From 590 to 1517, the Roman Church dominated the western world. The Roman Catholic Church controlled religion, philosophy, morals, politics, art and education. This was the dark ages for true Christianity. The vital doctrines of Biblical Christianity had almost disappeared, and with the neglect of true doctrine came the passing of life and light that constitutes the worship of the One True God as declared in Christ.
The Roman Catholic Church was theologically sick and its theology led to atrocious corruptions. It was spiritually exhausted, enfeebled and almost lifeless. Rome had seriously departed from the teaching of the Bible and was engrossed in real heresy.
There can be no appreciation for the Reformation until one sees the great spiritual need of the western world in the 16th century. No Christian, Roman Catholic, Protestant or Independent can gloss over the period of history from 590 to 1517. This period is a “black spot” to all who name the name of Christ, but it is Christian history.
2. ROME’S SCANDALS
1. Immorality of the Clergy. Celibacy for clergy became Roman Church law in 1079. This mandate tempted all kinds of immorality. The abodes of the clergy were often dens of corruption. It was a common sight to see priests frequenting the taverns, gambling, and having orgies with quarrels and blasphemy. Many of the clergy kept mistresses, and convents became houses of ill fame. In many places the people were delighted at seeing a priest keep a mistress, that the married women might be safe from his seductions.
“In many places the priest paid the bishop a regular tax for the women with whom he lived, and for each child he had by her. A German bishop said publically one day, at a great entertainment, that in one year eleven thousand priests had presented themselves before him for that purpose. It is Erasmus who relates this” (D’aubigne).
2. Immorality of the People. Morality declined with the decline of faith. Take away supernatural salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and you take away sanctification and good works. Indulgences were looked upon by the common man as a license to sin, for men could buy their forgiveness.
3. Ignorance of Clergy. Many of the clergy had come to their offices through political maneuvering. In a country parish one person called the clergy “miserable wretches . . . previously raised from beggary, and who had been cooks, musicians, huntsmen, stable boys and even worse.” Clergy no longer had to learn and teach the Scriptures, for the church told them what to do. Even the superior clergymen were sunk in great ignorance in spiritual matters. They had secular learning, but knew very little of the Bible.
“A bishop of Dunfeld congratulated himself on having never learnt either Greek or Hebrew. The monks asserted that all heresies arose from those two languages, and particularly from the Greek. ‘The New Testament,’ said one of them, ‘is a book full of serpents and thorns. Greek,’ continued he, ‘is a new and recently invented language, and we must be upon our guard against it. As for Hebrew, my dear brethren, it is certain that all who learn it immediately become Jews.’
“Even the faculty of theology at Paris scrupled not to declare to the parliament: ‘Religion is ruined, if you permit the study of Greek and Hebrew’” (D’aubigne).
4. Inquisition. This organization was designed to inquire into the spread of heresy and to call before its tribunal Catholics suspected of heresy with a view to securing their repentance. The accused were sometimes tortured and even put to death. The Inquisition was a disgrace to men who call themselves followers of God.
5. The Papal Schism. From 1378-1417 there were three simultaneous popes, each claiming to be the true pope: Urban VII, an Italian; Clement VII, a Frenchman; and a third pope elected by the Council of Pisa. For several years there were three popes anathematizing and excommunicating one another.
6. The Practice of Simony. Simony was the sinful practice of giving or obtaining an appointment to a church office for money. This was a common practice in the Middle Ages, even in the obtaining of the office of pope.
7. Relics. Rome, playing on the ignorance of people, held all kinds of relics in veneration.
“In the church of All Saints at Wittenberg was shown a fragment of Noah’s ark, some soot from the furnace of the Three Children, a piece of wood from the cradle of Jesus Christ, some hair from the beard of St. Christopher, and nineteen thousand other relics of greater or less value” (D’aubigne).
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