Although the Reformation was ignited by the German monk Martin Luther in 1517 through his 95 thesis or complaints against the Catholic Church, there were many underlying causes which prompted this movement. Among the causes of the Reformation were the following:
The Roman Catholic Church lorded it over the governments and territories of Europe during the Middle Ages. This church traced its roots to the Christian church founded by Jesus Christ in the 30s A.D., after which it grew to carry the torch of temporal and spiritual power in the western world. The western portion of the church was headed by the bishop of Rome, called the pope, while its eastern domains were ruled by the partriarch of Constantinople. Although there were no major doctrinal differences between the two sides, there was a debate as to who will rule over the whole church. Both sides created many arguments, actions, and reactions to support theur claim, but the division became final in the 11th century after their ties were formally severed. The western side was instituted as the Roman Catholic Church while the eastern side was recognized as the Greek Orthodox Church.
The Papacy, as the leader of the Catholic Church l, continued to laje control and have influence over the affairs of governments and conflicts to defend its faith.
The Crusades were proof of the power of the Catholic Church to influence kings and commoners alike, but it also drained the coffers of the church, leading to strained finances. Many leaders and defenders of the church also died during these religious battles, leaving a vacuum of defenders of the faith, further weaking the church's hold on the political field. The power of the papacy so declined before the Reformation that from 1378-1417, there were three rival popes to the throne of bishop of Rome. This was ended only by the election of Pope Martin V during the Council of Constance in 1414-1417.
By the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church was such in a state of corruption and decay that it was in dire need for reforms. Many members of the clergy were more concerned with wordly affairs and showed little spiritually. Ecclesiastical titles and positions were given not by virtue of spiritual or religious merits, but through political and personal favors. Many of those in the priesthood became priests and bishops by order of popes and kings, without any training or learning to be one. Theological learnings outside universities were meager and misdirected.
Aside from these, many clergymen were so corrupt that they were willing to twist and distort church doctrine to accumulate riches. Indulgences, which are spiritual graces granted to penitents, were up for sale to supposedly finance the construction of churches.
The rise of towns which later became cities and nation-states inculcated in the people that there is life and development outside the influence of the church. The continuous contest for political supremacy between popes and emperors led to animosity between Rome and various empires in Europe, especially with the rise of nationalist sentiment within these territories. Common people belonging to these nation-states resented the many obligations and taxes which the pope imposed, as well as the required obedience to church officials of a distant papacy.
These movements had a great effect on the Reformation, with Renaissance humanists demonstrating that documents establishing papal supremacy were spurious. The invention of the printing press also made possible the wide dissemination of new translations of the Holy Scripture into Greek and Hebrew, enabling the common people to read them with their own eyes and compare it with church teachings. The changes in technology and thinking encouraged people to think for themselves and not depend on the pronouncements of church authorities.
Even before the time of Martin Luther, there were already leaders and groups of people who opposed some or most of Roma Catholic doctrines, with some directly separating from Rome. Among these were the Waldenses, the Lollards, and the Hussites, who were led by various reformers.
Wycliffe believed that the authority of the popes and bishops is based on falsehood, and that clergy and lay people are equal. He claimed that the Bible should be the final authority in matters of doctrine, and not the church.
Huss was an early reformer. After becoming a priest in 1400, he began attacking the morals of the clergy. Influenced by the ideas of John Wycliffe, he called for reform in the church, and publicly burned at the stake for his winnings.
An italian friar and reformer who was a highly emotional preacher. He used colorful language and theatrical actuations to criticize church morals, especially that of Pope Alexanded VI. He was excommunicated by the same pope for continuing to preach despite an order to desist. He was the excommunicated (or separated from membership in the church), hanged, and burned.
But while there were many forerunners of the reformation, the major split from Rome would be started by Martin Luthef, a Roman Catholic German monk.
Martin Luther was born in Saxony in 1483. He originally wanted to be a lawyer and entered the University of Erfurt in 1501. Later on, however, he underwent a deep religious experience, and so he entered a monastery to work out his salvation. He was ordained a priest in 1507 and taught theology, receiving his doctorate in theology in 1512.