In the fifteenth century, corruption and incompetence appeared in the Catholic Church, and the society was chaotic. When a German Augustinian friar, Martin Luther (1483-1546), tacked his ninety five theses on the door of the collegiate Church of Wittenberg in 1517, the Reformation began. Luther’s theses were an attack on the Roman Catholic doctrine of indulgences. Therefore he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church, and the Protestant Reformation has been born. This event has changed the German society and the history of Christian.
At first, we need to understand why the Reformation happened in Europe at that time. According to Lawrence Cunningham and John Reich in Culture and Values: a Survey of the Humanities, “the standard answer is that the medieval church was so riddled with corruption and incompetence that it was like a house of cards waiting to be toppled” (340). Perhaps, the basic reason for the Reformation is the corruption from the Church and it needed to be solved. The second cause was “the rising sense of nationalism in Europe combined with increasing resentment at the economic and political demands made by the papacy” (340).
Next, “the idea of reform in the church had actually been maturing for centuries, with outcries against abuses and pleas for change” (341). Moreover, there are some other factors that lead to the Reformation. “The low moral and intellectual condition of most of the clergy was problem: the wealth and lands of the monastic and Episcopal lords were envied” (341). Next, we should note some similarities before analyzing the differences between the Reformation and the Renaissance. The first similarity is that the reformers and the humanist shared several religious aversions.
“They were both fiercely critical of monasticism, the decadent character of popular devotion to the saints, the low intellectual preparation of the clergy, and the general venality and corruption of higher clergy, especially the papal curia” (342). In the Reformation, we can see that the clergy at that time were not trained very well. Few of them have studied, and the rest were foolish and ignorant, but they still had a power. The foolish people can be clergy, just for some personal purposes or enjoying their life, by using the power of money.
Therefore there are corruptions from the low to the high level. Secondly, according to Lawrence “both the humanists and the reformers felt that the scholastic theology of the universities had degenerated into quibbling argument, meaningless discussions, and dry academic exercises bereft of any intellectual or spiritual significance” (342). From this we can see a common reaction; both rejected the scholastic of the medieval universities in favor of Christian writers of an earlier age.
In the other words, people denied the scholastic of the universities, they just imagine. The third similarity is that people in these two periods tried to study the Bible, not just reading and follow it. “Humanists and reformer alike spearheaded a move toward a better understand of the Bible based not on the authority of the theological interpretation but on close, critical scrutiny of the text, preferably in the original Hebrew and Greek” (342). People tried to understand the Bible and translate into some languages.
Lawrence said, “We can see the connection between humanist learning and the Reformation more clearly by noting some aspects of Luther’s great translation of the Bible into German” (342). Although there are some similarities between humanists and reformers, there are also some differences. As what Lawrence mention, “the first relates to concepts of the nature of humanity” (342). The Florence humanists suppose that knowledge is very powerful, and they placed great emphasis on the profoundly Greek notion that education can produce a moral person.
In the contrast, the reformers “felt that humanity was hopelessly mired in sin and could only be raised from that condition by the freely offers grace of God” (342). It means that the humanists’ position that education could perfect a person undercut the notion of a sinful humanity in need of redemption. Another difference is that the contrast between two points of view between Luther and Erasmus on the nature of the human will. “In a 1524 treatise called De Libero Arbitrio (On Free Will), Erasmus defended the notion that human effort cooperates in the process of sanctification and salvation” (342).
In general, the political and cultural life of Northern Europe was changed by the Reformation. Many northern countries turned to another form of religion which is called Protestantism. In addition, the Protestant’s appearance also enriches the religious culture. And it can be considered as a remarkable period like the Renaissance in Italy.
Lawrence S. Cunningham and John J. Reich. Cultures and Values: A Survey of the Humanities, 6th Edition. Thomson Learning, 2006.