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What were the causes of the English Reformation?
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The invention of the printing press spread criticism of Catholicism

The dual forces of reforming protestant writers and humanist critics pushed many away from Catholicism. The invention of the printing press meant people could more easily read pamphlets which addressed the major problems with the Catholic church.

The Argument

In the 1400s the first printing press was invented by Johann Gutenberg, and it would change the intellectual landscape of Europe forever.[1] In 1476, Englishman William Caxton built his own, and popular books and pamphlets began to circulate. Early pamphlets by Christian humanists such as Erasmus began to criticise the church tentatively. The push for reform began to build. A wave of protestant writers joined humanists critics.[2] By the 1500s, printing was well established. In Germany, Martin Luther, a Doctor of the Church and a charismatic speaker, wrote many tracts about the corruption of the church. [3] He demonstrated how that common Catholic practices and institutions had no basis in scripture, especially the sale of indulgences which funded elaborate building projects in Rome, including St Peter's Basilica. [4] Many other thinkers would follow his lead, including John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli, and William Tyndale in England. Widespread pamphleteering from Humanists and Lutherans changed opinions on the ground across Europe. By the time Henry VIII was on the throne, criticism of the church was starting to grow. The Invention of the Printing Press spread ideas that challenged the Catholic Church.

Counter arguments

It is debatable how far continental European ideas about Protestantism had reached England in this period. When Henry VIII began to close the monasteries, England faced a series of rebellions. Even amongst the educated nobility and those ablest to read Protestant pamphlets, there was popular dissent. The Pilgrimage of Grace in the North of England, which rose in protest against the Reformation was led by the Lawyer Robert Aske, and the local nobility.[5] Henry VIII’s Reformation was not inspired by Protestant ideas at all. He needed a divorce and was fiercely autocratic by nature and did not want the church to control him. He never took any interest in the Reformation and continued to burn protestants as heretics until his death.[6] It is unclear how many Protestant ideas had reached England at this time even among the wealthy and educated. Henry VIII had no interest in Protestantism at all.



[P1] Martin Luther and others took advantage of the newly invented printing press to spread pamphlets full of protestant ideas [P2] These ideas eventually spread to England [C] The printing press helped cause the English Reformation


Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Friday, 27 Nov 2020 at 18:04 UTC

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