How far was the church in need of reform during your chosen period of study?

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How far was the church in need of reform during your chosen period of study?

During the 15-th and 16-th Century the Roman Catholic Church throughout Europe dominated most aspects of life and government. The clergy published the majority of books that were read therefore they had a strong influence over the religious beliefs and practices of those from higher social classes. Those who could not read where reached through the pulpit at Mass. The Roman Catholic Church also had considerable wealth due to taxes such as the tithe. Power over monarchs could also be asserted as on many occasions the Church had aided bankrupt monarchs.

However, due to the wealth and power it had obtained the Church had forgotten its fundamental role for providing spiritual leadership and the pursuit of eternal salvation. An example of this would be the Medici family who provided many Popes. Instead of bestowing proper leadership upon the clergy and their flocks, they promoted their own family interests. The Historian B. Reardon suggests that the Papacy was the central cause for the Reformation in the 16-th Century, they had failed to show proper spiritual and moral leadership. Allowing the spread of incompetence and corruption throughout the rest of the church. Bishops failed to attend their duties in their diocese and were reluctant to fulfil their duty of monitoring their clergy. The lower sections of the clergy such as Parish Priests were more often to be found illiterate and unable to provide sufficient spiritual leadership to their Parish. There was also evidence of clergymen holding several different posts for which they were collecting salaries for but ignoring the duties that went with the positions. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was renowned for exercising a certain amount of Pluralism.

The Church soon became a symbol of corruption and inefficiency among such people as Desiderius Erasmus. He was a biblical scholar and an outstanding student of Greek and Latin. He placed a great emphasis on the administrative importance of the Church and made little attack on the theology. He felt that Church was in dire need for a spiritual leader yet he did not criticise the contemporary Papacy, which conveyed that he favoured reform rather than revolution. He disliked the Monastic system of the Church whereby men completely abandoned their lives in the ordinary world to devote themselves to a life of prayer and mediation in monasteries. He also showed a dislike for indulgences as a truly repentant Christian had already gained remission for his/hers sins so therefore should not have to pay money to the church. Erasmus and the other humanists can be seen as isolated causes to the Reformation, but perhaps if the Pope had responded to Erasmus and the writing of the Humanists then a large scale Protestant Reformation could have been avoided. Although many people were living the Catholic Church during the 16-th Century, Erasmus remained a Roman Catholic Church and his willingness to challenge ideas, institutions and the men who led the Church inspired such Protestants as Luther, Zwingli and Calvin and therefore had a profound influence on the Counter Reformation.

As a result a Catholic Reformation developed to counter the Protestant Reformation during the 16-th Century. Other reasons that contributed to the Catholic Reformation were the ideas coming from the Spanish Church and England’s break from Rome.

By 1603 in England a separate Church of England had been firmly established. In 1529, Henry VIII decided upon a break from Rome. To a great extent the evidence suggests that the schism was not motivated by religious reasons but for Political convenience. By the time of Henry’s death the Church of England (based on what Henry claimed to be “Protestant” beliefs) had been reorganised and it regarded a form of National Catholicism. During the reign of Edward VI the church moved closer to the Protestant churches of Switzerland and Germany, with more radical reform. Under Mary I the Church’s form of religious practice went back to Catholicism relatively quickly after 1553. After 1558, however the Church came to a turning point in the development of religious change when Elizabeth ascended to the throne. Elizabeth’s reign permanently established the Church of England without any major reform after 1559.

Spain at around the same time was experiencing the Catholic Reformation. Spain’s need for reform differed from England’s need. By Charles I’s reign in 1523 the Papacy had given to Spain the right to fundamentally run the Church in Spain. However Henry did not have this privilege. Throughout the reigns of Isabella and Ferdinand; Charles I and Philip II, the main weapon used to enforce the reforms made to the Church was the Inquisition which gave the Catholic Monarchs a great deal of influence in religious matters. The need for Reform in Spain was to prevent Protestant ideas from spreading, which the Monarchs had observed in England and Germany. Isabella implemented much of the reform during her reign as she was influenced by the ideas of the Renaissance and disliked the level of corruption and immorality in the Church elsewhere. Spain contributed to the Catholic Reformation or the Counter Reformation, starting in the 1530’s although Michael Mullet argues that by the end of the 15-th Century in Spain a new “energy of reform process was appearing.” For example Isabella and Ferdinand were appointing high quality Bishops which spread to the lower levels of the clergy, which allowed the church to, became more efficient. It has been argued that for these reasons the Protestant ideas were not affecting Spain.

19-th Century historians, such as J. A. Froude and J. H. Green believe that the “Roman Catholic Church in England was in a poor state by 1529”, which allowed the spread of Protestant ideas that were coming in from the continent. As a result making it easy for Henry VIII to enforce a schism between Rome and England. On the other hand David Knowles and Philip Hughes believe that the “Roman Catholic Church in England at the time was in a good condition and the religious reform that took place between 1529 and 1536 was due to a greedy King that didn’t get his own way.” However this theory has been highly criticised, as both historians were Catholic Priests suggesting a non-objective view. The traditional view of the Catholic Church in England on the Eve of the Reformation was that Monks, Priests and Nuns were seen to be corrupt and inefficient. Bishops were looked upon as serving as a civil service to their Monarch rather than serving the Pope. Monasteries were seen as taking advantage of the huge wealth they held instead of using it for charitable causes. In full it has been suggested that many at the time regarded the Church in England, as lacking religious guidance and being subordinate to the agenda of the government. The modern view states that England was content with the state of the Church in 1529. People attending Church were still leaving money for charitable purposes. The English were still attending mass and endorsed the burning of heretics. Bishop Longland encouraged the high standards of clergy in his diocese as opposed to ignoring his duties and the Monasteries acted as a welfare state for the elderly. Christopher Haugh agrees with this view, arguing that the Church was an “able organisation that was in the favour of the English and well able to withstand and onslaught on its roles and beliefs.”

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If this view is correct then why did religious reform occur in England between 1529 and 1536? One argument is that in 1529 Henry VIII needed a divorce from Catherine of Aragon who happened to be Charles V’s (The Holy Roman Emperor) aunt. At this time Charles was in control of large parts of Italy, which included where the Pope, Clement VII resided. As a result the Pope would not allow Henry to divorce his wife and marry Anne Bolyn to secure a male heir for the English throne. Therefore the only way for Henry to obtain a divorce ...

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