In the beginning of the 16th century, many events led to the Protestant reformation. Clergy abuse caused people to begin criticizing the Catholic Church. The greed and scandalous lives of the clergy had created a split between them and the peasants. Furthermore, the clergy did not respond to the population's needs, often because they did not speak the local language, or live in their own diocese. The papacy lost prestige.
However, the split was more over doctrine than corruption. The main points of criticism were:
- The Bible was only printed in Latin, and not in the local language. And printing was controlled by the church by a system of censorship. Catholic Mass, the Church's chief religious service, was also in Latin. This meant the people could not check whether what the priest said was actually correct doctrine.
- The church sold tickets of indulgences (forgiveness) from sins for money. This suggested that the rich could buy their way into Heaven while the poor could not - quite the opposite of what the Bible says. (See Gospel of Matthew 19:24)
- Religious posts were often sold to whoever was willing to pay the most money for them. See Simony. This meant many priests did not know much about Christianity. So they told the people many different things. Some of the things had little to do with what was written in the Bible.
In 1515, the pope started a new indulgence campaign to raise money for the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica, a church in Rome. This was the last straw for Martin Luther, a Catholic monk from Germany. On October 31, 1517, he sent his 95 theses to the local archbishop in protest. It is said he nailed a copy to the door of the Wittenberg chapel. Luther, who appeared as an enemy of the pope, was excommunicated. In the beginning, Luther had not planned to separate from the Catholic Church or to create a new religion; he wanted to reform the Catholic Church.
The recent invention of the printing press helped spread awareness of the Church's abuses, and coordinate a response. Also, a start was made in translating the bible into various local languages. For example, John Wycliffe and William Tyndale worked on translating it into the English language. Much of Tyndale's translation was used in the King James version of the bible.