Catholic Dictionary




A religious, social, and political upheaval (1517-1648) that divided Western Christendom and created world Protestantism. Its causes were manifold: weakening of papal authority through long residence in France and the worldliness of some popes; disloyalty to Rome of many bishops who were really temporal rulers; excessive reservation of ecclesiastical appointments to the Roman Curia; intellectual and moral unfitness of many priests; wealth of some of the monasteries and dissension in their ranks; superstition and ignorance among the laity; social unrest brought on by the disintegration of the feudal system; support given by political power to dissenters in the Church; unrest and secularism brought on by the new geographical discoveries; and the use of the printing press to propagate the new views. The effects of the Reformation have been far-reaching: Christian unity was shattered, personal liberty in religion affected every sphere of human activity, with the rise of the modern secular state, of capitalism as rugged individualism, and with the loss of the cultural solidarity, founded on a common faith, that had shaped Western civilization for almost a millennium.