What was different about the Late Middle Ages from the High Middle Ages in the sphere of religion?
The High Middle Ages saw the Church, in particular the papacy, reach a high point in terms of secular control of European monarchs, learning in the form of medieval Scholasticism, and doctrinal uniformity throughout Western Europe. Popes had been able to rally Christendom to the Crusades, a measure of their power and influence. During the late Middle Ages (the Fourteenth Century,) however, the Church began to lose some of its prestige and credibility. First, beginning in 1309, the papacy moved to Avignon, France, a condition which was known as the "Babylonian Captivity." Clement VI, the first of the Avignon popes, and his successors presided over a papal court that was infamous for its luxury and extravagance, and many critics, notably Petrarch, commented on the degree to which the papacy had fallen from its original mission:
Instead of holy solitude we find a criminal host and crowds of the most infamous satellites; instead of soberness, licentious banquets; instead of pious pilgrimages, preternatural and foul sloth; instead of the bare feet of the apostles, the snowy coursers of brigands fly past us, the horses decked in gold and fed on gold, soon to be shod with gold, if the Lord does not check this slavish luxury.
To make matters worse, in 1378, a new Pope was elected in Rome, which left the Church divided in the so-called "Western Schism." Each Pope excommunicated the other, which, given the importance of the ecclesiastical structure of the Church in securing salvation for its followers, left many Europeans in the midst of an existential crisis. The corruption and general ignorance of many local priests, while a longstanding condition in the Middle Ages, worsened matters, and many heresies, including the Lollards in England and the Hussites in Bohemia, arose in response to the crisis.