Lecture 3: The Protestant Reformation
Arise, O Lord, and judge Thy cause. A wild boar has invaded Thy vineyard. Arise, O Peter, and consider the case of the Holy Roman Church, the mother of all churches, consecrated by thy blood. Arise, O Paul, who by thy teaching and death hast illumined and dost illumine the Church. Arise all ye saints, and the whole universal Church, whose interpretations of Scripture has been assailed. (papal bull of Pope Leo X, 1520)It truly seems to me that if this fury of the Romanists should continue, there is no remedy except that the emperor, kings, and princes, girded with force and arms, should resolve to attack this plague of all the earth no longer with words but with the sword. . . . If we punish thieves with the gallows, robbers with the sword, and heretics with fire, why do we not all the more fling ourselves with all our weapons upon these masters of perdition, these cardinals, these popes, and all this sink of Roman sodomy that ceaselessly corrupts the church of God and wash our hands in their blood so that we may free ourselves and all who belong to us from this most dangerous fire? (Martin Luther, 1521) Young people have lost that deference to their elders on which the social order depends; they reject all correction. Sexual offenses, rapes, adulteries, incests and seductions are more common than ever before. How monstrous that the world should have been overthrown by such dense clouds for the last three or four centuries, so that it could not see clearly how to obey Christ's commandment to love our enemies. Everything is in shameful confusion; everywhere I see only cruelty, plots, frauds, violence, injustice, shamelessness while the poor groan under the oppression and the innocent are arrogantly and outrageously harassed. God must be asleep. (John Calvin) The 16th century in Europe was a great century of change on many fronts. The humanists and artists of the Renaissance would help characterize the age as one of individualism and self-creativity. Humanists such as Petrarch helped restore the dignity of mankind while men like Machiavelli injected humanism into politics. When all is said and done, the Renaissance helped to secularize European society. Man was now the creator of his own destiny -- in a word, the Renaissance unleashed the very powerful notion that man makes his own history (on the Renaissance, see Lecture 1). But the 16th century was more than just the story of the Renaissance. The century witnessed the growth of royal power, the appearance of centralized monarchies and the discovery of new lands. During the great age of exploration, massive quantities of gold and silver flood Europe, an event which turned people, especially the British, Dutch, Italians and Germans, money-mad. The year 1543 can be said to have marked the origin of the Scientific Revolution -- this was the year Copernicus published his De Revolutionibus (see Lecture 10) and set in motion a wave of scientific advance that would culminate with Newton at the end of the 17th century. In the meantime, urbanization continued unabated as did the growth of universities. And lastly, the printing press, perfected by the moveable type of Gutenberg in 1451, had created the ability to produce books cheaply and in more quantities. And this was indeed important since the Renaissance created a literate public eager for whatever came off the presses.
Despite all of these things, and there are more things to be considered, especially in the area of literature and the arts, the greatest event of the 16th century -- indeed, the most revolutionary event -- was the Protestant Reformation. It was the Reformation that forced people to make a choice -- to be Catholic or Protestant. This was an important choice, and a choice had to be made. There was no real alternative. In the context of the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, one could live or die based on such a choice.We have to ask why something like the...
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