What caused the Reformation?


What caused the Reformation?

What were the consequences to the Catholic Church and our faith?



Many things can be attributed to starting the reformation. The causes range from Germans not wanting to be under an Italian, to personal issues of Henry the 8th. I’m inclined to think that corruption among the lower clergy being one of the biggest reasons.

Consequences included Europe being completely divided, many wars of religion(40 years of war). Persecutions(Ex. Oliver Cromwell) both of protestents persecuting catholics, and catholics persecuting protestents.
I think the best indirect result of the reformation was the Council of Trent, and the Counter Reformation as a whole.


The desire of Martin Luther and Henry VIII to marry their girlfriends:D


I like Hillare Belloc’s “How the Reformation Happened” for a concise Catholic view of it. Belloc’s a brilliant writer but has been accused of anti-Semitism in some quarters (I haven’t read enough of his work to discern it; this book bears no sign of it).

In a nutshell, the Reformation happened because there has been a constant pull against the Catholic Church since Pentecost, but it wasn’t until the fall of Rome, the Black Death, and the rise of Islam that Catholic Europe became weak enough to succumb to an attack from within.

When the Thirty Years War resulted in a bloody stalemate and an exhausted Europe, the Reformers essentially won.

Belloc argues (and I agree) that the reason the Reformation happened when it did was simple greed—the Catholic Church had accrued wealthy lands by this point, and the minor nobility wanted them. This was most prevalent in England, where a whole class of millionaires made by stealing monastic lands fueled Elizabeth’s rise to the throne and paved the way for Protestant England.

The doctrinal disputes came later, once Calvin published his book about 20 years into the Reformation (Luther nails up his theses in 1517; Calvin publishes in 1536). It is often taught (when taught at all) in reverse order.


One issue that cannot be ignored is that the Church held vast (donated) wealth in land and artifacts, and it held this wealth on the “honor system”. It did not have armed guards guarding its wealth. Thus all that land and all those artifacts were a very tempting plum to be plucked.


Another thing that cannot be ignored is the depth of superstition, ignorance, corruption and impiety on the part not only of the laity but the clergy. Calls for reform were ignored, and had been. Another thing is the unwillingness of popes such as Leo X to do anything except party.

Some Catholics take a simplistic view of the Reformation as an act of rebellion by greedy Germans against the purity of the church. There were godly men, and corrupt men, on both sides, and sometimes in the same individuals.


OK so while the Catholic splintered into some non-Catholic Christian religions, did the Catholic church also have the ability to sweep away some of the corruption that was attributed it the Church?


Truthstalker is right. The Catholic Church bears a lot of responsibility for the division that came about. When people pointed out problems that needed to be reformed, the Church power structure would call them heretics for not respecting the authority of the Church, instead of taking to heart their very real and true criticisms and fixing the problems. Some of the people condemned for heresy were serious Catholics who loved the Church and could not stand to see Her in error. They knew what they were risking by speaking out, and yet they did it anyway, to serve the Church and the faithful, instead of just serving the greed and corruption of those in power in the Church.

Yes, Henry VIII was a greedy, land-grabbing jerk who needed a way out of a marriage that no longer worked for him and money to replace that he had squandered. And, a Pope motivated by temporal politics put out a Bull of Excommunication against Elizabeth I (Henry’s daughter) that also dispensed her subjects from their loyalty to her, further instructing them that anyone murdering her would be doing the Church a signal service. THAT is when the legal climate in England really hardened against Catholics, to the point where it became a capital offense to say Mass. Elizabeth herself was unusually tolerant for her times, but the Pope made her situation impossible. (She is known to have said, “I have no wish to make windows into men’s souls,” and “There is only one Jesus Christ, the rest is a dispute over trifles.”) I know less about the German side of it, but I do know that Luther started out as a faithful Catholic who saw problems with his Church and wanted them fixed. He went too far in the end, but he didn’t start out there. BUT, there wouldn’t have been so many people willing to go along with literally cutting the Body of Christ into pieces if the Catholic Church hadn’t been tolerating so many corruptions and abuses and using its power to silence caring critics instead of listening to them.


The single most simplistic reason why the Reformation happened is that the church, the clergy, and the laity all focused on their own selfishness, or “my will,” and not on God’s will. It happened on both sides of the coin, Protestant and Catholic. You know, if you had a family that separated 500 years ago and each went their separate ways, then it would be extremely difficult to re-unite the family. So to is the difficulty to bring all the children of Christ back to where He intended them to be. Therefore, it is time for the Shepherd to return and bring His sheep back into the fold.

Dominus vobsicum


Also Belloc’s book “The Characters of the Reformation.” Both are available from Tan Books or Amazon.com for about 15 bucks each. Belloc has been dead now for quite a few decades, but his insights are great. I recommend both books very highly. They do have a little flavor of pre-Vatican II attitudes towards those not Catholic, but they are in my opinion excellent reading.:slight_smile:


It took the Church over half a century to respond with the Counter Reformation and the Council of Trent which started the process of setting certain abuses and problems aright.


Yes, in fact true reform movements were already growing. Luther’s rebellion actually hampered the progress of true reform due to all the social chaos he caused. Of course, God always brings good out of evil–we got the Council of Trent and the many glorious Counter-Reformation Saints :slight_smile:

As has been pointed out as well, while there may have been other causes, the only reason the Reformation was “successful” is because opportunistic nationalists saw it as their chance to take control of their own nationalist churches.


The Renaissance also had a big effect for causing the Refomation…Some blame it on the indulgences but I have a feeling it was portrayed alot bigger than what it really was. The Church will always have corrupt people in it, but that dosen’t validate the reason to cause schism. The ECF and the bible are very clear on schismatics. Theres lots of bishops that I may not like personally, but that dosen’t mean Im gonna seperate myself from the church…


Yes. Luther had the effect he intended, but not quite in the way he intended it. The Reformation stimulated Catholics to realise that laxness was not tolerable, and there wouldn’t be a Church left if Popes were more interested in partying than in prayer and preaching, and priests more interested in holding absentee parishes than in saying Mass. The Council of Trent was quite strict in tightening up on abuses.


What does this mean exactly?


An example of an abuse would be absentee parish priests. The priest would hire a curate to look after the parish, and go somewhere sunny to enjoy the tithes. It was stamped out formally at Trent. Whether the Church took action before then I wouldn’t like to say, but generally Councils formalise existing practise rather than introduce radical changes in policy.

The mistake is in saying Trent “started the process” of reform. It didn’t. It was however an important element in the Counter-Reformation.


John Calvin - Inside the Protestant Mind By Ken Hensley

Ken is an ex-Baptist minister who converted to the Catholic Church.

This is a very good audio program, Ken tells some of the reasons that the reformation happened, and why protestants think the way they do. Here are the 6 reasons he gives in his program of why it happened, he states that he could go 20 deep if he had to.
He doesn’t tear apart the protestants, he just gives an honest opinion of why the reformation happened.

  1. Growth in literacy
  • Explosion in the ability to read, many books available.
  1. Multiplication of theological ideas in that world at that time
  • the universities had many schools of thought, and Martin Luther might have misunderstood one of these errors to be what the Catholic Church taught.
  1. The rise of Renascence Italian humanism
  • wanting to get back to the classics, and back to the bible and church fathers, away from the scholastic theology taught in that day, it was confusing and irrelevant to many. (Who cares how many angles can dance on the head of a needle)
  1. Rise in personal religion (individual religion)
  • making the faith personal, the church needed reforming, and it should begin with you.
  1. The rise anti-clericalism
  • The church had grown very corrupt, and was in dire need of reforming.
  1. The rise of nationalism
  • Nations did not want to be ruled from Italy


[quote=runandsew]1. Growth in literacy

  • Explosion in the ability to read, many books available.


If this were a factor, then why was Luther’s anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish propaganda mainly in the form of picture books and posters?


Who financed Luther.

He was supposed to live in poverty. Was there no politics involved when the Holy Roman Empire moved northwards.


I think the reformation had to happen to keep us on the right track sort of like how Judas had to betray Jesus so HE could die for our sins. Once again satan’s plan backfires and only strengthens what he tried to destroy. Plus it gives us someone to defend our faith against making us stronger better Catholics today.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.