10.3 The Protestant Reformation

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.”

Illustration of a man in a crown seated on a raised throne and signing multiple papers. A line of people wait to drop coins at a table nearby, which also has a stack of more papers.

Although the clergy had been selling indulgences for years, this practice sparked the first serious steps toward reform.


  • Summarize the factors that encouraged the Protestant Reformation.
  • Explain the impact of the printing press on the Reformation.
  • Analyze Martin Luther's role in shaping the Protestant Reformation.
  • Explain the teachings and impact of John Calvin.

Key Terms

  • indulgence
  • Martin Luther
  • Wittenberg
  • Charles V
  • diet
  • John Calvin
  • predestination
  • Geneva
  • theocracy

Causes of the Reformation

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.

Abuses Within the Church

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.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments