Corruption of the Catholic Church 1100's to 1500 Term Paper

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Corruption of the Catholic Church, 1100-1500

On October 31, 1517, an event took place which carved a niche of immortality for one of the pivotal figures in religious history and quite literally caused a power shift away from what was up until that time the dominant religious force in the world. More specifically, Martin Luther, an ordained Catholic priest, on that day in 1517 published a series of essays which on the surface challenged the supremacy of the Catholic Church, but ultimately, crushed the control that Catholic Popes had on Western religions quite literally for countless generations (Jourdan, 1914). What was seen in this action, which in fact became the foundation of the Lutheran faith (so named for Martin Luther) was the climax of protest against over 400 years of corruption on the part of the Catholic Church (Mullett, 2000). This research will reflect back upon the original problems created within the Catholic church which led to this upheaval, alternatives that could have been taken, more desirable courses of action, and finally, a conclusion which sums up what the research has uncovered, altogether shedding more light on this fascinating chapter in world religious history.

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TOPIC: Term Paper on Corruption of the Catholic Church 1100's to 1500's Assignment

The problem at the root of the corruption that held court over the Catholic church for so many years was in fact one of the driving forces which led Luther to originally question his priestly vows in the first place- the nature of sin, redemption and God's ability to redeem the souls of the sinners themselves. People gravitated toward organized religion in the first place, according to many scholars, as a means of worshipping their God, gods, or whatever they considered to be the Supreme Being to which they owed their existence- in this life and any other that were to follow thereafter. Therefore, one of the benefits that humans ultimately seek through the religious experience is forgiveness of sins and the ability to reach heaven, in the case of Christians, Valhalla in the case of Norsemen, etc. (Fredericks, 2003). The Catholic Church, at some point, put forth the idea that God's redemptive powers could not be gained on the part of the individual by direct prayer to God and repentance for sins, but rather that the church was the only intermediary who could make it possible for salvation (Fredericks, 2003). As such, what is seen is a situation that places the individual totally vulnerable and dependent upon the church for the keys to life itself-both human and heavenly. Modern readers of this research would simply dismiss such a bid for control, saying that it would be possible for an individual to quickly learn that God is available to anyone, without the help of other human beings. This was all but impossible for the average Catholic in the 12th century, however, because of a variety of different keys to knowledge which the church held in its pocket, and only distributed selectively.

First and foremost is the concept of education; again, educated people of today can discern between what is fact and what someone is attempting to make them believe through deception or intimidation. However, the average person of the 12th century was not well educated, and as such, typically lacked the financial resources to provide for an education for their children as the next generation coming forward, nor was education typically held in high regard, as the ability to teach a child how to perform labor for wages at an early age was more popular than the later benefits of education (Jourdan, 1914). Even if one had the ambition and the resources to gain an education for someone in their family, the educational institutions of the time were sponsored, maintained, staffed and controlled by none other than the Catholic Church, creating a multi-layered barrier against learning about alternative religious views from several viewpoints. Anyone who may have had the potential to question the authority of the church, as well as their families and associates, could merely be denied admission to schools under the thinnest of reasons. Once inside the schools, even those lucky or wealthy enough to be admitted were subjected to curricula engineered by the Catholic Church to further indoctrinate the impressionable minds of students in the ways of Catholicism (Ditchfield, 2007). Without access to schools, many people were denied the ability to learn how to read, thereby even making access to books outside of the schools useless; books were extremely rare and expensive during this time also, keeping the poor in a shadow of ignorance.

Due to the difficulty in producing books during this time, usually only the most important works were in fact duplicated. One of these was of course the Holy Bible, which is the literary backbone of Christianity. Because the Catholic Church controlled most of the resources to create Bibles, those that were made available were written in Latin, very difficult to learn outside of the influence of the church. The Catholic versions of the Bible, moreover, were of course written to reinforce the claims that the Catholic Church was the only key to heaven for anyone (Mullett, 2000). All of this formed a strong network of what we would call propaganda in the modern day, and helped the Catholic Church to control the masses of people who sought religious satisfaction.

In controlling the people, the Catholic Church likewise was able to gather an extremely high level of power. Churches are usually seen to be sources of peace and passive behavior, but from the 12th to 16th centuries, the Catholic Church had reached a high point of armed power over those that would oppose it. Access to the people meant the ability to collect large amounts of money, which the church also claimed was necessary for the obtaining of favors from the church. Money led to the resources to take up arms against enemies of the church, a practice which Catholics, by the 12th century, had been doing for centuries, from the time of the 962 uprising of the Holy Roman Empire under Pope Otto I and continued in the battles waged by the British Empire in the 13th century to strip the Catholic church of the extensive land holdings it had grabbed in the English territories over the years (Stanwood, 2005). In this sense, the early Popes rose to the status of emperors, or more precisely, warlords. Popes enjoyed unfettered power until the late 15th century, when English reformist John Wycliffe boldly attacked the power structure of the Popes, protesting the monopoly that Catholic leaders claimed on the kingdom of heaven. As a means of reaching the common people, Wycliffe translated the Bible into English, interpreted it in a more traditional and less Catholic way, and held Mass in English, rather than Latin, to make sure that even those unable to read the pages of the Bible could still benefit from its teachings (Jourdan, 1914).

The greed and corruption which Wycliffe and others spoke against in the 15th century had been ongoing for centuries by the time it was dealt its biggest challenges by church reformers. Popes, as was earlier discussed, amassed huge fortunes, ruled over millions of people, and behind the scenes, rarely practiced the lives of poverty, chastity, charity and mercy that they forced upon their church members; rather, the Pope was, once again, more of a king than a priest. Priests themselves were also frequently not much better than the Popes in terms of their religious faith and obedience. If someone were wealthy enough, they could purchase the credentials of a priest from the Pope, thereby giving them a sort of religious franchise, allowing them to open a church, collect dues from the members, keep a portion and give the fair share back to the Pope, much like one would operate a franchised business in the modern day. This business- the early Catholic church- sold salvation and favors to the highest bidders (Fredericks, 2003).

By the time that the best known reformers gained a foothold, the Catholic Church was out of control in many ways; however, in retrospect, this did not have to be the case. Rather, alternative courses of action were in fact available.

Alternative Courses of Action

The Catholic Church, it seems could have taken an alternative course of action in terms of building allegiance and loyalty. By most accounts, the early Catholics were people who were looking for God's grace and an organized way to feel as part of a church community to share their faith and gain some solace from the bleak life that was theirs during a time when disease, poverty, and lawlessness reigned. In such bad times, the Catholic Church could have come forth as more of a savior than a dominator- rather than using deception, deprivation and scare tactics to gain the support of the average person, it would have possibly been more effective for support to be gained through the means of charity, selflessness and the like.

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