Friday, April 9, 2021

Abuses of the Roman Catholic Chruch during the 14 and 1500's

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As a consequence of the explosion of culture and religion through the Renaissance period of the 16th century, the church went from crise to crise culminating to the time of an Augustinian monk called Martin Luther. The Renaissance period saw the rebirth of critical thinking against the church and when this was applied, it led to relationship discrepancies between Popes, Kings and the relationship between the clergy and the people. There were huge expectations placed on the Roman Catholic Church at this time, however during this period the cultural and religious unity of Europe was decimated. Martin Luther would later go on to be one of the greatest challenges towards the church.

Corrupt Renaissance Popes, the scandal of the Great Western Schism, nepotism, and the selling of Episcopal offices weakened the papacy. Christians wanted reform in the leadership of the Church. Although all of these factors contributed to the demise of the church, the selling of indulgences by Pope Leo X was by far the most controversial. An indulgence was the remission for the living and for the dead of punishment incurred by sin. The selling of indulgences was a huge revenue raised for the Basilica of St Peter's in Rome. The Dominicans preached these indulgences throughout Germany and crowds gathered and heard the preachers declaring that "Another soul to heaven springs when in the box a shilling rings " . As the papacy counted their shillings other powers were also being exploited and abused. Corruption within the church was continuously evident as the Papacy was blamed for Simony and Nepotism. 'Nepotism' was the preference of employment by Popes of their friends and family members and 'Simony' was the selling of Episcopal offices by the papacy which was also seen as another revenue raiser.

The Black Death was a disease that swept through Europe during the middle ages killing hundreds of thousands of people. The black death brought a dark fear of death and gave rise to a religion of emotion and superstition. Images of the last judgement filled the faithful with dread and terror. People turned to relics and magical practices in order to guarantee safety, salvation and this surely was a tough time for the Church. Nationalism became more and more evident as the abuses of the church continued and as papal taxation became absurd. Nationalism meant that Princes and Kings in the newly reformed nation states resented the control the Pope exerted over their territory. They increasingly fought with the Popes, who were often interested only in increasing papal power in Italy.

Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, Germany in the year of 148. He was educated in the schools of Magdeburg and Eisenach and the University of Erfurt. In 1505 he entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt and was ordained a priest in 1507. The next year he became a lecturer at the University of Wittenberg and after a short visit to Rome on business for his order, was made doctor of theology and professor of Biblical literature in 151. During the next four years Luther engaged in a severe spiritual struggle as he became more keenly aware of the deep gulf between god's demand of righteousness and his own unrighteousness. His continued study of the epistles of Saint Paul sharpened this conflict but he also drew enormous amounts of motivation from one of St Paul's letters to the Romans which entailed that "Man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law" . In 1517 the Dominican monk Johann Tetzel arrived in the neighbourhood of Wittenberg. Pope Leo X as discussed earlier authorized Tetzel and others to raise money for the reconstruction of Saint Peter's basilica in Rome and were to do so by inviting church members to contribute funds promising them a remission of temporal punishment for the individual's sins. Luther was outraged by the hypocrisies of the Papacy and reacted on this by drawing up ninety-five theses, in which he had tacked not only with the abuses connected with the granting of indulgences, but also their doctrinal basis. On October 1, 1517 he nailed his theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Although Luther had no intension of opposing the authority of Rome or of causing a schism in the church, this act is regarded as the beginning of the reformation.

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Boniface VIII stated that "outside the church there is no salvation" , Luther provided an alternative to this, however, he attached three key elements, which he believed was the key to true salvation. These three elements was faith alone, scripture alone and grace alone. Faith alone meant that you had only a belief and trust in the saving action of God for Luther continuously stated that "as long as you have faith in God that's all you need for life" . Scripture Alone meant that you would have to reject catholic practices and the authority of bishops and councils. He declared the bible to be the soul source of authority for the Christians and once again stated that "the bible is the guiding light of our faith" . Grace alone meant that grace was a free gift from God which ignores the sinfulness of human beings and saves them regardless. Humans were corrupted by original sin and could therefore do no good, hence meaning that nothing a person did in the way of works could earn them salvation. Luther affirmed Grace alone by stating that "grace is god's gift you can't buy it, you earn it" .

As Luther's theses had a huge effect in Germany, it quickly reached Rome via the printing press, however, the church was initially slow in reacting to this challenge. The nobles of Germany and other surrounding countries, supported Luther and suddenly he gained political strength. Coincidently it was rather obvious that the nobles would encourage Luther, as they would be able to skip the excessive papal taxes, which would have been incurred on their country at that time, this factor also contributed to nationalism which was discussed earlier. With growing and heated arguments between Luther and the Pope he was excommunicated in 151 as a result of his antagonism towards the Papal bull.

Although the actions of Luther may be seen as the commencement of the reformation, it was extended beyond this point by a man called John Calvin. Calvin took the belief of Luther one step further however he also created and published some doctrines of his own. The doctrine of predestination which was one of Calvin's central beliefs was that Christ died only for the elect. The elect cannot resist god's grace. Nor can they backslide. One of the many similarities was that both Calvin and Luther accept only two sacraments, those two being Baptism and Eucharist and they both rejected whatever was not in the bible including sacraments, images, organs and hymns.

Towards the mid to late 150's the church began its response towards all of the challenges including the ones from Luther and Calvin. The year 1540 saw the introduction of the society of Jesus also known as the Jesuits. The Jesuits were founded by Ignatius of Loyola who had a significant religious conversion in 151 after being wounded by the French while defending the Spanish town of Pamplone. The Jesuits represented the new spirit of Catholicism and their main mission was to go out and preach and they gave direct loyalty to the Pope through a forth vow of obedience. They worked directly to set up schools to educate priests and laymen and through this they also gained political strength as they often would be educating the son's of nobles. In 1545 Pope Paul III called the council of Trent and their aims were to define large number of points of dogma, demanding reforms in pastoral care and also to reaffirm papal supremacy. Although the council began in 1545 and ended in 156, three attempts were made to bring the council to a conclusion however as a result of European wars and heated arguments the council only sat between 1545-1547 under Pope Paul III where it was moved to Bologna in Italy, 1551-155 under Pope Julius III where it moved back from Bologna to Trent, 1555-155 under Pope Paul IV where he tried to reform the church using his own methods, through inquisition and index and finally in 156-156 where the fathers that were present affirmed all decisions taken since its commencement in 1545. At the conclusion of the council of Trent Luther's beliefs of faith alone, scripture alone and grace alone were responded to and decisions were made so that the abuses were stoped and the church was no longer corrupt.

Shortly after the time of the council of Trent three men restored the faith of the people in the papacy. Popes PiusV (1566-157), Gregory XIII (157-1585) and Sixtus V (1585-150) were the three popes that followed during a recovering time for the church. Pius V was seen as the believer who fought against the heretics and the Turks and published the Catholic church Catechism which was originally intended for priests. Gregory XIII was seen as the organiser whom created the Gregorian calendar and chants and Sixtus V was seen as the man of actions he established stable parishes and seminaries as well as setting up a central government for the church which is also known as the Roman Congregations to assist the ministries of the Pope and cardinals were distributed amongst these congregations. Although the Catholic inquisition was a negative effect producing fear, anger and hatred the church was able to control it's enemies as it felt extremely under siege.

The aim of the counter reformation which lasted between the years 1540-1568 was to recover the 'lost souls' and the council of Trent, the Jesuits and the reforming popes assisted in doing just that, however, this did not eventuate and the spirit was irreversible, yet the church had gained many 'new souls' through missions throughout the world. The church was smaller in size and authority at this time but 'leaner and fitter' in its ability to evangelise and care for its faithful. The council of Trent and the implementation of its reforms halted the self destruction of the church and led to many successful factors and outcomes of the catholic-reformation. Simony and Nepotism was outlawed, there were clear doctrinal statements of belief, papal supremacy was reaffirmed marriage laws were tightened, seven sacraments defined and suddenly faith in action was deemed necessary for a Christian life. Despite the reform the Protestant and Catholic Churches were never re-united but on the contrary to its relationship with society the church fortified itself, it became solid in foundation and was able to attack and defend itself through the Jesuits, the popes foot soldiers and the council of Trent. After the counter reformation the church was able to show how it was One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic by following the teachings and examples of Christ in a more authentic way. This model of the church was sustained through many centuries all the way up until the Vatican II council in 16 where the windows of the church was opened.

In conclusion, the challenges towards the church by Luther and Calvin, improved the church and in conjunction with the response at the council of Trent through the Jesuits and the reforming Popes, created the effect which is significant and meaningful as these events helped to shape and sustain our beliefs, which under the guidance of the holy spirit will continue to be sustained forever.

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