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  • Writer's pictureVic Bernales

Factors that Led Up to the Reformation

There was one question about the Reformation that I was trying to find an answer back then. The question was: What were some of the main factors - ecclesiastical, political, social, or economic - that led up to the Reformation of the 16th century church in Europe?

Prior to the Reformation in sixteenth century, Europe was experiencing a transition from a mainly agricultural to an urban society. During this time, the medieval feudal system of government was dwindling, giving rise to traders and merchants who constitute the middle class. Trade routes were also opened after the Crusades, which were a series of religious wars sanctioned by the Western (Latin) Church. These wars were aimed primarily at recovering the land of Israel from Islamic rule


In the Western Church, papal abuses and immorality among the clergy were rampant. Even simony, the practice of buying church office, such as bishop, was common. The people were not hearing solid Biblical preaching from the church's lofty pulpits.

Instead of hearing pure gospel-preaching, many were fed with superstitions. They were taught to believe man-made doctrines. Instead of God-centered lives, many people were engaged in unbiblical practices such as inordinate devotion to Mary and dead saints, buying indulgences, pilgrimages, and other ecclesiastically-sanctioned activities in order to earn salvation or at least to calm one's troubled conscience.

The ordinary parish priests were generally illiterate of the Bible although they were able to recite or memorize the entire mass in Latin.

There was also an incipient nationalism as the Holy Roman Empire started to crumble. Princes and the nobilities were beginning to form their own nation-state and armies. This enabled them to fortify their regions and territories and defend their subjects from invaders.

Another factor that led up to the Reformation was the Great Plague or the Black Death that swept Europe and parts of Asia around mid-fourteenth century killing at least a third of the population (around 75 to 200 million people).

This devastating pandemic, which has recurred as outbreaks in Europe in succeeding generations, also has buried with it a culture. Coupled with episodes of famine and wars, the people of the late medieval period were anxious and terrified, looking for a solid anchor to hold. Their souls were thirsty for the living water of God.

When the Protestant Reformers, led by Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland and Martin Luther in Germany, were captured by the Word and started to proclaim the glorious gospel of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the people began to find hope in the sovereignty and providence of God. The light of the gospel started to shine upon the hearts and minds of many people once again bringing them peace, comfort, and wisdom from the Lord.

The grace of God had reached many weary minds. The gospel of free grace in Christ had comforted their anxious hearts assuring them of salvation from God's wrath on account of sin, not through their works, but through faith as they hear Christ and Him crucified for sinners' sake preached from the pages of the Holy Scripture.


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