At the start of the 16th century Western Europe had only one religion, Roman Catholicism. The Catholic Church was rich and powerful and had preserved Europe’s classical culture. However, despite General Councils called to impose reforms, disputes and lax practices had grown up within the church. “Catholic Reformation” highlights the existence of a spontaneous reform within the church itself that sought to revitalize religious life through the improvement and application of Gospel teachings to the life of both the individual and the institution. This movement predates Martin Luther and represents the culmination of medieval reform efforts. The goal of the Catholic Reformation was to reform the existing institutional church by fostering a renewal of its spiritual life and mission. At the end of the middle Ages, the church was, institutionally and spiritually, in a state of decline. Corruption and abuse had set in on all levels—unworthy men held office in the church; politics came to dominate the papacy; bishops did not reside in their dioceses; priests were uneducated; monastic discipline was disorderly.
It was clear that the church was in urgent need of reform, yet the cry for a “reformation in head and members” went unanswered “from above.” There was, however, a movement for restructuring “from below” led by individuals who sought not rebellion but restoration. These reformers, scattered throughout Europe, did not desire to inaugurate a new way but rather to return to the origins of the Christian religion. Regardless of the form that these individual efforts took, the aim was the spiritual renewal of the individual and the purification of the church. Thus, the Catholic Reformation would be marked by reformed congregations of the leading monastic and mendicant orders; reform-minded bishops who resided in their dioceses personally looking after the religious lives of their flock; and groups of clergy and laity devoted to personal sanctification and the works of mercy. Martin Luther, a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg, had been stirred to action by the campaign for dispensing indulgences being launched under Johann Tetzel in Germany.
The Reformation or Gospel breakthrough did not necessarily occur in one sudden flash of insight, however. Most likely it began in some form as early as 1513 and is quite well stated at the beginning of 1519. For his part, Luther said “that what he had ‘discovered’ was something that the best theologians of the church must have known all along.” (An indulgence was commonly understood, if not actually intended, to wipe away all one’s former sins and restore one to a state of spiritual innocence.) Wrong in any form, indulgences had been around for a while and were getting worse. Luther had previously preached against them, and now he was going to do more. Consider a relatively obscure professor in a remote German university town proposing for debate 95 Theses on the sale of indulgences. He sent a copy to his archbishop and nailed a copy on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg (what would be like our posting them on a bulletin board today).
His action produced what are called “Hammer blows heard round the world.” The theses were written in Latin, but very soon they were translated into German, 40-thousand copies were printed, and they were distributed across the length and breadth of the empire. These attacked a profitable source of church revenue and touched the issue of papal authority. Luther had assumed the hierarchy was unaware of how offensive the indulgences had become and hoped the pope would straighten out the matter. Luther was unaware of a back-room deal behind this particular new indulgence, which could be traced back to the papal office itself. Luther’s was not a deliberate act of revolt, but an attempt to tackle a sensitive matter of pastoral practice, albeit with some sharp rebukes of the churchly powers.
He surely did not intend to start, as is thought, his own church. On Oct. 31, 1517, he posted on the door of the castle church at Wittenberg his 95 theses, inviting debate on matters of practice and doctrine. Luther’s action was not as yet a revolt against the church but a movement for reform within. It was, however, much more than an objection to the money-grabbing and secular policies of the clergy. Luther had already become convinced that in certain matters of doctrine the purity of the ancient church had been perverted by self-seeking popes and clergy. Over time and based on his study and spiritual direction, Luther became more and more convinced that salvation is a new relationship with God, not based on human work but on trust in God’s promise of forgiveness for Christ’s sake. God’s law with its command to live in holiness could not save, but the Gospel with its message of justification through faith apart from works rose up penitent sinners and reconciles them to God.
The thus redeemed person will still be a sinner in this world but is freely forgiven and will be active in works of love, not because the person has to in order to merit his or her salvation, but out of gratitude for the salvation Christ merited and freely gave. Despite the fact that the act of martin Luther king was at reforming the Catholic Church, this restructuring was not successful since it ended up causing a permanent division in the Catholic Church which he did not envisage. Also Luther’s disagreements with the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church set off a chain of events that within a few decades destroyed Germany’s religious unity, although it wasn’t his intention to destroy the religious unity of Germany.
Luther was only one of many who were critical of the Roman Catholic Church. However, because of the power of his ideas and the enormous influence of his writings, it is he who is regarded as the initiator of the Protestant Reformation. In conclusion, the reformation was not a rebellion against the Catholic Church but was an act by martin Luther king to reform the Catholic Church but this reformation was not successful and this led to the toppling of the absolute power of the pope. The reformation together with the rise in printing at that time also made the Latin bible available to all by translating it. Although the Reformation is styled as a religious reaction against corruption and abuse within the Catholic Church, it reflected profound changes within European society itself.
1. Mullett, Michael A. The Catholic Reformation. London and New York. 1999. 2. De Molen, Richard L., ed. Religious Orders of the Catholic Reformation. New York, 1994. A collection of essays on nine religious orders.