Why did the Protestant Reformation spread?
Martin Luther, and others before him, was sickened by the corruption that was rife in the Catholic Church. The tipping point was the selling of indulgences by the Catholic Church. The reformation spread because many people were dissatisfied with the Catholic Church and could see the hypocrisy that was throughout all levels of the Catholic Church.
June 23, 2017 2:07PM
This is a huge and complex questions, which is truly beyond the
scope of a quick answer site. If you are truly interested, I would
recommend picking up Luther and His Progeny, edited by John C.
The main factors the started went into the beginning of the Protestant revolt include:
The Renaissance - which rejected the Church's role in society.
The Avignon Papacy - which severely weakened the Pope.
The Rise of a business class and culture which put profits ahead of spirituality.
But as to why it spread so fast and so far was greed, pure and simple, to quote from Rao's book, chapter One: A Necessary Reform, Depraved from Birth:
"Luther wrote in a very popular manner, with the intention of being provocative. All his readers found in his writings what they wanted to find therein, as they are doing once again in 2017. Germans seized Luther's condemnation of indulgences as a weapon with which to attack Rome, and, by extension, Italians. Humanists contemptuous of Scholasticism, and still fighting for Reuchlin, picked up a mass of new arguments for destroying the systematic theologians from both Rome and Germany who now were opposing Luther. The higher German princes found in him an unexpected arm to utilize against the new emperor, Charles V, exaggeratedly powerful due his worldwide lands, and openly supporting the pope against the Wittenberg scholar. Impoverished knights and peasants on the alert to defend themselves from a sea of enemies recognized in the man from Wittenberg a spokesman who used the Bible to assert their liberties. Bishops, priests, and monks who had no true vocation, were irritated with their way of life, and ignorant of theology, gained, by means of his teaching, a justification for escaping their ecclesiastical obligations. Theologians setting to work from various centers in Germany and Switzerland during Luther's period of protective custody in Wartburg, drew their own logical deductions from the central "evangelical" idea of total depravity and extrinsic justification; deductions regarding the significance of the Eucharist, baptism, the validly of ceremonies and devotions that seemed to relish the tools of a sinful Creation, politics, and social life in general. And, finally, publishing houses, thrilled that everyone was ready to buy Luther's texts, promoted him as an enormous and unexpected source of profit."
In other words, a perfect storm, and something for everyone who selfishly desired their own exhalation over God's. Finally, the rulers pushed very hard, and in 1555 the Holy Roman Emperor agreed to the Peace of Augsburg which said that EVERYONE in a given area had to be the same religion as their prince - which is why, to this day, whole countries and the north of Germany are Protestant, and entire countries and the south of Germany are Catholic areas.
After the Peace of Augsburg, if your ruler was a Lutheran, then you became a Lutheran. You could move to an area where the ruler was Catholic, but remember this was the 16th century, and they hadn't quite developed the autobahn and moving companies yet.
In England they were VERY emphatic about becoming a Protestant, you worshiped at the state church or you gave up your job, your land (if you owed any), and finally your very life. Elizabeth put Mary to shame at torturing and killing "heretics.