The Reformation: Martin Luther and the End of Christian Religious Unity

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The Reformation: Martin Luther and the End of Christian Religious Unity

By the early 1500s, many people in Western Europe were growing increasingly discontented and displeased with the Christian Church. Many found the Pope too involved with secular (worldly) matters, rather than with his flocks spiritual well-being. Lower church officials were poorly educated and broke vows by living richly and keeping mistresses. Some officials practiced simony, or passing down their title as priest or bishop to their illegitimate sons. In keeping with the many social changes of the Renaissance, people began to boldly challenge the authority of the Christian Church.

There were some early calls for church reform in that last part of the fifteenth century. This includes Jan Hus (1372-1415), a Bohemian scholar, was burned at the stake for his criticisms of The Church. Englishman John Wycliffe (1328-1384), a professor at Oxford, attacked the Eucharist, the Christian ceremony of taking bread and wine, calling it a source of superstition. Wycliffe claimed the bible to be final authority, superseding even that of the Pope. Both Hus and Wycliffe attracted a small following, but any major opposition to the Christian Church was still a century away. Anyone who questioned and opposed to the Christian Church was punished or tortured.

A German monk by the name of Martin Luther was particularly bothered by the selling of indulgences. An indulgence, a religious pardon that released a sinner from performing specific penalties, could be bought from a church official for various fees. Martin Luther was especially troubled because some church officials gave people the impression that they could buy their way into heaven. Doctrines of indulgences taught that Christ and the saints had stored up a treasury of merit. Indulgences could reduce the amount of time spent in purgatory; did not bring forgiveness of sin. Indulgences were sold to raise money for the church's increasing expenses....
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