Luther and the Reformation in Germany 1517-55 Section 1

The causes of the German Reformation, the state of the Catholic Church in 1517

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The Catholic Route To God

The Church is hierarchical. The Pope is the sucessor of saint Peter, divinely chosen to guard the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and head the church, as well as interpret the God-given Bible for Catholics. Below him are Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops and Priests who adminster Catholicism to the people. 

Therefore, it was impossible for the common believer to reach God and Heaven alone. An intercessory priesthoodd provided a clear route to God and Salvation, and was required along with recognition of the seven sacraments, that provided you with the means to Salvation as well as the route. For example, everyone was born with original sin, so baptism was needed to cleanse you of that sin. Later sin could be absolved through confession, and posthumously, extreme unction.

Other sacraments created the framework to salvation, and this reliancy on sacramental aid to get to God was classified as Justification by Works.

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Later Medieval Catholicism

The church saw its primary role as preparing the faithful for Heaven by providing them with sacraments and advice on how to avoid sin. The church also believed it had a duty to protect the faitful from demonic forces and provede prayer, relics and blessings for this purpose.This 'Christian magic' was accepted, and the Church began to change from classic Medieval Catholicism to a church with a heavy belief in magic and superstition.

The Virgin Mary was greatly venerated, as it was believed she could intercede before God on your behalf and convince Him to allow you into Heaven. Other saints were also venerated, as although they could not intercede before God, they could protect you and speed your journey to heaven. For this reason, saints had pilgrimage sites people could go to, and relics surrounding them people could purchase, in order to venerate the saints. Frederick the Wise had a number of religious relics himself, including Mary's Milk.

Because of this, intellectuals and theologians such as Erasmus adopted the belief that saints were simply 'tame magicians' who performed special favours on request. Erasmus in particular was very forthright in this condemation of this worship.

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Indulgences and purgatory

It was believed that purgatory was a halfway house between heaven and hell, which all those in sin had to edure painful repentance through to get to Paradise. Those who accumulated good works in their mortal time lessened the duration of their time in purgatory, though all people had to re-establish themselves in the eyes of God through confession, absolution and satisfaction- proving the depth of your remorse.

However, in 1343, Pope Clement VI introduced the Bull Unigenitus which establised the infinate godness of christ and the saints had given the papacy surplus  merit, which could by purchased by the pertinent faithful, allieviating the need to undertake good works. in 1476 Pope Sixtus IV allowed the merits of christ to be used on those who were already dead to lessen their time in purgatory, in the bull Salvator Noster. Buying an indulgence was increasingly seen as buying salvation. Pope Leo X even said "I will close the gates of hell against you and open for you the gates of paradise"

This was highly unpopular among the scholars and was seen as vulgarising the catholic process of salvation, most of whom were humanist and had gone back to original greek scripture and did not approve of the corrupt church- like luther. 

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The Mass and the papacy

Was seen as the  only place to witness transubstantiation. The mass was a central good work and therefore people used to pay chantry priests who would say mass for your soul after death.

The papacy's moral authority had been weakened from 1305- 1378 when the pope resided in Avignon, but immediatly on their return the 'second pope' came to light, causing the Great schism until 1417. this again undermined the autority and credibilty of the papacy. The popes also paid more attention to their secular duties such as defending papal states, than thier spiritual ones. Decentralised germany found themselves heavily taxed to pay for the glorification of rome and defence efforts, as well as payment for indulgences and dispensations. Simony and Nepotism was rife amongst the papacy, as well as use of papal power in the case of Alexander VI to further the family's prospects, and lavish lifestyles in the case  of pope Leo X. This, coupled with dislike of papal taxation such as tithes, and the funding of otentatious displays, as well as monastic laxity and corruption, created a feel of anti-clericalism in Germany which luther would later take advantage of. The apocalyptic traditioon in Germany- strong belief in the return of Jesus and judgement day, made people feel the church was inadequate.

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The Role of Erasmus and Conclusion

The theologian eramus had a number of strong views concerning the immorality of indulgences and clerical corruption and laxity which he outlined in his satirical 1509 work 'In praise of Folly'.. Luther agreed with Eramus' doctrine, using it as a spring board for the development of his own. However, it was when Luther became radicalised following 1518 papal attempts to silence him, that the two broke away in 1525 from each other. Erasmus did not want protestantism, he wanted reform of the corrupt areas of Catholicism.

The catholic church, particularly in germany, did face problems. It was worldly, and unable to provide the spiritual consolation the laity craved, and had lost sight of its spiritual responsibility. the 1456 and 1521 diets of frankfurt and Worms brought to light grievances against the Church. There was a strong desire for spiritual reform and luther, with his doctrine of Justification by faith alone, took advantage of this and used it to appeal to the people.

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