The Restoration of Christ's Church

Hey guys! So in the last episode, we covered Christianity in the Middle Ages, ending with the fall of Constantinople. In this episode we’re going to dive into the Reformation. 

So, before we talk about Martin Luther there are a couple of people and events that really paved the way for Martin’s success. One of those guys was John Wycliffe. Wycliffe went to school at Oxford, eventually became a doctor of divinity, and facilitated the first English Bible translation. But he had a bone to pick with the Catholic Church. He thought the Church had no business meddling in non-religious matters, he disagreed with the doctrine of transubstantiation, and the selling of indulgences. 

Despite his disagreements, he died a Catholic. It wasn’t until a few decades after his death that he was declared a heretic, his remains were dug up, burned, and thrown into a river. Wycliffe was very influential, though, over a bohemian reformer named Jan Hus. Hus had a significant following and shared a lot of the same beliefs as Wycliffe, which got him burned at the stake in 1415. 

But for most of Jan’s life, the Church hadn’t been doing itself any favors, either. So, a little backstory: Between 1309 to 1377, papal headquarters was located at Avignon, France, instead of Rome. Soon after, the papacy finally returned to Rome, the pope died, and the locals wanted to make sure the next pope was Italian. Urban 6th was chosen, but a group of French cardinals didn’t like him, so they got together and elected a new pope: Clement 7th, who set up camp in Avignon. 

So, there were two popes at the same time, and different European countries supported the claims of different papal lines of succession. Eventually, a council got together, deposed both of the then-current rival popes, and elected a new one. Of course, neither of those two popes recognized the election as legitimate, and thus there were three popes at the same time.

So the schism began in 1378 and finally ended in 1417 when all 3 popes were forced to resign, and Martin V was elected as the one and only pope. But the Western Schism had irreparably damaged the reputation of the papacy and provided fertile soil for Reformist ideas to flourish. 

Martin Luther was born in 1483 in Germany. Soon after deciding to study law he suddenly changed his mind, became a monk, and eventually became a professor of theology in Wittenberg, Germany. He taught some unique ideas, such as salvation by faith alone, but what really put him in the spotlight were his views on indulgences.

Essentially an indulgence was the idea that you could do certain things (such as giving money to the Church) in exchange for reduced temporal punishment for your sins, or the sins of deceased loved ones. People like friar Johann Tetzel took this to a particularly manipulative level, allegedly advertising these indulgences by saying, “When a penny in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory Springs.” If you want to know more about indulgences check out the notes in the description, or talk to a Catholic. 

But like Wycliffe, Hus, and others before him, Luther thought that selling indulgences was wrong. He wanted to hold a debate on the subject, so he wrote up his famous 95 Theses, and, as the story goes, in 1517 he posted them to where most public notices would go in that time—the door of the church.

Luther’s views contradicted one of the most powerful organizations on the planet at this time, but the printing press allowed his views to spread like the plague… but a good plague… depending on your point of view.

Luther was not looking to divide the Church, he was looking for reform. Nonetheless, in 1519 the pope issued a decree that Luther was teaching heresy and would be excommunicated if he refused to recant. Luther burned the decree, and in 1521 he was excommunicated and put on trial at the Diet of Worms, which didn’t go well. 

Luther became an outlaw and went into hiding in a castle whose name gets funnier the longer you look at it, during which time he translated the New Testament into German. 

With or without Luther’s involvement, Protestant groups started to emerge. Then groups would splinter off those groups, and off of those groups, until you find yourself in our day with thousands of options to choose from. But of particular note is the year 1534. The pope wouldn’t let the English King Henry VIII get a divorce, so Henry broke away from the pope, formed the Church of England, put himself in charge, and got his divorce anyway. 

Over time, some people believed the Church of England had strayed from true Christianity and needed to be purified. These people came to be known as Puritans. In the 1700s, as Catholics and Protestants clashed in Europe (fighting the 30-Years-War), tens of thousands of Puritans settled in the New World, establishing some of the 13 colonies. In 1776, those colonies declared independence from England, marking the start of the Revolutionary War. 

Now, this is a Latter-day Saint channel so I’m bringing it back around full circle. One of those men who fought in the Revolutionary War was named Solomon Mack. After the war, Solomon bought farmland in Vermont and rented it out to his son-in-law. It was on this farm that Solomon’s grandson was born in 1805: Joseph Smith Jr.

Now, there’s a lot of great stuff I skipped over in this episode so check out the links and notes in the description to fill in some of the blanks, and have a great day!

Learning More:

Information on Joseph Smith’s heritage via “Joseph Smith’s New England Heritage,” by Richard Lloyd Anderson.

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