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Religious reforms by Martin Luther and King Henry VIII Essay

The motives of Martin Luther in the German states and King Henry VIII in England could not have been much more dissimilar than they were. However, their actions of bringing about reform likened them. Martin Luther was motivated to reform the church solely for religious reasons; mostly frustration with the corruption of the Catholic Church, while King Henry VIII was motivated by both his personal life and his personal gain.

The whole idea to reform the church in England essentially started when King Henry VIII realized he would be unable to divorce his wife, Catherine. He had already set his sights on Anne Boleyn, so he needed to find a quick loophole in order to divorce Catherine and marry Anne. Because the Catholic Church still headed England and even the King had to submit to Papal rule, Henry decided it would be far better if he could just be sovereign (and therefore be able to divorce Catherine). Due to this revelation, King Henry decided to reform the Catholic Church and create “The Church of England”. Theologically, he stuck to Catholic principals such as confession and clerical celibacy, but he closed monasteries in order to acquire the wealth they held. In essence, all King Henry did was change the legality of the Church but he did not bring about revolutionary religious change.

Martin Luther, on the other hand, had no personal motives at hand when he decided he wanted to reform the church. Martin Luther had witnessed and quickly became frustrated with the corrupt acts of the church such as simony, nepotism, neglect of the celibacy rule, absenteeism, and pluralism. The final straw that sent Martin Luther over the edge was when Pope Leo X approved the sale of indulgences by Johan Tetzel in order to fund the building of St. Peter’s Basilica. Luther wrote the 95 Theses in response to this because he believed indulgences undermined the seriousness of penance.

Luther went on to denounce the authority of the Pope and at the Diet of Worms, he did not recant so he was excommunicated. After this, he formed his basic theological tenets that differed greatly from the traditional Catholic tenets. He brought about immense religious change including: the dogma of consubstantiation, the abolishment of clerical celibacy and monasticism, the belief that the church was subordinate to the state, and the belief in only two sacraments versus seven. He also introduced new answers to theological questions that can be summed up in these three Latin phrases: sola scriptura, sola fide, and sola gratia.

The motives of Martin Luther and King Henry were different, and even though their common goal of reform was similar, their end results were even quite different. King Henry’s personal, political, social, and economic motives resulted in a temporary reform because they were based off everything but religion. His heirs altered the Church several times so that the national religion would be to their personal liking. Although the Church of England still exists today, it is not based on the beginning principles King Henry VIII set up. Martin Luther’s reformation of the church, however, proved permanent. His genuine religious motives were apparent to the people so his religious changes stuck. Proof of this is simply that Lutheranism is still a popular denomination of Christianity today that is based off of the original principles that Martin Luther set.


A History of Western Society: 7th edition (McKay)

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