DURING THE 14th and 15th centuries, many people in Europe were worried that the Catholic church was becoming corrupt. In the early-16th century three men Martin Luther from Germany, Ulrich Zwingli from Switzerland, and John Calvin from France spearheaded the reform of the church across Europe. In the movement now known as the Reformation, they and their followers founded new, Protestant churches. These churches rejected the control of the pope and bishops and stressed the importance of the Bible and preaching God’s word.
This coin was made in honour of Jan Hus, a Czech priest who became a reformer in the early- 1400s. He spoke out against the corruption of the church but, despite support from ordinary people, was prevented from preaching, excommunicated, forced to leave Prague, and eventually burned at the stake.
Reformers objected to several practices in the Catholic church. One of the most widespread abuses of the church was the use of indulgences – the payment of money instead of doing penance for sins. Even some popes were corrupt, and objectors often portrayed them as devil-like figures.
Englishman John Wyclif, a theologian and politician, began to demand church reform in the late-14th century. Many of his ideas such as the denial of the pope’s authority and the call for the Bible to be translated into modern European languages were taken up by later reformers all over Europe. In this painting by Ford Madox Brown, Wyclif is reading from his translation of the Bible.
In the 1450s, craftsman Johannes Gutenberg of Mainz in Germany invented a new method of printing. It enabled books to be printed quickly and cheaply. This major advance allowed the ideas of the Reformation to travel around Europe at great speed.
In October 1517, Martin Luther posted 95 theses (arguments against indulgences) on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. He followed this with several books about reform. He argued that salvation came from God’s grace through the individual’s faith in Christ, and could not be bought.
VOICE OF REASON
Education developed rapidly at the time of the Reformation through the work of teachers like Desiderius Erasmus, shown here in a painting by Hans Holbein. His methods were different from Luther’s passionate, revolutionary approach he hoped to reform the church through reason and scholarship. Erasmus edited the Greek New Testament, which was a great help to the scholars who would later translate the Bible into modern European languages.
In 1549, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, published the Book of Common Prayer a church service book in English. It enabled English people to hold services in their own language for the first time. When England briefly returned to Catholicism, under Queen Mary I in 1553, Cranmer was executed.
In 1534, King Henry VIII forced the English church to break from Rome because the pope would not allow him to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon. Henry himself became leader of the English church although, apart from his rejection of the pope, he remained Catholic in his beliefs. Despite this, he began the process that brought Protestantism to England.
DISSOLUTION OF THE MONASTERIES
Henry VIII ordered his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, to compile a report on the monasteries in England. Cromwell concluded that many were rich and corrupt, so Henry ordered all the monasteries to be dissolved (closed). He seized the wealth of the monasteries and gave many of their lands to his lords. Most of the monastery buildings, like Bolton Abbey, were left to become ruins.