The Protestant Reformation was a religious movement that took place in the Catholic Church during the 16th century. For centuries the Catholic Church had developed and garnered power specifically the power of the papacy, which had become deeply integral and involved in the political life of western Europe. This increase in power and wealth would result in political manipulations and form of spiritual bankruptcy that would be prevalent to the masses. This spiritual bankruptcy included selling of indulgences which were papal pardons for a so called “reduction” of time for a soul to spend in purgatory. The funds raised from indulgences would go to fill the coffers of church officials and the papacy and would be used for their own selfish gain. This abuse of power would be one of the many key issues that reformers such as John Calvin and Martin Luther would focus on. The impact of the printing press can also not be ignored as well to how the far reaching effects it would have on the Reformation, such as allowing the rapid spread of Protestant ideas. Both during and following the Protestant Reformation the landscape would change gaining and losing much as a result. The Reformation would see the Catholic Church lose its worldly authority over the masses, the renewed rise in the power of the king in England. over the church and establishment of the Church of England.
The importance of the Catholic Church in the society of England before Reformation cannot be scoffed at, nothing existed in society at the time that did not deal outside of religion. The Church would put repeated emphasis on so called miracles they could give to people through the prayer and offerings made to saints. As Keith Thomas states “The worship of saints was an integral part of the fabric of medieval society and was sustained by important social considerations.” The belief and worship of the saints was so intricate that the so called “holy men and women” of the past be assigned specific causes as to which they would be invoked in order to aid whoever called upon them. “S. Roch was good at the plague, S. Petronill at the aguu; For madmen and such as are possessed with devils, S. Romane was excellent…” The church would use the power and popularity the saints had over the public in order to exercise this idea that they filled this role of a dispenser of divine grace. However this power that the saints gave the church would eventually fade out once the sixteenth century came about and different reformers began to question the church’s teachings and this so called “divine power” God has supposed granted them.
The reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin would lead this cross examination of the church’ practices and by bringing into question of why the Church’s interpretation of the bible should still be considered fact when they themselves are morally and spiritually corrupt. Luther would use his 95 Theses to attack the indulgence system, declare the pope has no authority over who ends up in purgatory, and the merits of the saints had no foundation on the teachings of Christ. Ideas such as these would would propel the Reformation from an internal reform movement to full blown fracture of the western Christian church. With the diminishing of the church’s “miracle working” aspect of Christianity and the spotlight on church corruption increasing the Reformation would give Christians in England and throughout Europe a new perspective of religion. This would greatly impact the role of religion to the common medieval peasant. A peasants knowledge of the Church extended to what was taught to them and was only important due the rites being essential and supportive in nearly every important event in their life from their birth, to marriage, and death. This relationship is clearly shown by Keith when he gives an excerpt from Jeremy Taylor in seventeenth century who wrote about the Irish peasantry “give no account of their religion what it is: only believe as their priest bids them, and go to mass which they understand not..”.(76) The peasantry of England have known nothing else but religion as an integral part of their life when the Reformation came full force it forced them to supply their own interpretation of Bible and not what the Church would tell them.
As the Reformation gained steamed and the power of the Church was swiftly waning the king of England during this time, Henry VIII, would make an impressive play for expansion of his power. Henry VIII before severing ties from Catholic Church ironically was a devout Catholic himself who defended against Protestantism and was even given the title “Defender of Faith”. However this would all come to a head when Henry VII wanted an annulment from his current wife at the time, Catherine of Aragon, due to her unable to give him a male heir to the throne. Henry asked Pope Clement VII if he would annul the marriage but the pope refused on the basis that the Catholic faith believed in marriage for life and did not recognize nor support divorce of any kind. Henry VII, outraged by the pope’s refusal, demanded Parliament to investigate the many “abuses” of the Church which would in turn result in Henry abolishing all papal authority in England and establishing the Church of England. The former “devout and pious” king was now the supreme head of brand new church. With the this new position that Henry had given himself he would divert all taxes that formerly were directed to the Church now to the crown as well beginning the process of religious change in England. These changes included the liturgy reformed in English, destroying of icons, and ordering the closing of Catholic monasteries. In a very short span of time the Catholic Church had lost power and influence in England and now had a whole other sect to combat with. The Reformation would allow for Henry to greatly increase the political and religious power of the monarchy while at the same time leaving the Church losing one of its most crucial allies.