During the mid to late 13th century the Christian world witnesses the beginning of the end of the then long standing traditional Christian church. Beginning largely with the “Great Schism” which lasted from 1378-1417 there arises over the next few centuries, and really continuing to this day, within the church many rifts and divisions of thought and perhaps even more importantly-questions; questions about the legitimacy of papal power, right, dominion, and even moral character. These questions then magnified under the lens of the newly rediscovered Aristotelian scholastic method led the Christian world to a crisis.
A crisis that carried not only political and intellectual implications, but also theological quandaries that threatened to, and eventually succeeded in, completely changing the traditional doctrine of the medieval church. For some, like Martin Luther and William Tyndale, this change came as a complete upheaval and reformation of the existing church, essentially throwing out the old and ushering in a new doctrine. For others such as Desiderius Esrasmus Rotterdamnus, Sir Thomas More, and Henry VIII this change was more subtle, calling, not for the reformation of the church, but rather a renewal of the church in which much would be changed but the essential doctrine would remain the same. These opposing views, the questions, doctrines, and ideas they brought with them came to be known as the Reformatio/Renovatio question.
When one speaks of the Reformatio the name Martin Luther almost simultaneously will enter into the mind of the learned listener, because they know that it is impossible to talk about the reformation without mentioning Martin Luther, the two are synonymous in their mind. In 1517 with his 95 theses Luther began a journey down a path that would eventually lead him to his breaking with the traditional church and reforming the Christian doctrine into what became Lutheranism. Luther felt that the church had misinterpreted and misunderstood many of the doctrines of the bible and eventually claimed in his “Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation” that, “…all Christendom has fallen terribly.” Luther, in an effort to resurrect Christendom from its fall turned to the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible.
It is from these manuscripts and his systematic study of them that he based his opposition to current church practices such as the selling of indulgences, the preaching of purgatory, the necessity of pilgrimages or obits, and essentially the need of any action in order to secure salvation. Instead Luther preached the ideas of sola scriptura, sola fidianism, and priesthood of the believer.
When speaking of sola scriputra Luther is preaching that the need for a priest, pope, or bishop to guide or intervene on behalf of the Christian world was not only wrong but not preached anywhere in the scriptures, in fact Luther asserts that St. Paul in i Cor. xii preached the exact opposite of this idea, effectively saying that “all Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference among them” and that the only guide a Christian needed was the scriptures. The idea of priesthood of the believer is also incorporated in the idea that an ecclesiastical leader is not needed in order to commune with God, but rather as Luther states in “On the Freedom of a Christian,” “He [Christ] intercedes for us with God in heaven and there offers Himself.” This intercession according to Luther ultimately eliminates the need of the ecclesiastics.
With the idea of sola fidianism Luther advocates the belief that a man is saved only by the word and faith and these alone, that “One thing and one thing alone, is necessary for life, justification, and Christian liberty; and that is the most holy word of God, the Gospel of Christ…For faith and the efficacious use of the word of God, bring salvation…”
Erasmus while agreeing with Luther that change needs to be made has some very different ideas of how drastic that change should be. While in The Praise of Folly he calls out those “that hug themselves with their counterfeit pardons” and those “that have measured purgatory by an hourglass” he, unlike Luther, doesn’t call for the complete removal of the clergy as an entity but rather calls for the renewal or cleansing of the clergy.
He still very much believes in the structural setup of the Church, but sees the need to cleanse it of the debaucher, luster, and deceiver. Sir Thomas More also shares in this less radical approach of change, while recognizing that there are some problems within the church, especially in regard to its obsession with the worldly and specifically money, he sees only the need for a purifying of the already existing system rather than a complete overthrow. Specifically hoping for “the desire of money [to be] extinguished,” by which he claims “much anxiety and great occasions of mischief [would be] cut off with it.”
Both sides while recognizing the need for change the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ are very much in disparity. So much so that Sir Thomas More, in what history has named the Hunne Affair, vehemently prosecuted a man by the name of Hunne for heresy after various writings supportive of Lutheriean theology where found in his home. Hunne was burned at the stake simply because he was suspected of supporting the Reformatio idea, burned for his thoughts and faith-a victim of crisis.
 Martin Luther, “Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation,” at
 Luther, “Address”, 1.
 Ibid., 2.
Martin Luther, “On the Freedom of a Christian,” at
 Luther, “Freedom”, 4.
 Ibid., 3
 Erasmus, Praise of Folly, “On Those who have Confidence in Magical Charms;” and
“Monks.” at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1509erasmus-folly.html
 Erasmus, Folly,1.
 Thomas More, “Of the Religions of the Utopians” in Utopia, at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/thomasmore-utopia.html