The Reformation was the religious revolution that took place in the Western church in the 16th century; its greatest leaders were Martin Luther and John Calvin.
Having far-reaching political, economic and social effects, the Reformation became the basis for the founding of Protestantism, one of the three major branches of Christianity.
The resulting intrigues and political manipulations, combined with the church's increasing power and wealth, contributed to the bankrupting of the church as a spiritual force.Abuses such as the sale of indulgences (or spiritual privileges) and relics and the corruption of the clergy exploited the pious and further undermined the church's spiritual authority.The Reformation of the 16th century was not unprecedented. Francis, Peter Waldo, Jan Hus, and John Wycliffe addressed abuses in the life of the church in the centuries before 1517.In the 16th century, Erasmus of Rotterdam, a great Humanist scholar, was the chief proponent of liberal Catholic reform that attacked moral abuses and popular superstitions in the church and urged the imitation of Christ, the supreme teacher.These movements reveal an ongoing concern for reform within the church in the years before Luther is said to have posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Castle Church, Wittenberg, on Oct.
31, 1517, the eve of All Saints' Day--the traditional date for the beginning of the Reformation.
Martin Luther claimed that what distinguished him from previous reformers was that while they attacked corruption in the life of the church; he went to the theological root of the problem--the perversion of the church's doctrine of redemption and grace.
Luther, a pastor and professor at the University of Wittenberg, deplored the entanglement of God's free gift of grace in a complex system of indulgences and good works.
In his Ninety-five Theses, he attacked the indulgence system, insisting that the pope had no authority over purgatory and that the doctrine of the merits of the saints had no foundation in the gospel.
Here lay the key to Luther's concerns for the ethical and theological reform of the church: Scripture alone is authoritative (sola sciptura) and justification is by faith (sola fide), not by works.
While he did not intend to break with the Catholic Church, a confrontation with the papacy was not long in coming.