How far does the evidence suggest that the early 16th Century Church exploited religious faith to increase wealth?

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Emma Yeo

How far does the evidence suggest that the early 16th Century Church exploited religious faith to increase wealth?

The early 16th Century Church was an important authority in the lives of many, including ordinary people, but to some it was also seen as exploitative of people’s faith in order to gain additional revenue.

Source 1, an extract from an anti-clerical pamphlet by Simon Fish, suggests that people were exploited with money going to the “greedy horde”, a wholly negative image. The idea that “priests are not shepherds” reiterates that the role of priests and other religious figures is to guide people especially those like ‘sheep’ who cannot help themselves; it is their role to bring people closer to God. Instead, they are described as “ravenous wolves” with a strength that they may use to control or manipulate in an unfair way.


Source 2 gives a view completely opposite to this, suggesting that the Church is a deserving authority, rather than one which exploits faith for monetary gain. While Source 1 describes priests and other religious figures as “idle, holy thieves” who are undeserving, Source 2 by Aske implies that the “great alms given to poor men” meant that the money given to the Church was well spent. Both sources suggest that the poorest are most affected by the Church’s influence, whether in a positive or negative way.

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Source 1 declares that “poor wives must be accountable for every tenth egg or be taken as a heretic” which suggests exploitation of people’s beliefs, to be marked as a heretic would be extremely damaging to the religious with a fear of punishments, whether tangible or in the afterlife (purgatory etc). The Church was a great power which people felt that they wanted to or felt they had to obey, religion was extremely important to them.


On the other hand, source 2 focuses on the “poor and ignorant” who are reliant on the Church for “spiritual guidance ...

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