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The Shaping of Modern Europe Index
The Church before the Reformation I : Indulgences, Relics and Pilgrimages
17th Century Europe
THE SHAPING OF MODERN EUROPE
Introduction to the Reformation
This period is known as the Reformation, quite simply because it was then that the Church was reformed. That is, people criticised and changed the way the Catholic Church worked.
The desire for reform was not universal - some people wanted change while others did not. There were two main groups of people who were trying to alter the Church: Those within the Church - the clergy and the lay people - ordinary people.
During the Council of Constance (1414-1418) and the Council of Basle (1431-1439), a debate had begun within the Church. At these meetings, high-level clergy met to discuss problems within the Church. The result of these discussions was a call to reform certain things. By discussing its problems the Church highlighted to people what was wrong.
In addition to this, people's attitudes were being radically altered by the Renaissance. For example, men such as Leonardo da Vinci were developing modern science and challenging traditional beliefs about the world. This led to a growth of knowledge that was uncontrolled by the Church and which often challenged what was written in the Bible, as well as what the pope said. Another example was Copernicus who began to argue that the sun, and not the Earth, was the centre of the Universe.
There were challenges to the Bible aided by the invention of the printing press. From around 1450, various people in Europe, including Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany, developed a way of using printing blocks to produce books rather than copying them by hand.
Page from the first volume of the Gutenberg Bible (Johannes Gutenberg 1454)
Until then the writing or copying of books had always been under the control of the Church. Monks had laboriously copied pages and pages of text and provided illustrations for them. Gutenberg's press changed all this. The Church could no longer censor books that it considered unsuitable (i.e. those that challenged the Church's ideas). Luther and Calvin were able to develop their own versions of the Bible as a result.
The cost of books came down as their availability increased. This, added to the fact that there was a growing middle class, led to more ideas being easily available to more people.
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