Faith of the Laity in the Late Middle Ages

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The Faith of the Laity in the Late Middle Ages Many historical accounts of the Catholic Church in England in the late Middle Ages depict a great decay in the faith, particularly among members of the laity. This belief is easy to adopt, considering the Reformation so quickly transformed the Church at the end of the Middle Ages. It seems like an obvious conclusion. Although the Catholic Church did make many changes in response to the Reformation, there is abundant evidence that the Catholic Church in England, particularly within the laity, was in fact still strong in the centuries, and the close decades, leading up to the Reformation. Through the laity’s involvement in the liturgy, their strong allegiance to Saints, and the emphasis on Purgatory, we see that the laity were in fact very devout to the Church, with the Church playing a distinct role in the way the Christians lived almost every aspect of life, even into their dying days. In many ways, the Reformation was not a liberation that restored the true Christianity after years of corruption and degeneration, as many people are taught. Early Protestantism was brought about by a series of noble assertions-- the free availability of grace to anyone who sought it, the sanctity of God’s Holy Word, and the authority of grace being the only need for salvation. However, many historians depict the Reformation as coming from the obvious disconnect between the laity and God, with the medieval lay people cut off from the mercy and love of Christ. According to A. G. Dickens’ studies in The English Reformation, the Middle Ages laity faced “quite terrifying views of punishment in the life to was small wonder that they felt more comfortable with saints than with God” (Dickens 20). Dickens believed that laity looked forward to a rational religion that was firmly based on solid biblical evidence, not
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