Pre Reformation problems with the Church



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Pre Reformation problems with the Church


  • Bureaucracy – layers and layers of government/officials/people to deal with. Large bureaucracy makes it less likely for problems to be easily solved and even more less likely that people receive individual attention and attention to detail from the Church, which is supposed to be a personal institution.

  • Corruption – when people in positions of power abuse their power for illegal or immoral reasons. This can include taking money on the side, not following through on their word, etc.

  • Lack of celibacy – when members of the clergy did not refrain from sex, as required by church law.

  • Lack of poverty – when members of the church, usually higher ranking, became rich, and lived in the manner of rich kings and princes. This was a problem because all clergy have also made a vow of poverty, saying that they would live as simply as possible, in order to be closer to God.

  • Usury – the act of lending money with a very, very high interest rate. This is one of the easiest ways to take advantage of the poor and uneducated. It was also a problem because it made the church rich (see above) and was forbidden under traditional church law.

  • Sale of indulgences – the sale of personal pardons, forgiveness, and other methods which would grant forgiveness and shorten a soul’s time in Purgatory (the place one goes first before going onto heaven). The idea that people could simply buy these things, and that therefore rich people could be more “forgiven” was very disconcerting for the church, an institution that was not supposed to want money and was supposed to be equal to everyone.

  • Simony – the act of selling, for profit, high and official offices of the church, like cardinals or bishops.

  • Idolatry – worshiping of things other than God or Jesus. One of the Ten Commandments, this is a big deal for Christians. Some saw the worshiping of Mary and other saints, as a round about means of practicing idolatry.

  • Tithing – the act donating 10% of one’s income to the church. Now it is considered voluntary, back then it was a formal tax everyone had to pay.

  • Superstition – this is caused by the fact that the Church, which was involved in everything, did not have the answer to everything. As a result, superstition grew and grew (remember the Plague example, when the church couldn’t cure it, people turned to other ways of coping). A perfect example of this is witchcraft and witch trials, which did not really exist prior to the Reformation.

  • Anti-Semitism – hatred of Jews and Jewish culture. Jews made perfect scapegoats for Reformation Christians. And this hatred stayed common in all of Europe’s history. As a result they were either killed, forced to the margins of society, or kicked out of a country all together.

  • Omnipresent – the church was so involved in everyone’s lives that when things went wrong they were the natural, and sometimes the only thing to blame. And it got annoying to have them always “in your face”

  • Individual courts – church had their own courts and could control various aspects of the law (see notes from 10/28 lecture (“Church from investiture to the eve of the Reformation”) for more info)

  • Apocalyptic advocacy – the idea that the world would end soon, within most middle-aged people’s lifetimes. This was a common belief held by almost everyone on the eve of, and during the Reformation. As a result, all work on the Reformation must be viewed through that lens.


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