The review of events past is based upon tales and writings that have been handed over generations, some that have lost their original form. Basically, what might be called lost in translation and getting down to that defining factor or moment presents obstacles such as the likelihood of the writer of a text having put his thoughts about the event, not necessarily the way it happened, or writing from tales told of how it happened, not how exactly things happened.
Protestantism or seeking reform cannot be merely tagged to that date on Oct. 31, 1517 when the German monk Martin Luther tagged his writings, the 95 thesis, on what he saw as deviation from the norm by the Church. This was the culmination of the need to question the authenticity of what the Church was peddling as Doctrine, morals and dogma. The moral decay that protestant reformists wanted to address went back to as far back as the 4th century when morality in the church took a nose dive after wealth and favors from the wealthy and the fact that the church had taken a foothold on the people became the major concerns of the clergy.
The protestant reformation was long in coming, and had not the church been doing all in its powers to contain splinter groups and repress the voices of discord that spoke in dissonance with the papacy, reformation would have come earlier. The Catholic Church had enjoyed centuries of unchallenged power, and the papacy had become a seat of immense political power. Corruption was at its height, with different power in medieval times were involved in power plays, seeking to control who rose o the papacy in a bid to extol matters that were not religious at all, seeking to use the influence the Church, the Catholic Church had on the laity.
According to the Catholic encyclopedia, agitation for reformation can be traced back to the 14th century when the ecclesiastics sought to influence or were influenced on matters civil when they were supposed to serve religious matters. The Catholic Church was in the form of selling pardoning to the laity. This had for long created schisms within the Church, and when the Pope sent a professional pardoner in the name of Johan Tetzel to Germany to sell ‘pardons’ for sin in order to raise money to rebuild the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, a German Monk, Martin Luther, who was to later come to be known as the father of Protestantism showed reason why the Pope had not authority of or right to pardon sins. This reasons that were nailed to the door of the castle Church in Wittenberg later came to be known as the 95 thesis.
The issue of indulgences, or pardons brought conflict those religious leaders who were for serving the Church according to the Christian doctrine and wanted to promote the Christian Church according to what the y believed Jesus Christ would have wished, not what the powers of the land, the Papacy, wanted it to be.
Martin Luther is credited as the man who began Protestantism as he appeared on the scene when cracks had already begun to appear in the façade that was the church. The voices of discord had been silenced for so long and the time was right. The rediscovery of learning and the loose of hold of the Church on some governments like the French had created an atmosphere for reformation. The renaissance had caught on and the clergy such as Luther and Calvin who were of the mind that the Church was not following the right path had an audience that was ready for their views. The people now had access to the bible thanks to the Gettysburg printing press in many languages and the challenge for what the catholic deemed as apostolic succession whereby a popes teachings when teaching ‘ex cathedra’, (on matters concerning the Church) were infallible was challenged(). The Popes, most of whom were corrupt or were mere puppets of the real political powers, Powers who often waged wars with other Nations in a bid to consolidate power and add to their bloated wealth had long lost the unquestionable mandate of the people, and the only way forward was to out rightly challenge their authority from within.
When Luther argued that it was by faith alone, not the buying of indulgences as the Catholic Church had purported for so long that could get one to heaven, thanks to the fact that the pope at the time was an easy going fellow and the fact that information flowed with ease, the general populace fell for Luther’s line of thought and soon every revolt against authority of any kind, civil or religious was tagged on Lutherism, as sense of rebellion against the norms that been the shackles spread by ecclesiastic teachings.
Most of the states of the time owed allegiance to the papacy, but after the papacy had been challenged, states started to challenge the authority of the Papacy especially on who was to benefit from the proceeds the Church used to collect. Also, as it was not possible to distinguish between Church and State, most states took this chance to seize Church property that was so vast and so the dice was cast (Knight, 2009).
What followed was civil discord way beyond what the reformists had hoped for. The Papacy was under siege and loyalty, in England, where the papacy had for long enjoyed an uneasy relationship with the crown, political decisions, or decisions by the crown that would have far reaching consequences on the Catholic were taking place. The English king, King Henry the Eighth was not happy with the Catholic Churches stand that he could not divorce his wife. With Protestantism sweeping across the other republics and small German republics he saw the chance to salvage his situation.
Henry fired his advisor on the marriage matter and put in his place advisers who were sympathetic to the Luther reforms. The English Parliament recognized King Henry the eighth as its leader after a lengthy debate that took seven years and the wheels to shut Catholicism from England had been set in place. This formed the basis of future power plays, in England, as political power oscillated between Catholic and Church of England leaning monarch’s with all the intrigues the two could afford. Elsewhere, the chance to reform places like Geneva where the Papacy had lost its influence due to falling out with the local monarchies gave people like John Calvin the go ahead to institute reforms on charges they had control of.
The growth of Protestantism, from a moral Church point of view to the selfish ends of the likes of King Henry took a different outlook and its growth was defined by other factors, be it political, feudal but as James. A Wylie and The History of Protestantism say, it was and is all a matter of principle, that Protestantism is a fairly new concept while the matter of reformation goes back to the very earliest beginning of the Church when different interpretations on the way forward began to appear.
This school of thought argues that for Protestantism to have taken root and spread was due to the fact that this reformation took to affirm that the moral authority of the Church was not just something that mortals could bestow upon others by mere acceptance or giving of gifts but to return the Church to the original thought and practice where the divine power was all supreme, that the Papacy, or the Church was not the all encompassing ticket to God but through Faith and upright action. How this was to be achieved was through rigorously following the original teachings of the Church and living by them.
This seems to disagree with the fact that in the English perspective the Church only changed its allegiance in the form of recognizing the King as the absolute authority and the use of the English bible in prayer while all the other functions remained sorely like those of the Catholic Church they had abandoned.
The deviation of the Papal powers from the original form of being a servant of the people to the form of being a go between the people and the laity touted as the greatest digression by the Church powers, that which brought irrevocable harm on the operations of the Church and instead of the Church being a sanctuary it became the oppressor.
One of the greatest effects of Protestantism was shaping the political landscape of Europe and these dictated future trends on social political and economic activities. The reformation had far reaching effects, with different splinter groups developing at will, and this watered down to the many sects we have, but opening the way for religious freedoms although at a price often as costly as death by the first to openly go against the Papacy into what it is today. The reformation was more than in house cleaning. It was the birth of a new angle, a new approach to issues, a rebuke of the old ways, a change of habit from the ugly into the world of the uncertain but that which the conviction of faith was utmost.
Coming at a time when political powers too were shifting, alliances were being formed in the secular world and new territories were being chartered, the world was coming from the dark ages and great thinkers were coming to fore in this era, shaping the thoughts of the people proved to be the greatest asset Protestantism reformation could count on to thrive, and thrive it did. This has been attributed to the hand of God, that in all man can do, in his erring ways, the path the Lord has chosen and anointed will never be devoid of light.