Protestant reformation was a religious movement that commenced in the 16th century in Western Europe.1This movement was meant to bring about an internal renewal in the church. Consequently, it led to numerous revolts and abandonment of Christian doctrines. Notably, this movement was initiated by John Calvin, Martin Luther and other protestant activists who were largely described as reformers.2
Needless to say, the activists anticipated to re-structure the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrines. Eventually, this precipitated to the formation of protestant groups. Consequently, the protestant reformation initiated a permanent schism in the western church.
Certainly, there were myriads of reasons and objectives behind the movement. Moreover, numerous methods and strategies were used to bring about reforms in Western Europe. As a result, certain consequences were experienced in numerous regions in Europe.
It is against this backdrop that this paper intends to analyze why protestant reformation began and examines how it led to the emergence of permanent schism in the Western church.
From a careful review of literature, it is apparent that the causes of protestant reformation can be traced back in 14th century.3 During this time, religious doctrines remained pure and uninterrupted in all the regions in Europe. Nevertheless, medieval institutions began to emerge and numerous works of education proliferated.
During the same period, religious art had a living force and became so influential through domestic missionaries. People in Europe adopted and embraced the edifying literature of religion. Nevertheless, the spirit of civil influence rose with heightened desire for new order in the society.
In this case, the desire to spread civilization in Europe was accompanied by social and political conditions that deterred the church’s activities.4 In line with this, dissatisfaction in the church became so rampant in European society that it hampered smooth operations.
For instance, intellectuals criticized the church for its intense emphasis on unhelpful rituals in the pretext of salvation. In this case, the intellectual curiosity triggered the shift of religious beliefs from a holistic approach to a personalized level.
One of the major rituals that sparked the reformation agenda was the issue of sacrament which most people did not value much. Most people discussed the issue and highly criticized it, a factor that triggered the desire to reform some of the ritual practices in the Catholic Church.
In addition, there was the issue of papacy that had lost much of the spiritual significance to the people due to its intense secularization in Europe.5 Needless to say, people had been perceiving popes and bishops as spiritual Godfathers.
In this case, only those people who were recognized were given wealth and this caused resentment among the poor masses. Moreover, the popes and bishops were able to buy and sell high positions in their various offices. In line with this, they also sold indulgences, a factor that created leeway of abusing their positions in church.6
From a careful review of literature, it is evident that even the clergy became corrupt, immoral and lax. Since people kept close watch of the unfolding events, they ended up distrusting and disliking the clergy. This advanced the argument that even lay men were better than the clergies.7
Needless to say, this sparked off personal and social conflicts. Moreover, the church laws became dogmatic on the issues of sacrament and purgatory. In any case, the dogmatic theology emphasized that salvation could be achieved through asceticism, fasting and abstinence. This was central and one of the most important expectations of the people since the priests did not practice celibacy as expected.
It also compelled people to seek personal, spiritual and immediate form of religion since the rituals meant very little to them. It is imperative to note that quite a number of regions in Western Europe experienced immorality, superstitious beliefs and religious indifferences, a factor that increased the need to discern and reform the church.8 It is definite that these were adequate reasons for desiring religious reformation.
It is imperative to note that both the emergence of renaissance and humanism greatly sparked off reformations. For instance, people loved luxury which they associated with art and literature. Therefore, higher intellectual culture and the Graeco-Roman paganism reduced the importance of religious ideas.
Notably, paganism became common due to materialism lifestyle embraced by high-class society.9 Moreover, intellectuals were occupied by love and pleasure for wealth which they gained contrary to the Christian morality. Moreover, during the mid 15th to 16th century, the printing technology widely spread in Europe.
This facilitated widespread flow of information and ideas on paganism. Notably, people had already lost confidence in the church’s doctrines and they opted to set individualized lifestyles. In addition, the scholasticism spirit increased the quest to examine impending superstitions and religious beliefs.10
Scholars highly opposed ecclesiastic malpractices since they had already doubted the legitimacy of clergies, indulgencies, simony and papacy.11It is important to note that the leading activists had common ideologies which they spread through print media. Nevertheless, their followers had divided motives and ideologies that eventually turned into conflict.
Therefore, one can argue that differences among the reformers such as John Calvin, Luther and Zwingli led to rise of another religious schism in Europe. Notably, numerous theological disputes heightened the schism in Western church and this led to emergence of numerous denominations such as Eastern Orthodox, Protestantism, Anglican and Roman Catholics.
From a careful review of literature, one can argue that schism came about due to extended periods of conflict and tension over the authority of western papacy.12 Moreover, differences in liturgical practices and jurisdiction roles were major factors that led to schism in churches.
Needless to say, consequent schisms have been witnessed in Western Europe and as such, illustrate the church’s inability to live up its commands as written in the Bible. Research has revealed that tragic divisions have emerged in churches causing prolonged hatred and the reconciliation measures being put in place are not fruitful at all.13
From this argument, it is definite that schism was a common and a permanent aspect in Western Church. Moreover, it has continued to widen since there are numerous number of protestant churches that emerge daily. Therefore, it is certain that religious diversity in Europe was an important factor in protestant reformation.
To reiterate on the above, it is vital to mention that protestant reformation was a religious movement in the 16th century that aimed at reforming the Catholic Church in Western Europe. Notably, there were numerous factors that precipitated the rise and spread of the movement in Europe. These factors included the aspect of papacy, simony, celibacy, selling of indulgences and the purgatory practices.
It is important to note that numerous religious doctrines and beliefs in the Catholic Church were dissatisfying and this raised concern among activists who were willing to reform the church. With the rise of humanism and scholastic fever, several people abandoned religious beliefs and pursued their personal lives. Needless to say, activists such as Luther, John Calvin and Zwingli made significant efforts to reform the church.
Nevertheless, their followers had dividend motives on numerous aspects such as papacy, liturgical and judicial roles in the church. These divisions resulted into schisms in the Western Church.
Though numerous measures have been put in place to bring reconciliation, religious diversity has continued to become a major feature in Western Europe. In this case, it is evident that protestant reformation is the major cause of schism in the Western Church.
Ballor, Jordan. “Natural Law and Protestantism-A Review Essay.” Christian Scholar’s Review 41, no. 2(2012): 193-209.
Chadwick, Henry. East and West The Making of a Rift in the Church: from Apostolic Times Until the Council of Florence. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Spalding, Martin. The History of the Protestant Reformation; In Germany and Switzerland, and in England, Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands, France, and Northern. New York: General Books LLC., 2010.
Spitz, Lewis. The Protestant Reformation: Major Documents. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1997.
1Martin Spalding, The History of the Protestant Reformation; In Germany and Switzerland, and in England, Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands, France, and Northern. (New York: General Books LLC., 2010), 72.
3Lewis Spitz, The Protestant Reformation: Major Documents. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1997), 63.
4 Ibid. p.39
5 Henry Chadwick, East and West The Making of a Rift in the Church: from Apostolic Times Until the Council of Florence. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 43.
6 Lewis Spitz, The Protestant Reformation: Major Documents. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1997), 67.
8 Chadwick, Henry. East and West The Making of a Rift in the Church: from Apostolic Times Until the Council of Florence. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
9Jordan Ballor, “Natural Law and Protestantism-A Review Essay.” Christian Scholar’s Review 41, no. 2(2012): 195.
10 Spalding, Martin. The History of the Protestant Reformation; In Germany and Switzerland, and in England, Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands, France, and Northern. New York: General Books LLC. (2010).
12 Chadwick, Henry. East and West The Making of a Rift in the Church: from Apostolic Times Until the Council of Florence. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
13 Lewis Spitz, The Protestant Reformation: Major Documents. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1997), 45.