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Pope Leo IX excommunicated Cerularius and the Great Schism began. The Reformation It’s one of those things everybody’s heard of but nobody really quite understands. The culmination of centuries of Catholic corruption, or a bit of a fluke? The consequence of a European power vacuum, or grand theological debate? A reasonable quest for a son and heir, or simply a result of Henry VIII’s lustful nature? Well, it is down to all of those, really. If it were as simple as any one of these options, there would be little mystery.
They were all necessary for the English Reformation, but not one by itself was sufficient to bring about the chain of events that would eventually alter England and Englishness forever. So much in history is a bastard child of both long-standing, simmering emotion and the opportunistic seizing of a moment. By its nature unexpected, it is also unpredictable, and shaped as much by environment and chance as by its progenitors.
The Reformation was no different. The story really begins over a hundred years earlier, when the Papacy began to reap the effects of centuries of compromise. The story eally begins over a hundred years earlier, when the Papacy began to reap the effects of centuries of compromise. The Great Schism saw two, even three individuals claiming to be the Pope, and the Council of Constance in the early fifteenth century saw a power struggle between Bishops and Pope. Combined, they hindered Papal government and harmed the reputation of the Church in the eyes of the laity.
They led early sixteenth century popes to resist reform and bolster their own position by using their spiritual power, along with war and diplomacy, to become territorial princes in Italy, building their bank accounts on the way.
In England, the same period saw John Wyclif, an Oxford academic, anticipate the arguments of Martin Luther over a century later, and also produce the first English Bible. Piers Plowman, a popular poetic satire, attacked abuses in the entire church, from Pope to priest. But nothing happened. Wyclif’s supporters, the Lollards, were driven underground after their failed rebellion of 1414, and remained a persecuted minority for another hundred years. The church carried on unabashed and proud, selling offices and indulgences, a political plaything for princes and a useful source of income for second sons and men on the make. And forget celibacy.
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