, Research Paper
Without Martin Luther, the Protestant reformation would have still occurred because it was mostly a result of social and economic issues of the times. Martin Luther did have a very important role in the reformation, as his ideas unified a group of people who all had the same types of beliefs, but needed direction. When Luther, disgusted with corruption in the church, published his ninety-five thesis he gave those who were uneasy with the church a common thread which stated their beliefs, and gave them confidence to publicly state their own opinions and form their own ideologyLuther didn’t invent reformist ideas; he was just the only one bold enough to tell people what they already knew. Without Luther, the reformation may not have gotten rolling the way it did, but some changes would have undoubtedly occurred. People still would have been uncomfortable with corruption in the church, and they still would have done something about it. Without a leader like Luther, the church may have been able to somewhat control the ideas of reformists, but reformation is a part of human nature, and there is no way it can be avoided. Although Luther’s motivations were spiritual in nature, much of the rise of Protestantism was not. Common people did not like the tithe imposed on them by the church which took ten percent of their yearly income, and rulers didn’t like the amount of influence the church had on their territories. Since the church commonly owned as much as one third of the land belonging to a city, they had an enormous wealth that they paid no taxes on. This lack of taxation kept a good deal of income from the rulers of an area, and caused taxes on common people to be raised in order to compensate. Because of this, the church was in essence not only taking a tithe from its members, but it was also causing their taxes to be raised. When rulers saw the opportunity to break with the church and make their official faith Lutheran, they did so not always because they deeply believed in the Lutheran doctrine, but so they could claim the church’s massive land holdings for the state and make enormous profits by selling or renting the land to taxpaying citizens. By breaking with the church, rulers also eliminated any outside influence on them by the pope such as having the entire territory excommunicated in order to pressure the ruler into doing what the pope wanted. Also, in situations like the case of Henry VIII, rulers broke with the church because they saw the opportunity to do what they wanted without papal approval. Besides financial reasons, the worldliness and corruption of church officials also offended people. Members of the clergy frequently did not lead as good spiritual lives as those to whom they preached. In addition to the fact that clergymen were lacking in morals, many were also lacking in education. People began to become disgusted with priests who could not read or write as well as the paritioners. In the past, priests had always been highly educated, but gradually the church began to lower their standards for those who led ceremonies on a day to day basis. People did not appreciate the fact that the church didn’t seem to care about its members as much as it did about itself. All these factors led to a social distrust and resentment of the church which caused people to call for change.
This change, regardless of whether it was the result of Martin Luther’s ideas or society’s, could not have occurred without the most important invention for the reformation, the printing press. The only reason Luther was able to unify so many and gain so much support for his movement was that his texts were mass-produced and widely distributed. This increased public knowledge of a topic that the church would have preferred to keep quiet, as well as increasing the intelligence of ordinary people. Had there been no printing press, nobody would have ever heard of Martin Luther, he simply would have been dismissed as another heretic. Regardless of Luther and other great reformists, the main reason for the reformation can be traced to one source, the Catholic Church. Because the church went so far overboard in trying to force their beliefs and ways upon people, they created a great animosity among the general public. Also, members of the clergy were so worldly and concerned with money that they did almost anything to get it, including making light of serious religious tenets such as the sacrament of reconciliation, by selling indulgences. Had members of the church practiced what they preached and lived lives of austerity and spirituality, perhaps the reformation could have been put off for a few hundred years, but it never could have been stopped. Whether it had been Martin Luther or Jim Nobody, someone would have gone out on a limb and published their ideas, starting a reformation of the church. With a leader like Luther, who unified believers in a common cause, the reformation hit the church like a ton of bricks. Lacking any type of leader, reformists would have been rebels without a cause, and the reformation might not have hit the church like a ton of bricks, but like a ton of feathers.