Church History: 1400-1500
The first sounds of thunder could be heard rumbling…the storm was growing near.
The last piece to be put in place before the Reformation was a new school of thought…”humanism”.
This is not the secular humanism of today, but a philosophy that encouraged people to read and think for themselves…instead of always being read to and told what to think about what they had heard.
The rallying cry of the movement was “ad fonts”… which meant “to the sources”.
The sources spoken of would have been the newly printed original works of the great philosophers, the long abandoned church fathers, and the Scriptures themselves.
This was a direct challenge to power and authority of the Roman Catholic church and the papacy, which in 1408 had decreed it unlawful for anyone to read or translate any of the Bible in their own vernacular without the approval of a bishop or church council.
The most influential of these early humanists was Desiderius Erasmus.
“Would that these were translated into each and every language … Would that the farmer might sing snatches of Scripture at his plough and that the weaver might hum phrases of Scripture to the tune of his shuttle, that the traveler might lighten with stories from Scripture the weariness of his journey.”
Martin Luther is usually credited with beginning the Reformation, but it is this genius that laid the foundation Luther and others built on.
He translated the New Testament into Greek, (correcting the Latin Vulgate) and his work became the source of translations into other languages for years.
His writings against the excesses and abuses of the church primed the pump that would pour forth the Reformation itself.
His debates and disputations with Rome (and later, with Luther himself )would focus both the attention and thought of the whole church.
Inspired by Erasmus work, William Tyndale translated the first English New Testament from the original languages.
He did his work so well that the King James Bible used about 90 % of his translation…over a hundred years later.
He also did it so well that the church burned him at the stake for his efforts.
His executioners are long forgotten, but the work and legacy of Tyndale continues to this day.
The stage was set…the printing press and great courage had freed the Scriptures from the church and put them in the hands of the people.
The ancient writings had been recovered and the witness of the early fathers was again heard by many.
People were being taught to read and think for themselves…and so they did.
In 1483, Martin Luther was born.
Names you should know…
Thomas a Kempis: Author of the main devotional of the time, The Imitation of Christ.
Girolamo Savonarola: A preacher of church reform, whose execution made him an early hero of the Reformers.
“In these days, prelates and preachers are chained to the earth by the love of earthly things. The care of souls is no longer their concern. They are content with the receipt of revenue. The preachers preach to please princes and to be praised by them. They have done worse. They have not only destroyed the Church of God. They have built up a new Church after their own patter. Go to Rome and see! In the mansions of the great prelates there is no concern save for poetry and the oratorical art. Go thither and see! Thou shalt find them all with the books of the humanities in their hands and telling one another that they can guide men’s souls by means of Virgil, Horace, and Cicero….The prelates of former days had fewer gold miters and chalices, and what few they possessed were broken up and given to relieve the needs of the poor. But our prelates, for the sake of obtaining chalices, will rob the poor of their sole means of support. Dost thou not know what I would tell thee! What doest thou, O Lord! Arise, and come to deliver thy Church from the hands of devils, from the hands of tyrants, from the hands of iniquitous prelates” (quoted in Philip Schaff. History of the Christian Church. VI, p. 688).
The Spanish Inquisition begins in 1478.