Reformation in Europe - Summary



  • called for a return to the original simplicity of the church
  • believed that the Word of God was the only way to a Christian life
  • looked critically at the texts
  • believed education was the way to change
  • attacked monastic life


  • challenged Luther but remained a Catholic 
  • works of Erasmus:
    • Adages- made classical learning available to the wider population where over 800 says were explained in Greek and Latin so the reading population could access literature without having to read a whole book
    • Handbook of a Christian Soldier- showed how he wanted the Catholic Church to return to the simple life of Christ aimed to educate and showed the aims of humanism
    • Praise of Folly- most famous works brought together all the threads of Erasmus' opinions pointed out the foolishness of youth, old age, mens attitudes to women and marriage and ended with an intense attack on the church
    • New Testament in Greek- in Latin was called the Vulgate first time the Greek version was available to the public which undermined the authority of the Church and their hold on the texts
    • Freedom of the Will- taught the importance of free will and humankind should choose their own destiny written to counter the works of Luther

Humanism and the Reformation

  • pointed out the failings of the church
  • directly undermined the authority of the church
  • had a great influence on Protestant reformers
  • did not attack the key teachings

The need for change

  • church had always been criticised for abuses
  • reformers condemned fundamental teachings
  • corruption of the members
  • it is argued that the need for change was not as much as what occurred

Renaissance Popes

  • the popes authority had been declining since the 15th and 16th century
  • growing anti-papal feeling because of the Babylonian captivity and the Great Schism
  • popes had many financial issues
  • accusations of simony and pluralism
  • many popes were greedy for money
  • not seen as good spiritual leaders

Ignorance of the clergy

  • absenteeism was a major problem
  • monasteries and convents were in spiritual decline
  • required no education to be a member
  • celibacy was being undermined and became an issue

Political and Religious Life in Europe

The threat from Islam

  • Ottoman Empire was causing major fragmentation in Europe
  • constant concern that the Turks would overrun eastern Europe

Health of popular devotion

  • growth in devotion to Virgin Mary
  • increasing devotion to saints
  • huge interest in holy relics

The spread of heresy

  • lollards started by John Wycliffe denied the authority of the pope urged reform and gained no support from the ruling classes
  • Hussites started by Jan Hus urged reform and wanted the death penalty abolished
  • heresy helped undermine the Catholic church but showed its authority when lollards and hussites were contained

The beginnings of change

Beginnings of reform

  • evidence suggests that the church made some effort to reform many years before demand
  • popes were slow to respond to callings for reform because of Italian politics
  • Lateran council showed that the papacy wished to respond to demands
  • the sack of Rome caused




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