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Yuri Koszarycz

The REFORMATION of the 15th and 16th CENTURIES

One of the dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church states that the Church is always in a state of renewal (Ecclesia semper reformanda est). From the twelfth century onwards, we note the resurgence of various groups calling for radical changes within the practices of Christian worship. Through your own investigations, you may wish to explore the relationships between them and the established church. In what way did the Cathars, the Albigensians, the Waldensians, and others try to correct the ills of the Church? Why did they fail, and end up condemned by the "official" Church?

      • The Cathars
      • The Albigensians
      • The Waldensians

The age saw the introduction of the Inquisition, which acted as a protective arm ensuring the supremacy and purity of the 'official' teachings against the radicalism of these primitive reformers. It is interesting to note that Augustine in the 4th century had approved the use of torture in specific cases where the salvation of souls was concerned. His rationale was based on the premise that if secular powers used torture for mere temporal gains, then how more justified would the church be to use brutality for the sake of salvation! Such also was the rationale used by the founders of the most infamous of the Church's agencies of control. Through the establishment of the Inquisition, at the dawn of the Reformation the Church protected its own temporal and spiritual supremacy.

I have listed below some key personalities that have reshaped the cultural, political, and religious landscape of Pre-Reformation Europe. You may wish to follow up in your own readings on the contribution and impact made in these two centuries by the inventiveness, dynamism and genius of such diverse pioneers as:

      • Johannes Gutenberg (1400-1468)
      • Savonarola (1439-1498)
      • Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)
      • Niccola Machiavelli (1469-1527)
      • Nicholaus Copernicus (1473-1543)

They all lived in the same epoch of the 15th and 16th century, and through their inventive genius, courage and political skill they were to make a unique and lasting impact on the spiritual, geographical, scientific, as well as political and ecclesial horizons of their time. You may wish to explore the state of leadership in church and state at this time: the debauchery of the Borgias culminating in the reign of the profligate Pope Alexander VI; the conquests and concerns of the warrior Pope, Julius II (who somehow has won strange exoneration in history through his patronage of Michaelangelo), the iron-willed Pontiffs of the Counter-Reformation, Paul IV, Pius IV, and Pius V. It was a time when Italians monopolized European banking, and money transformed values, ecclesial and secular, even celebrated in medieval poetry:

    Money makes the man, Money makes the stupid pass for bright... Money buys the pleasure-giving women, Money keeps the soul in bliss, The world and fortune being ruled by it, Which even opens, if you want, the doors of paradise. So wise he seems to me who piles up What more than any other virtue Conquers gloom and leavens the whole spirit (Lauro Martines, 1979: 83).

Below I have indicated the key personalities that influenced political and ecclesial history events during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It was also a period of headstrong political leadership unafraid to challenge the power of the Rome weakened by inept and corrupt leadership. Some, like Henry VIII (1509-1547) and Elizabeth I (1558-1603), stood in heretical opposition to Rome for a variety of personal as well as political motives. Others, like Philip II (1555-1598), Ferdinand I (1556-1564) and Christian III (1536-1559), allied themselves to Rome against the voices of Reformation. By 1565 Europe was to be rent by cataclysmic religious wars costing the lives of hundreds of thousands, tearing the religious and political harmony of Europe apart.

In considering the institutional nature (model or paradigms) of "Church" as it had developed by the sixteenth century, what do you think is the element that attracted reaction from the following personalities? Again, via your own readings you may wish to follow up the main "contribution" that the following have made to the reformation process:

      • Martin Luther (1483 - 1546)
      • Zwingli (1484 - 1556)
      • Calvin (1509 - 1564)
      • Henry VIII (1509 - 1547)
      • Charles V (1519 - 1556)
      • Christian III (1536 - 1559)
      • Phillip II (1555 - 1598)
      • Elizabeth I (1558 - 1603)

The age of Reformation had begun with a promise of new hope and new vision - and this is still reflected in the middle years of Erasmus of Rotterdam. Yet this period of history belongs to three men of diverse personality, religious conviction, and action: Martin Luther (1483-1546), Zwingli (1484-1556) and Calvin (1509-1564). Through their work and efforts, the history of the church was to take a direction which ultimately was to witness the political disintegration of the bilateral duality of church and state.

Although every school child has learnt that: "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue" and discovered the New World, not too many children have learnt that it was also the same year in which the infamous Borgia Pope, Alexander VI, ascended the papal throne. I have listed the names of the 12 Popes who lived in this period of cataclysmic tension of Reformation and Counter Reformation between 1492 and 1572. You may want to read up on the main theological/cultural tension or contribution that marked the pontificate of each of the following:

      • Alexander VI (1492-1503)
      • Pius III (1503)
      • Julius II (1503-1513)
      • Leo X (1513-1521)
      • Hadrian VI (1522-1523)
      • Clement VIII (1523-1534)
      • Paul III (1534-1549)
      • Julius III (1550-1555)
      • Marcellus II (1555)
      • Paul IV (1555-1559)
      • Pius IV (1559-1565)
      • Pius V (1566-1572)

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Copyright ©1999, Yuri Koszarycz. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents,including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.The contents of ORB are copyright © 1995-1999 Laura V. Blanchard and Carolyn Schriber except as otherwise indicated herein.