The Protestant Reformation


The single most printed book following the creation of the printing press in the middle of the 15th Century (and indeed, the most printed book in history) was the Holy Bible. Bibles began to become more available and were being printed in the languages that the people spoke, rather than just in Latin. Many now had the opportunity to read the Bible for themselves for the first time.  As a result, vastly more people began to have access to religous text and began to see differences between what they read and what was practiced in the Catholic Church. Influential religous leaders and scholars such as Girolamo Savanarola, Martin Luther, John Calvin and Henry VIII drastically changed the European landscape at this time.


Some of the problems that reformers found with the Catholic Church included the following:

  • The Sale of Indulgences. The Church sold indulgences, which were essentially forgiveness from sin, for money. It began with people paying their way out of purgatory, but eventually evolved into paying for sins not yet committed and then to paying for the sins of deceased ancestors to free them from purgatory. 

  • Chritianity looked different all throughout Europe. To a large degree, this was because no one understood theteachings of the Bible, as many of the sermons and religious texts were not in the language that people spoke. As a result, no one was really sure exactly what it was to be Christian, other than just following what their local priest said.

  • The best religious jobs were often sold to the highest bidder or given to representatives from wealthy families. As a result, many priests did not know much about Christianity, and did not live according to its precepts. As a result, people were taught many different things. Some of those things were contrary to much of what was written in the Bible.


In 1515, the Pope began a new indulgence campaign throughout all of Christendom to raise money to rebuild St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. A German monk named Martin Luther took exception to this, among other things and nailed 95 complaints about the current Church to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg in protest. Thus began the Protestant Reformation.

A 1530 woodcut Jörg Breu the Elder of Augsburg depicting the Sale of Indulgences.

Key Figures of the Reformation


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The Protestant Reforation - Read by Mr. Berrigan
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