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Why did the Reformation happen?

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Quick Answer

In the years leading up to the Reformation, the Catholic church was suffering from corruption, clergymen were acquiring a lot of money while citizens remained poor and monasteries were beginning to decline. The first person to challenge the Church's authority was Martin Luther in Germany, and his cause was seized upon by leaders throughout Europe for differing reasons.

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Full Answer

After growing weary of the Church's morality and believing that the Pope should not be the leading authority on religious matters in Europe, Martin Luther nailed his "95 Theses" to a church door in Wittenberg. This document stated that the Bible should be translated into a format that all people could access, that it should be taken literally while church practices should not and that the Pope was not the leading authority on religion in Europe. Although these actions could have led to Luther being burned alive for heresy, he was protected by German princes. Thanks to the printing press, he and other reformers were able to spread their ideas.

In Switzerland, Luther's ideas were soon adopted. Some of the largest and most controversial changes brought around by the Reformation came in England, when Henry VIII decided to depart from the Catholic Church. His support for Lutheranism began in 1521, but escalated when the Pope would not grant him a divorce so he could pursue a second marriage to create a male heir.

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