Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Reformation. Revised and Updated ed. Vol. 1. New York: HarperCollins, 2010a. Kindle Electronic Edition.
Ch. 34, “In Quest of Reformation” Loc. 7106-7583.
In this chapter, Gonzalez explores various reform movements provoked by the decline of the church in the 14th and 15th centuries. To avoid confusion, in this chapter Gonzalez will be more topical than chronological (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7113).
The first movement under discussion is the conciliar movement, in which councils would gather, hoping to have greater authority than the pope (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7121). “The great difficulty standing in the way of such a simple solution was the question of who had authority to call an ecumenical council” (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7127). The council called jointly by rival colleges of cardinals in Pisa in 1409 deposed both popes and established some anti-corruption rules (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7129). The schism remained and the turmoil was not ended. A similar outcome resulted from the Council of Constance (1414) (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7145). The movement splintered and lost its power.
During the conciliar period, reformers such as John Wycliffe and John Huss arose (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7185). During Wycliffe’s life there was a strong move in England for independence in appointing authorities (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc.7201). This move for independence moved Wycliffe to urge his English translation of the Bible (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7218). The greatest controversy in Wycliffe’s teaching was a rejection of transubstantiation based on the idea that “the presence of the divinity did not destroy the humanity” (in Christ), nor should it in the bread and wine (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7226). Though Wycliffe was condemned as a heretic he died of natural causes in his parish (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7250). Some of Wycliffe’s followers, who may well have been more radical than he, known as Lollards, moved for reform and even overthrow of the government (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7259).
John Huss, in Bohemia, was a supporter of Czech nationalism and vernacular preaching (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7266). Prague was in turmoil over Wycliffe’s teachings, with which Huss was associated. As the schisms grew deeper, Huss was finally prosecuted (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7307). After Huss’ death in 1415 the strife between the papacy and Bohemia increased (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7340).
Gonzalez next discusses Girolamo Savonarola. In Florence, Savonarola’s powerful preaching elevated him to be prior of St. Mark. He refused to give credit to political leaders and insisted on holiness and charity (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7410). As time progressed he was accepted even by many of his former rivals. Under Pope Alexander VI retaliation against Savonarola grew (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7435). He and two followers were killed.
Aside from these reform movements, Gonzalez notes a strong movement toward mystical thought (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7458). As an example, Gonzalez discusses Meister Eckhart, who emphasized man’s inability to comprehend the divine (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7460). This is closely related to Neoplatonic thought. Unlike earlier mystics, Eckhart was more concerned with the idea of divinity than with the historic events surrounding Jesus (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7484). This was also typical of those influenced by him. Other mystics, such a Julian of Norwich (1342-c.1417) experienced visions which would inspire retreat from the world to a life of contemplation (Gonzalez 2010a, oc. 7510).
Gonzalez concludes by noting that many of these reform movements of all types spread not only among the elite but also to common public opinion (Gonzalez 2010a, Loc. 7534).