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there were significant crises (including Black Death) and scandals (including the Great Western Schism) that influenced the history of the Catholic church in the two hundred years preceding Luther. In part because of these scandals, and in part because of the ongoing power struggles between popes and secular monarchs, papal power was repeatedly challenged, and many committed Christians believed that the church needed institutional reform. From within the church, many sought to reform it through a movement known as conciliarism, which promoted the idea that papal authority was not absolute but had to be exercised in and through church councils. Others challenged papal and priestly authority more directly; John Wycliffe (1330-84), for example, argued that the Bible should be translated from Latin into vernacular languages and read more widely and he and John Hus (1372-1415) alike argued that immoral popes and priests forfeited their authority. The Catholic Church condemned these ideas as heretical. Meanwhile, lay Catholics (meaning those who were not priests, nuns, or monks), continued to seek out ways to live devout religious lives. They were inspired above all by their desire to imitate Christ, although unlike St. Francis, many of them envisioned this imitation not in literal, physical terms, but as a psychological, spiritual imitation of Christ's piety, as the popularity of Thomas Ðo Kempis's (d. 1471) book, The Imitation of Christ, attests.

There were significant reform movements before Martin Luther, but Luther and the movements that he inspired were the first to establish substantial new branches of Christianity within Western Europe--which came to be known collectively as Protestantism. Luther (1483-1546) split from the Catholic church because of his insistence that Scripture alone was authoritative and that salvation was achieved through faith alone, and not through works and grace received through the sacraments. To understand the difference between Protesant and Catholic views of salvation, be sure to review the box on "Justification" (Weaver, p. 103).



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