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The Reformation was a time of fear and enlightenment

Religious people can be pretty scary, and on this All Hallow’s Eve we are remembering 500 years of the worst and best of that. The Reformation of 1517 triggered executions, torture, burnings at the stake and drownings, all done under the watchful eye of clergy. Jews were set upon as an enemy in a sweeping faith protest that became a murderous rampage over divided opinions about God.

The Reformation of 1517 also birthed the Protestant Church. The ideas these protestors unleashed would go on to shape the education and democracy systems we cherish, and leave a deeply positive development on the world’s largest faith, Christianity. But it all began in outrage over the immorality and finance scandals in the office of the Pope.

One of the flashpoints for the Reformation was the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church. An indulgence was a paper document that could be bought in exchange for forgiveness of sins. It was a fundraising gimmick sold to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and to help pay for religious wars against the Turks. An example is on display in Flickering of the Flame, a Reformation exhibition that recently opened at the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library.