There were several causes of the Protestant Reformation that effected society, politics, and religion in Europe during the 16th century. In my opinion, the immediate cause that started the reformation was Martin Luther’s act of posting the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral in the Roman Empire. Luther was unhappy with the Catholic Church, and posted the Theses due to the sale of indulgences that was going on to raise money for the renovation of St.Peter’s cathedral from people who wished that their souls go from purgatory to heaven. Luther believed that an indulgence was justified for a person’s wrongdoing. By selling indulgences, the Church was giving forgiveness to people who were not sorry for the sins they had committed. Luther posted the Theses in order to debate the sale of indulgences because he was worried for the people’s souls. Although Luther’s original intentions were to reform the Church of its corruption and greed, it resulted in a split between Protestants and Catholics. The effect that this had on religion was huge.
People began to question the oppression of the Church and see it for the manipulative organization which it was, wanting complete control of the population. In turn, people challenged the Church’s authority, and it eventually lead to people freeing themselves from the constraints of the Church as a whole. This made each man individually answerable himself to God. While Luther’s Theses was the immediate cause of the Reformation there were several other causes also. Another major cause was the invention of the printing press and the translation of the Bible to English.
John Wycliff translated the Bible to English so that those who could not read Latin could interpret for themselves what the Bible had said. He believed that the Church was entirely too wealthy, and that they were taking advantage of those that had to rely on the Church for Bible translation and guidance. I believe that the printing press allowed for more common people to be able to purchase books. Before the printing press Monks had to recopy books themselves by hand. It also allowed for mass production which put the Bible and other literature in the hands of a much larger audience.
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The effects on society were that common people were getting more educated on their own, and didn’t need the Church for guidance to run their lives. It also encouraged more people to learn how to write because there was a wider market for their words and opinions. Religion became more accessible to the common people. This allowed for people to come up with their own opinions on the translation of the Bible. The people began to challenge the Church’s authority because they no longer needed a Priest to translate to them. This would end up causing the Catholic Church to lose power.
The next major cause of the Protestant Reformation was the creation of Lutheranism and the Lutheran Church. The Lutheran Church changed the entire culture in Europe. It caused society as a whole to live more wholesome lives by cutting down on sinful acts and criminal offenses. The Church began to draw the line on what was acceptable and what was not. People began to live more holy lives. Since religion had so much to do with the government and politics at the time, it affected how governments had to be run because they could no longer pay off the Church to get their way.
This caused a major political effect on the Catholic Church. Power struggles began to influence how rulers would deal with the Church. Luther’s opposition to the financial practices of the Catholic Church fell on welcome ears even though any religion from the religion that was practiced by the majority of citizens was considered very dangerous. Many local authorities realized that by adopting Lutheranism and ridding themselves of Catholicism that they could seize Church property and avoid payment of Church taxes.
When Charles V signed the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, it allowed local princes to determine the religion of their area and declare their political and financial independence from the Catholic Church. Although there were many causes and effects of the Protestant Reformation, I believe that these are the most influential causes and effects of society, politics, and religion in Europe during the 16th century.
- Duiker, William J. , Spielvogel, Jackson J. “World History Seventh Edition Volume II Since 1500” Wadsworth, 2013. Print.
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