Written by: Ted Vial
Luther was not the first church reformer by any means, nor the only one of his day.The Gregorian Reform headed by Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) tackled precisely the same issues of moral integrity of clergy and church that Luther did.John Hus (ca. 1370-1415) was excommunicated and burned at the stake for placing the authority of the Bible over that of the church, attacking indulgences, and questioning papal infallibility.But Luther came at a unique moment in history, and the confluence of several factors meant that his reform became a movement that formed a church separate from the Roman Catholic Church for the first time in the West.
This unique convergence of factors include the following:Luther came at a time of rapid urbanization (and the early Reformation was largely a city affair).He came soon after the invention of the moveable type printing press. (It is estimated that 6 million books were printed between 150 and 1500, more than in the previous thousand years.From 1517 to 1520, however, about 300,000 copies of books and tracts by Luther alone were printed.)
Luther came at time when there was a middle class growing in size and prestige between the nobility and the peasants.He came at the time of the first stirrings of nationalism; he was protected by German princes, and part of his anger came from the idea that the Italian Church was taking advantage of Germans.He came soon after the plague and the Hundred Years' War had devastated a huge percentage of the European population, creating great anxiety.He came soon after the Avignon papacy and the Great Western Schism put into power two and then three popes at once, calling into question the ordination of priests and the efficacy of sacraments performed by them.All of these shifts created religious unease, and a kind of tinder box into which the match of Luther's theological claims were thrown.