the group once again became established.

Some Catholic leaders sought to reunite Protestants and Catholics. But differences over theology, sacraments, authority, and practice proved impossible.

The Era of Reform permanently transformed Christianity in the West by declaring that The Bible was the authority for the standards of faith and practice. Doctrines were taught only if they were taught in The Bible.

The effect of religious conflicts in Germany, quickly became political and then military. The devastating Thirty Years War ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia. Fatigued Leaders began to seek peaceful ways to deal with religious diversity.

The Reformation age and its consequences overlapped with European exploration and colonization of North and South America. Through missionary efforts of both  Protestants and Catholics, Christianity became a worldwide religion.

QUESTIONS 1] Is church tradition above the authority of The Scriptures? 2] What birthed the Reformation? 3] What technology rapidly extended reform?


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