During the Renaissance, Christians from all levels of society grew impatient with the corruption of the clergy and the worldliness of the Roman Catholic Church. In the words of one unhappy peasant, “Instead of saving the souls of the dead and sending them to Heaven, [the clergy] gorge themselves at banquets after funerals … They are wicked wolves! They would like to devour us all, dead or alive.”
Although the clergy had been selling indulgences for years, this practice sparked the first serious steps toward reform.
From such bitterness sprang new calls for reform. During the Middle Ages, the Church had renewed itself from within. In the 1500s, however, the movement for reform unleashed forces that would shatter Christian unity in Europe. This reform movement is known as the Protestant Reformation.
Beginning in the late Middle Ages, the Church had become increasingly caught up in worldly affairs. Popes competed with Italian princes for political power. They fought long wars to protect the Papal States against invasions by secular rulers. They plotted against powerful monarchs who tried to seize control of the Church within their lands.
Popes, like other Renaissance rulers, led lavish lives. When Leo X, a son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, was elected pope, he is said to have exclaimed, “God has given us the papacy—let us enjoy it.” Like other Renaissance rulers, popes were patrons of the arts. They hired painters and sculptors to beautify churches and spent vast sums to rebuild the Cathedral of St. Peter in Rome.