What were the major criticisms against the church during the Protestant Reformation?

Expert Answers
larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There were other, and more serious allegations and criticisms against the Catholic Church than those listed above. Among them:

  • Widespread corruption within the church. Although clerical celibacy had been the rule for over one thousand years, many clergymen at all levels broke this rule with abandon. Many were married, while others kept mistresses openly. Those who violated the rule of celibacy often broke other rules, wearing bright colored fancy clothing rather than the black or dark brown robes which they were supposed to wear. Still others gambled and became intoxicated publicly. Many of the worst offenders were the popes themselves. Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) openly raised two of his own children in the Vatican. Pope John XII, the youngest man ever elected Pope, died in bed with a married woman. And Pope Leo X, (Giovanni de Medici) who ultimately excommunicated Martin Luther wrote to a relative: "God has given us the Papacy; let us enjoy it."
  •  Clerical ignorance was rampant. Standards of education had been established, but Bishops could not be bothered to enforce them. Many priests could neither read nor write, and simply mumbled their way through the liturgy, since they knew the populace did not understand the Latin anyway. A classic example of this was the phrase hoc est mea corpus(this is my body) which was spoken during the Eucharist. So many Priests mangled the words that it soon became the phrase "hocus pocus."
  • Clerical absenteeism and pluralism was a serious issue. Church doctrine stated that church officials should hold only one office; but this requirement was often waived upon payment of a fee. This in itself had previously been condemned as the sin of simony. Those appointed to dual offices seldom attended to their official duties; rather they paid a small sum to a parish priest to conduct services, etc. while they became wealthy from Church taxes. Two examples: Thomas Wolsey was appointed Archbishop of York and was also Henry VIII's chief minister before he was deposed by Henry. He held the position of Archbishop for fifteen years before he ever entered the diocese. Also, Antoine du Prat of France was appointed Archbishop of Sens, but never entered the church until his own funeral was held there. Several Cardinals, particularly Cardinals Mazzarin and Richelieu, served as ministers of state.

Many writers of the period, particularly Geoffrey Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales and Boccacio in the Decameron openly criticised and ridiculed church abuses.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There were a number of criticisms of the Church during the Reformation.  Among the most important were:

  • The Church was more interested in temporal power and wealth than in spiritual matters.  This could be seen in such things as the buying and selling of Church offices and in the selling of indulgences.
  • The Church believed that people could be saved by "works."  This was the idea that people could get to Heaven just by doing the right things (like going to Confession, reciting certain prayers, donating money, etc).  Reformers like Luther argued that only faith could bring about salvation.
  • The Church was too hierarchical.  Reformers believed that the Church had given too much power to people like bishops and the Pope.  They believed that there was nothing in the Bible to justify giving that much power to some.  They wanted a more egalitarian church in which individual ministers and even individual lay people had more power and more of an ability to determine God's will for themselves.