The Catholic Church Point / Counterpoint

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1 The Protestant Reformation occurred in 16th-century Europe because of widespread dissatisfaction with the Roman Catholic Church. Up to that point, Catholicism was the primary Christian religion. The Reformation resulted in the formation of the Protestant religions. The founders of Protestantism protested the traditional beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. The Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Baptist Churches were all founded during the Reformation. Questions arose. Had the Catholic Church survived past its prime? Should it be abandoned as a relic, or a remnant of the past? Or were the reformers misguided in their judgment of the Catholic Church? Was the longestablished Church still relevant and important? This artist s symbolic interpretation of the Catholic Church shows members disagreeing. The Issue of Indulgences The sale of indulgences was one of the issues that launched the Protestant Reformation. Indulgences were documents sold by the Catholic Church. Believers who sought God s forgiveness for their sins paid for these indulgences. When people sinned, or acted against God s will, they were expected to repent, or accept that they had done wrong. Next, they confessed the sin to a priest. The priest would grant God s forgiveness. The sinner was assigned a penance, or punishment, by the priest. Originally, indulgences allowed sinners to pay through completing tasks as penance for lesser sins. They could pray, go on a pilgrimage to a holy site, or give money to the poor. By the 1500s indulgences were paid through monetary payments to the Church. After the clergy received the money for indulgences, many officials tried to retain the original spirit of penance. They put the money toward good faith projects. The money built hospitals. It helped those in need. Pope Julius II allowed the sale of indulgences to help pay to rebuild Saint Peter s Basilica in Rome. The money also went towards the Church and its members. In addition, Catholics believed that indulgences allowed them to gain God s forgiveness and start anew. Many believers thought that indulgences were beneficial to everyone. Discovery Education Techbook Discovery Communications, LLC 1

2 Martin Luther was a German former monk and a student of religion. Luther did not agree with selling indulgences. He thought that it was spiritually misleading to exchange money for forgiveness. Luther argued that this practice suggested that no sin was too great to be forgiven, if you had enough money. In addition, some corrupt clergy became greedy with newfound power and stolen wealth. Luther also objected to money from the indulgences being sent to Rome to pay for the rebuilding of Saint Peter s Basilica. He felt that the Catholic Church was selling indulgences simply to renovate a physical building. To Luther this did not seem right. It was a sign of corruption. Furthermore, Luther questioned the Church s authority with selling salvation, or deliverance from sin. In 1517 Luther wrote his concerns in a list called the 95 Theses. Luther then posted the 95 Theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. He intended for the document to open a frank discussion. Instead, his post sparked a revolution. The Role of Priests The disagreement between Luther and the Church began over indulgences, but the debate evolved to include larger Church traditions and religious beliefs. For example, Luther and other Protestants questioned the need for priests. The Catholic Church believed that priests were the link between ordinary people and God. Priests were representatives of Jesus. They were role models and guides to understanding the gospel, or the teachings of Christ. People depended on priests to help save their souls. To support the Church s position and the need for priests, they pointed to the Bible. In the book of Saint Matthew, Jesus gives Saint Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. The Church interpreted this action to mean that Jesus gave Peter, the first pope, responsibility to lead Jesus s followers to God. Jesus intended for people to accept the role of the priest and leadership of the Church in order to reach Heaven. Protestant reformers, on the other hand, wanted to use the Bible, not other people, for spiritual guidance. Reformers felt that scripture, or holy text, could not be corrupted, but people could be. Unfortunately, at this time, outside of the clergy, few people could read the original languages of the Bible. The Bible was often written in Hebrew or Greek. Copies of the Bible were not readily available outside of Church. People needed priests to provide and interpret the scripture for them. Discovery Education Techbook Discovery Communications, LLC 2

3 A Bible for All During the 1500s the translation of the Bible to the vernacular, or the everyday spoken languages, increased. More people could independently read the Bible. Martin Luther himself translated the Bible into German. Luther distributed many copies of his version of the Bible. With access to translated versions of the Bible, the common person no longer relied on priests to translate and share their version of the Bible. In this way Protestant reformers supported a more personal, direct relationship with God. They did not need priests to gain salvation. Protestants did not believe that God viewed the pope or other church officials as higher or more important than any non-clergy member. Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, allowing many Christians to independently read and interpret it. Differences of Opinion Other differences regarding the role of saints and the life of clergy emerged as well. For example, the Protestants rejected the Catholic practice of worshipping saints. Protestants do not believe in giving godly traits to people, as with the saints. Catholics believe in the benefits of praying to the many saints elevated to Heaven. The lives of the religious leaders also differed. Catholic priests and nuns are not allowed to marry. Nuns are considered to be married to Christ. Catholic priests devote their life to their religion and live as Christ did, unmarried. Catholics believe that clergy who marry cannot devote themselves entirely to God and their religion. Protestants, in contrast, permit their pastors to marry. They believe marriage and family are gifts from God. The Sacraments The Catholic Church and the Protestants also disputed the significance of a tradition that began at the Lord s Supper. This was the last meal before Jesus died. At the dinner Jesus is said to have blessed bread. He then told his followers that it was his body. The followers should eat the bread to help remember him. Jesus also shared a cup of wine that he said was the blood he shed for their sins. Christians continued this practice of eating bread and drinking wine in Discovery Education Techbook Discovery Communications, LLC 3

4 remembrance of Jesus. It is called Holy Communion or the Eucharist. During the Reformation arguments between Catholics and Protestants arose over the meaning of Holy Communion. The Catholic Church firmly believes that the bread and wine truly become the blood and the body of Jesus. Jesus is truly present during the ritual. Protestants, on the other hand, believe that eating the bread and drinking the wine are a symbolic way to remember Jesus. They do not believe that Jesus is physically present during the service. Holy Communion is one of the sacraments of the Catholic Church. Sacraments are rituals through which God s presence, also referred to as divine grace, becomes real on Earth. As with Holy Communion, Protestants see the other sacraments, including baptism and marriage, as symbols of God s presence but not his actual, physical presence. Regardless of the disputes about whether God is present at the sacraments, they are times of celebration and good faith. For Catholics the sacraments are also an example of good works, or acts that can help a person reach heaven. Martin Luther and other Protestants rejected the idea that good works could help a person get to heaven. Rather, they insisted that salvation could be achieved by faith alone. A Permanent Divide When Martin Luther openly posted his concerns about the direction of the Catholic Church, he meant to begin a discussion among scholars. His intention was to help fix the problems. Instead, disagreement over religious beliefs and practices led to permanent divisions. Among other things, differing opinions of the sale of indulgences, the authority and role of the clergy, and the interpretation of sacraments prompted the Protestant Reformation. Many began to question the Catholic Church s interpretation of the Bible. Some of the Catholic practices and beliefs were seen as unrealistic or outdated. As corruption and misuse of the scripture became more apparent in the Church, people protested and wanted reform. Despite the growing divide, the Council of Trent, which was composed of various religious leaders, still met. The council wanted to discuss and perhaps reunite the religious reformers and the traditional Catholic clergy. After the council meeting, the Catholic Church restated all of its beliefs and practices. It did not change any of its teachings, but it did address the issue of corruption and set new rules for indulgences. The Catholic Church still remains strong today. It did not become a relic of what had once been. Since the Reformation, Catholics and Protestants have started other branches of Christianity to respond to different views on the clergy and the Christian belief system. Discovery Education Techbook Discovery Communications, LLC 4

5 After reading the passage, answer the following questions: 1. What is a penance? A. a flag used by church officials B. a coin used to buy an indulgence C. a belief that Jesus is present in the church D. an action performed to show repentance for sin 2. Why did Protestant reformers disagree with the authority of the pope? A. They wanted a pope who was elected by the people. B. They thought that the pope was hiding religious secrets. C. They felt the pope was not accurately translating the Bible. D. They did not believe that the pope was spiritually higher than they were. 3. On which of the following beliefs did Catholics and Protestants agree? A. Jesus Christ is physically present at all the sacraments. B. One should follow the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. C. A spiritual guide is needed to have a relationship with God. D. Faith and good works are both necessary to ensure salvation. 4. During the 16th century, people throughout Europe debated the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church. In your opinion, what was the most significant disagreement between the Church and the religious reformers? Why? Use details from the reading passage to support your answer. Discovery Education Techbook Discovery Communications, LLC 5

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