Reformationwas a religious movement of the 1500's that led to Protestantism. It had a tremendous impact on social, political, and economic life. Its influences are still felt today. The movement began in 1517 when Martin Luther, a German monk, protested certain practices of the Roman Catholic Church. About 40 years later, Protestantism was established in nearly half of Europe.Before the Reformation, Europe had been held together religiously by the Catholic Church. After the Reformation, Europe had several large Protestant churches and some smaller Protestant religious groups. All of these churches competed with the Catholic Church—and with each other—for the faith and allegiance of the people.1
Religious causes.During the late Roman Empire and the early Middle Ages, missionaries had converted many European peoples to Christianity. The pope gradually took on greater importance and authority in the church and in relation to the secular(nonreligious) rulers. In the early 1200's, Pope Innocent III claimed that "Ecclesiastical liberty is nowhere better preserved than where the Roman church has full power in temporal as well as spiritual matters." But about 100 years later, in 1303, King Philip IV of France humiliated Pope Boniface VIII by having him arrested (see Philip IV). The secular rulers were growing in power, and the church was no longer a serious threat to them.In the 1300's and 1400's, the church suffered several serious setbacks. In 1309, the FrenchPope Clement V moved the papacy from Rome to Avignon, a city on the border of France. The papacy remained there for about 70 years. This period was called the Babylonian Captivity.It was named for the 70 years that the Biblical prophet Jeremiah predicted the Jews would spend as captives in ancient Babylon. In 1378, after Pope Gregory XI moved the papal residence back to Rome, a small group of French cardinals elected another pope, called an antipope(see Pope[The troubles of the papacy]). For nearly 30 years, there were two popes. After 1409, there was a third pope, who lived in Pisa, Italy. This split caused great confusion in the church. Some Catholic leaders believed that the church should be ruled by church councils rather than by a pope. Such councils met in Constance, Germany, from 1414 to 1418 and in Basel, Switzerland, from 1431 to 1449. The councils called for a "reform in head and members."Serious abuses also had appeared in the church. The large administrative structure of the church required a great deal of money to support it. To get this money, the church used many devices that hurt its spiritual nature. These devices included selling important positions in the church. In Italy, the popes and higher clergy lived like secular princes. They built lavish palaces and indulged in corrupt financial practices. The religious life of the church suffered. The sacraments were often celebrated mechanically. The church's spiritual message about God's mercy also was weakened by an emphasis on a person's good works.