The Catholic Church was also able to exercise its influence to make the heads of the secular governments enforce religious laws and to punish severely, those who committed moral crimes such as adultery, fornication, blasphemy, heresy or witchcraft (Nash).
This awesome temporal power of the Church, naturally attracted to itself those who wished to exercise this power for worldly gain, thus kings and princes would conspire to have their political allies appointed as pope, popes would enter into alliances with kings and generals to safeguard their papacy, several different claimants to the papacy would arise each claiming to be the rightful head of the Church and each with the backing of a section of the ruling classes of Europe. In short the papacy became the focus of European ‘dirty politics’ (Wylie).
As the wealth and power of the Catholic Church grew, the culture of the Church grew more and more decadent, the rituals became more and more ornate; the lifestyles of priestly class became more and more lavish. Many of the highest office holders of the Church have been described as living a life that scarcely resembles the life of Jesus and the Apostles (Wylie).
The practice of Church authorities compromising upon moral matters with the secular authorities and members of the public became more and more common (Wylie). These compromises included viewing prostitution as a necessary evil, allowing certain individuals and institutions to engage in usurious practices by the use of legal artifices and the buying and selling of Church offices and indulgences (Sider).
The tyranny and decadence of the Church elicited a strong reaction from certain intellectuals, and it caused them to deny altogether, the exclusive monopoly of the Church in interpreting the Christian faith. The first of these rebels against the Church was Martin Luther (1483-1546) (Wylie).
Unlike earlier challengers to the Church’s authority, Luther gained the protection of powerful secular forces and the Catholic Church was unable to punish him for heresy or suppress his voice (Wylie). Luther’s rise was like the breaking of a dam, over the next centuries, hundreds if not thousands of schisms occurred all over the Western world. Hundreds of self-declared reformers of Christianity declared their understanding if the Christian faith to be ‘true Christianity’ (Wylie).
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