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''Luther, more than anyone, was to blame for the schism.''

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''Luther, more than anyone, was to blame for the schism.'' How valid is this assessment of Luther's role in the schism? It is fair to claim that Martin Luther's appealing arguments and truculent nature were largely to blame in ending the ecclesiastical supremacy of the Pope in Western Christendom, thus sparking off the German Reformation. He set in motion substantial changes to the culture and politics of 16th century Europe that, albeit unintentionally, helped shape the course of European history. However, we must remember that although the movement dates from the early 16th century, when Luther first defied the authority of the church, the conditions that led to his revolutionary stand had existed for hundreds of years. It is equally fair to argue that had the Catholic church not moved so drastically away from the teachings of Christ, the schism would not have happened at all, since there would have been no cause for it to. The papacy had become vulnerable to attack, because of the greed and ignorance of many of its officials. We must, therefore, thoroughly explore the condition of the Catholic church during Luther's challenge. It is also crucial that we acknowledge the many other interwoven factors and leading figures that played a part in the development of the Reformation. Thus factors such as the printing press, which allowed the rapid spread of Reformation ideals, and encouraged literacy, the strong feelings of resentment festering within the German populace at the corruption of the Catholic church, the prevalence of the Renaissance mindset, and finally the work of the humanists cannot be ignored. Without all these factors, the strength of Luther's character alone was not enough to propel this religious movement. The worldliness of the Roman Catholic had reached its zenith during this period, and was at the heart of Luther's attack on it in 1517 when he wrote his Ninety-Five Theses. ...read more.


Johnston writes, 'There is little doubt that if Leo X had immediately corrected the worst abuses surrounding indulgences, the affair could have been settled quickly.' However the response was too late and Luther had gained more valuable time to spread his ideas further. In April 1518, Pope Leo took a rather paternal approach by safely delegating Luther to his order, the order of Augustian friars, so that they could attempt to deal with him. Unfortunately for him, his plan recoiled, and Luther's stance was supported amongst the monks. Yet another six long months passed before the Pope finally acknowledged Luther seriously, and summoned him to Rome. It is now that the significance of Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, comes into play. He was the most important supporter of Luther and his teachings. When Luther was summoned to Rome by Pope Leo X he could refuse on legitimate grounds, as a result of Frederick's veto. Leo X was reluctant to estrange himself from Frederick the Wise, since he was one of the electors holding a critical vote. This in itself is an indication of Leo X obsession with earthly issues. Frederick's position in the political realm was a force to be reckoned with and as a result, he was able to supply Luther with a proper political shelter many a time, which will soon become apparent in the course of these events. In October 1518, Pope Leo X forced Luther to appear before Cardinal Cajetan in Augsburg. Here the Cardinal demanded Luther to take back everything that he has said in his Ninety-Five Theses. Luther refused to, insisting that he only would if his theses could be proved incorrect by use of the Bible, whereas Cajetan asserted that it was within the Pope's power and no one else's to construe any message from the Bible, since he was the spokesman of God on earth. ...read more.


The Reformation followed the era of the Renaissance, which saw moral and spiritual decline in the papacy. The popes of this time were ''carried away by the spirit of the age'' (Gonzalez 370). The church leadership had become so worldly, that the name of Christ was rarely mentioned. The situation was ripe for reform. Society was becoming better educated and nationalism was on the rise as Kings were able to take more and more authority from Rome. The common man was beginning to see the corruption of their church which naturally arose from being entangled in politics, wealth, and unchallenged authority. The 15th and 16th century saw a tremendous surge in the amount of new knowledge being obtained by Europeans. Also numerous technological inventions furthered the quest for more information concerning the natural world; the printing press was key in spreading reformed views. The first mistake the church made was to underestimate the character of Luther. Pope Leo X discounted Luther's unbending intellectual moral courage and saw him as some ''drunken German who will amend his ways when he sobers up''. Luther originally never intended to form a separate church and it was largely due to the poor handling of the situation by Pope Leo X that finally led to the formation of a separate Protestant church. Added to the above elements, one of the biggest factors contributing to Martin Luther's open defiance of the Church was the prestige of Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony. This unconditional umbrella of protection that Frederick provided for Luther that largely strengthened his word, and facilitated the route to reform. Without proper political protection, the strength of Luther's character alone was insufficient to raise the seedlings of the Reformation. This is the combination that proves so crucial to the beginnings of the Reformation. These factors, and the uncompromising line Luther adopted lead to the amelioration of the church system. Hence the success of the Reformation was clearly not due to Luther's character alone, but welded together by politics and ecclesiastic factors. By Hanan Al-Abdullah. , ...read more.

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