Reformation in Continental Europe and England and Its Consequences

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Reformation is the religious revolution that took place in Western Europe in the 16th century. It arose from objections to doctrines and practices in the medieval church, loss of papal authority and credibility as well as other societal, political and economical issues of the time. This revolution had a major impact on Europe and it gave way to short term and long-term consequences, which still can be seen today. There were many causes of Reformation, some go as far back as the fourteenth century. One of the main ones was that the papal authority and credibility were damaged. This was done through, Avignon papacy, - a time where the headquarters of the Holy See had to be moved from Rome to Avignon, it brought uncertainty to the people, as they did not trust the Pope, and believed the Pope favoured the French. Following this, the Great Western Schism also contributed to the loss of papal authority as it split Christian Europe into hostile camps, because three different men were claiming to be the true Pope, each having some support from different kings and princes of Europe. Finally, the corruption of the Renaissance papacy, such as that of Alexander VI (who did not keep the celibacy vow) resulted in loss of papal credibility. As the Holy See was not as powerful anymore, it was suffering from attacks on the papacy. Many felt that the Pope and his Bishops had developed into an abusive feudal monarchy. They were not happy that the Church was concentrating on making profits and not on the spiritual well being of people. Early reformation movements such as the Lollards and the Hussites that were founded by John Wycliffe and John Huss respectively were suppressed for their attacks on the papacy.

People also resented the Church, because of practices such the indulgences – when individuals paid to church for forgiveness of their sins. The society was aware that the higher clergy was interested in political power, material possessions, and privileged position in public life. Many bishops and abbots (in some countries they were territorial princes) thought of themselves as secular rulers and not as servants of the Church. Members of the Church went to great lengths to increase their income, sometimes even uniting Episcopal sees to boost their funds and power. Basic obligations were abused - practice of celibacy was not always observed. This resulted in lowering of moral standards of the clergy. The former prestige of clergy has vanished; people regarded them with disrespect and lost their faith in the Church

As well as above causes, Renaissance – a period of great cultural rebirth was a catalyst for Reformation. It raised the level of education and brought about new scientific discoveries. Renaissance emphasized biblical languages, and allowed for critical analysis of the Bible. This led to different doctrinal interpretations such as that of Martin Luther in Germany, who was convinced that salvation came through faith in Jesus and not the sacraments of Church and John Calvin in Switzerland, who believed God has decided the destiny of a person and nothing could change this. The invention of printing by Johann Gutenberg provided a powerful instrument for the spread of these learning and Reformation ideas e.g John Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian religion”. This sped up the Reformation because it allowed widespread broadcasting of criticism of the Church around Europe.

While these were the main causes of Reformation in continental Europe, in England, King Henry VIII initiated the Reformation. Henry VIII wanted to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, after she had failed to produce a male heir to the throne. However, a divorce was not a simple issue. Henry VIII was a Roman Catholic and the Roman Catholic faith believed in marriage for life. It did not recognise, let alone support, divorce. He also wanted to prevent the interference of foreign powers in the national and international affairs of the country. By...
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