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Chapter 13

HIST 1001 Chapter Notes - Chapter 13: Indulgence, Puritans, Transubstantiation

Course Code
HIST 1001
Marc Saurette

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*(HRE = Holy Roman Empire)
Many circumstances pushed people to want change within the Catholic Church, most important of
which being a widespread dissatisfaction. Ideas were also able to spread more easily with the
invention of the printing press.
The Christian Church in the Early Sixteenth Century
Europeans in the early sixteenth century were deeply pious, devoting an enormous amount of
time and income to religious causes and foundations.
They were, however, highly critical of the Roman Catholic Church and its clergy, criticizing
everything from the papacy itself as an institution to certain doctrines taught by the church, such
as the veneration of saints and the centrality of the sacraments.
Anticlericalism spread in the early sixteenth century, criticizing clerical immorality, ignorance, and
pluralism, as well as clerical privileges and immunities (i.e. holding large amounts of urban
property but being exempt from paying taxes on them and defending the city).
City leaders also wanted some say in who would be appointed to high church offices, rather than
having this decided far away in Rome, bringing them into opposition with bishops and the papacy.
Martin Luther
A German university professor and priest, Martin Luther (1483-1546) arrived at a new
understanding of Christian doctrine through studying Saint Paul's letters in the New Testament.
The said new understanding could be summed up as "faith alone, grace alone, Scripture alone".
Salvation and justification came through faith, which is a free gift of God's grace, not the result of
human effort. God's word is revealed only in Scripture, not in the traditions of the church.
Around the time Luther was engaged in scholarly reflections and professional lecturing, Pope Leo
X authorized the sale of a special Saint Peter's indulgence to finance his building plans in Rome.
Indulgences were documents issued by the Catholic Church lessening penance or time in
purgatory, widely believed to bring forgiveness of all sins.
The concept of indulgences bothered Luther, as he saw it as so many people believing that they
had no further need for repentance once they purchased indulgences.
In 1517 Luther wrote his "Ninety-five Theses on the Power of Indulgences" and enclosed it in a
letter to Archbishop Albert. He also supposedly nailed the theses to the door of the church at
Wittenberg Castle.
Luther engaged in a formal scholarly debate with a representative of the church (Johann Eck) in
1519, during and after which he refused to take back his ideas and continued to develop his calls
for reform, publicizing them in a series of pamphlets in which he moved further and further away
from Catholic theology, making full use of the power of the new medium of print.
The pope ordered the Luther's books be burned in a letter to him condemning some of Luther's
propositions, and gave him two months to recant or be excommunicated, to which Luther
responded by burning the said letter.
Luther was ordered to appear at the Diet of Worms in 1521, where he refused to give in to
demands that he take back his ideas, creating an even broader audience for reform ideas.
Protestant Thought
Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) was the other important early reformer. A Swiss humanist, priest, and
admirer of Erasmus, he announced in 1519 that he would not preach from the church's prescribed
readings, instead choosing to go right through the New Testament from Matthew to Revelation.
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Zwingli believed that Christian life rested on Scriptures, which were the pure words of God and
the sole basis of religious truth, and attacked indulgences, the Mass, the institution of
monasticism, and clerical celibacy.
The followers of Luther, Zwingli, and other who called for a break with Rome came to be called
Protestants, a name that eventually came to mean all non-Catholic Western Christian groups.
Early Protestants agreed on many things.
How is a person to be saved? While traditional Catholic teaching held that salvation is
achieved by both faith and good works, Protestants held that salvation comes by faith alone,
irrespective of good works or the sacraments.
Where does religious authority reside? Christian doctrine maintained that authority rests
both in the Bible and in traditional teaching of the church, while for Protestants the
authority rested in the Bible alone, since the validity of a doctrine or issue rested in its
scriptural basis. This also the reason most Protestants rejected Catholic teachings about the
sacraments, holding that only baptism and the Eucharist have scriptural support.
What is the church? Protestants held that the church is a spiritual priesthood of all believers,
an invisible fellowship not fixed in any place or person, whereas the Roman Catholic practice
differed in that it had a hierarchical clerical institution headed by the pope in Rome.
What is the highest form of Christian life? The medieval church had stressed the superiority
of the monastic and religious life over the secular, but Protestants disagreed, arguing that
every person should serve God in his or her individual calling.
Protestants still disputed over some topics, however, such as the Eucharist. Luther believed that
Christ is really present in the consecrated bread and wine, but that it was the result of God's
mystery, not the actions of a priest, while Zwingli noted that while the Eucharist was a memorial in
which Christ was present in spirit among the faithful, it was not through the bread and wine.
The Colloquy of Marburg was summoned in 1529 in an attempt to unite Protestants, but failed to
resolve the aforementioned differences. Protestants did, however, reach agreement on almost
everything else.
The Appeal of Protestant Ideas
Printing presses played a large role in the spreading of Luther's religious ideas, as many printed
works even included woodcuts and other illustrations, so that even those who could not read
could grasp the main ideas.
Educated people and many humanists were attracted by Luther's teachings because he advocated
a simpler personal religion based on faith, a return to the spirit of the early church, the centrality
of the Scriptures in the liturgy and in Christian life, and the abolition of elaborate ceremonies,
exactly what the Christian humanists themselves wanted.
Townspeople also liked Luther's ideas, particularly those pertaining to the fact the clergy should
pay taxes and should not benefit from special legal privileges, having themselves long envied the
church's wealth and resented paying for it.
For reforms to be permanent, political authorities as well as concerned individuals and religious
leaders would have to accept them, which is why Zwingli worked with the city council of Zurich,
and city councils in Switzerland and south Germany appointed pastors who they knew had
accepted Protestant ideas, requiring them to swear an oath of loyalty to the council, and oversaw
their preaching and teaching.
Luther did the same, working closely with political authorities and demanding that German rulers
reform the papacy and its institutions, and instructing all Christians to obey their secular rulers,
whom he saw as divinely ordained to maintain order.
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A territory became Protestant when its ruler, whether a noble or city council, brought in a
reformer or two to educate the territory's clergy, sponsored public sermons, and confiscated
church property.
The Radical Reformation and the German Peasants' War
Beginning in the 1520s, groups in Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands created a
community of believers separate from the state, generally termed "radicals" for their insistence on
a more extensive break with prevailing ideas.
Some of these radicals took over the German city of Münster in the 1530s as they believed it
would be the site of a New Jerusalem that would survive God's final judgement. Combined armies
of Catholics and Protestants besieged the city and executed its leaders. While they were societal
outcasts, their heroism in the face of martyrdom contributed to the survival of radical ideas.
Radical reformers sometimes called for social as well as religious change, as in the early sixteenth
century the economic condition of peasantry was generally worse than it had been in the previous
century and was deteriorating.
Luther, in an attempt to prevent rebellion, sided with the peasants at first, but after it broke out
anyways, he was firmly convinced that it would hasten the end of civilized society, and wrote the
tract Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of the Peasants. The nobility ended up crushing the
revolt, and the German Peasants' War of 1525 strengthened the authority of lay rulers.
The Reformation lost much of its popular appeal after 1525, though peasants and urban rebels
sometimes found a place for their social and religious ideas in radical groups.
Marriage, Sexuality, and the Role of Women
Both Luther and Zwingli believed that a priest's or nun's vows of celibacy went against human
nature and God's commandments, and that marriage brought spiritual advantages and so was the
ideal state for nearly all human beings.
Most Protestant reformers also married, and their wives had to create a new and respectable role
for themselves - pastor's wife - to overcome being viewed as simply a new type of priest's
concubine, and were expected to be models of wifely obedience and Christian charity.
Protestant reformers still denied that marriage was a sacrament, but stressed that it had been
ordained by God nonetheless as a "remedy" for the unavoidable sin of lust, providing a site for the
pious rearing of the next generation of Christians and offering husbands and wives companionship
and consolation.
A proper marriage was one that reflected both the spiritual equality of men and women and the
proper social hierarchy of husbandly authority and wifely obedience. Following medieval
scholastic theology, women were still subject to men in Protestant marriages.
Protestants saw marriage as a contract in which each partner promised the other support,
companionship, and the sharing of mutual goods, and because in Protestant eyes marriage was
created by God as a remedy for human weakness, marriages in which spouses did not comfort or
support one another physically, materially, or emotionally endangered their own souls and the
surrounding community.
Protestants came to allow divorce and remarriage, but was not common, as marriage was the
cornerstone of society socially and economically.
The Reformation generally brought the closing of monasteries and convents, and marriage
became virtually the only occupation for upper-class Protestant women, and while women in
some convents recognized this and fought the Reformation, or argued that they could still be
pious Protestants within convent walls, most nuns left.
No sixteenth-century Protestants allowed women to be members of the clergy, but several
monarchs and female territorial rulers of the states of the HRE did determine religious policies just
as male rulers did.
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