The Protestant Reformation
Problems in the Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic Church was an extremely powerful institution in Europe during the Middle Ages. Many European emperors and princes gained an increase in power if the church blessed their reign. As a consequence of this the pope had considerable political power. The Church was the one institution that the people of Western Europe had in common. It was a unifying force, an institution believed to be sanctioned by God. The Church held itself out as the undisputed authority on all things worldly and otherworldly. The pope was seen as the connection between man and God. The only way to get to heaven was to go the way of the Catholic Church.
The Church understood the amount of power that it had. When the Church needed to finance building projects or pay Renaissance artists, the Church began to sell indulgences. An indulgence was a certificate that the faithful could purchase to reduce time in purgatory so they could enter heaven. Selling indulgences increased income and was also a way to keep the faithful under Church control.
Other problems with the Catholic Church also began to appear. Many church leaders lived more like kings, than priests, and became increasingly involved in political matters. To raise money for these activities, the Church raised fees for services such as, marriage and baptism. This caused both anger and resentment across Europe, and many called for reforms to take place.
During this time, land-owning nobles grew increasingly resentful of the Church, which had amassed an enormous amount of power and wealth and exploited a huge number of resources at the expense of the nobles. The resentment and mistrust fueled anti-Church sentiments. The selling of indulgences propelled the frustration into the ranks of the peasant class and helped set the stage for confrontation.
1. How did the Church raise money? For what purpose?
2. Why did land-owning nobles become upset with the Church?
According to Catholic theology, individuals who sin alienate themselves from God and his love. In order to be reconciled with God, the sinner must confess their sins to a priest and do the penance. The doctrine of indulgences had a few principles. One is that, Christ and his saints established a “treasury of merits” on which the Church can draw. The Church has the authority to grant sinners the spiritual benefits of those merits. This is how indulgences were justified.
Beginning in the 12th century, the papacy and the bishops had given crusaders such indulgences. By the later Middle Ages people widely believed that an indulgence secured total remission of penalties for sin on earth or in purgatory and ensured swift entry into heaven. An archbishop hired a friar named John Tetzel to sell indulgences. Tetzel mounted an advertising blitz. One of his slogans was “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” This brought phenomenal success. Men and women bou...