Church History: Reformation (1)

By Aude McKee


I. In our lessons thus far, we have studied the establishment of the Lord’s church; its growth, departures from the divine pattern; the rise of the Catholic Church and some doctrines of Catholicism.

II. As the years rolled by, the Roman Catholic Church became more powerful and more corrupt. In this period from the 5th to the 15th centuries:

A. The Bible became virtually a sealed book. “The Bible was chained to the pulpit.”

B. Priest-ridden people were kept in ignorance.

III. As time went on, there were courageous voices raised against the corruption of Rome. These voices, protesting the excesses of Catholicism, eventually produced the “Protestant Reformation.”


I. The Underlying Causes of the Reformation.

A. Corruption within the Catholic Church.

1. Wicked popes.

a. The Catholic Question Box (pp. 483-4) readily admits that there were a “few unworthy popes.”

b. John XII was such a monster of wickedness that upon the complaint of the people of Rome, the emperor Otho caused him to be tried and deposed. The Pope’s reply was, “We hear that you want to make another pope. If that is your design, I excommunicate you all in the name of the Almighty, that you may not have it in your power to ordain any other, or even to celebrate mass.”

c. Benedict IX (1033) was more than once expelled from Rome by the people for his debaucheries, and finally sold his popedom to Gregory VI.

d. Alexander VI (1492) was elected through bribery, and history reveals no example of depravity that exceeds that of this “head of the church.” It is said that not one of the analysts of the Roman Church has breathed a whisper in his praise. Among his debaucheries, he is said to have given a splendid entertainment in the Vatican to no less than 50 public prostitutes. While popes never marry, yet this link in the “apostolic chain” is said to have acknowledged five children by a Roman matron.

2. Indulgences.

a. An indulgence was a document that could be bought for a sum of money and that would free one from the temporal penalty of sin.

b. During the dark ages, indulgences became a license to sin.

c. John Tetzel was the most notorious indulgence salesman.

B. Internal strife.

1. Division between the East and the West (1054).

a. When Constantine moved his capitol to Constantinople in 330, he paved the way for the separation of the Catholic Church into the East and West.

b. Difficulty arose over the use of the title “universal bishop.”

c. Then the two movements got at odds over:

(1) When to celebrate Easter.

(2) Celibacy. Priests in the Eastern church I marry.

(3) Bowing before relics, pictures, etc. The Catholic Church in the East removed all crosses from their buildings so they could not be charged with idolatry.

d. In 1053 the patriarch of Constantinople condemned the church in the West for the use of unleavened bread in communion. After prolonged discussions, the patriarch was excommunicated. The patriarch was not to be outdone so he excommunicated the pope of Rome. From this time (1054) the Roman Catholic and the Greek Orthodox churches were separate.

2. “Babylonian Captivity.”

a. Early in the 14th century, a French archbishop was chosen pope due to a struggle over the right of kings to tax clergy and wage war. The headquarters of the Roman Church were moved to Avignon, France.

b. In 1377 the papacy was moved back to Rome and Urban VI was elected pope. He didn’t get along with the hierarchy, so they elected another pope, Clement VII, who moved the church capitol back to Avignon. But Urban VI continued to reign in Rome. Both popes claimed to be the legitimate successors of Peter and this split referred to as “The Great Schism” continued into the 15th century when the Council of Pisa (1409) deposed both the Avignon and Roman popes and appointed a third. The other popes refused to recognize this action and so for a while there were three rival popes. The Council of Constance (1414-1418) resulted in the elimination of all three and the election of one new pope — Martin V.

C. The Inquisition.

1. The Inquisition was an elaborate system of the Catholic Church to inquire into the beliefs of persons suspected of being heretics. People accused of being heretics were tried in the court of the Inquisition. If an accused person confessed and renounced his heresy he was reconciled with the Church on performance of penance. If he did not voluntarily confess,he would be subjected to torture, one of the most commonly used forms being the rack, which wrenched the legs of the victim. If torture failed to make the victim confess he was declared a heretic and turned over to the secular authorities to be burned at the stake.

2. The Inquisition existed from 1229 to 1834 and operated chiefly in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and France. Thousands were put to death because they dared differ with the Roman Catholic Church. In France, 930 Inquisitional sentences from 1308 to 1323 (15 years) show that 42 were put to death, 140 acquitted, and 748 were tortured.

II. Other Factors That Contributed To The Reformation.

A. The Renaissance – the re-birth of desire for learning.

B. Translation of the Bible into different languages so that the man in the street could read it.

C. Invention of the printing press by Gutenburg in 1454.

1. Prior to this, all books, including the Bible, were written by hand.

2. This made the price so high and the supply so limited that the common man could not afford to own any books -not even the Bible.

III. Forerunners of the Reformation.

A. Between 1000 and 1400 different groups arose as internal and external revolts to purify religion. Among them were:

1. The Albigenses.

a. They rejected the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. They put emphasis on the authority of the New Testament.

b. In 1208, a Roman Catholic Crusade was sponsored in an effort to wipe them out.

c. Not until the end of the 14th century was the Inquisition able to destroy them.

2. Waldenses.

a. A Puritan movement named after Peter Waldo.

b. Attempted to reinstate the Bible as authority.

c. The Roman Catholic Church reacted to this movement by excommunication, by forbidding the people to use Bible translations in their own Conclusion: tongue, and by the Inquisition.

B. Peter Du Bruys, France.

1. He contended for New Testament authority.

2. He opposed infant baptism, transubstantiation, etc.

3. He was burned at the stake in 1126.

C. John Wycliff (1320-13 84). England. “Morningstar of the reformation.”

1. “He anticipated the grand Reformation with a knowledge of the religious situation, with a perspicuity of genius, and by apostolic blows of radical reform, that shook the very foundations of the Papal edifice.”

2. He set aside Papal decrees by a direct appeal to the Word of God.

3. He denied transubstantiation, confirmation, extreme unction, auricular confession, indulgences.

4. He boldly asserted that presbyters and bishops were the same in the New Testament.

5. He translated most of the Bible into the English language.

6. He was excommunicated by the Catholic Church but he was allowed to die a natural death.

7. Some years after his death, Pope Martin V had his bones dug up, burned, and the ashes thrown in the River Swift. “The vicious spirit of apostasy would not let his bones rest in peace!”

D. John Huss (1369-1415), Bohemia.

1. Born of poor peasants – received a good education. Rose to the position of dean of the theological faculty of the University of Prague.

2. Came to appreciate the writings of Wycliff. “I am attracted to his writings, for all his efforts are to lead men back to the law of Christ.”

3. Pope then decreed that no one in the University could hold the doctrines of Wycliff. Huss continued his teaching in the chapel. He was then excommunicated.

4. He remained in the city and taught. Then the city was placed under interdict. Huss could not be harbored or fed. No priest could perform his duties in the city until Huss was expelled.

5. Huss then left the city but continued to preach in the country.

6. The Council of Constance (1414-18) brought him to trial. He was promised safe conduct and was supposed to be allowed to defend himself. His trial was a farce.

7. On his birthday, July 6, 1415, Huss calmly heard his sentence.

8. His priestly garments were ripped off, a miter of paper was placed on his head with this inscription, “A Ringleader of Heretics.”

9. His books were burned at the gate of the church and he was led to the suburbs to be burned alive.

10. As the flames leaped about him, he sang a hymn and then cried, “Jesus Christ, thou Son of the living God, have mercy on me.”

11. His ashes were then collected and thrown in the Rhine.


1. Every movement of any consequence has had a foundation on which to build.

2. The Reformation was motivated by the corruption within the Roman Catholic Church.

3. The ground work was laid in renewed desire on the part of people to learn; in the invention of the printing press; and in the translation, publication and distribution of the Word of God.

4. But there had to be people; people who loved truth more than life!

5. There were men like Wycliff and Huss, but just as importantly, there were that host of common folk who wanted to know the truth and were willing to pay the price.

6. What kind of a person would you have been if you had lived back then?

7. What kind of a person are you now? Are you concerned about truth? Are you willing to pay whatever price is demanded in order to obey the Lord’s will?

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 15, pp. 454-456
August 4, 1988