A term covering a number of changes in Western Christianity (Europe) between the 14th and 17th centuries, resulting in the split in Christianity between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The Reformation, widely conceived, was a reaction against the hierarchical and legalistic structures of the Papacy and the Roman Catholic Church. Reformers rallied against the Roman Catholic Church's dogmatic theology, economic and religious exploitation of the common masses, and colonialization and conquest of indigenous peoples. Most fundamentally, the Reformation challenged the Papacy's claims of divine authorization and infallibility.

One particularly well-known Catholic method of exploitation in the Middle Ages was the practice of selling indulgences, a monetary payment of penalty which, supposedly, absolved one of past sins and/or released one from purgatory after death. It was the selling of indulgences that led the Reformer Martin Luther to post his famous 95 Theses - a document challenging Roman Catholic authority in theological matters, including indulgences and many others. Luther's opposition to the selling of indulgences was not new, however. In most of the Reformation movements stress lay not upon new understandings or doctrines, but on a return to the more authentic and original excellence of tradition.

Luther, one of the main Protestant Reformers, eventually arrived at the conclusion that divine relationship and salvation come by grace through faith, not by good works, belief in dogma, or economic propitiation. One's relationship to the divine is initiated by God, and one can only participate in this relationship by remaining open to it. Therefore, Luther's theology placed him in square opposition to the Roman Catholic practice of selling indulgences.

The Roman Catholic emphasis on the acceptance and adherence to its dogma exemplifies its legalistic bent, while for the Protestant Reformers it is just this legalism which cuts one off from the Good News of the Gospel. Therefore, Protestant Reformers tended to give primacy to the New Testament and Scripture.

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