Historical Thought and the Reform Crisis of the Early Sixteenth Century
Theological Studies, 28 (1967) 531-548.
Luther’s voice was only one among many which in the early sixteenth century called for the reform of the Church. This reform, in fact, was the common preoccupation of the age, even before the fateful indulgence controversy of late 1517, and there is hardly a major figure on the European scene who does not in some way or other concern himself with it. Although the cry for the reform of the Church was by no means original with the early sixteenth century, it swelled at that time to a cacophonous crescendo heard in every country of Europe and at every level of society.
The causes of this phenomenon are complex. Historians rightly insist that social, economic, and political factors, for example, must be taken into consideration in order adequately to understand what would seem to be a predominantly religious problem. It is not my purpose in this article to rehearse the various causes which scholars adduce as contributing to the widespread conviction at the turn of the century that a reform of the Church was absolutely imperative. Far less is it my intention to try to weigh the respective importance of these causes. I should like, quite simply, to call attention to one of them which seems to me to deserve more attention than it commonly receives and to indicate some of its implications for the era under discussion.