Protestant Reformation


The Protestant Reformation was accomplished by bold men challenging the power and corruption of the Catholic Church. Their efforts will spark an upheaval in how people worshipped and believed about God. 


Analyze the primary sources and answer the questions associated with them.


Quote by John Wycliffe:

"But see now the sinfulness of man’s curse. If a true man shall displease a worldly prelate [bishop or high priest] by teaching and maintaining God’s law, he shall be slandered for an evil man, and forbidden to teach Christ’s Gospel, and the people shall be charged upon pain of the greater curse [excommunication], to flee, and not to hear such a man, for to save their own souls. And this shall be done under the colour of holiness; for they will say that such a man teacheth heresy, and bring many false witnesses and notaries against him in his absence, and in his presence speak no word. And they pretend, by means of this invented and false law, that if three or four false witnesses, hired by money, say each a thing against a true man, that then he shall not be heard… Also [bishops and high priests] make many new points of belief, and say it is not enough to believe in Jesus Christ…unless a man also believe that the bishop of Rome [the Pope] is head of holy church. And certainly the apostles of Jesus Christ never constrained any man to believe thus concerning himself. And yet they were certain of their salvation in heaven. How then should any sinful wretch, who knows not whether he shall be damned or saved, constrain men to believe that he is head of holy church? Certainly, in such case, they must sometimes constrain men to believe that a devil of hell is head of holy church, when the bishop of Rome [the Pope] shall be a man damned for his sins."

Answer these two questions about the above quote:

1. What is Wycliffe’s complaint about the Church?

2. What is Wycliffe’s criticism of the Pope in Rome?


Indulgences and pardons were an integral part of the religious landscape on the eve of the Reformation. Pope Clement VI (1343) and Pope Sixtus IV (1476) gave the official theories supporting indulgences:

Clement VI, Unigenitus (1343) says…"The purposes [of indulgences] served should be proper and reasonable: sometimes total, sometimes partial remission of punishment due for temporal sins, as well generally as specifically…and for these ends the treasure should be applied in mercy to those who are truly penitent and have made their confession."

Sixtus IV, Salvator noster (1476) says"…With the longings of such great paternal affection as with God’s help we can achieve, in reliance on the divine mercy and the plenitude of our power, we grant by concession an indulgence as follows: If any parents, friends or other Christians are moved by obligations of piety towards these very souls who are exposed to the fire of purgatory for the expiation of punishments which by divine justice are their due, let them during the stated period of ten years give a fixed amount or value of money…"


1. What does a person gain by purchasing an indulgence?

2. How did this affect the political and economic power and authority of the church?


The Ninety-Five Theses or Disputations on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences of 1517 is the most famous document of Martin Luther’s Reformation. Their importance lies in the fact that they are a small initial step that stirred up an international controversy and thereby set in motion the dramatic events that followed.

6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring and showing that it has been remitted by God; or, to be sure, by remitting guilt in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in these cases were disregarded, the guilt would certainly remain unforgiven.

20. Therefore the pope, when he uses the words "plenary remission of all penalties," does not actually mean "all penalties," but only those imposed by himself.

21. Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.


1. What is Luther’s primary criticism of the pope and the Church?