August 4, 2022

Church History Part 22


Part 22

Unrest Leading To Renaissance

Today we see the influence of the Church wane amidst both religious and societal turmoil and a brief look at two men rising in opposition to the Church.

We are now in the 14th & 15th Century! The church has grown exponentially from the original 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. It has spread far and wide in the known world. However, this period in history shows that the Church is now declining rapidly – both numerically and in its influence. We look briefly today at the reasons for this.

1. Rapid Decline

a. Avignon Popes (1309-1378)
Firstly we look at that Agivnon Popes or as some term it “Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy.” Pressure from the French monarchy in conflict with the Papacy, caused the Papacy to move to Avignon, France from Rome in Italy. This was due to the elected Pope, Clement V refusing to move to Rome and remained in France, finally moving the whole of his court to Avignon in 1309. From here there were 7 successive Popes, elected by the French rather than Italians as before.

b. Great Schism
Now we have the ‘Great Schism’ or the ‘Western Schism’ occurred with the Catholic Church from 1378 to 1417. The Pope returned to Rome from France in 1377, after a riot in Rome to ensure that the next Pope was Italian in 1378. The French then elected a Pope of their own. There was much disputation and at one stage there were 3 Popes - the Avignon Pope: Benedict XIII; the Roman Pope: Gregory XII; the Pisa Pope: John XXIII. A Council was called by the Pisa Pope John XXIII in 1414 and agreement was reached as to the procedure of the election of a new Pope.
All these events though caused a great loss of confidence in the Church. Wealth, corruption, immorality and the scandalous indulgences were rife throughout the Church, which led to much discontent and uncertainty. In the year 1453, Turkish Muslims attacked the Eastern Empire and the great Christian city of Constantinople fell.

c. Bubonic Plague
Bubonic Plague broke out in 1347 and killed one third of the Catholic west in 3 years. The Rise of national consciousness and strong monarchies developed in England, France & Spain resisting pressure from Rome.

d. Rise in Personal Devotion
There was in Northern Europe a growing movement around personal devotion to God, and therefore less reliance on the Church for spiritual insight. But more about that next week! It was also an area of global exploration with the likes of exploring greats of Magellan and Columbus.

2. Outspoken Critics of the Church
There was also growing criticism of the church, particularly from within!

John Wycliffe (1320-1384) - Wycliffe was a Priest in the Roman Catholic Church and a leading philosopher at Oxford University. He spoke out against church corruption, transubstantiation, confession to the priest and infallibility of the church & Pope. Many travelling bands of teachers and preachers were organised and sent out by him.

Wycliffe is commonly described as the 'Morning Star of the English Reformation', who had a great desire to ensure that the Bible was made available to everyone in their own language. Therefore he initiated the translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible into English, and it was completed by his followers. He was protected by the English monarchy from Church persecution and inquisition. If you read your Bible in any language but Latin and the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek - you have much to be thankful to God for the life and work of John Wycliffe! They still do great work today and you can find out more by visiting their website:

To get a hint of the disturbance to the Church caused by Wyclif, here are some of the things he said.

  • Private confession... was not ordered by Christ and was not used by the apostles.
  • Englishmen learn Christ's law best in English. Moses heard God's law in his own tongue; so did Christ's apostles.
  • It is plain to me that our prelates in granting indulgences do commonly blaspheme the wisdom of God. Our clerics neither evangelize like the apostles, nor go to war like the secular lords, nor toil like labourers.
  • The bread while becoming by virtue of Christ’s words the body of Christ does not cease to be bread. The gospel alone is sufficient to rule the lives of Christians everywhere. Any additional rules made to govern men’s conduct added nothing to the perfection already found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jan Hus (1374-1415) - The other main critic was the Bohemian man, Jan Hus. Hus was a priest in the Catholic Church and Rector of Prague University. Hus was strongly influenced by Wycliffe, and much to the chagrin of the Catholic Church hierarchy, he promoted personal devotion and piety; the supreme authority of the Bible; taught that the Church is the body of Christ and the head is Jesus Christ - not the Pope; and that only God can forgive sin, not the Church.

Again, Hus was another man ahead of his time and one of the pioneers of the protestant church to come. Hus, because of his condemnation of much Church teaching and practise was imprisoned, tried, condemned and executed in 1415 following the Council of Constance.

Again some quotes from this protesting pioneer:

  • "Has not God himself instituted marriage, as a means to satisfy the craving for love in all men. ... For those are speaking lies in hypocrisy, who have a seared conscience, who forbid a life in marriage and abstain from foods which God has created (1 Timothy 4:1-5). I hold this to be the seed of iniquity and the root of all evil."
  • “Many centuries have passed since the foundation of Christianity and bishops and priests have wedded and permitted themselves to be wed in honour and decency, until some Primates, Gregory VII (also called Hildebrand) and Innocent III, thousand years after the death of Jesus the Nazarene, conceived the thought to forbid marriage to priests, so that they would not love their families, would not honour their home and would be compelled to seek salvation under the wing of Rome only, remembering the protection which was to come from there against worldly powers.”

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