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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Early Modern Period

16th - 18th century


The smooth transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age is conventionally fixed on such events as the Reformation and the discovery of the "New World," which brought about the emergence of a new image of man and his world. Humanism, which spread out of Italy, also made an essential contribution to this with its promotion of a critical awareness of Christianity and the Church. The Reformation eventually broke the all-embracing power of the Church. After the Thirty Years' War, the concept of a universal empire was also nullified. The era of the nation-state began, bringing with it the desire to build up political and economic power far beyond Europe. The Americas, Africa, and Asia provided regions of expansion for the Europeans.

Proportions of the Human Figure by Leonardo da Vinci (drawing, ca. 1490)
is a prime example of the new approach of Renaissance
artists and scientists to the anatomy of the human body.




The Early Modern Period

 16th - 18th century


see also:





CLASSICAL MUSIC-The Middle Ages and the Renaissance, The Baroque Era



The Early Modern Period
 16th - 18th century

1 Breaking out of the worldview of the Middle Ages

The beginnings of the Early Modern Period can be seen around 1500 in the reshaping and expansion of the 1 worldview of the Middle Ages that was taking place. Despite symbolic dates such as the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and the beginning of the Reformation in 1517, this transformation did not take place abruptly but took the form of cumulative changes throughout the era.


Humanism and the Renaissance

As early as the 14th century, Italian authors such as 5 Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio built on the ideals and erudition of the scholars of antiquity.

5 Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, painting by Giorgio Vasari, 16th c.

see also:


see also Masterpieces of World Literature


DANTE  "The Divine Comedy"

Illustrations by G. Dore, W. Blake, S. Dali and Botticelli

PETRARCH  "Song Book"

BOCCACCIO  "The Decameron"

Illustrations by Salvador Dali

In contrast to the universal world view that was prevalent during the Middle Ages, the Humanists ( Latin: humanitas, "humanity") placed humankind at the center of their conceptualization of the world. The ideas of the Renaissance (French, "rebirth") emerged from a interaction with the teachings and philosophies of antiquity. This led to a new independence of the sciences and a disentanglement of philosophy from Christian dogma and to a flourishing of the arts. Cosmopolitan scholars such as Erasmus Desiderius of Rotterdam tried to unify humanism and Christian piety, while from the court of the Medici in Florence and the papal court of Rome, Renaissance art and its innovations spread throughout Europe.

Hans the Younger Holbein
Erasmus Desiderius of Rotterdam





term freely applied to a variety of beliefs, methods, and philosophies that place central emphasis on the human realm. Most frequently, however, the term is used with reference to a system of education and mode of inquiry that developed in northern Italy during the 14th century and later spread through Europe and England. Alternately known as “Renaissance humanism,” this program was so broadly and profoundly influential that it is one of the chief reasons why the Renaissance is viewed as a distinct historical period. Indeed, though the word Renaissance is of more recent coinage, the fundamental idea of that period as one of renewal and reawakening is humanistic in origin. But humanism sought its own philosophical bases in far earlier times and, moreover, continued to exert some of its power long after the end of the Renaissance.

Origin and meaning of the term humanism » The ideal of humanitas
The history of the term humanism is complex but enlightening. It was first employed (as humanismus) by 19th-century German scholars to designate the Renaissance emphasis on classical studies in education. These studies were pursued and endorsed by educators known, as early as the late 15th century, as umanisti: that is, professors or students of classical literature. The word umanisti derives from the studia humanitatis, a course of classical studies that, in the early 15th century, consisted of grammar, poetry, rhetoric, history, and moral philosophy. The studia humanitatis were held to be the equivalent of the Greek paideia. Their name was itself based on the Latin humanitas, an educational and political ideal that was the intellectual basis of the entire movement. Renaissance humanism in all its forms defined itself in its straining toward this ideal. No discussion, therefore, of humanism can have validity without an understanding of humanitas.

Humanitas meant the development of human virtue, in all its forms, to its fullest extent. The term thus implied not only such qualities as are associated with the modern word humanity—understanding, benevolence, compassion, mercy—but also such more aggressive characteristics as fortitude, judgment, prudence, eloquence, and even love of honour. Consequently the possessor of humanitas could not be merely a sedentary and isolated philosopher or man of letters but was of necessity a participant in active life. Just as action without insight was held to be aimless and barbaric, insight without action was rejected as barren and imperfect. Humanitas called for a fine balance of action and contemplation, a balance born not of compromise but of complementarity. The goal of such fulfilled and balanced virtue was political in the broadest sense of the word. The purview of Renaissance humanism included not only the education of the young but also the guidance of adults (including rulers) via philosophical poetry and strategic rhetoric. It included not only realistic social criticism but also utopian hypotheses, not only painstaking reassessments of history but also bold reshapings of the future. In short, humanism called for the comprehensive reform of culture, the transfiguration of what humanists termed the passive and ignorant society of the “dark” ages into a new order that would reflect and encourage the grandest human potentialities. Humanism had an evangelical dimension. It sought to project humanitas from the individual into the state at large.

The wellspring of humanitas was classical literature. Greek and Roman thought, available in a flood of rediscovered or newly translated manuscripts, provided humanism with much of its basic structure and method. For Renaissance humanists, there was nothing dated or outworn about the writings of Plato, Cicero, or Livy. Compared with the typical productions of medieval Christianity, these pagan works had a fresh, radical, almost avant-garde tonality. Indeed, recovering the classics was to humanism tantamount to recovering reality. Classical philosophy, rhetoric, and history were seen as models of proper method—efforts to come to terms, systematically and without preconceptions of any kind, with perceived experience. Moreover, classical thought considered ethics qua ethics, politics qua politics: it lacked the inhibiting dualism occasioned in medieval thought by the often conflicting demands of secularism and Christian spirituality. Classical virtue, in examples of which the literature abounded, was not an abstract essence but a quality that could be tested in the forum or on the battlefield. Finally, classical literature was rich in eloquence. In particular (since humanists were normally better at Latin than they were at Greek) Cicero was considered to be the pattern of refined and copious discourse. In eloquence humanists found far more than an exclusively aesthetic quality. As an effective means of moving leaders or fellow citizens toward one political course or another, eloquence was akin to pure power. Humanists cultivated rhetoric, consequently, as the medium through which all other virtues could be communicated and fulfilled.

Humanism, then, may be accurately defined as that Renaissance movement which had as its central focus the ideal of humanitas. The narrower definition of the Italian term umanisti notwithstanding, all the Renaissance writers who cultivated humanitas, and all their direct “descendants,” may be correctly termed humanists.

Origin and meaning of the term humanism » Other uses
It is small wonder that a term as broadly allusive as humanism should be subject to a wide variety of applications. Of these (excepting the historical movement described above) there are three basic types: humanism as classicism, humanism as referring to the modern concept of the humanities, and humanism as human-centredness.

Accepting the notion that Renaissance humanism was simply a return to the classics, some historians and philologists have reasoned that classical revivals occurring anywhere in history should be called humanistic. St. Augustine, Alcuin, and the scholars of 12th-century Chartres have thus been referred to as humanists. In this sense the term can also be used self-consciously, as in the New Humanism movement in literary criticism led by Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More in the early 20th century.

The word humanities, which like the word umanisti derived from the Latin studia humanitatis, is often used to designate the nonscientific scholarly disciplines: language, literature, rhetoric, philosophy, art history, and so forth. Thus it is customary to refer to scholars in these fields as humanists and to their activities as humanistic.

Humanism and related terms are frequently applied to modern doctrines and techniques that are based on the centrality of human experience. In the 20th century the pragmatic humanism of Ferdinand C.S. Schiller, the Christian humanism of Jacques Maritain, and the movement known as secular humanism, though differing from each other significantly in content, all show this anthropocentric emphasis.

Not only is such a large assortment of definitions confusing, but the definitions themselves are often redundant or impertinent. There is no reason to call all classical revivals humanistic when the word classical suffices. To say that professors in the many disciplines known as the humanities are humanists is to compound vagueness with vagueness, for these disciplines have long since ceased to have or even aspire to a common rationale. The definition of humanism as anthropocentricity or human-centredness has a firmer claim to correctness. For obvious reasons, however, it is confusing to apply this word to classical literature.

Basic principles and attitudes
Underlying the early expressions of humanism were principles and attitudes that gave the movement a unique character and would shape its future development.

Basic principles and attitudes » Classicism
Early humanists returned to the classics less with nostalgia or awe than with a sense of deep familiarity, an impression of having been brought newly into contact with expressions of an intrinsic and permanent human reality. Petrarch, the acknowledged founder of the humanistic movement, dramatized his feeling of intimacy with the classics by writing “letters” to Cicero and Livy. Coluccio Salutati remarked with pleasure that possession of a copy of Cicero’s letters would make it possible for him to talk with Cicero. Niccolò Machiavelli would later immortalize this experience in a letter that described his own reading habits in ritualistic terms:

Evenings I return home and enter my study; and at its entrance I take off my everyday clothes, full of mud and dust, and don royal and courtly garments; decorously reattired, I enter into the ancient sessions of ancient men. Received amicably by them, I partake of such food as is mine only and for which I was born. There, without shame, I speak with them and ask them about the reason for their actions; and they in their humanity respond to me.

Machiavelli’s term umanità (“humanity”) means more than kindness; it is a direct translation of the Latin humanitas. Machiavelli implies that he shared with the ancients a sovereign wisdom of human affairs. He also describes that theory of reading as an active and even aggressive pursuit that was common among humanists. Possessing a text and understanding its words were not enough; analytic ability and a questioning attitude were necessary before a reader could truly enter the councils of the great. These councils, moreover, were not merely serious and ennobling; they held secrets available only to the astute, secrets the knowledge of which could transform life from a chaotic miscellany into a crucially heroic experience. Classical thought offered insight into the heart of things. In addition, the classics suggested methods by which, once known, human reality could be transformed from an accident of history into an artifact of will. Antiquity was rich in examples, actual or poetic, of epic action, victorious eloquence, and applied understanding. Carefully studied and well employed, classical rhetoric could implement enlightened policy, while classical poetics could carry enlightenment into the very souls of men. In a manner that might seem paradoxical to more modern minds, humanists associated classicism with the future.

Basic principles and attitudes » Realism
Early humanists shared in large part a realism that rejected traditional assumptions and aimed instead at the objective analysis of perceived experience. To humanism is owed the rise of modern social science, which emerged not as an academic discipline but rather as a practical instrument of social self-inquiry. Humanists avidly read history, taught it to their young, and, perhaps most importantly, wrote it themselves. They were confident that proper historical method, by extending across time their grasp of human reality, would enhance their active role in the present. For Machiavelli, who avowed to treat of men as they were and not as they ought to be, history would become the basis of a new political science. Similarly, direct experience took precedence over traditional wisdom. Leon Battista Alberti’s dictum that an essential form of wisdom could be found only “at the public marketplace, in the theatre, and in people’s homes” would be echoed by Francesco Guicciardini:

I, for my part, know no greater pleasure than listening to an old man of uncommon prudence speaking of public and political matters that he has not learnt from books of philosophers but from experience and action; for the latter are the only genuine methods of learning anything.

Renaissance realism also involved the unblinking examination of human uncertainty, folly, and immorality. Petrarch’s honest investigation of his own doubts and mixed motives is born of the same impulse that led Giovanni Boccaccio in the Decameron to conduct an encyclopaedic survey of human vices and disorders. Similarly critical treatments of society from a humanistic perspective would be produced later by Erasmus, More, Castiglione, Rabelais, and Montaigne. But it was typical of humanism that this moral criticism did not, conversely, postulate an ideal of absolute purity. Humanists asserted the dignity of normal earthly activities and even endorsed the pursuit of fame and the acquisition of wealth. The emphasis on a mature and healthy balance between mind and body, first implicit in Boccaccio, is evident in the work of Giannozzo Manetti, Francesco Filelfo, and Paracelsus; it is embodied eloquently in Montaigne’s final essay, “Of Experience.” Humanistic tradition, rather than revolutionary inspiration, would lead Francis Bacon to assert in the early 17th century that the passions should become objects of systematic investigation. The realism of the humanists was, finally, brought to bear on the Roman Catholic Church, which they called into question not as a theological structure but as a political institution. Here as elsewhere, however, the intention was neither radical nor destructive. Humanism did not aim to remake humanity but rather to reform social order through an understanding of what was basically and inalienably human.

Basic principles and attitudes » Critical scrutiny and concern with detail
Humanistic realism bespoke a comprehensively critical attitude. Indeed, the productions of early humanism constituted a manifesto of independence, at least in the secular world, from all preconceptions and all inherited programs. The same critical self-reliance shown by Coluccio Salutati in his textual emendations and Boccaccio in his interpretations of myth was evident in almost the whole range of humanistic endeavour. It was cognate with a new specificity, a profound concern with the precise details of perceived phenomena, that took hold across the arts and the literary and historical disciplines and would have profound effects on the rise of modern science. The increasing prominence of mathematics as an artistic principle and academic discipline was a testament to this development.

Basic principles and attitudes » The emergence of the individual and the idea of the dignity of man
These attitudes took shape in concord with a sense of personal autonomy that first was evident in Petrarch and later came to characterize humanism as a whole. An intelligence capable of critical scrutiny and self-inquiry was by definition a free intelligence; the intellectual virtue that could analyze experience was an integral part of that more extensive virtue that could, according to many humanists, go far in conquering fortune. The emergence of Renaissance individualism was not without its darker aspects. Petrarch and Alberti were alert to the sense of estrangement that accompanies intellectual and moral autonomy, while Machiavelli would depict, in The Prince, a grim world in which the individual must exploit the weakness of the crowd or fall victim to its indignities. But happy or sad, the experience of the individual had taken on a heroic tone. Parallel with individualism arose, as a favourite humanistic theme, the idea of the dignity of man. Backed by medieval sources but more sweeping and insistent in their approach, spokesmen such as Petrarch, Manetti, Valla, and Ficino asserted man’s earthly preeminence and unique potentialities. In his noted De hominis dignitate oratio (“Oration on the Dignity of Man”), Giovanni Pico della Mirandola conveyed this notion with unprecedented vigour. Humanity, Pico asserted, had been assigned no fixed character or limit by God but instead was free to seek its own level and create its own future. No dignity, not even divinity itself, was forbidden to human aspiration. Pico’s radical affirmation of human capacity shows the influence of Ficino’s recent translations of the Hermetic writings. Together with the even bolder 16th-century formulations of this position by Paracelsus and Giordano Bruno, the Oratio betrays a rejection of the early humanists’ emphasis on balance and moderation; it suggests the straining toward absolutes that would characterize major elements of later humanism.

Basic principles and attitudes » Active virtue
The emphasis on virtuous action as the goal of learning was a founding principle of humanism and (though sometimes sharply challenged) continued to exert a strong influence throughout the course of the movement. Salutati, the learned chancellor of Florence whose words could batter cities, represented in word and deed the humanistic ideal of an armed wisdom: that combination of philosophical understanding and powerful rhetoric which alone could effect virtuous policy and reconcile the rival claims of action and contemplation. In De ingenuis moribus et liberalibus studiis (“On the Manners of a Gentleman and Liberal Studies”), a treatise that influenced Guarino Veronese and Vittorino da Feltre, Pietro Paolo Vergerio maintained that just and beneficent action was the purpose of humanistic education; his words were echoed by Alberti in Della famiglia (“On the Family”):

As I have said, happiness cannot be gained without good works and just and righteous deeds. . . . The best works are those that benefit many people. Those are most virtuous, perhaps, that cannot be pursued without strength and nobility. We must give ourselves to manly effort, then, and follow the noblest pursuits.

Matteo Palmieri wrote that

the true merit of virtue lies in effective action, and effective action is impossible without the faculties that are necessary for it. He who has nothing to give cannot be generous. And he who loves solitude can be neither just, nor strong, nor experienced in those things that are of importance in government and in the affairs of the majority.

Palmieri’s philosophical poem, La città di vita (“The City of Life”), developed the idea that the world was divinely ordained to test human virtue in action. Later humanism would broaden and diversify the theme of active virtue. Machiavelli saw action not only as the goal of virtue but also (via historical understanding of great deeds of the past) as the basis for wisdom. Baldassare Castiglione, in his highly influential Libro del cortegiano (Book of the Courtier), developed in his ideal courtier a psychological model for active virtue, stressing moral awareness as a key element in just action. François Rabelais used the idea of active virtue as the basis for anticlerical satire. In his profusely humanistic Gargantua, he has the active hero Friar John save a monastery from enemy attack, while the monks sit uselessly in the church choir, chanting meaningless Latin syllables. John later asserts that, had he been present, he would have used his manly strength to save Jesus from crucifixion, and he castigates the Apostles for betraying Christ “after a good meal.” Endorsements of active virtue, as will be shown, would also characterize the work of English humanists from Sir Thomas Elyot to John Milton. They typify the sense of social responsibility, the instinctive association of learning with politics and morality, that stood at the heart of the movement. As Salutati put it, “One must stand in the line of battle, engage in close combat, struggle for justice, for truth, for honour.”

Early history
The influence of Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca, 1304–74) was profound and many-sided. As the most prominent man of letters of the 14th century, he promoted the recovery and transcription of classical texts, providing the impetus for the important classical researches of Boccaccio and Salutati. He threw himself into controversies in which he defined a new humanism in contradistinction to what he considered to be the barbaric influence of medieval tradition. He carried on an energetic correspondence that established him as a cultural focal point and would provide, if all his other works were lost, an accurate index of his views and their development. As a theologian (he was an ordained priest) he advanced the view, held by many humanists to follow, that classical learning and Christian spirituality were not only compatible but also mutually fulfilling. As a political apologist, he gave hearty support to Cola di Rienzo’s brief revival of the Roman Republic (1347). As a poet, he was the first Renaissance writer to produce a Latin epic (Africa), but he was even more important for his compositions in the vernacular. His Canzoniere provided the model on which the Renaissance lyric was to take shape and the standard by which future productions would be judged. His work established secular poetry as a serious and noble pursuit. His eloquent and forceful presence made him a personal symbol of his own ideas. Crowned with laurel, favoured by rulers, legates, and scholars, he became the human focus for the new interest in classical revival and literary artistry.

It was, however, as a philosophical spokesman that Petrarch exerted his greatest influence on the history of humanism. In his prose works and letters he established many of the positions that would be central to the movement and broached many of the issues that would be its favourite subjects for debate. His idea of the poet as a philosophical teacher and thus as a champion of culture would inspire humanists from Boccaccio to Sidney. His endorsement of the study of rhetoric and his underlying notion of language as an informing principle of the individual and society would become crucial subjects of humanistic discussion and debate. His view of classical culture, not as an undifferentiated element of the past but as an authentic alternative to his own medieval society, was of equal historical importance. Petrarch broke with the past and helped to reestablish the Socratic tradition in Europe by specifying self-knowledge as a primary goal of philosophy. This attitude and his unfailing insistence on moral autonomy were early and important signs of the individualism that would become a Renaissance hallmark. He emphasized human virtue as opposed to fortune, thus setting the stage for numerous famous treatments of this theme. He struggled repeatedly with the dilemma of action versus contemplation, establishing it as a favourite topic for humanistic debate. Petrarch did not invent these subjects, nor does he usually treat them with overwhelming power. His preeminence lies in the fact that he was the first writer since antiquity to assert that they and other human matters were valid issues for philosophical inquiry in and of themselves, and in the energy and eloquence with which he made his work their forum.

Petrarch’s influence was immediately apparent in the work of two major Florentine humanists, Giovanni Boccaccio and Coluccio Salutati. A close friend and devoted supporter of Petrarch, Boccaccio (1313–75) not only enlarged upon his preceptor’s ideas but also made important humanistic contributions of his own. His Teseide was the first classical epic to have been written in the vernacular and influenced the more famous Italian epics of Ariosto and Tasso. His De genealogia deorum gentilium (“On the Genealogy of the Gods of the Gentiles”), a scholarly interpretive compendium of classical myth, was the first in a long line of Renaissance mythographies; it includes a celebrated defense of poetry as a medium of hidden truth, a stimulant to virtue, and a source of mental health. His most memorable contribution to humanism, however, was probably the famous Decameron. Ostensibly this work is no more than a collection of 100 tales about love. But subjected to the interpretive scrutiny that Boccaccio himself recommends in De genealogia deorum gentilium, the Decameron takes on a far more serious tone. The opening phrase “Umana cosa è” (“It is a human thing”) is deeply thematic, reminding us that the author structured his work on Dante’s spiritual epic, La divina commedia. A close reading of the Decameron suggests that in it Boccaccio is trying to establish for the human realm the same sort of comprehensive understanding that Dante established for the life of the spirit. Through moral fable and direct address to the reader, he undertakes a reinterpretation of human experience based not on traditional doctrine but rather on perceived reality. Appealing repeatedly to reason and nature, and constantly implying the superiority of awareness to innocence (which he equates with ignorance), he calls for a moral order built fairly and solidly on the potentialities of human nature. His 10 storytellers, who leave the plague-ravaged and chaotic city of Florence and reestablish themselves at a delightfully landscaped villa, suggest the remaking of culture through disentanglement with the past, unprejudiced analysis, and enlightened imagination. Rightly considered to be the wellspring of Western realism, the Decameron is also a monument to humanism. Though it makes little mention of classical thought, Boccaccio’s great work rings with a tone that was even more basic to the humanistic movement: an emphasis on the human capacity for self-knowledge and willed renewal.

Other humanistic elements implicit in Petrarch’s thought were developed in the life and work of Coluccio Salutati (1331–1406). Like Petrarch, Salutati collected manuscripts, wrote on morality and politics, and carried on a voluminous correspondence. He was an aggressive and scientific philologist, instrumental in establishing principles of textual criticism that would become key elements of the humanistic method. He was a forceful apologist for the active life, and his theories bore fruit in his own career as chancellor of the Florentine republic. His use of classical eloquence in the service of his state was an early documentation of the humanistic faith in the political power of rhetoric; it led a bitter enemy, Gian Galeazzo Visconti of Milan, to say that a thousand Florentine horsemen had hurt him less than the letters of Coluccio. Salutati was succeeded in the Florentine chancellorship by two scholar-statesmen who reflected his influence, first Leonardo Bruni (1369–1444) and then Gian Francesco Poggio Braccioloni (1380–1459). Bruni was a pioneer in the advocacy of humanistic education, holding that the studia humanitatis shape the perfected man and that the goal of this perfected virtue is political action. His theory of education stressed the importance of practical experience (implicit in the work of Boccaccio) and put heavy emphasis on historical studies. His history of Florence is considered to be the first work of modern historiography; and, under the influence of Emmanuel Chrysoloras (1368–1415), a Byzantine teacher who had lectured at Florence and Pavia, he produced Latin translations of Plato and Aristotle that broke with medieval tradition by reproducing the sense of the Greek prose rather than following it word by word. Poggio, the foremost recoverer of classical texts, was also a moralist, a historian, a brilliant correspondent, and an early scholar of architectural antiquities. His long career, which included service to both church and state and friendships with Salutati, Bruni, Niccolò Niccoli, Guarino, Nicholas of Cusa, Donatello, and Cosimo de’ Medici, exemplifies the scope and vitality of Italian humanism. Together these Florentine chancellors, whose active lives spanned almost a century, strengthened and consolidated the humanistic program. Moreover, their leadership strongly influenced the cultural developments that would make 15th-century Florence the most active intellectual and artistic centre in Europe.

As one proceeds with the history of humanism, the following major points about its development in the 14th century ought to be kept in mind. Humanism received its crucial imprint from the work of a single man and thence developed among men who maintained close touch with each other and acknowledged a shared mission. Humanism was not originally an academic movement but rather a program defined and promoted by statesmen and men of letters. Its proclaimed goal was widespread cultural renewal; therefore, it chose its subjects for consideration from the phenomena of human life as lived and adopted the Ciceronian model of philosopher as citizen in preference to the contemplative ideal. The heavy emphasis on civic action is connected with the fact that humanism developed in a republic rather than a monarchy.

By the turn of the 15th century, all of the key elements that came to define humanism were in place except for two: its detailed educational system and what might be called its Greek dimension. The founders of the first humanistic schools were Vittorino da Feltre (1373–1446) and Guarino Veronese (Guarino da Verona, 1374–1460). Vittorino and Guarino were fellow students at the University of Padua at the turn of the century; they are said later to have tutored each other (Guarino as an expert in Greek, Vittorino in Latin) after Guarino had opened the first humanistic school (Venice, c. 1414). Vittorino taught in both Padua (where he was briefly professor of rhetoric) and Venice during the early 1420s. In 1423 he accepted the invitation of Gianfrancesco Gonzaga, marquis of Mantua, to become tutor to the ruling family. At this post Vittorino spent the remaining 22 years of his life. His school, held in a delightful palace that he renamed “La Giocosa,” had as its students not only the Gonzaga children (among them the future marquis, Ludovico) but also an increasing number of others, including sons of Poggio, Guarino, and Filelfo. The eminent humanist Lorenzo Valla studied there, as did Federico da Montefeltro, who later promoted humanistic institutions as duke of Urbino. Vittorino’s school in Mantua was the first to focus the full power of the humanistic program, together with its implications in other arts and sciences, upon the education of the young. Latin literature, Latin composition, and Greek literature were required subjects of study. Heavy emphasis was placed on Roman history as an educational treasury of great men and memorable deeds. Rhetoric (as taught by Quintilian) was a central topic, not as an end in itself but as an effective means of channeling moral virtue into political action. Vittorino summed up the essentially political thrust of humanistic education as follows:

Not everyone is called to be a physician, a lawyer, a philosopher, to live in the public eye, nor has everyone outstanding gifts of natural capacity, but all of us are created for the life of social duty,all are responsible for the personal influence that goes forth from us.

Other studies at Mantua included music, drawing, astronomy, and mathematics. The meadows around La Giocosa were turned into playing fields. Vittorino’s educational policy spoke at once to mind and body, to aesthetic enjoyment and moral virtue. His work embodied a more comprehensive appeal to human perfectibility than had been attempted since antiquity. Humanists were not unaware of the originality and ambitiousness of this project. With reference to a similar program of his own, Guarino’s son Battista remarked that “no branch of knowledge embraces so wide a range of subjects as that learning that I have now attempted to describe.”

Guarino had learned his Greek in Constantinople under the influence of Chrysoloras, whose dynamic presence had done much to foster Greek studies in Italy. During the course of the 15th century, which saw the famous council of Eastern and Western churches (Ferrara–Florence, 1438–45) and later the fall of Constantinople to the Turks (1453), Italy received as welcome immigrants a number of other eminent Byzantine scholars. George Gemistus Plethon (1355–1450) was a major force in Cosimo de’ Medici’s foundation of the Platonic Academy of Florence. George of Trebizond (Georgius Trapezuntius, 1395–1484), a student of Vittorino, was a formidable bilingual stylist who wrote important handbooks on logic and rhetoric. Theodore Gaza (c. 1400–75) and Johannes Argyropoulos (1410–90) contributed major translations of Aristotle. John (originally Basil) Bessarion (1403–72), who became a cardinal in 1439, explored theology from a Platonic perspective and sought to resolve apparent conflicts between Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy; his large collection of Greek manuscripts, donated to the Venetian senate, became the core of the notable library of St. Mark. This infusion of Byzantine scholarship had a profound effect on Italian humanism. By making Greek texts and commentaries available to Western students, and by acquainting them with Byzantine methods of criticism and interpretation, the teachers from Constantinople enabled Italian humanists to explore the bases of classical thought and to appreciate its greatest monuments, either in the original or in accurate new Latin translations.

The 15th century
As Italian humanism grew in influence during the 15th century, it developed ramifications that connected it with every major field of intellectual and artistic activity. Moreover, the advent of printing at mid-century and the contemporaneous upsurge of publication in the vernacular brought new sectors of society under humanistic influence. These and other cultural impetuses hastened the export of humanistic ideas to the Low Countries, France, England, and Spain, where significant humanistic programs would be in place by the early 16th century. Even as these things were happening, however, other changes were deeply and permanently affecting the character of the movement. The concerns of many major humanists were narrowed by inevitable historical processes of specialization, to the extent that, in a large number of cases, humanism lost its comprehensive thrust and became a predominantly academic or literary pursuit. The political élan of humanism was weakened by the decline of republican institutions in Florence. Ambiguities and paradoxes implicit in the original program developed into open conflicts, dividing the movement into camps and depleting much of its original integrity. But before considering these developments, one might do well to appreciate three 15th-century examples of humanism at its height: the career of Leon Battista Alberti and the humanistic courts at Florence and Urbino.

The 15th century » Leon Battista Alberti
The achievement of Leon Battista Alberti (1404–72) testifies to the formative power and exhaustive scope of earlier Italian humanism. He owed his boyhood education to Gasparino da Barzizza (1359–1431), the noted teacher who, with Vergerio, was influential in the development of humanism at Padua. Alberti attended the University of Bologna from 1421 until 1428, by which time he was expert in law and mathematics and so adept at humanistic literary skills that his comedy Philodoxeos was accepted as the newly discovered work of an ancient author. In 1428 he became secretary to Cardinal Albergati, bishop of Bologna, and in 1432 he accepted a similar position in the papal chancery at Rome. His service to the church soon brought him incomes that permanently secured his livelihood, and he spent the remainder of his life at a variety of literary, philosophical, and artistic pursuits so dazzling as to challenge belief. He was a poet, essayist, and biographer. His moral and philosophical works, especially Della famiglia, De iciarchia (“On the Man of Excellence and Ruler of His Family”), and Momus, are humanistic statements that nonetheless bear the mark of a unique individual. He wrote a rhetorical handbook and a grammatical treatise, the Regule lingue Florentine, which bespeaks his strong influence on the rise of literary expression in the vernacular. He contributed an important text on cartography and was instrumental in the development of ciphers. A prominent architect (e.g., the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini and the facade of Sta. Maria Novella in Florence), he was also an eminent student of all artistic ideas and practices. His three studies—De pictura (On Painting), De statua (On Sculpture), and De re aedificatoria (Ten Books on Architecture)—were landmarks in art theory, powerful in developing the theory of perspective and the idea of “human” space. His theoretical and practical reliance on mathematics (which he considered to be the basic, unifying element of all science) is rightly seen as an important step in the early development of modern method.

Behind these achievements was a man of startling physical prowess and inexhaustible sanguinity. He said outright that an individual could encompass whatever project he truly willed, and his own life bore witness to this radical thesis. In the 19th century Jacob Burckhardt would write of him as a “universal man” of the Renaissance, while his own contemporary Politian described him with wonderment: “It is better to be silent about him than not to say enough.” Alberti’s theory and practice bore an undeniably humanistic stamp. His passion for mathematics was in all likelihood an outgrowth of the educational program at Padua (Vittorino, himself an avid mathematician, was also a student of Barzizza). His omnivorous pursuit of knowledge recalls Barzizza’s conviction that humanitas was the unifying principle of many arts. An advocate of classical erudition in art and architecture as well as in literary activity, he extended into his artistic studies the same sense of precision and specificity that earlier humanists had applied to philology. His sense of human dignity, evident in all his productions, was supported and indeed justified by a strenuous realism. His advocacy of the vernacular disturbed a number of more doctrinaire humanists, who favoured total Latinity. But this predisposition, rather than a divergence from humanistic principle, was a direct outgrowth of its evangelistic thrust. In short, Alberti uniquely fulfilled the humanistic aspiration for a learning that would comprehend all experience and a philosophical heroism that would renew society.

The 15th century » The Medici and Federico da Montefeltro
The 15th century saw the rise of the Platonic Academy of Florence and the great humanistic courts. Close ties between Poggio and the Medici helped make that ruling family of Florence the new custodians of the humanistic heritage. Cosimo de’ Medici (Cosimo the Elder, 1389–1464), who had personally lured the great council of churches from Ferrara to Florence in 1439, became so enamoured of Greek learning that, at the suggestion of Gemistus Plethon, he decided to found a Platonic academy of his own. He amassed a great collection of books, which would form the nucleus of the Laurentian Library. He generously supported the work of scholars, in particular encouraging the brilliant Marsilio Ficino (1433–99) to undertake a complete Latin translation of Plato. Other notable members of the academy were Politian, Cristoforo Landino (1424–1504), and Ficino’s own student, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–94). The Medici family was equally notable in its patronage of the arts, supporting projects by a list of masters that included Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, and Cellini. Cosimo’s famous grandson Lorenzo (Lorenzo the Magnificent, 1449–92) was of a thoroughly humanistic disposition. Lorenzo’s versatile and energetic nature lent itself equally to politics and philosophy, to martial arts and music. He wrote poetry and literary commentary and formed close ties with Ficino, Pico, and other leading scholars of the academy. He continued his grandfather’s lavish patronage of art and learning and was said to have spent half of his city’s revenues on the purchase of books alone. Active in many fields, he nonetheless acknowledged the preeminence of the life of the mind. When chided by a friend for sleeping late and not going out to work, Lorenzo replied, “What I have dreamed in one hour is worth more than what you have done in four.”

The influence of humanism was evident in many 15th-century Italian courts, including Rome itself, which boasted, in Pius II (Enea Silvio Piccolomini, also known as Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, 1405–64), a humanist pope. It manifested itself strikingly at Urbino, where Federico da Montefeltro (1422–82) turned an isolated hill town into a treasury of Renaissance culture. Schooled by Vittorino in Mantua, Federico chose warfare as his calling. As a mercenary he gained a reputation for winning his battles and keeping his word, and the fortune he accumulated in fees and prizes became the medium for his city’s renewal. He brought architects, artists, and scholars to Urbino and built a great palace whose unadorned exterior concealed magnificent chambers, a graceful courtyard, and a secret garden. Federico was enthusiastically devoted to the collection and preservation of books. His library, described by Vespasiano Bisticci as being even more complete than that of the Medici, contained an army of 30 to 40 scribes who were constantly at work. His own virtues were so notable and diverse as to mark him as a possible model for Rabelais’s humanistic giant, Gargantua. Mighty at arms, he was also conscientious in religious observances; supremely powerful, he was nonetheless a modest and courteous companion. Beneath the ivied tranquility of his secret garden stretched an indoor equestrian arena. He commissioned paintings by Piero della Francesca and was the object of humanistic dedications by Poggio, Landino, and Ficino. He kept two organists at court and maintained five men to read the classics aloud at meals. Federico’s intellectual accomplishments were impressive. His skill at mathematics shows the influence of Vittorino. He was a good Latinist and as a student of classical history was able to hold his own in conversation with the erudite Pius II. At philosophy Federico was even more astute. Vespasiano wrote that

he began to study logic with the keenest understanding, and he argued with the most nimble wit that was ever seen. After he had heard (Aristotle’s) Ethics many times, comprehending it so thoroughly that his teachers found him hard to cope with in disputation, he studied the Politics assiduously. . . . Indeed, it may be said of him that he was the first of the Signori who took up philosophy and had knowledge of the same. He was ever careful to keep intellect and virtue to the front, and to learn some new thing every day.

Federico’s balance and versatility made him, even more than Lorenzo, an example of the humanistic program in action. Baldassare Castiglione, perhaps the most thoughtful of the later Italian humanists, would speak of him as “the light of Italy; there is no lack of living witnesses to his prudence, humanity (umanità), justice, intrepid spirit, (and) military discipline.” Castiglione described Federico’s residence as seeming to be less a palace than “a city in the form of a palace”; one might say as well that this structure, with its elegant accommodation for every creative human activity, was an architectural image of the humanistic mind.

Later Italian humanism
The achievement of Alberti, Federico, and the Medici up to Lorenzo may be seen as the effective culmination of Italian humanism, the ultimate realization of its motives and principles. At the same time as these goals were being achieved, however, the movement was beginning to suffer bifurcation and dilution. Even the enthusiastic Platonism of the Florentine academy was, in its idealism and emphasis on contemplation, a significant digression from the crucial humanistic doctrine of active virtue, and Pico della Mirandola himself was politely admonished by a friend to forsake the ivory tower and accept his civic responsibilities. The conflicting extremes to which sincere humanistic inquiry could drive scholars are nowhere more apparent than in the fact that the arch-idealist Pico and the arch-realist Machiavelli lived in the same town and at the same time. Castiglione, who had belonged to the court of Federico’s son Guidobaldo, would be saddened by its decline and shocked when another of his patrons, the “model” Renaissance prince Charles V, ordered the sack of Rome. To a large extent, the cause of these and other vicissitudes lay in the nature of the movement itself, for that boundless diversity which nourished its strength was also a well of potential conflict. Humanists’ undifferentiated acceptance of the classical heritage was also in effect an appropriation of the profound controversy implicit in that heritage. Rifts between Platonists, monarchists, and republicans; positivists and skeptics; idealists and cynics; and historians and poets came to be more and more characteristic of humanistic discourse. Some of these tensions had been clear from the start, Petrarch having been ambiguous in his sentiments regarding action versus contemplation, and Salutati having been not wholly clear about whether he preferred republics to monarchies. But the 15th century, bringing with it the irreconcilable heterogeneity of Greek thought, vastly multiplied and deepened these divisions. Of these schisms, the two that perhaps most deeply influenced the course of humanism were the so-called res–verbum (“thing–word”) controversy and the split between Platonic idealism and historical realism.

Later Italian humanism » Things and words
Simply put, the res–verbum controversy was an extended argument between humanists who believed that language constituted the ultimate human reality and those who believed that language, though an important subject for study, was the medium for understanding an even more basic reality that lay beyond it. The origin of the controversy lay in the debate in the 5th–4th century bc between the Socratic school, which held that language was an important means of understanding deeper truths, and the Sophistic-rhetorical school, which held that “truth” was itself a fiction dependent on varying human beliefs and therefore that language had to be considered the ultimate arbiter. Petrarch, who had no direct contact with the works of Plato and little detailed knowledge of his ideas, drew on Cicero and St. Augustine in his development of a Christian-rhetorical position, holding that “it is more satisfying (satius) to will the good than to know the truth” and espousing rhetoric as the effective means of convincing people “to will the good.”

This assertion would critically shape the character of humanism through the Renaissance and beyond. It was never effectively challenged by Renaissance Platonists because, for reasons discussed below, Renaissance Platonists, though strong in Platonic idealism, were weak in Platonic analytical method. The enthronement of language as both subject and object of humanistic inquiry is evident in the important work of Lorenzo Valla (1407–57) and Politian (Angelo Poliziano, 1454–94). Valla spoke of language as a “sacrament” and urged that it be studied scientifically and historically as the synthesis of all human thought. For Valla, the study of language was, in effect, the study of humanity. Similarly, Politian held that there were in fact two dialectics: one of ideas and one of words. Rejecting the dialectic of ideas as being too difficult and abstruse, he espoused the dialectic of words (i.e., philology and rhetoric) as the proper human study. This project would bear fruit in the intensive linguistic-philosophical researches of Mario Nizolio (1498–1575). Though anticipated by Petrarch, the radical emphasis on the primacy of the word constituted a break with the teaching of other early humanists, such as Bruni and Vittorino, who had strongly maintained that the word was of value only through its relationship to perceived reality. Nor did the old viewpoint lack later adherents. In an epistolary debate with Ermolao Barbaro (1454–93), Pico asserted the preeminence of things over words and hence of philosophy over rhetoric: “But if the rightness of names depends on the nature of things, is it the rhetorician we ought to consult about this rightness, or is it the philosopher who alone contemplates and explores the nature of everything?” Appeals of this sort, however, were not to win the day. Philosophical humanism declined because, though rich in conviction, it had failed to establish a systematic relationship between philosophy and rhetoric, between words and things. By the 16th century, Italian humanism was primarily a literary pursuit, and philosophy was left to develop on its own. Despite significant challenges, the division between philosophical and literary studies would solidify in the development of Western culture.

Later Italian humanism » Idealism and the Platonic Academy of Florence
The idealism so prominent in the Florentine academy is called Platonic because of its debt to Plato’s theory of Ideas and to the epistemological doctrine established in his Symposium and Republic. It did not, however, constitute a complete appreciation or reassertion of Plato’s thought. Conspicuously absent from the Florentine agenda was the analytic method (dialectic), which was Socrates’ greatest contribution to philosophy. This major omission cannot be explained philologically, at least after Ficino’s work had made the complete Platonic corpus available in clear Latin prose. The explanation lies rather in a specific cast of mind and in a dramatically successful forgery. The major Platonists of the mid-15th century, Plethon, Bessarion, and Nicholas of Cusa (Nicholaus Cusanus, 1401–64), had all concentrated their attention on the religious implications of Platonic thought; and, following them, Marsilio Ficino (1433–99) sought to reconcile Plato with Christ in a pia philosophia (“pious philosophy”). The transcendental goals of these philosophers left little room for the painstaking dialectical method that sifted through the details of perception and language, even though Plato himself had repeatedly alleged that transcendence itself was impossible without this method. Along with Plato, moreover, Ficino had translated into Latin the works of the so-called Hermes Trismegistos. These books, which also emphasized transcendence at the expense of method, laid claim to divine authority and to an antiquity far greater than Plato’s. They were, in fact, forgeries from a much later period, and are in many ways typical of the idealized and diluted versions of Plato that are called Neoplatonic. But the academy, and for that matter all the other Platonists of the 15th century, bought them wholesale. The result of these factors was a Platonism sans Platonic method, a philosophy that, straining for absolutes, had little interest in establishing its own basis in reality. Near the end of The Book of the Courtier, Castiglione puts a speech typical of Florentine Platonism in the mouth of his friend, the Platonist Pietro Bembo (1470–1547). As Bembo finishes his oration, a female companion tugs at the hem of his robe and says, “Take care, Master Pietro, that with such thoughts your soul does not forsake your body.”

Later Italian humanism » Machiavelli’s realism
Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527), whose work derived from sources as authentically humanistic as those of Ficino, proceeded along a wholly opposite course. A throwback to the chancellor-humanists Salutati, Bruni, and Poggio, he served Florence in a similar capacity and with equal fidelity, using his erudition and eloquence in a civic cause. Like Vittorino and other early humanists, he believed in the centrality of historical studies, and he performed a signally humanistic function by creating, in La Mandragola, the first vernacular imitation of Roman comedy. His characteristic reminders of human weakness suggest the influence of Boccaccio; and like Boccaccio he used these reminders less as satire than as practical gauges of human nature. In one way at least, Machiavelli is more humanistic (i.e., closer to the classics) than the other humanists, for while Vittorino and his school ransacked history for examples of virtue, Machiavelli (true to the spirit of Polybius, Livy, Plutarch, and Tacitus) embraced all of history, good, evil, and indifferent, as his school of reality. Like Salutati, though perhaps with greater self-awareness, Machiavelli was ambiguous as to the relative merits of republics and monarchies. In both public and private writings (especially the Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio [“Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy”]) he showed a marked preference for republican government, while in The Prince he developed, with apparent approval, a model of radical autocracy. For this reason, his goals have remained unclear.

His methods, on the other hand, were coherent throughout and remain a major contribution to social science and the history of ideas. Like earlier humanists, Machiavelli saw history as a source of power, but, unlike them (and here perhaps influenced by Sophistic and Averroistic thought), he saw neither history nor power itself within a moral context. Rather he sought to examine history and power in an amoral and hence (to him) wholly scientific manner. He examined human events in the same way that Alberti, Galileo, and the new science examined physical events: as discrete phenomena that had to be measured and described before they could be explained and evaluated. To this extent his work, though original in its specific design, was firmly based in the humanistic tradition. At the same time, however, Machiavelli’s achievement significantly eroded humanism. By laying the foundations of modern social science, he created a discipline that, though true to humanistic methodology, had not the slightest regard for humanistic morality. In so doing, he brought to the surface a contradiction that had been implicit in humanism all along: the dichotomy between critical objectivity and moral evangelism.

Later Italian humanism » The achievement of Castiglione
Though Italian humanism was being torn apart by the natural development of its own basic motives, it did not thereby lose its native attractions. The humanistic experience, in both its positive and negative effects, would be reenacted abroad. Baldassare Castiglione (1478–1529), whose Book of the Courtier affectionately summed up humanistic thought, was one of its most powerful ambassadors. Alert to the major contradictions of the program, yet intensely appreciative of its brilliance and energy, Castiglione wove its various strains together in a long dialogue that aimed at an equipoise between various humanistic extremes. Ostensibly a treatise on the model courtier, The Book of the Courtier is more seriously a philosophically organized pattern of conflicting viewpoints in which various positions—Platonist and Aristotelian, idealist and cynic, monarchist and republican, traditional and revolutionary—are given eloquent expression. Unlike most of his humanistic forebears, Castiglione is neither missionary nor polemical. His work is not an effort at systematic knowledge but rather an essay in higher discretion, a powerful reminder that every virtue (moral or intellectual) suggests a concomitant weakness and that extreme postures tend to generate their own opposites. The structure of the dialogue, in which Bembo’s Platonic ecstasy is balanced by Bibbiena’s assortment of earthy jests, is a testament to this intention. While Castiglione’s professed subject matter would epidemically inspire European letters and manners of the 16th century, his more profound contribution would be echoed in the work of Montaigne and Shakespeare. His work suggests a redefined humanism, a virtue matured in irony and directed less toward knowledge than toward wisdom.

Later Italian humanism » Tasso’s Aristotelianism
In 16th-century Italy, humanistic methods and attitudes provided the medium for a kaleidoscopic variety of literary and philosophical productions. Of these, the work that perhaps most truly reflected the original spirit of humanism was the Gerusalemme liberata of Torquato Tasso (1544–95). New humanistic translations of Aristotle during the 15th century had inspired an Aristotelian Renaissance, and the attention of literary scholars focused particularly on the Poetics. In constructing his epic poem, Tasso was strongly influenced by Aristotle’s views regarding the philosophical dimension of poetry; loosely paraphrasing Aristotle, he held (in his Apologia) that poetry, by incorporating both particulars and universals, was capable of seeking truth in its perfect wholeness. As a vehicle for philosophical truth, poetry consequently could provide moral education, specifically in such virtues (reinterpreted from a Christian perspective) as Aristotle had described in the Nichomachean Ethics. The Aristotelian Renaissance thus facilitated the revival of one of the chief articles in the original humanistic constitution: the belief in the poet’s role as renewer of culture.

Northern humanism
Though humanism in northern Europe and England sprang largely from Italian sources, it did not emerge exclusively as an outgrowth of later Italian humanism. Non-Italian scholars and poets found inspiration in the full sweep of the Italian tradition, choosing their sources from Petrarch to Castiglione and beyond.

Northern humanism » Desiderius Erasmus
Erasmus (c. 1466–1536) was the only other humanist whose international fame in his own time compared with Petrarch’s. While lacking Petrarch’s polemical zeal and spirit of self-inquiry, he shared the Italian’s intense love of language, his dislike for the complexities and pretenses of medieval institutions both secular and religious, and his commanding personal presence. More specifically, however, his ideas and overall direction betray the influence of Lorenzo Valla, whose works he treasured. Like Valla, who had attacked biblical textual criticism with a vengeance and proved the so-called Donation of Constantine to be a forgery, Erasmus contributed importantly to Christian philology. Also like Valla, he philosophically espoused a kind of Christian hedonism, justifying earthly pleasure from a religious perspective. But he was most like Valla (and indeed the entire rhetorical “arm” of Italian humanism) in giving philology prominence over philosophy. He described himself as a poet and orator rather than an inquirer after truth. His one major philosophical effort, a Christian defense of free will, was thunderously answered by Luther. Though his writings are a well of good sense, they are seldom profound and are predominantly derivative. In Latin eloquence, on the other hand, he was preeminent, both as stylist and theorist. His graceful and abundant Ciceronian prose (whose principles he set down in De copia verborum et rerum) helped shape the character of European style. Perhaps his most original work is Moriae encomium (The Praise of Folly), an elegant combination of satire and poetic insight whose influence was soon apparent in the work of More (to whom it was dedicated) and Rabelais.

Northern humanism » The French humanists
Erasmus’ associates in France included the influential humanists Robert Gaguin (1433–1501), Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples (c. 1455–1536), and Guillaume Budé (Guglielmus Budaeus, 1467–1540). Of these three, Budé was most central to the development of French humanism, not only in his historical and philological studies but also in his use of his national influence to establish the Collège de France and the library at Fontainebleau. The influence of Francis I (1494–1547) and his learned sister Margaret of Angoulême (1492–1549) was important in fostering the new learning. The diversity and energy of French humanism is apparent in the activities of the Estienne family of publishers; the poetry of Pierre de Ronsard (1524–85), Joachim du Bellay (c. 1522–60), and Guillaume du Bartas (1544–90); the political philosophy of Jean Bodin (1530–96); the philosophical methodology of Petrus Ramus (Pierre de la Ramée, 1515–72); and the dynamic relationship between humanistic scholarship and church reform (see below, Humanism and Christianity). Hampered by religious repression and compressed more severely in time, the French movement lacked the intellectual fecundity and the programmatic unity of its Italian counterpart. In François Rabelais and Michel de Montaigne, however, the development of humanistic methods and themes resulted in unique and memorable achievement.

Northern humanism » The French humanists » François Rabelais (c. 1490–1533)
Rabelais ranks with Boccaccio as a founding father of Western realism. As a satirist and stylist (in his hands French prose became a free, poetic form), he influenced writers as important as Jonathan Swift, Laurence Sterne, and James Joyce and may be seen as a major precursor of modernism. His five books concerning the deeds of the giant princes Gargantua and Pantagruel constitute a treasury of social criticism, an articulate statement of humanistic values, and a forceful, if often outrageous, manifesto of human rights. Rabelaisian satire took aim at every social institution and (especially in Book III) every intellectual discipline. Broadly learned and unflaggingly alert to jargon and sham, he repeatedly focused on dogmas that fetter creativity, institutional structures that reward hypocrisy, educational traditions that inspire laziness, and philosophical methodologies that obscure elemental reality. His heroes, Gargantua and his son and heir Pantagruel, are figures whose colossal size and appetites (Rabelais’s etymology for Pantagruel is “all-thirsty”) symbolize the nobility and omnivorous curiosity that typified the humanistic scheme. The multifarious educational program detailed in Gargantua is reminiscent of Vittorino, Alberti, and the Montefeltro court; and the utopian Abbey of Thélème, whose gate bears the motto “Do as you please,” is a tribute to enlightened will and pleasure in the manner of Valla, Erasmus, and More. Characteristically overstated and never wholly free of irony, Rabelais’s work is a far cry from the earnest moral and educational programs of the early humanists. Rather than rebuild society, he seeks to amuse, edify, and refine it. His qualified endorsement of human dignity is based on the healthy balance of mind and body, the sanctity of all true learning, and the authenticity of direct experience.

Northern humanism » The French humanists » Michel de Montaigne (1533–92)
Montaigne’s famous Essays are not only a compendious restatement and reevaluation of humanistic motives but also a milestone in the humanistic project of self-inquiry that had been originally endorsed by Petrarch. Scholar, traveler, soldier, and statesman, Montaigne was, like Machiavelli, alert to both theory and practice; but while Machiavelli saw practice as forming the basis for sound theory, Montaigne perceived in human events a multiplicity so overwhelming as to deny theoretical analysis. Montaigne’s use of typical humanistic modalities—interpretation of the classics, appeals to direct experience, exclusive emphasis on the human realm, and universal curiosity—led him, in other words, to the refutation of a typical humanistic premise: that knowledge of the intellectual arts could teach one a sovereign art of life. In an effort to make his inquiry more inclusive and unsparing, Montaigne made himself the subject of his book, demonstrating through hundreds of personal anecdotes and admissions the ineluctable diversity of a single human spirit. His essays, which seem to move freely from one subject or viewpoint to another, are often in fact carefully organized dialectical structures that draw the reader, through thesis and antithesis, stated subject and relevant association, toward a multidimensional understanding of morality and history. The final essay, grandly titled “Of Experience,” counsels a mature acceptance of life in all its contradictions. Human dignity, he implies, is indeed possible, but it lies less in heroic achievement than in painfully won self-knowledge. In this sense Montaigne’s attitude toward the humanistic tradition is generally similar to that suggested in the work of Castiglione and Rabelais. While effectively taking issue with a number of the more extreme humanistic contentions, he retained and indeed justified the basic attitudes that gave the movement its form.

Northern humanism » The English humanists
English humanism flourished in two stages: the first a basically academic movement that had its roots in the 15th century and culminated in the work of Sir Thomas More, Sir Thomas Elyot, and Roger Ascham, the second a poetic revolution led by Sir Philip Sidney and William Shakespeare.

Though continental humanists had held court positions since the days of Humphrey of Gloucester, English humanism as a distinct phenomenon did not emerge until late in the 15th century. At Oxford William Grocyn (c. 1446–1519) and his student Thomas Linacre (c. 1460–1524) gave impetus to a tradition of classical studies that would permanently influence English culture. Grocyn and Linacre attended Politian’s lectures at the Platonic Academy of Florence. Returning to Oxford, they became central figures in a group that included such younger scholars as John Colet (1466/67–1519) and William Lily (1468?–1522). The humanistic contributions of the Oxford group were philological and institutional rather than philosophical or literary. Grocyn lectured on Greek and theology; Linacre produced several works on Latin grammar and translated Galen into Latin. To Linacre is owed the foundation of the Royal College of Physicians; to Colet, the foundation of St. Paul’s School, London. Colet collaborated with Lily (the first headmaster of St. Paul’s) and Erasmus in writing the school’s constitution, and together the three scholars produced a Latin grammar (known alternately as “Lily’s Grammar” and the “Eton Grammar”) that would be central to English education for decades to come.

In Sir Thomas More (1478–1535), Sir Thomas Elyot (c. 1490–1546), and Roger Ascham (1515–68), English humanism bore fruit in major literary achievement. Educated at Oxford (where he read Greek with Linacre), More was also influenced by Erasmus, who wrote The Praise of Folly (Latin Moriae encomium) at More’s house and named the book punningly after his English friend. More’s famous Utopia, a kind of companion piece to The Praise of Folly, is similarly satirical of traditional institutions (Book I) but offers, as an imaginary alternative, a model society based on reason and nature (Book II). Reminiscent of Erasmus and Valla, More’s Utopians eschew the rigorous cultivation of virtue and enjoy moderate pleasures, believing that “Nature herself prescribes a life of joy (that is, pleasure)” and seeing no contradiction between earthly enjoyment and religious piety. Significantly indebted both to classical thought and European humanism, the Utopia is also humanistic in its implied thesis that politics begins and ends with humanity: that politics is based exclusively on human nature and aimed exclusively at human happiness. Sir Thomas Elyot chose a narrower subject but developed it in more detail. His great work, The Book Named The Governor, is a lengthy treatise on the virtues to be cultivated by statesmen. Born of the same tradition that produced The Prince and The Courtier, The Governor is typical of English humanism in its emphasis on the accommodation of both classical and Christian virtues within a single moral view. Elyot’s other contributions to English humanism include philosophical dialogues, moral essays, translations of ancient and contemporary writers (including Isocrates and Pico), an important Latin-English dictionary, and a highly popular health manual. He served his country as ambassador to the court of Charles V. Finally, the humanistic educational program set up at the turn of the century was vigorously supported by Sir John Cheke (1514–57) and codified by his student Roger Ascham. Ascham’s famous pedagogical manual, The Schoolmaster, offers not only a complete program of humanistic education but also an evocation of the ideals toward which that education was directed.

Ascham had been tutor to the young princess Elizabeth, whose personal education was a model of humanistic pedagogy and whose writings and patronage bespoke great love of learning. Elizabeth I’s reign (1558–1603) saw the last concerted expression of humanistic ideas. Elizabethan humanism, which added a unique element to the history of the movement, was the product not of pedagogues and philologists but of poets and playwrights.

Northern humanism » The English humanists » Sidney and Spenser
Sir Philip Sidney (1554–86) was, like Alberti and Federico da Montefeltro, a living pattern of the humanistic ideal. Splendidly educated in the Latin classics at Shrewsbury and Oxford, Sidney continued his studies under the direction of the prominent French scholar Hubert Languet and was tutored in science by the learned John Dee. His brief career as writer, statesman, and soldier was of such acknowledged brilliance as to make him, after his tragic death in battle, the subject of an Elizabethan heroic cult. Sidney’s major works, Astrophel and Stella, the Defence of Poesie, and the two versions of the Arcadia, are medleys of humanistic themes. In the sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella, he surpassed earlier imitators of Petrarch by emulating not only the Italian humanist’s subject and style but also his philosophical bent and habit of self-scrutiny. The Defence of Poesie, composed (like Erasmus’ Praise of Folly) in the form of a classical oration, reasserts the theory of poetry as moral doctrine that had been articulated by Petrarch and Boccaccio and revived by the Italian Aristotelians of the 16th century. The later or “new” Arcadia is an epic novel whose theoretical concerns include the dualities of contemplation and action, reason and passion, and theory and practice. In this ambitious and unfinished work, Sidney attempts a characteristically humanistic synthesis of classical philosophy, Christian doctrine, psychological realism, and practical politics. Seen as a whole, moreover, Sidney’s life and work form a significant contribution to a debate that had been smoldering since the decline of political liberty in Florence in the 15th century. How, it was asked, could humanism be politically active or “civic” in a Europe that was almost exclusively monarchic in structure? Many humanists had counseled retirement from active life, while Castiglione had seen his learned courtier rather as an advisor than as a leader. Sidney and his friend Edmund Spenser (1552/53–1599) sought to resolve this dilemma by creating a form of chivalric humanism. The image (taken on personally by Sidney and elaborated upon by Spenser in The Faerie Queene) of the hero as questing knight suggests that the humanist, even if not empowered politically, can achieve a valid form of activism by refining, upholding, and representing the values of a just and noble court. Spenser’s poetic development of this humanistic program was even more specific than Sidney’s. In his famous letter to Raleigh, he asserts that his purpose in The Faerie Queene is “to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline” and describes a project (never to be completed) of presenting his idea of the Aristotelian virtues in twelve poetic books. As with Sidney, however, this moral didacticism is neither self-righteous nor pedantic. The prescriptive content of The Faerie Queene is qualified by a strong emphasis on moral autonomy and a mature sense of the ambiguity of experience.

Northern humanism » The English humanists » Chapman, Jonson, and Shakespeare
The poetry and drama of Shakespeare’s time were a concourse of themes, ancient and modern, continental and English. Prominent among these motives were the characteristic topics of humanism. George Chapman (1559?–1634), the translator of Homer, was a forthright exponent of the theory of poetry as moral wisdom, holding that it surpassed all other intellectual pursuits. Ben Jonson (1572–1637) described his own humanistic mission when he wrote that a good poet was able “to inform young men to all good disciplines, inflame grown men to all great virtues, keep old men in their best and supreme state, or, as they decline to childhood, recover them to their first strength” and that the poet was “the interpreter and arbiter of nature, a teacher of things divine no less than human, a master in manners.” Jonson, who sought this moral goal both in his tragedies and in his comedies, paid tribute to the humanistic tradition in Catiline, a tragedy in which Cicero’s civic eloquence is portrayed in heroic terms.

Less overtly humanistic, though in fact more profoundly so, was William Shakespeare (1564–1616). Thoroughly versed (probably at his grammar school) in classical poetic and rhetorical practice, Shakespeare early in his career produced strikingly effective imitations of Ovid and Plautus (Venus and Adonis and The Comedy of Errors, respectively) and drew on Ovid and Livy for his poem The Rape of Lucrece. In Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus he developed Plutarchan biography into drama that, though Elizabethan in structure, is sharply classical in tone. Shakespeare clearly did not accept all the precepts of English humanism at face value. He grappled repeatedly with the problem of reconciling Christian doctrine with effective political action, and for a while (e.g., in Henry V) seemed inclined toward the Machiavellian alternative. In Troilus and Cressida, moreover, he broadly satirized Chapman’s Homeric revival and, more generally, the humanistic habit of idolizing classical heroism. Finally, he eschewed the moralism, rationalism, and self-conscious erudition of the humanists and was lacking as well in their fraternalism and their theoretical bent. Yet on a deeper level he must be acknowledged the direct and natural heir of Petrarch, Boccaccio, Castiglione, and Montaigne. Like them he delighted more in presenting issues than in espousing systems and held critical awareness, as opposed to doctrinal rectitude, to be the highest possible good. His plays reflect an inquiry into human character entirely in accord with the humanistic emphasis on the dignity of the emotions, and indeed it may be said that his unprecedented use of language as a means of psychological revelation gave striking support to the humanistic contention that language was the heart of culture and the index of the soul. Similarly, Shakespeare’s unparalleled realism may be seen as the ultimate embodiment, in poetic terms, of the intense concern for specificity—be it in description, measurement, or imitation—endorsed across the board by humanists from Boccaccio and Salutati on. Shakespearean drama is a treasury of the disputes that frustrated and delighted humanism, including (among many others) action versus contemplation, theory versus practice, res versus verbum, monarchy versus republic, human dignity versus human depravity, and individualism versus communality. In treating of these polarities, he generally proceeds in the manner of Castiglione and Montaigne, presenting structures of balanced contraries rather than syllogistic endorsements of one side or another. In so doing, he achieves a higher realism, transcending the mere imitation of experience and creating, in all its conflict and fertility, a mirror of mind itself. Since the achievement of such psychological and cultural self-awareness was the primary goal of humanistic inquiry, and since humanists agreed that poetry was an uncommonly effective medium for this achievement, Shakespeare must be acknowledged as a preeminent humanist.

One cannot leave Shakespeare and the phenomenon of English humanism without reference to a highly important aspect of his later drama. Throughout his career, Shakespeare had shown a keen interest in the concept of art, not only as a general idea but also with specific reference to his own identity as dramatist. In two of his final plays, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, he developed this concept into dramatic and thematic structures that had strongly doctrinal implications. Major characters in both plays practice a moral artistry—a kind of humanitas compounded of awareness, experience, imagination, compassion, and craft—that enables them to beguile and dominate other characters and to achieve enduring justice. This special skill, which is cognate with Shakespeare’s own dramatic art, suggests a hypothetical solution to many of the dilemmas posed in his earlier work. It implies that problems unavailable to political or religious remedy may be solved by creative innovation and that the art by which things are known and expressed may constitute, in and of itself, a valid field of inquiry and an instrument for cultural renewal. In developing this idea of the sovereignty of art, Shakespeare made the final major contribution to a humanistic tradition that will be discussed in the two sections that follow.

Humanism and the visual arts
Humanistic themes and techniques were woven deeply into the development of Italian Renaissance art; conversely, the general theme of “art” was prominent in humanistic discourse. The mutually enriching character of the two disciplines is evident in a variety of areas.

Humanism and the visual arts » Realism
Humanists paid conscious tribute to realistic techniques in art that had developed independently of humanism. Giotto di Bondone (c. 1266–1337), the Florentine painter responsible for the movement away from the Byzantine style and toward ancient Roman technique, was praised by Vasari as “the pupil of Nature.” Giotto’s own contemporary Boccaccio said of him in the Decameron that

there was nothing in Nature—the mother and ruling force of all created things with her constant revolution of the heavens—that he could not paint with his stylus, pen, or brush or make so similar to its original in Nature that it did not appear to be the original rather than a reproduction. Many times, in fact, in observing things painted by this man, the visual sense of men would err, taking what was painted to be the very thing itself.

Boccaccio, himself a naturalist and a realist, here subtly adopts the painter’s achievement as a justification for his own literary style. So Shakespeare, at the end of the Renaissance, praises Giulio Romano (and himself), “who, had he himself eternity and could put breath into his work, would beguile Nature of her custom, so perfectly he is her ape” (The Winter’s Tale). It should be noted that neither Vasari, Boccaccio, nor Shakespeare endorses realistic style as a summum bonum: realism is rather the means for regaining touch with the sovereign creative principle of Nature.

Humanism and the visual arts » Classicism
Like the humanists, Italian artists of the 15th century saw a profound correlation between classical forms and realistic technique. Classical sculpture and Roman painting were emulated because of their ability to simulate perceived phenomena, while, more abstractly, classical myth offered a unique model for the artistic idealization of human beauty. Alberti, himself a close friend of Donatello and Brunelleschi, codified this humanistic theory of art, using the fundamental principle of mathematics as a link between perceived reality and the ideal. He developed a classically based theory of proportionality between architectural and human form, believing that the ancients sought “to discover the laws by which Nature produced her works so as to transfer them to the works of architecture.”

Humanism and the visual arts » Anthropocentricity and individualism
Humanism and Italian art were similar in giving paramount attention to human experience, both in its everyday immediacy and in its positive or negative extremes. The religious themes that dominated Renaissance art (partly because of generous church patronage) were frequently developed into images of such human richness that, as one contemporary observer noted, the Christian message was submerged. The human-centredness of Renaissance art, moreover, was not just a generalized endorsement of earthly experience. Like the humanists, Italian artists stressed the autonomy and dignity of the individual. High Renaissance art boasted a style of portraiture that was at once humanely appreciative and unsparing of detail. Heroes of culture such as Federico da Montefeltro and Lorenzo de’ Medici, neither of whom was a conventionally handsome man, were portrayed realistically, as though a compromise with strict imitation would be an affront to their dignity as individuals. Similarly, artists of the Italian Renaissance were, characteristically, unabashed individualists. The biographies of Giotto, Brunelleschi, Leonardo, and Michelangelo by Giorgio Vasari (1511–74) not only describe artists who were well aware of their unique positions in society and history but also attest to a cultural climate in which, for the first time, the role of art achieved heroic stature. The autobiographical writings of the humanist Alberti, the scientist Gerolamo Cardano (1501–76), and the artist Benvenuto Cellini (1500–71) further attest to the individualism developing both in letters and in the arts; and Montaigne dramatized the analogy between visual mimesis and autobiographical realism when he said, in the preface to his Essays, that given the freedom he would have painted himself “tout entier, et tout nu” (“totally complete, and totally nude”).

Humanism and the visual arts » Art as philosophy
Italian Renaissance painting, especially in its secular forms, is alive with visually coded expressions of humanistic philosophy. Symbol, structure, posture, and even colour were used to convey silent messages about humanity and nature. Renaissance style was so articulate, and the Renaissance sense of the unity of experience so deeply ingrained, that even architectural structures could be eloquently philosophical. Two features of Federico’s palace at Urbino exemplify the profound interrelationship between humanistic principle and Renaissance art. The first feature is architectural. On the ground floor of the palace two private chapels, of roughly the same dimensions, stand side by side. The chapel at the left is a place of Christian worship, while that at the right is dedicated to the pagan Muses. Directly above these chapels is a study, the walls of which are covered with representations (in intarsia) of assorted humanistic heroes: Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Virgil, Seneca, Boethius, St. Augustine, Dante, Petrarch, Bessarion, and Federico’s revered teacher Vittorino, among others. The message conveyed by the positioning of the three rooms is hard to ignore. Devotion to the opposed principles of Christianity and earthly (pagan) beauty is rendered possible by a humanistic learning (represented by the study) so generous and appreciative as to comprehend both extremes.

The second feature is iconographic—a portrait of Federico and his son Guidobaldo (probably by Pedro Berruguete) that occupies a central position on the wall of the study. It depicts the Duke, his full coat of armour partly covered by a courtly robe, sitting and reading. The son stands beside his father’s chair, gazing out of the picture toward the viewer’s left. An abbot’s mitre rests on a shelf in the upper left, while the Duke’s helmet sits on the floor in the lower right. Here also a typically humanistic message is evident. The Duke’s scholarly attitude and curious attire suggest his triple role as warrior, ruler, and humanist. The two main axes of the picture—the line between mitre and helmet and the line between father and son—converge at the book, symbolizing the central role of humanistic learning in reconciling the concerns of church and state and in conveying humanistic virtue from generation to generation. The boy’s outward gaze implies the characteristic direction of humanistic learning: into the world of action. The scope and organic wholeness of Federico’s humanistic iconography are so striking as to rival great expressions of religious faith. The private heart of his palace concealed, like a genetic code, the principle that had given shape to the edifice and informed the state.

Humanism, art, and science
It is impossible to speak knowledgeably about Renaissance science without first understanding the Renaissance concept of art. The Latin ars (inflected as artis) was applied indiscriminately to the verbal disciplines, mathematics, music, and science (the “liberal arts”), as well as to painting, sculpture, and architecture; it also could refer to technological expertise, to magic, and to alchemy. Any discipline involving the cultivation of skill and excellence was de facto an art. To the Renaissance, moreover, all arts were “liberal” arts in their capacity to “free” their practitioners to function effectively in specific areas. The art of rhetoric empowered the rhetorician to convince; the art of perspective empowered the painter to create visual illusion; the art of physics empowered the scientist to predict the force and motion of objects. “Art,” in effect, was no more or less than articulate power, the technical or intellectual analogy to the political power of the monarch and the divine power of the god. The historical importance of this equation cannot be overestimated. If one concept may be said to have integrated all the varied manifestations of Renaissance culture and given organic unity to the period, it was this definition of art as power. With this definition in mind, one may understand why Renaissance humanists and painters assigned themselves such self-consciously heroic roles: in their artistic ability to delight, to captivate, to convince, they saw themselves as enfranchised directors and remakers of culture. One may also understand why a humanist-artist-scientist like Alberti would have seen no real distinction between the various disciplines he practiced. As profoundly interconnected means of understanding nature and humanity, and as media for effective reform and renewal, these disciplines were all components of an encompassing art. A similar point may be made about Machiavelli, who wrote a book about the “art” of warfare and who used history and logic to develop an art of government, or about the brilliant polymath Paracelsus, who spent his whole career perfecting an art that would comprehend all matter and all spirit. With the equation of art and power in mind, finally, one may understand why a revolutionary scientist like Galileo (1564–1642) put classical and medieval science through a winnowing fan, keeping only such components as allowed for physically reproducible results. Since every Renaissance art aimed for a dominion or conquest, it was completely appropriate that science should leave its previously contemplative role and focus upon the conquest of nature.

Humanism benefited the development of science in a number of more specific ways. Alberti’s technological applications of mathematics, and his influential statement that mathematics was the key to all sciences, grew out of his humanistic education at Padua. Vittorino, another student at Padua, went on to make mathematics a central feature of his educational program. Gerolamo Cardano, a scholar of renowned humanistic skills, made major contributions to the development of algebra. In short, the importance of mathematics in humanistic pedagogy and the fact that major humanists like Vittorino and Alberti were also mathematicians may be seen as contributing to the critical role mathematics would play in the rise of modern science. Humanistic philology, moreover, supplied scientists with clean texts and clear Latin translations of the classical works—Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, and even Ptolemy—that furthered their studies. The richness of the classical heritage in science is often underestimated. Galileo, who considered Archimedes his mentor, also prized the dialogues of Plato, in particular the Meno. The German philosopher Ernst Cassirer has demonstrated the likelihood that Galileo was fond of the Meno because it contained the first statement of the “hypothetical” method, a modus operandi that characterized Galileo’s own scientific practice and that would come to be known as one of the chief principles of the New Science. Humanism may also be seen as offering, of itself, methods and attitudes suitable for application in nonhumanistic fields. It might be argued, for example, that the revolutionary social science of Machiavelli and Juan Luis Vives (1492–1540) was due in large measure to their application of humanistic techniques to fields that lay outside the normal purview of humanism. But most of all it was the general spirit of humanism—critical, questing, ebullient, precise, focused on the physical world, and passionate in its quest for results—that fostered the development of the scientific spirit in social studies and natural philosophy.

Humanism and Christianity
Though much humanistic activity was specifically Christian in intention, and though the majority of humanists made firm avowals of faith, the relationship between Christianity and humanism is complex and not wholly untroubled. First, humanists from Petrarch onward recognized that the classical (pagan) direction of humanism necessarily constituted, if not a challenge to Christianity, at least a breach in the previous totality of Christian devotion. The Christian truth that had been acknowledged as comprehending all phenomena, earthly or heavenly, now had to coexist with a classical attitude that was overwhelmingly directed toward earthly life. Humanistic efforts to resolve the contradictions implied by these two attitudes were, if one may judge by their variety, never wholly successful. In particular, the extent to which humanistic inquiry led scholars toward the secular realm, and the extent to which humanistic pedagogy concentrated on secular subjects, suggest erosions of the domain of faith. Coluccio Salutati, who urged the young Poggio not to let humanistic enthusiasm take precedence over Christian piety, thereby acknowledged a dualism implicit in the humanistic program and never wholly absent from its historical development.

Second, the humanistic philology that meticulously compared ancient sources and “cleaned up” the texts of important Christian writings was a serious challenge to the authority of the church. With new authorities or refined texts in hand, humanists found fault with established commentaries and questioned traditional interpretations. Valla’s arraignment of the Donation of Constantine and Bessarion’s discovery that the supposed Dionysius the Areopagite (later called Pseudo-Dionysius) had borrowed some of his material from Plato exemplify the uneasy relationship between humanism and Catholic dogma. Third, the independent and broadly critical attitude innate to humanism could not but threaten the unanimity of Christian belief. Intellectual individualism, which has never been popular in any church, put particular stress on a religion that encouraged simple faith and alleged universal authority. Finally, humanism repeatedly fostered the impulse of religious reform. The humanistic emphasis on total authenticity and direct contact with sources had, as its religious correlative, a desire to obliterate the medieval accretions and procedural complexities that stood between the worshiper and his god. The reform-mindedness of such humanists as Petrarch, Boccaccio, Erasmus, and Rabelais was balanced on the religious side by reformers such as Calvin and Melanchthon, who employed humanistic techniques in their own cause. And the reform movement, while it may have modernized and thus preserved Christianity, rang the death knell for a medieval culture whose essential characteristic had been participation in a universal church.

Later fortunes of humanism
Shakespeare may be seen as the last major interpreter of the humanistic program. Sir Francis Bacon and John Milton, though formidably adept at humanistic techniques, diverged in their major work from the central current of humanism, Bacon toward natural science, Milton toward theology. If Bacon’s rationalism may be seen as a link between humanism and the Enlightenment, his strong emphasis on nature (rather than humanity) as subject matter presaged the permanent separation of the sciences from the humanities. In Milton’s theocentricity, on the other hand, lay the Christian distrust (going back, perhaps, to Luther) of humanistic secularism. These epochal divergences, moreover, were complemented by a series of rifts and ramifications within the humanistic movement. The split between philosophy and letters was, over future generations, to be compounded by the development of countless discrete specialties within both fields. Philosophers came more and more to define themselves within narrow boundaries. Creative writers and “critics” took up distinct positions and assumed adversarial relationships. The profound loss of coherence in humane letters was furthered by the gradual decline of Latin as the lingua franca of European intellectuals and the consequent separation of national traditions.

By the 19th century, humanism was such a lost art as to have to be reassembled, like a disjointed fossil, by careful historians. Of course there were exceptions. Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) reasserted humanistic values in a broad-based attack on contemporary institutions, and in Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) can be found the serious intention and multifarious curiosity that characterized humanism at its best. Strong humanistic motives may be found in Germany at the turn of the 19th century, particularly in the work of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–81), Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805), and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831); while Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) was perhaps the last individual whose breadth of achievement and sense of the unity of experience lived up to the ideal established by Alberti.

More recently, the mode of inquiry and interpretation developed by the political philosopher Leo Strauss (1899–1973) showed strong signs of the humanistic spirit. But in general the traces of the original program have been scattered. To the modern mind, a “humanist” is a university scholar, walled off from the interdisciplinary scope of the original humanistic program and immune to the active experience that was its basis and its goal. This decline is easy enough to explain. Had there been nothing else, one external factor would have made the cultivation of humanitas, as originally practiced, more and more difficult from the beginning of the 16th century on. The proliferation of published work in all fields, and the creation of many new fields, made increasingly impracticable the development of the comprehensive learning and awareness that were central to the original program. In 1500 the major texts constituting a humanistic education, though numerous, could still be counted; by 1900 they were legion, and people had long ceased agreeing about exactly which ones they were. But problems implicit in the movement were equally responsible for its demise. The characteristic emphases on rhetoric and philology, which gave the humanistic movement vitality and made it available to countless students of moderate gifts, also betokened its impermanence. Weak in dialectic or any other comprehensively analytic method, the movement had no instrument for self-examination, no medium for self-renewal. By the same token, neither had humanism any valid means of defense against the attackers—scientists, fundamentalists, materialists, and others—who camped in ever larger numbers on its borders. Lacking an integral method, finally, humanism in effect lacked a centre and became prey to an endless series of ramifications. While eloquent humanists rambled through Europe and spread the word about the classics, the method that might have unified their efforts lay, available but unheeded, in texts of Plato and Aristotle. Given this core of rigorous analysis, humanism might (all other challenges notwithstanding) have retained its basic character for centuries. But ironically it might also have failed to attract followers.

Though lacking permanence itself, humanism in large measure established the climate and provided the medium for the rise of modern thought. An impressive variety of major developments in literature, philosophy, art, religion, social science, and even natural science had their basis in humanism or were significantly nourished by it. Important spokesmen in all fields regularly made use of humanistic eloquence to further their causes. More generally, the so-called modern awareness—that sense of alienation and freedom applied both to the individual and to the race—derives ultimately, for better or worse, from humanistic sources. But with humanism, as with every other historical subject, one should beware lest valid concern about changes, crises, sources, and influences obscure the even more important issues of human continuity and human value. Whatever its weaknesses and inner conflicts, the humanistic movement was heroic in its breadth and energy, remarkable in its aspirations. For human development in all fields, it created a context of seldom-equaled fertility. Its characteristic modalities of thought, speech, and image lent themselves to the promptings of genius and became the media for enduring achievement. Its moral program formed the basis for lives that are remembered with admiration.

Robert Grudin

Encyclopaedia Britannica


see also:






European history
literally “rebirth,” the period in European civilization immediately following the Middle Ages, conventionally held to have been characterized by a surge of interest in classical learning and values. The Renaissance also witnessed the discovery and exploration of new continents, the substitution of the Copernican for the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, the decline of the feudal system and the growth of commerce, and the invention or application of such potentially powerful innovations as paper, printing, the mariner’s compass, and gunpowder. To the scholars and thinkers of the day, however, it was primarily a time of the revival of classical learning and wisdom after a long period of cultural decline and stagnation.

A brief treatment of the Renaissance follows.

The term Middle Ages was coined by scholars in the 15th century to designate the interval between the downfall of the classical world of Greece and Rome and its rediscovery at the beginning of their own century, a revival in which they felt they were participating. Indeed, the notion of a long period of cultural darkness had been expressed by Petrarch even earlier. Events at the end of the Middle Ages, particularly beginning in the 12th century, set in motion a series of social, political, and intellectual transformations that culminated in the Renaissance. These included the increasing failure of the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire to provide a stable and unifying framework for the organization of spiritual and material life, the rise in importance of city-states and national monarchies, the development of national languages, and the breakup of the old feudal structures.

While the spirit of the Renaissance ultimately took many forms, it was expressed earliest by the intellectual movement called Humanism. Humanism was initiated by secular men of letters rather than by the scholar-clerics who had dominated medieval intellectual life and had developed the Scholastic philosophy. Humanism began and achieved fruition first in Italy. Its predecessors were men like Dante and Petrarch, and its chief protagonists included Gianozzo Manetti, Leonardo Bruni, Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Lorenzo Valla, and Coluccio Salutati. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 provided Humanism with a major boost, for many eastern scholars fled to Italy, bringing with them important books and manuscripts and a tradition of Greek scholarship.

Humanism had several significant features. First, it took human nature in all of its various manifestations and achievements as its subject. Second, it stressed the unity and compatibility of the truth found in all philosophical and theological schools and systems, a doctrine known as syncretism. Third, it emphasized the dignity of man. In place of the medieval ideal of a life of penance as the highest and noblest form of human activity, the Humanists looked to the struggle of creation and the attempt to exert mastery over nature. Finally, Humanism looked forward to a rebirth of a lost human spirit and wisdom. In the course of striving to recover it, however, the Humanists assisted in the consolidation of a new spiritual and intellectual outlook and in the development of a new body of knowledge. The effect of Humanism was to help men break free from the mental strictures imposed by religious orthodoxy, to inspire free inquiry and criticism, and to inspire a new confidence in the possibilities of human thought and creations.

From Italy the new Humanist spirit and the Renaissance it engendered spread north to all parts of Europe, aided by the invention of printing, which allowed literacy and the availability of classical texts to grow explosively. Foremost among northern Humanists was Desiderius Erasmus, whose Praise of Folly (1509) epitomized the moral essence of Humanism in its insistence on heartfelt goodness as opposed to formalistic piety. The intellectual stimulation provided by Humanists helped spark the Reformation, from which, however, many Humanists, including Erasmus, recoiled. By the end of the 16th century the battle of Reformation and Counter-Reformation had commanded much of Europe’s energy and attention, while the intellectual life was poised on the brink of the Enlightenment.

It was in art that the spirit of the Renaissance achieved its sharpest formulation. Art came to be seen as a branch of knowledge, valuable in its own right and capable of providing man with images of God and his creations as well as with insights into man’s position in the universe. In the hands of men like Leonardo da Vinci it was even a science, a means for exploring nature and a record of discoveries. Art was to be based on the observation of the visible world and practiced according to mathematical principles of balance, harmony, and perspective, which were developed at this time. In the works of painters such as Masaccio, the brothers Lorenzetti, Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Perugino, Piero della Francesca, Raphael, and Titian; sculptors such as Pisano, Donatello, Verrocchio, Ghiberti, and Michelangelo; and architects such as Alberti, Brunelleschi, Palladio, Michelozzo, and Filarete, the dignity of man found expression in the arts.

In Italy the Renaissance proper was preceded by an important “proto-renaissance” in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, which drew inspiration from Franciscan radicalism. St. Francis had rejected the formal Scholasticism of the prevailing Christian theology and gone out among the poor praising the beauties and spiritual value of nature. His example inspired Italian artists and poets to take pleasure in the world around them. The work of the most famous artist of the proto-renaissance period, Giotto (1266/67 or 1276–1337), reveals a new pictorial style that depends on clear, simple structure and great psychological penetration rather than on the flat, linear decorativeness and hierarchical compositions of his predecessors and contemporaries, such as the Florentine painter Cimabue and the Siennese painters Duccio and Simone Martini. The great poet Dante lived at about the same time as Giotto, and his poetry shows a similar concern with inward experience and the subtle shades and variations of human nature. Although his Divine Comedy belongs to the Middle Ages in its plan and ideas, its subjective spirit and power of expression look forward to the Renaissance. Petrarch and Boccaccio also belong to this proto-renaissance period, both through their extensive studies of Latin literature and through their writings in the vernacular. Unfortunately, the terrible plague of 1348 and subsequent civil wars submerged both the revival of humanistic studies and the growing interest in individualism and naturalism revealed in the works of Giotto and Dante. The spirit of the Renaissance did not surface again until the 15th century.

In 1401 a competition was held at Florence to award the commission for bronze doors to be placed on the baptistery of San Giovanni. Defeated by the goldsmith and painter Lorenzo Ghiberti, Filippo Brunelleschi and Donatello left for Rome, where they immersed themselves in the study of ancient architecture and sculpture. When they returned to Florence and began to put their knowledge into practice, the rationalized art of the ancient world was reborn. The founder of Renaissance painting was Masaccio (1401–28). The intellectuality of his conceptions, the monumentality of his compositions, and the high degree of naturalism in his works mark Masaccio as a pivotal figure in Renaissance painting. The succeeding generation of artists—Piero della Francesca, Pollaiuolo, and Verrochio—pressed forward with researches into linear and aerial perspective and anatomy, developing a style of scientific naturalism.

The situation in Florence was uniquely favourable to the arts. The civic pride of Florentines found expression in statues of the patron saints commissioned from Ghiberti and Donatello for niches in the grain-market guildhall known as Or San Michele, and in the largest dome built since antiquity, placed by Brunelleschi on the Florence cathedral. The cost of construction and decoration of palaces, churches, and monasteries was underwritten by wealthy merchant families, chief among whom were the Medici family.

The Medici traded in all of the major cities in Europe, and one of the most famous masterpieces of Northern Renaissance art, The Portinari Altarpiece, by Hugo van der Goes (c. 1476; Uffizi, Florence), was commissioned by their agent, Tommaso Portinari. Instead of being painted with the customary tempera of the period, the work is painted with translucent oil glazes that produce brilliant jewel-like colour and a glossy surface. Early Northern Renaissance painters were more concerned with the detailed reproduction of objects and their symbolic meaning than with the study of scientific perspective and anatomy even after these achievements became widely known. On the other hand, central Italian painters began to adopt the oil medium soon after The Portinari Altarpiece was brought to Florence in 1476.

High Renaissance art, which flourished for about 35 years, from the early 1490s to 1527, when Rome was sacked by imperial troops, revolved around three towering figures: Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), Michelangelo (1475–1564), and Raphael (1483–1520). Each of the three embodied an important aspect of the period: Leonardo was the ultimate Renaissance man, a solitary genius to whom no branch of study was foreign; Michelangelo emanated creative power, conceiving vast projects that drew for inspiration on the human body as the ultimate vehicle for emotional expression; Raphael created works that perfectly expressed the classical spirit—harmonious, beautiful, and serene.

Although Leonardo was recognized in his own time as a great artist, his restless researches into anatomy, the nature of flight, and the structure of plant and animal life left him little time to paint. His fame rests on a few completed works; among them are the “Mona Lisa” (1503–05, Louvre), “The Virgin of the Rocks” (c. 1485, Louvre), and the sadly deteriorated fresco “The Last Supper” (1495–98, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan).

Michelangelo’s early sculpture, such as the “Pietà” (1499, St. Peter’s, Rome) and the “David” (1501–04, Accademia, Florence), reveals a breathtaking technical ability in concert with a disposition to bend rules of anatomy and proportion in the service of greater expressive power. Although Michelangelo thought of himself first as a sculptor, his best known work is the giant ceiling fresco of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, Rome. It was completed in four years, from 1508 to 1512, and presents an incredibly complex but philosophically unified composition that fuses traditional Christian theology with Neoplatonic thought.

Raphael’s greatest work, “The School of Athens” (1508–11), was painted in the Vatican at the same time that Michelangelo was working on the Sistine Chapel. In this large fresco Raphael brought together representatives of the Aristotelian and Platonic schools of thought. Instead of the densely packed, turbulent surface of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, Raphael placed his groups of calmly conversing philosophers and artists in a vast court with vaults receding into the distance. Raphael was initially influenced by Leonardo, and he incorporated the pyramidal composition and beautifully modelled faces of “The Virgin of the Rocks” into many of his own paintings of the Madonna. He differed from Leonardo, however, in his prodigious output, his even temperament, and his preference for classical harmony and clarity.

The creator of High Renaissance architecture was Donato Bramante (1444–1514), who came to Rome in 1499, when he was 55. His first Roman masterpiece, the Tempietto (1502) at S. Pietro in Montorio, is a centralized dome structure that recalls classical temple architecture. Pope Julius II (reigned 1503–13) chose Bramante to be papal architect, and together they devised a plan to replace the 4th-century Old St. Peter’s with a new church of gigantic dimensions. The project was not completed, however, until long after Bramante’s death.

Humanistic studies continued under the powerful popes of the High Renaissance, Julius II and Leo X, as did the development of polyphonic music. The Sistine Choir, which performed at services when the pope officiated, drew musicians and singers from all of Italy and northern Europe. Among the most famous composers who became members were Josquin des Prez (1445–1521) and Palestrina (1525–84).

The Renaissance as a unified historical period ended with the fall of Rome in 1527. The strains between Christian faith and classical humanism led to Mannerism in the latter part of the 16th century. Great works of art animated by the Renaissance spirit, however, continued to be made in northern Italy and in northern Europe.

Seemingly unaffected by the Mannerist crisis, northern Italian painters such as Correggio (1494–1534) and Titian (1488/90–1576) continued to celebrate both Venus and the Virgin Mary without apparent conflict. The oil medium, introduced to northern Italy by Antonello da Messina and quickly adopted by Venetian painters who could not use fresco because of the damp climate, seemed particularly adapted to the sanguine, pleasure-loving culture of Venice. A succession of brilliant painters—Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese—developed the lyrical Venetian painting style that combined pagan subject matter, sensuous handling of colour and paint surface, and a love of extravagant settings. Closer in spirit to the more intellectual Florentines of the Quattrocento was the German painter Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), who experimented with optics, studied nature assiduously, and disseminated his powerful synthesis of Renaissance and Northern Gothic styles through the Western world by means of his engravings and woodcuts.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and Nation-States

Even before 2 Martin Luther initiated the Reformation, criticism of the increasingly worldly Church had been growing.

2 Martin Luther in 1529 by Lucas Cranach

Jan Hus of Bohemia, for example, was a significant reformer who, however, failed due to resistance from the aristocracy. In contrast Luther, during the peasant wars, for example, explicitly put himself on the side of the princes, who in turn supported the Reformation because they hoped for an increase in power through the development of national churches. The Catholic world responded to the Reformation with an internal renewal of the Church.

A significant agent of this renewal was the 4 Jesuit order (Ignatus of Loyola), which saw its duty in missionary work and also in combatting heretical movements.

4 Ignatius of Loyola

The Jesuit order also took over the development of the Catholic educational system. The Counter-Revolution was based on the redefinition of the Catholic faith and Church in the Council of Trent. The Council of Trent laid down the principles of Catholic faith in the same way that the "Augsburg Confession" definitively set down the tenets of the Protestant faith.



Paolo Veronese
Christ in the House of Levi, 1573

religious history
also called Catholic Reformation, or Catholic Revival, Main
in the history of Christianity, the Roman Catholic efforts directed in the 16th and early 17th centuries both against the Protestant Reformation and toward internal renewal; the Counter-Reformation took place during roughly the same period as the Protestant Reformation, actually (according to some sources) beginning shortly before Martin Luther’s act of nailing the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door (1517).

Early calls for reform grew out of criticism of the worldly attitudes and policies of the Renaissance popes and many of the clergy. New religious orders and other groups were founded to effect a religious renewal—e.g., the Theatines, the Capuchins, the Ursulines, and especially the Jesuits. Later in the century, John of the Cross and Teresa of Ávila promoted the reform of the Carmelite order and influenced the development of the mystical tradition. Francis of Sales had a similar influence on the devotional life of the laity.

There was little significant papal reaction to the Protestants or to demands for reform from within the Roman Catholic Church before mid-century. Pope Paul III (reigned 1534–49) is considered to be the first pope of the Counter-Reformation. It was he who in 1545 convened the Council of Trent. The council, which met intermittently until 1563, responded emphatically to the issues at hand. Its doctrinal teaching was a reaction against the Lutheran emphasis on the role of faith and God’s grace and against Protestant teaching on the number and nature of the sacraments. Disciplinary reforms attacked the corruption of the clergy. There was an attempt to regulate the training of candidates for the priesthood; measures were taken against luxurious living on the part of the clergy, the appointment of relatives to church office, and the absence of bishops from their dioceses. Prescriptions were given about pastoral care and the administration of the sacraments.

The Roman Inquisition, an agency established in 1542 to combat heresy, was more successful in controlling doctrine and practice than similar bodies in those countries where Protestant princes had more power than the Roman Catholic Church. Political and military involvement directed against Protestant growth is most clearly reflected in the policies of Emperor Charles V and in those of his son Philip II, who was associated with the Spanish Inquisition.

Various theologians—especially the Jesuit Robert Bellarmine—attacked the doctrinal positions of the Reformers, but there was no one to rival the theological and moral engagement evident in the writings of Luther or the eloquence and passion characteristic of the works of John Calvin. Roman Catholics tended to emphasize the beliefs and devotional subjects that were under direct attack by the Protestants—e.g., the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Virgin Mary, and St. Peter.

A major emphasis of the Counter-Reformation was an ongoing missionary endeavour in parts of the world that had been colonized by predominantly Roman Catholic countries. The work of such men as Francis Xavier and others in Asia and of missionaries in the New World was rewarded with millions of baptisms, if not true conversions. There were also attempts to reconvert areas of the world that had once been Roman Catholic—e.g., England and Sweden.

Encyclopaedia Britannica





Martin Luther

Martin Luther

German religious leader

born Nov. 10, 1483, Eisleben, Saxony [Germany]
died Feb. 18, 1546, Eisleben

German theologian and religious reformer who was the catalyst of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation. Through his words and actions, Luther precipitated a movement that reformulated certain basic tenets of Christian belief and resulted in the division of Western Christendom between Roman Catholicism and the new Protestant traditions, mainly Lutheranism, Calvinism, the Anglican Communion, the Anabaptists, and the Antitrinitarians. He is one of the most influential figures in the history of Christianity.

Early life and education » Early life
Soon after Luther’s birth, his family moved from Eisleben to the small town of Mansfeld, some 10 miles to the northwest. His father, Hans Luther, who prospered in the local copper-refining business, became a town councillor of Mansfeld in 1492. There are few sources of information about Martin Luther’s childhood apart from his recollections as an old man; understandably, they seem to be coloured by a certain romantic nostalgia.

Luther began his education at a Latin school in Mansfeld in the spring of 1488. There he received a thorough training in the Latin language and learned by rote the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and morning and evening prayers. In 1497 Luther was sent to nearby Magdeburg to attend a school operated by the Brethren of the Common Life, a lay monastic order whose emphasis on personal piety apparently exerted a lasting influence on him. In 1501 he matriculated at the University of Erfurt, at the time one of the most distinguished universities in Germany. The matriculation records describe him as in habendo, meaning that he was ineligible for financial aid, an indirect testimonial to the financial success of his father. Luther took the customary course in the liberal arts and received the baccalaureate degree in 1502. Three years later he was awarded the master’s degree. His studies gave him a thorough exposure to Scholasticism; many years later, he spoke of Aristotle and William of Ockham as “his teachers.”

Early life and education » Conversion to monastic life
Having graduated from the arts faculty, Luther was eligible to pursue graduate work in one of the three “higher” disciplines—law, medicine, or theology. In accordance with the wishes of his father, he commenced the study of law. Proudly he purchased a copy of the Corpus Juris Canonici (“Corpus of Canon Law”), the collection of ecclesiastical law texts, and other important legal textbooks. Less than six weeks later, however, on July 17, 1505, Luther abandoned the study of law and entered the monastery in Erfurt of the Order of the Hermits of St. Augustine, a mendicant order founded in 1256. His explanation for his abrupt change of heart was that a violent thunderstorm near the village of Stotternheim had terrified him to such a degree that he involuntarily vowed to become a monk if he survived. Because his vow was clearly made under duress, Luther could easily have ignored it; the fact that he did not indicates that the thunderstorm experience was only a catalyst for much deeper motivations. Luther’s father was understandably angry with him for abandoning a prestigious and lucrative career in law in favour of the monastery. In response to Luther’s avowal that in the thunderstorm he had been “besieged by the terror and agony of sudden death,” his father said only: “May it not prove an illusion and deception.”

By the second half of the 15th century, the Augustinian order had become divided into two factions, one seeking reform in the direction of the order’s original strict rule, the other favouring modifications. The monastery Luther joined in Erfurt was part of the strict, observant faction. Two months after entering the monastery, on Sept. 15, 1505, Luther made his general confession and was admitted into the community as a novice.

Luther’s new monastic life conformed to the commitment that countless men and women had made through the centuries—an existence devoted to an interweaving of daily work and worship. His spartan quarters consisted of an unheated cell furnished only with a table and chair. His daily activities were structured around the monastic rule and the observance of the canonical hours, which began at 2:00 in the morning. In the fall of 1506, he was fully admitted to the order and began to prepare for his ordination to the priesthood. He celebrated his first mass in May 1507 with a great deal of fear and trembling, according to his own recollection.

Early life and education » Doctor of theology
But Luther would not settle for the anonymous and routine existence of a monk. In 1507 he began the study of theology at the University of Erfurt. Transferred to the Augustinian monastery at Wittenberg in the fall of 1508, he continued his studies at the university there. Because the university at Wittenberg was new (it was founded in 1502), its degree requirements were fairly lenient. After only a year of study, Luther had completed the requirements not only for the baccalaureate in Bible but also for the next-higher theological degree, that of Sententiarius, which would qualify him to teach Peter Lombard’s Four Books of Sentences (Sententiarum libri IV), the standard theological textbook of the time. Because he was transferred back to Erfurt in the fall of 1509, however, the university at Wittenberg could not confer the degrees on him. Luther then unabashedly petitioned the Erfurt faculty to confer the degrees. His request, though unusual, was altogether proper, and in the end it was granted.

His subsequent studies toward a doctoral degree in theology were interrupted, probably between the fall of 1510 and the spring of 1511, by his assignment to represent the observant German Augustinian monasteries in Rome. At issue was a papal decree that had administratively merged the observant and the nonobservant houses of the order. It is indicative of Luther’s emerging role in his order that he was chosen, along with a monastic brother from Nürnberg, to make the case for the observant houses in their appeal of the ruling to the pope. The mission proved to be unsuccessful, however, because the pope’s mind was already made up. Luther’s comments in later years suggest that the mission made a profoundly negative impression on him: he found in Rome a lack of spirituality at the very heart of Western Christendom.

Soon after his return Luther transferred to the Wittenberg monastery to finish his studies at the university there. He received his doctorate in the fall of 1512 and assumed the professorship in biblical studies, which was supplied by the Augustinian order. At the same time, his administrative responsibilities in the Wittenberg monastery and the Augustinian order increased, and he began to publish theological writings, such as the 97 theses against Scholastic theology.

Although there is some uncertainty about the details of Luther’s academic teaching, it is known that he offered courses on several biblical books—two on the book of Psalms—as well as on Paul’s epistles to the Romans, the Galatians, and the Hebrews. From all accounts Luther was a stimulating lecturer. One student reported that he was

a man of middle stature, with a voice that combined sharpness in the enunciation of syllables and words, and softness in tone. He spoke neither too quickly nor too slowly, but at an even pace, without hesitation and very clearly.

Scholars have scrutinized Luther’s lecture notes for hints of a developing new theology, but the results have been inconclusive. Nor do the notes give any indication of a deep spiritual struggle, which Luther in later years associated with this period in his life.

The indulgences controversy » Indulgences and salvation
In the fall of 1517 an ostensibly innocuous event quickly made Luther’s name a household word in Germany. Irritated by Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar who was reported to have preached to the faithful that the purchase of a letter of indulgence entailed the forgiveness of sins, Luther drafted a set of propositions for the purpose of conducting an academic debate on indulgences at the university in Wittenberg. He dispatched a copy of the Ninety-five Theses to Tetzel’s superior, Archbishop Albert of Mainz, along with a request that Albert put a stop to Tetzel’s extravagant preaching; he also sent copies to a number of friends. Before long, Albert formally requested that official proceedings be commenced in Rome to ascertain the work’s orthodoxy; meanwhile, it began to be circulated in Germany, together with some explanatory publications by Luther.

Luther clearly intended the Ninety-five Theses to be subservient to the church and the pope, and their overall tone is accordingly searching rather than doctrinaire. Nevertheless, there is a detectable undercurrent of “reforming” sentiment in the work—expressed in several theses beginning with the phrase “Christians are to be taught that…”—as well as some openly provocative statements. Thesis 86, for example, asks,

Why does not the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?

Scholars have disagreed about how early Luther began to formulate the theological positions that eventually caused him to part ways with the church. If he had done so by the fall of 1517, then the Ninety-five Theses must be viewed as the first—albeit hesitant—manifesto of a new theology. Most scholars, however, believe that Luther’s conversion was a lengthy process that did not culminate until well after the indulgences controversy was in full swing in the spring of 1518. Indeed, his conversion to a new understanding of the gospel was heavily influenced by the controversy, according to this view.

By the end of 1518, according to most scholars, Luther had reached a new understanding of the pivotal Christian notion of salvation, or reconciliation with God. Over the centuries the church had conceived the means of salvation in a variety of ways, but common to all of them was the idea that salvation is jointly effected by humans and by God—by humans through marshalling their will to do good works and thereby to please God, and by God through his offer of forgiving grace. Luther broke dramatically with this tradition by asserting that humans can contribute nothing to their salvation: salvation is, fully and completely, a work of divine grace.

Luther’s understanding came to him after a long inner conflict in which he agonized, even despaired, over his inability to marshal his will adequately to do good works. While meditating on The Letter of Paul to the Romans (1:17)—in which the Apostle declares, “For in it [i.e., the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith: as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live’”—Luther experienced an illumination that he later described as a kind of conversion. “It was as if the very gates of heaven had opened before me,” he wrote. The dramatic and intensely personal nature of this experience helps to explain Luther’s determined refusal, during the indulgences controversy, to recant his theological views.

The indulgences controversy » Luther, Cajetan, and Eck
By the summer of 1518 the causa Lutheri (“the case of Luther”) had progressed far enough to require that Luther present himself in Rome to be examined on his teachings. After his territorial ruler, the elector Frederick III of Saxony, intervened on his behalf, Luther was summoned instead to the southern German city of Augsburg, where an imperial Diet was in session. Frederick took action not because he supported Luther’s teachings—which were still being formed—but because he felt that it was his responsibility as a prince to ensure that his subject was treated fairly. Rome, for its part, acceded to Frederick’s wishes because it needed German financial support for a planned military campaign that it hoped to sponsor against the Ottoman Empire—whose forces were poised to invade central Europe from Hungary—and because Frederick was one of the seven electors who would choose the successor of the ailing Holy Roman emperor Maximilian I. The papacy had a vital interest in the outcome of this election.

Against these larger political issues, the case of the Wittenberg professor paled in importance. Luther’s antagonist at the imperial Diet, Cardinal Cajetan, was head of the Dominican order, an ardent defender of the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, and one of the most learned men in the Roman Curia. Cajetan had taken his assignment seriously and was thus well prepared for his interrogation of Luther. Once the two men met, their fundamental differences quickly became apparent. Their encounter was made even more difficult by the fact that neither had great respect for the other—Cajetan observed that Luther had “ominous eyes and wondrous fantasies in his head,” while Luther remarked that Cajetan may well be “a famous Thomist, but he is an evasive, obscure, and unintelligible theologian.”

In Cajetan’s view the key issues were Luther’s denial that the church is empowered to distribute as indulgences the infinite “treasury of merits” accumulated by Christ on the cross—on this point Luther directly contradicted the papal bull Unigenitus Dei Filius (1343; “Only Begotten Son of God”) of Clement VI—and Luther’s insistence that faith is indispensable for justification. After three days of discussion (October 12–14), Cajetan advised Luther that further conversations were useless unless he was willing to recant. Luther immediately fled Augsburg and returned to Wittenberg, where he issued an appeal for a general council of the church to hear his case.

Luther had reason to be nervous. Papal instructions from August had empowered Cajetan to have Luther apprehended and brought to Rome for further examination. On Nov. 9, 1518, Leo X issued the bull Cum postquam (“When After”), which defined the doctrine of indulgences and addressed the issue of the authority of the church to absolve the faithful from temporal punishment. Luther’s views were declared to be in conflict with the teaching of the church.

Well aware that he was the cause of the controversy and that in Cum postquam his doctrines had been condemned by the pope himself, Luther agreed to refrain from participating in the public debate. Others, however, promptly took his place, sounding the knell of reform in both church and society. The controversy was drawing participants from wider circles and addressing broader and weightier theological issues, the most important of which was the question of the authority of the church and the pope. Eventually, a bitter dispute between Andreas Bodenstein von Carlstadt, a colleague of Luther at Wittenberg, and Johann Eck, a theologian from Ingolstadt and an able defender of the church, drew Luther back into the fray. Because the entire controversy was still considered an academic matter, Eck, Carlstadt, and Luther agreed to a public debate, which took place in Leipzig in June 1519.

The setting was hardly a friendly one for Luther and Carlstadt, because Duke George of Saxony had already established himself as a staunch defender of the church. Upon hearing the sermon of the opening ceremony, which exhorted the participants to adhere to the truth in their debating, George remarked that he had not realized that theologians were so godless as to need such preaching. The initial debate between Eck and Carlstadt covered extensive theological ground but was listless. Luther’s debate with Eck was more lively, as Eck, a skillful debater, repeatedly sought to show that Luther’s position on the issue of papal primacy was identical to that of Jan Hus, the Bohemian theologian who was condemned for heresy at the Council of Constance (1414–18). This was a conclusion calculated to shock the audience at Leipzig, whose university had been founded in the previous century by refugees from the Hussite-dominated University of Prague. Luther repeatedly denied the charge but then noted that some of Hus’s opinions, such as his assertion that there is one holy Catholic Church, were not heretical. Eck’s prodding led Luther to state that even general councils, such as the Council of Constance, can be in error when they promulgate opinions not de fide (concerning the faith). This admission was perceived as damaging to Luther’s cause and allowed Eck to boast that he had succeeded in revealing Luther’s true beliefs.

The indulgences controversy » Excommunication
Meanwhile, after a delay caused by the election of the new German emperor, the formal ecclesiastical proceedings against Luther were revived in the fall of 1519. In January 1520 a consistory heard the recommendation that Luther’s orthodoxy be examined, and one month later a papal commission concluded that Luther’s teachings were heretical. Because this conclusion seemed hasty to some members of the Curia, another commission, consisting of the heads of the several important monastic orders, was convened; it rendered the surprisingly mild judgment that Luther’s propositions were “scandalous and offensive to pious ears” but not heretical. After Eck appeared in Rome and made dire pronouncements on the situation in Germany, yet another examination of Luther’s writings was undertaken. Finally, on June 15, 1520, Leo issued the bull Exsurge Domine (“Arise O Lord”), which charged that 41 sentences in Luther’s various writings were “heretical, scandalous, offensive to pious ears,” though it did not specify which sentences had received what verdict. Luther was given 60 days upon receiving the bull to recant and another 60 days to report his recantation to Rome.

At first Luther believed that the story of the bull was a malicious rumour spread by Eck. When the reality of his condemnation became clear, however, he responded belligerently in a tract titled Against the Execrable Bull of the Antichrist. Upon the expiration of the 60-day period stipulated in the bull, on Dec. 10, 1520, Luther cancelled his classes, marched to a bonfire started by his students outside one of the city gates, and threw a copy of the bull into the fire.

The ensuing bull of excommunication, Decet Romanum pontificem (“It Pleases the Roman Pontiff”), was published on Jan. 3, 1521. Martin Luther was formally declared a heretic. Ordinarily, those condemned as heretics were apprehended by an authority of the secular government and put to death by burning. In Luther’s case, however, a complex set of factors made such punishment impossible. The new German king (and Holy Roman emperor), Charles V, had agreed as a condition of his election that no German would be convicted without a proper hearing; many, including Luther himself, were convinced that Luther had not been granted this right. Others noted various formal deficiencies in Exsurge Domine, including the fact that it did not correctly quote Luther and that one of the sentences it condemned was actually written by another author. Still others thought that Luther’s call for reform deserved a more serious hearing. A proposal was therefore circulated that Luther should be given a formal hearing when the imperial Diet convened in Worms later in the spring.

Understandably, the papal nuncio Girolamo Aleandro, who represented the Curia in the Holy Roman Empire, vehemently rejected this idea. His position was clear: a convicted heretic did not warrant a hearing. The Diet could do nothing other than endorse the ecclesiastical verdict and bring the heretic to his deserved judgment. Charles shared Aleandro’s sentiment but realized that the idea of giving Luther a hearing enjoyed widespread support in Germany. Charles’s adviser Mercurino Gattinara, mindful of the need for good relations with the estates (the three main orders of society—clergy, nobility, and townspeople), repeatedly urged the emperor not to issue an edict against Luther without their full consent. Gattinara’s caution was justified, because in February the estates refused to support an edict condemning Luther’s writings and instead urged that, in view of the restlessness of the commoners, Luther be cited to appear before the Diet “to the benefit and advantage of the entire German nation, the Holy Roman Empire, our Christian faith, and all estates.” Charles acceded, and on March 6, 1521, he issued a formal invitation to Luther to appear before the estates assembled in Worms. Charles’s apparent surrender was perhaps the only acceptable resolution of the matter; even Aleandro could easily convince himself that Luther’s citation was in the best interest of the church. If Luther recanted, the problem of his heresy would be removed; if he did not, the estates could no longer refuse to endorse formal action against him.

The indulgences controversy » Diet of Worms
Luther appeared before the Diet at Worms on April 17, 1521. He was informed that he had been called to the meeting to acknowledge as his own the books that had been published in his name and to repudiate them. He briefly acknowledged the books but requested time to ponder his second answer, which was granted. The following day Luther admitted that he had used inappropriate language but declared that he could not and would not recant the substance of his writings. According to a traditional but apocryphal account, he ended his statement with the words, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

Following his appearance, Luther participated in intense discussions involving representatives of the emperor, Aleandro, and the Saxon elector Frederick. Although every effort was made to induce Luther to recant, in the end the discussions failed over his refusal to repudiate a single sentence from the 41 cited in the papal bull. But behind that stood the charge that Luther, a single individual, presumed to challenge 1,500 years of Christian theological consensus. On April 26 Luther hurriedly left Worms, and on May 8 Charles drew up an edict against him. Charles undertook one more unsuccessful effort to obtain the support of the estates, which continued to fear that Luther’s condemnation would incite rebellion among the commoners. The Diet then officially adjourned. On May 25, after the elector Joachim Brandenburg assured the emperor of the support of the few rulers who remained in Worms, Charles signed the edict against Luther.

The document enumerated Luther’s errors along the lines of Exsurge Domine, declared Luther and his followers (some of whom were identified by name) to be political outlaws, and ordered his writings to be burned. Thus, the causa Lutheri was considered closed. It was enormously important, however, that doubts about the propriety of the edict were voiced at once. Its claim to represent the “unanimous consent of the estates” was plainly incorrect, since by the end of May most of the rulers had long since left Worms. Meanwhile, on his journey back to Wittenberg, Luther was “kidnapped” by soldiers of Frederick and taken secretly to Wartburg Castle, near the town of Eisenach, where he remained in hiding for the better part of a year. During this period few people knew of Luther’s whereabouts; most thought he was dead.

During his stay in the Wartburg, Luther began work on what proved to be one of his foremost achievements—the translation of the New Testament into the German vernacular. This task was an obvious ramification of his insistence that the Bible alone is the source of Christian truth and his related belief that everyone is capable of understanding the biblical message. Luther’s translation profoundly affected the development of the written German language. The precedent he set was followed by other scholars, whose work made the Bible widely available in the vernacular and contributed significantly to the emergence of national languages.

The indulgences controversy » Controversies after the Diet of Worms
Attempts to carry out the Edict of Worms were largely unsuccessful. Although Roman Catholic rulers sought determinedly to suppress Luther and his followers, within two years it had become obvious that the movement for reform was too strong. By March 1522, when Luther returned to Wittenberg, the effort to put reform into practice had generated riots and popular protests that threatened to undermine law and order.

Luther’s attitude toward these developments was conservative. He did not believe that change should occur hurriedly. In accordance with his notion of “making haste slowly,” he managed to control the course of reform in Wittenberg, where his influence continued to be strong. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that Luther’s significance as a public figure began to decline after 1522. This is not to say that he did not play a crucial role in the continuing course of events—for he did. Nor is this to say that his influence may not be discerned after 1522—for it can. After the Edict of Worms, however, the cause of reform, of whatever sort, became a legal and political struggle rather than a theological one. The crucial decisions were now made in the halls of government and not in the studies of the theologians. Moreover, by 1523 various other reformers, including Thomas Müntzer, Huldrych Zwingli, and Martin Bucer, had arisen to challenge Luther’s primacy of place and to put forward a more radical vision of reform in church and society.

Beginning in the summer of 1524, large numbers of peasants in southwestern Germany staged a series of uprisings that were partly inspired by Luther’s reform proposals, though they also addressed long-standing economic and political grievances. By the spring of 1525 the rebellion, known as the Peasants’ War, had spread to much of central Germany. The peasants, who were supported by the reformer Müntzer, published their grievances in a manifesto titled The Twelve Articles of the Peasants; the document is notable for its declaration that the rightness of the peasants’ demands should be judged by the Word of God, a notion derived directly from Luther’s teaching that the Bible is the sole guide in matters of morality and belief. Luther wrote two responses—Admonition to Peace Concerning the Twelve Articles of the Peasants, which expressed sympathy for the peasants, and Against the Murderous and Robbing Hordes of the Peasants, which vehemently denounced them. Both works represented a shift away from his earlier vision of reform as encompassing societal as well as religious issues. It is likely that they helped to alienate the peasants from Luther’s cause.

Luther faced other challenges in the mid-1520s. His literary feud with the great Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus came to an unfortunate conclusion when the two failed to find common ground. Their theological dispute concerned the issue of whether humans were free to contribute to and participate in their own salvation. Erasmus, who took the affirmative view, argued that Luther’s insistence on the radical priority of grace undermined all human ethical effort. Luther insisted that Erasmus’s position reduced the great soteriological drama of the Incarnation and the cross to shallow moral concepts.

In 1525 Luther was isolated from various other reformers in a controversy over the meaning of the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper. The dispute concerned the proper interpretation of Jesus’ words of institution when he said, “This is my body…This is my blood.” Whereas Zwingli argued that these words had to be understood symbolically, as “This symbolizes my body…This symbolizes my blood,” Luther argued strenuously for a literal interpretation. Accordingly, Zwingli held that Jesus was spiritually but not physically present in the communion host, whereas Luther taught that Jesus was really and bodily present. The theological disagreement was initially pursued by several southern German reformers, such as Johann Brenz, but after 1527 Luther and Zwingli confronted each other directly, with increasing rancour and vehemence, particularly from Luther. As far as he was concerned, Zwingli was an “enthusiast” who did not take the plain words of Scripture seriously. Thus, the reform movement became a house that was publicly divided.

In the view of some, notably Landgrave Philip of Hesse, this division had serious political implications. There was no doubt that the emperor and the princes of the Catholic territories were determined to suppress the new Lutheran heresy, if necessary by force. The disagreement over communion precluded one strategy of dealing with this ominous Catholic threat, namely by establishing a united Protestant political (and military) front. Whereas Luther, in his wonderful otherworldliness, gravely doubted the wisdom of any effort to protect the gospel by military means, Zwingli envisioned a comprehensive anti-Catholic political front that would reach from Zurich to Denmark. When Philip first entertained the notion of a colloquy between Zwingli, Luther, and a number of other reformers, he was prompted by his desire to create the basis of a Protestant political alliance. Luther was initially reluctant and had to be persuaded to attend the meeting, which was held in Marburg on Oct. 1–4, 1529 (see Marburg, Colloquy of). From the outset Luther made it clear that he would not change his views: he took a piece of chalk and wrote the Latin version of the words of institution, “Hoc est corpus meum” (“this is my body”), on the table. In the end the two sides managed to fashion a contorted agreement, but the deep division within Protestantism remained.

On June 13, 1525, Luther married Katherine of Bora, a former nun. Katherine had fled her convent together with eight other nuns and was staying in the house of the Wittenberg town secretary. While the other nuns soon returned to their families or married, Katherine remained without support. Luther was likewise at the time the only remaining resident in what had been the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg; the other monks had either thrown off the habit or moved to a staunchly Catholic area. Luther’s decision to marry Katherine was the result of a number of factors. Understandably, he felt responsible for her plight, since it was his preaching that had prompted her to flee the convent. Moreover, he had repeatedly written, most significantly in 1523, that marriage is an honourable order of creation, and he regarded the Roman Catholic Church’s insistence on clerical celibacy as the work of the Devil. Finally, he believed that the unrest in Germany, epitomized in the bloody Peasants’ War, was a manifestation of God’s wrath and a sign that the end of the world was at hand. He thus conceived his marriage as a vindication, in these last days, of God’s true order for humankind.

While Luther’s enemies indulged themselves in sarcastic pronouncements upon his matrimony—Erasmus remarked that what had begun as tragedy had turned into comedy—his friends and supporters were chagrined over what they took to be the poor timing of his decision. (It is noteworthy that Luther was not the first of the reformers to marry.) Katherine of Bora proved to be a splendid helpmate for Luther. Table Talks, a collection of Luther’s comments at the dinner table as recorded by one of his student boarders, pays tribute to “Dr. Katie” as a skillful household manager and as a partner in theological conversations. The couple had five children: Johannes, Magdalene, Martin, Paul, and Margarete. Luther’s letters to his children, as well as his deep sadness at the loss of his daughter Magdalene—who died in his arms in September 1542—are indicative of the warm relationships that characterized his family and marriage.

Later years
As a declared heretic and public outlaw, Luther was forced to stay out of the political and religious struggle over the enforcement of the Edict of Worms. Sympathetic rulers and city councils became the protagonists for Luther’s cause and the cause of reform. When Charles V convened a Diet to meet at Augsburg in 1530 to address unresolved religious issues, Luther himself could not be present, though he managed to travel as far south as Coburg—still some 100 miles north of Augsburg—to follow developments at the Diet. In Augsburg it fell to Luther’s young Wittenberg colleague Philipp Melanchthon to represent the Protestants. Melanchthon’s summary of the reformers’ beliefs, the Augsburg Confession, quickly became the guiding theological document for the emerging Lutheran tradition.

Luther’s role in the Reformation after 1525 was that of theologian, adviser, and facilitator but not that of a man of action. Biographies of Luther accordingly have a tendency to end their story with his marriage in 1525. Such accounts gallantly omit the last 20 years of his life, during which much happened. The problem is not just that the cause of the new Protestant churches that Luther had helped to establish was essentially pursued without his direct involvement, but also that the Luther of these later years appears less attractive, less winsome, less appealing than the earlier Luther who defiantly faced emperor and empire at Worms. Repeatedly drawn into fierce controversies during the last decade of his life, Luther emerges as a different figure—irascible, dogmatic, and insecure. His tone became strident and shrill, whether in comments about the Anabaptists, the pope, or the Jews. In each instance his pronouncements were virulent: the Anabaptists should be hanged as seditionists, the pope was the Antichrist, the Jews should be expelled and their synagogues burned. Such were hardly irenic words from a minister of the gospel, and none of the explanations that have been offered—his deteriorating health and chronic pain, his expectation of the imminent end of the world, his deep disappointment over the failure of true religious reform—seem satisfactory.

In 1539 Luther became embroiled in a scandal surrounding the bigamy of Landgrave Philip. Like many other crowned heads, Philip lived in a dynastically arranged marriage with a wife for whom he had no affection. Engaging in extramarital relationships disturbed his conscience, however, so that for years he felt unworthy to receive communion. His eyes fell on one of his wife’s ladies-in-waiting, who insisted on marriage. Philip turned to Luther and the Wittenberg theologians for advice. In his response, which he amply augmented with biblical references, Luther noted that the patriarchs of the Old Testament had been married to more than one wife and that, as a special dispensation, polygamy was still possible. Philip accordingly entered into a second marriage secretly, but before long it became known—as did Luther’s role in bringing it about.

From the mid-1530s Luther was plagued by kidney stones and an obvious coronary condition. Somewhat sheepishly, he attributed his poor health to the severity of his life in the monastery. He nevertheless continued his academic teaching—from 1535 to 1545 he lectured on the Book of Genesis, one of his most insightful biblical expositions—and preached regularly at the city church until his colleague Johannes Bugenhagen assumed that responsibility. Even then, Luther continued to preach in the Augustinian monastery. After the death of one of his oldest friends, Nikolaus Hausmann, in 1538 and that of his daughter Magdalene four years later, references to death became increasingly abundant in Luther’s correspondence. Thus he wrote in a June 1543 letter to a friend:

I desire that there be given me a good little hour when I can move onward to God. I have had enough. I am tired. I have become nothing. Do pray earnestly for me so that the Lord may take my soul in peace.

In February 1546 Luther journeyed, despite his failing health, to Eisleben, the town where he was born. He set out to mediate an embarrassing quarrel between two young and arrogant noblemen, the counts Albrecht and Gebhard of Mansfeld. He was successful, and he so informed his wife in what proved to be his last letter. One day later, on February 18, death came. His body was interred in the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

Martin Luther is assuredly one of the most influential figures in Western civilization during the last millennium. He was the catalyst for the division of Western Christendom into several churches, but he also left a host of cultural legacies, such as the emphasis on vernacular language. He was primarily a theologian, and there is a great wealth of insights in his writings, which in their definitive scholarly edition (the so-called Weimar Edition) comprise more than 100 folio volumes. But he was not a systematic theological thinker. Much like St. Augustine in late antiquity, Luther was what might be called a polemical theologian. Most of his writings —such as Bondage of the Will against Erasmus and That These Words ‘This Is My Body’ Still Stand Against all Enthusiasts against Zwingli—were forged in the heat of controversy and were inescapably given to one-sided pronouncements, which are not easy to reconcile with positions he took in other writings. It is, therefore, not easy to find agreement on the elements of Luther’s theology.

Moreover, the assessment of Luther’s theological significance was for centuries altogether dependent on the ecclesiastical orientation of the critic. Protestant scholars viewed him as the most stunning exponent of the authentic Christian faith since the time of the Apostles, while Catholics viewed him as the epitome of theological ignorance and personal immorality. These embarrassingly partisan perspectives have changed in recent decades, and a less confessionally oriented picture of Luther has emerged.

Certain key tenets of Luther’s theology have shaped Protestant Christianity since the 16th century. They include his insistence on the Bible, the Word of God, as the only source of religious authority; his emphasis on the centrality of grace, appropriated by faith, as the sole means of human salvation; and his understanding of the church as a community of the faithful—a priesthood of all believers—rather than as a hierarchical structure with a prominent division between clergy and laity. Luther was not the first to express these notions, and indeed recent scholarship on the 15th century has shown that much of what was traditionally considered Luther’s revolutionary innovation had striking antecedents. Nevertheless, the vigour and centrality that these ideas received in Luther’s thought made them in important respects dramatically new. Certain corollaries of Luther’s central teachings also made his achievement new and noteworthy. His insistence, for example, that sacred Scripture be available to commoners prompted him not only to translate the Bible into German but also to compose hymns and to advocate the establishment of schools in the cities.

Recent interpreters of Luther have attempted to understand his thought in terms of his struggle against the overpowering reality of the Devil or in terms of his intense fear of a death that would permanently separate him from God. Although there is evidence to support both views, neither quite captures Luther’s spiritual essence. What seems to characterize him more than anything else is an almost childlike trust in God’s overarching forgiveness and acceptance. Luther talked much about his tentationes (“temptations”), by which he meant his doubts about whether this divine forgiveness was real. But he overcame these doubts, and his life thereafter was one of joyous and spontaneous trust in God’s love and goodness toward him and all sinners. Luther called this “Christian freedom.”

The centre of scholarly attention in Luther studies in the late 20th century was Luther’s understanding of the proper role of the Christian in society and politics. According to many scholars, Luther’s disavowal of the German peasants in 1525 and his notion that, as he once put it, “the Gospel has nothing to do with politics” facilitated a tendency toward political passivity among Protestant Christians in Germany. Likewise, his strident pronouncements against the Jews, especially toward the end of his life, have raised the question of whether Luther significantly encouraged the development of German anti-Semitism. Although many scholars have taken this view, this perspective puts far too much emphasis on Luther and not enough on the larger peculiarities of German history.

Luther’s notions developed in opposition to the belief developed by the medieval Catholic Church that all of society wore a Christian mantle. The notion of a “Christian” politics or a “Christian” economics was anathema to Luther. However, this did not mean that the public realm had no principles that needed to be honoured. What Luther rejected was the notion that there was a uniquely “Christian” approach to these realms; uniquely Christian, Luther insisted, was only that which pertained to Jesus’ salvational work of redemption.

Hans J. Hillerbrand

Encyclopaedia Britannica




Jan Hus

Jan Hus

Bohemian religious leader
Hus also spelled Huss
born c. 1370, Husinec, Bohemia [now in Czech Republic]
died July 6, 1415, Konstanz [Germany]

the most important 15th-century Czech religious Reformer, whose work was transitional between the medieval and the Reformation periods and anticipated the Lutheran Reformation by a full century. He was embroiled in the bitter controversy of the Western Schism (1378–1417) for his entire career, and he was convicted of heresy at the Council of Constance and burned at the stake.

Early life and teaching career
Hus was born of poor parents in Husinec in southern Bohemia, from which he took his name. About 1390 he enrolled in the University of Prague, and two years after his graduation in 1394 he received a master’s degree and began teaching at the university. He became dean of the philosophical faculty there in 1401.

At this time the University of Prague was undergoing a period of struggle against foreign, chiefly German, influence as well as an intense rivalry between, on the one hand, German masters who upheld nominalism and were regarded as enemies of church reform and, on the other, the strongly nationalistic Czech masters, who were inclined to realist philosophy and were enthusiastic readers of the philosophical writings of John Wycliffe, a bitter critic of nominalism. Hus studied Wycliffe’s works and later his theological writings, which were brought into Prague in 1401. Hus was influenced by Wycliffe’s underlying principles, though he never accepted their extreme implications, and was particularly impressed by Wycliffe’s proposals for reform of the Roman Catholic clergy. The clerical estate owned about one-half of all the land in Bohemia, and the great wealth and simoniacal practices of the higher clergy aroused jealousy and resentment among the poor priests. The Bohemian peasantry, too, resented the church as one of the heaviest land taxers. There was thus a large potential base of support for any church reform movement at a time when the authority of the papacy itself was discredited by the Western Schism. Attempts at reform had been made by the Bohemian king Charles IV, and Wycliffe’s works were the chosen weapon of the national reform movement founded by Jan Milíč of Kroměříž (d. 1374).

Leader of Czech reform movement
In 1391 Milíč’s pupils founded the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, where public sermons were preached in Czech (rather than in Latin) in the spirit of Milíc̆’s teaching. From 1402 Hus was in charge of the chapel, which had become the centre of the growing national reform movement in Bohemia. He became increasingly absorbed in public preaching and eventually emerged as the popular leader of the movement. Despite his extensive duties at the Bethlehem Chapel, Hus continued to teach in the university faculty of arts and became a candidate for the doctor’s degree in theology. Hus also became the adviser to the young nobleman Zbyněk Zajíc of Hazmburk when Zbyněk was named archbishop of Prague in 1403, a move that helped to give the reform movement a firmer foundation.

In 1403 a German university master, Johann Hübner, drew up a list of 45 articles, presumably selected from Wycliffe’s writings, and had them condemned as heretical. Because the German masters had three votes and the Czech masters only one, the Germans easily outvoted the Czechs, and the 45 articles were henceforth regarded as a test of orthodoxy. The principal charge against Wycliffe’s teaching was his tenet of remanence—i.e., that the bread and wine in the Eucharist retain their material substance. Wycliffe also declared the Scriptures to be the sole source of Christian doctrine. Hus did not share all of Wycliffe’s radical views, such as that on remanence, but several members of the reform party did, among them Hus’s teacher, Stanislav of Znojmo, and his fellow student, Štěpán Páleč.

During the first five years of Zbyněk’s reign as archbishop of Prague, his attitude toward the “evangelical party” radically changed. The opponents of reform won him over to their side and, in 1407, succeeded in charging Stanislav and Páleč with heresy, and they were cited to the Roman Curia for examination. The two men returned completely changed in their theological views and became the principal opponents of the Reformers. Thus, just when Hus had emerged at the forefront of the reform movement, he came into conflict with his former friends.

Hus and the Western Schism
Since 1378 the Roman Catholic Church had been split by the Western Schism, during which the papal jurisdiction was divided between two popes. As the leader of reform, Hus unhesitatingly quarreled with Archbishop Zbyněk when the latter opposed the Council of Pisa (1409), which was called to dethrone the rival popes and to reform the church. The council had the support of the Czech masters at the University of Prague, whereas the German masters were opposed to it. The German masters, who carried a voting majority in university affairs, supported the archbishop, which so enraged King Wenceslas that in January 1409 he subverted the university constitution by granting the Czech masters three votes each and the Germans only one; the result was a mass emigration of the Germans from Prague to several German universities. In the fall of 1409 Hus was elected rector of the now Czech-dominated university.

The final break between Archbishop Zbyněk and Hus occurred when the Council of Pisa deposed both Pope Gregory XII, whose authority was recognized in Bohemia, and the antipope Benedict XIII and in their place elected Alexander V. The deposed popes, however, retained jurisdiction over portions of western Europe; thus, instead of two, there were three popes. The archbishop and the higher clergy in Bohemia remained faithful to Gregory, whereas Hus and the reform party acknowledged the new pope. After being forced by the king’s punitive measures to recognize Alexander V as the legitimate pope, the archbishop, through a large bribe, induced Alexander to prohibit preaching in private chapels, including the Bethlehem Chapel. Hus refused to obey the pope’s order, whereupon Zbyněk excommunicated him. Despite his condemnation, Hus continued to preach at the Bethlehem Chapel and to teach at the University of Prague. Zbyněk was ultimately forced by the king to promise Hus his support before the Roman Curia, but he then died suddenly in 1411, and the leadership of Hus’s enemies passed to the Curia itself.

In 1412 the case of Hus’s heresy, which had been tacitly dropped, was revived because of a new dispute over the sale of indulgences that had been issued by Alexander’s successor, the antipope John XXIII, to finance his campaign against Gregory XII. Their sale in Bohemia aroused general indignation but had been approved by King Wenceslas, who, as usual, shared in the proceeds. Hus publicly denounced these indulgences before the university and, by so doing, lost the support of Wenceslas. This was to prove fatal to him. Hus’s enemies then renewed his trial at the Curia, where he was declared under major excommunication for refusing to appear and an interdict was pronounced over Prague or any other place where Hus might reside, thereby denying certain sacraments of the church to communicants in the interdicted area. In order to spare the city the consequences, Hus voluntarily left Prague in October 1412. He found refuge mostly in southern Bohemia in the castles of his friends, and during the next two years he engaged in feverish literary activity. His enemies, particularly Stanislav and Páleč, wrote a large number of polemical treatises against him, which he answered in an equally vigorous manner. The most important of his treatises was De ecclesia (The Church). He also wrote a large number of treatises in Czech and a collection of sermons entitled Postilla.

The final trial
With the Western Schism continuing unabated, King Sigismund of Hungary, as the newly elected (1411) king of Germany, saw an opportunity to gain prestige as the restorer of the church’s unity. He forced John XXIII to call the Council of Constance to find a final solution of the schism and to put an end to all the heresies. Sigismund, therefore, sent an emissary to invite Hus to attend the council to explain his views—an invitation Hus naturally was reluctant to accept. But when John threatened King Wenceslas for noncompliance with the interdict, and after Sigismund had assured Hus of safe-conduct for the journey to Constance and back (no matter what the decision might be), Hus finally consented to go.

He left for Constance but did not receive the safe-conduct until two days after his arrival there, in November 1414. Shortly after arriving in Constance he was, with Sigismund’s tacit consent, arrested and placed in close confinement, from which he never emerged. Hus’s enemies succeeded in having him tried before the Council of Constance as a Wycliffite heretic. All that the earnest intervention by the Bohemian nobles could obtain for him was three public hearings, at which he was allowed to defend himself and succeeded in refuting some of the charges against him. The council urged Hus to recant in order to save his life, but to the majority of its members he was a dangerous heretic fit only for death. When he refused to recant, he was solemnly sentenced on July 6, 1415, and burned at the stake.

Beliefs and writings
There has been much dispute over the extent to which Hus was indebted to Wycliffe for his theological beliefs. At Constance he refused to submit to the council’s demand that he disavow Wycliffe entirely, and he undoubtedly did support the doctrine of predestination and advocate the supremacy of biblical authority over that of the Catholic church. Hus’s views can also be interpreted as the culmination of the Czech national reform movement, however. His followers and subsequent Bohemian religious Reformers adopted the name Hussites.

During his exile in 1412–14, Hus substituted for his popular preaching in Prague a series of writings in Czech; these have since become classics of Czech literature and are equally important in the history of the Czech language, because Hus developed a new and simpler orthography. The most important of these works is his popular tract Vyklad viery, desatera a patere (“Exposition of the Faith, of the Ten Commandments, and of the Lord’s Prayer”). Hus’s writings in Czech and Latin include other religious tracts, learned treatises and lectures, collections of his sermons, and personal letters.

Matthew Spinka
Frantisek M. Bartos

Encyclopaedia Britannica




Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Saint Ignatius of Loyola by Peter Paul Rubens

Spanish saint
Spanish San Ignacio de Loyola, baptized Iñigo
born 1491, Loyola, Castile [Spain]
died July 31, 1556, Rome [Italy]; canonized March 12, 1622; feast day July 31

Spanish theologian and one of the most influential figures in the Catholic Reformation of the 16th century, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Paris in 1534.

Early life
Ignatius was born in the ancestral castle of the Loyolas in the Basque province of Guipúzcoa. The youngest son of a noble and wealthy family, Ignatius became, in 1506, a page in the service of a relative, Juan Velázquez de Cuéllar, treasurer of the kingdom of Castile. In 1517 Ignatius became a knight in the service of another relative, Antonio Manrique de Lara, duke of Nájera and viceroy of Navarre, who employed him in military undertakings and on a diplomatic mission.

While defending the citadel of Pamplona against the French, Ignatius was hit by a cannonball on May 20, 1521, sustaining a bad fracture of his right leg and damage to his left. This event closed the first period of his life, during which he was, on his own admission, “a man given to the vanities of the world, whose chief delight consisted in martial exercises, with a great and vain desire to win renown” (Autobiography, 1). Although his morals were far from stainless, Ignatius was in his early years a proud rather than sensual man. He stood just under five feet two inches in height and had in his youth an abundance of hair of a reddish tint. He delighted in music, especially sacred hymns.

Spiritual awakening
It is the second period of Ignatius’ life, in which he turned toward a saintly life, that is the better known. After treatment at Pamplona, he was transported to Loyola in June 1521. There his condition became so serious that for a time it was thought he would die. When out of danger, he chose to undergo painful surgery to correct blunders made when the bone was first set. The result was a convalescence of many weeks, during which he read a life of Christ and a book on the lives of the saints, the only reading matter the castle afforded. He also passed time in recalling tales of martial valour and in thinking of a great lady whom he admired. In the early stages of this enforced reading, his attention was centred on the saints. The version of the lives of the saints he was reading contained prologues to the various lives by a Cistercian monk who conceived the service of God as a holy chivalry. This view of life profoundly moved and attracted Ignatius. After much reflection, he resolved to imitate the holy austerities of the saints in order to do penance for his sins.

In February 1522 Ignatius bade farewell to his family and went to Montserrat, a place of pilgrimage in northeastern Spain. He spent three days in confessing the sins of his whole life, hung his sword and dagger near the statue of the Virgin Mary as symbols of his abandoned ambitions, and, clothed in sackcloth, spent the night of March 24 in prayer. The next day he went to Manresa, a town 30 miles from Barcelona, to pass the decisive months of his career, from March 25, 1522, to mid-February 1523. He lived as a beggar, ate and drank sparingly, scourged himself, and for a time neither combed nor trimmed his hair and did not cut his nails. Daily he attended mass and spent seven hours in prayer, often in a cave outside Manresa.

The sojourn at Manresa was marked by spiritual trials as well as by joy and interior light. While sitting one day on the banks of Cardoner River, “the eyes of his understanding began to open and, without seeing any vision, he understood and knew many things, as well spiritual things as things of the faith” (Autobiography, 30). At Manresa, he sketched the fundamentals of his little book The Spiritual Exercises. Until the close of his studies at Paris (1535), he continued to make some additions to it. Thereafter there were only minor changes until Pope Paul III approved it in 1548. The Spiritual Exercises is a manual of spiritual arms containing a vital and dynamic system of spirituality. During his lifetime, Ignatius used it to give spiritual retreats to others, especially to his followers. The booklet is indeed an adaptation of the Gospels for such retreats.

The remainder of the decisive period was devoted to a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Ignatius left Barcelona in March 1523 and, traveling by way of Rome, Venice, and Cyprus, reached Jerusalem on September 4. He would have liked to have settled there permanently, but the Franciscan custodians of the shrines of the Latin church would not listen to this plan. After visiting Bethany, the Mount of Olives, Bethlehem, the Jordan River, and Mount of Temptation, Ignatius left Palestine on October 3 and, passing through Cyprus and Venice, reached Barcelona in March 1524.

Period of study
“After the pilgrim had learned that it was God’s will that he should not stay in Jerusalem, he pondered in his heart what he should do and finally decided to study for a time in order to be able to help souls” (Autobiography, 50). So Ignatius, who in his Autobiography refers to himself as the “pilgrim,” describes his decision to acquire as good an education as the circumstances permitted. He probably could have reached the priesthood in a few years. He chose to defer this goal for more than 12 years and to undergo the drudgery of the classroom at an age when most men have long since finished their training. Perhaps his military career had taught him the value of careful preparation. At any rate, he was convinced that a well-trained man would accomplish in a short time what one without training would never accomplish.

Ignatius studied at Barcelona for nearly two years. In 1526 he transferred to Alcalá. By this time he had acquired followers, and the little group had assumed a distinctive garb; but Ignatius soon fell under suspicion of heresy and was imprisoned and tried. Although found innocent, he left Alcalá for Salamanca. There not only was he imprisoned but his companions were also apprehended. Again he won acquittal but was forbidden to teach until he had finished his studies. This prohibition induced Ignatius to leave his disciples and Spain.

He arrived in Paris on Feb. 2, 1528, and remained there as a student until 1535. He lived on alms, and in 1528 and 1529 he went to Flanders to beg from Spanish merchants. In 1530 he went to England for the same purpose. In Paris Ignatius soon had another group of disciples whose manner of living caused such a stir that he had to explain himself to the religious authorities. This episode finally convinced him that he must abstain from public religious endeavour until he reached the priesthood.

During his long stay in the French capital, Ignatius won the coveted M.A. at the Collège de Sainte-Barbe. He also gathered the companions who were to be cofounders with him of the Society of Jesus, among them Francis Xavier, who became one of the order’s greatest missionaries. On Aug. 15, 1534, he led the little band to nearby Montmartre, where they bound themselves by vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, though as yet without the express purpose of founding a religious order.

Early in 1535, before the completion of his theological studies, Ignatius left Paris for reasons of health. He spent more than six months in Spain and then went to Bologna and Venice where he studied privately. On Jan. 8, 1537, his Parisian companions joined him in Venice. All were eager to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but war between Venice and the Turkish Empire rendered this impossible. Ignatius and most of his companions were ordained on June 24, 1537. There followed 18 months during which they acquired experience in the ministry while also devoting much time to prayer. During these months, although he did not as yet say mass, Ignatius had one of the decisive experiences of his life. He related to his companions that on a certain day, while in prayer, he seemed to see Christ with the cross on his shoulder and beside him the Eternal Father, who said, “I wish you to take this man for your servant,” and Jesus took him and said, “My will is that you should serve us.” On Christmas Day 1538 Ignatius said his first mass at the Church of St. Mary Major in Rome. This ends the third period of his life, that of his studies, which were far from a formality. Diego Laínez, a cofounder of the Society of Jesus and an intelligent observer, judged that despite handicaps Ignatius had as great diligence as any of his fellow students. He certainly became in the difficult field of ascetic and mystical theology one of the surest of Catholic guides.

Founding of the Jesuit order
The final period of Loyola’s life was spent in Rome or its vicinity. In 1539 the companions decided to form a permanent union, adding a vow of obedience to a superior elected by themselves to the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Roman pontiff that they had already taken. In 1540 Pope Paul III approved the plan of the new order. Loyola was the choice of his companions for the office of general.

The Society of Jesus developed rapidly under his hand. When he died there were about 1,000 Jesuits divided into 12 administrative units, called provinces. Three of these were in Italy, a like number in Spain, two in Germany, one in France, one in Portugal, and two overseas in India and Brazil. Loyola was, in his last years, much occupied with Germany and India, to which he sent his famous followers Peter Canisius and Francis Xavier. He also dispatched missionaries to the Congo region and to Ethiopia. In 1546 Loyola secretly received into the society Francis Borgia, duke of Gandía and viceroy of Catalonia. When knowledge of this became public four years later it created a sensation. Borgia organized the Spanish provinces of the order and became third general.

Loyola left his mark on Rome. He founded the Roman College, embryo of the Gregorian University, and the Germanicum, a seminary for German candidates for the priesthood. He also established a home for fallen women and one for converted Jews.

The Jesuit Constitutions
Although at first Loyola had been somewhat opposed to placing his companions in colleges as educators of youth, he came in the course of time to recognize the value of the educational apostolate and in his last years was busily engaged in laying the foundations of the system of schools that was to stamp his order as largely a teaching order.

Probably the most important work of his later years was the composition of the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. In them he decreed that his followers were to abandon some of the traditional forms of the religious life, such as chanting the divine office, physical punishments, and penitential garb, in favour of greater adaptability and mobility; they also renounced chapter government by the members of the order in favour of a more authoritative regime, and their vows were generally of such a nature that separation from the order was easier than had been usual in similar Catholic groups. The Society of Jesus was to be above all an order of apostles “ready to live in any part of the world where there was hope of God’s greater glory and the good of souls.” Loyola insisted on long and thorough training of his followers. Convinced that women are better ruled by women than by men, after some hesitation he resolutely excluded a female branch of the order. The special vow of obedience to the pope was called by Loyola “the cause and principal foundation” of his society.

While general of the order, Loyola was frequently sick. In January 1551 he became so ill that he begged his associates, though to no purpose, to accept his resignation as superior. Despite his condition he continued to direct the order until his death in July 1556. Since his days at Manresa, Loyola had practiced a form of prayer that was later published in The Spiritual Exercises and appears to have rivaled that of the greatest mystics.

Ignatius Loyola was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1609 and canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622. In 1922 he was declared patron of all spiritual retreats by Pope Pius XI. His achievements and those of his followers form a chapter in the history of the Roman Catholic church that cannot be neglected by those who desire to understand that institution. English translations of Ignatius’ two most important works are The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. by L.J. Puhl (1951); and The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus: Translated, with an Introduction and a Commentary, by G.E. Ganss (1970).

The Rev. Edward A. Ryan, S.J.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Inventions and Discoveries

The rapid spread of the Reformation was facilitated by the invention of the 6 printing press around 1445 by Johannes Gutenberg, as communication of new ideas was much facilitated and speeded up by this new medium which made possible the mass production of texts that could be carried far from where they were written.

6 Johannes Gutenberg at his
printing press, etching, 18th century

Discoveries in the field of natural sciences, such as that of the heliocentric universe by Copernicus in 1507, revolutionized the world view of the time.

A thirst for new discoveries and the search for new trading routes led to great 3 sea voyages: The search for sea routes to India led the Portuguese to sail around Africa at the end of the 15th century; Christopher Columbus landed in America in 1492; Magellan sailed around the world for the first time from 1520 to 1521.

In the wake of beginning world trade and colonialism, European states established hegemony in many parts of the world. As a result of this they damaged and destroyed many cultures and forced millions of people into slavery.

The discovery of new societies, however, also resulted in a fascination for the 7 "exotic," particularly the cultures of Persia, China, and that of the Ottoman Empire.

 In the 17th and 18th century, elements of each of these were imported to Europe. In the Ottoman Empire, in Persia, and in India under the Great Moguls, and in China under the Manchu dynasty— states that were at the height of their power and prosperity between the 16th and 18th century—serious conflict with the Europeans did not take place and their excursions were given only marginal attention.

3 Map with Columbus, Vespucci, Magellan, and Pizarro

7 Chinese Pavilion in Sanssouci, Potsdam, Germany




Johannes Gutenberg

Johannes Gutenberg

German printer
in full Johann Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg
born 14th century, Mainz [Germany]
died probably February 3, 1468, Mainz

German craftsman and inventor who originated a method of printing from movable type that was used without important change until the 20th century. The unique elements of his invention consisted of a mold, with punch-stamped matrices (metal prisms used to mold the face of the type) with which type could be cast precisely and in large quantities; a type-metal alloy; a new press, derived from those used in wine making, papermaking, and bookbinding; and an oil-based printing ink. None of these features existed in Chinese or Korean printing, or in the existing European technique of stamping letters on various surfaces, or in woodblock printing.

Gutenberg was the son of a patrician of Mainz. What little information exists about him, other than that he had acquired skill in metalwork, comes from documents of financial transactions. Exiled from Mainz in the course of a bitter struggle between the guilds of that city and the patricians, Gutenberg moved to Strassburg (now Strasbourg, France) probably between 1428 and 1430. Records put his presence there from 1434 to 1444. He engaged in such crafts as gem cutting, and he also taught crafts to a number of pupils.

Some of his partners, who became aware that Gutenberg was engaged in work that he kept secret from them, insisted that, since they had advanced him considerable sums, they should become partners in these activities as well. Thus, in 1438 a five-year contract was drawn up between him and three other men: Hans Riffe, Andreas Dritzehn, and Andreas Heilmann. It contained a clause whereby in case of the death of one of the partners, his heirs were not to enter the company but were to be compensated financially.

Invention of the press
When Andreas Dritzehn died at Christmas 1438, his heirs, trying to circumvent the terms of the contract, began a lawsuit against Gutenberg in which they demanded to be made partners. They lost the suit, but the trial revealed that Gutenberg was working on a new invention. Witnesses testified that a carpenter named Conrad Saspach had advanced sums to Andreas Dritzehn for the building of a wooden press, and Hans Dünne, a goldsmith, declared that he had sold to Gutenberg, as early as 1436, 100 guilders’ worth of printing materials. Gutenberg, apparently well along the way to completing his invention, was anxious to keep secret the nature of the enterprise.

After March 12, 1444, Gutenberg’s activities are undocumented for a number of years, but it is doubtful that he returned immediately to Mainz, for the quarrel between patricians and guilds had been renewed in that city. In October 1448, however, Gutenberg was back in Mainz to borrow more money, which he received from a relative. By 1450 his printing experiments had apparently reached a considerable degree of refinement, for he was able to persuade Johann Fust, a wealthy financier, to lend him 800 guilders—a very substantial capital investment, for which the tools and equipment for printing were to act as securities. Two years later Fust made an investment of an additional 800 guilders for a partnership in the enterprise. Fust and Gutenberg eventually became estranged, Fust, apparently, wanting a safe and quick return on his investment, while Gutenberg aimed at perfection rather than promptness.

Fust won a suit against him, the record of which is preserved, in part, in what is called the Helmaspergersches Notariatsinstrument (the Helmasperger notarial instrument), dated November 6, 1455, now in the library of the University of Göttingen. Gutenberg was ordered to pay Fust the total sum of the two loans and compound interest (probably totaling 2,020 guilders). Traditional historiography suggested that this settlement ruined Gutenberg, but more recent scholarship suggests that it favoured him, allowing him to operate a printing shop through the 1450s and maybe into the 1460s.

Printing of the Bible
There is no reason to doubt that the printing of certain books (werck der bucher, specifically mentioned in the record of the trial, refers to the Forty-two-Line Bible that was Gutenberg’s masterpiece) was completed, according to Gutenberg’s major biographers, in 1455 at the latest. It has been estimated that the sale of the Forty-two-Line Bible alone would have produced many times over the sum owed Fust by Gutenberg, and there exists no explanation as to why these tangible assets were not counted among Gutenberg’s property at the trial.

After winning his suit, Fust gained control of the type for the Bible and for Gutenberg’s second masterpiece, a Psalter, and at least some of Gutenberg’s other printing equipment. He continued to print, using Gutenberg’s materials, with the assistance of Peter Schöffer, his son-in-law, who had been Gutenberg’s most skilled employee and a witness against him in the 1455 trial. The first printed book in Europe to bear the name of its printer is a magnificent Psalter completed in Mainz on August 14, 1457, which lists Johann Fust and Peter Schöffer.

The Psalter is decorated with hundreds of two-colour initial letters and delicate scroll borders that were printed in a most ingenious technique based on multiple inking on a single metal block. Most experts are agreed that it would have been impossible for Fust and Schöffer alone to have invented and execute the intricate technical equipment necessary to execute this process between November 6, 1455, when Gutenberg lost control of his printing establishment, and August 14, 1457, when the Psalter appeared. It was Gutenberg’s genius that was responsible for the Psalter decorations. In the 1960s it was suggested that he may also have had a hand in the creation of copper engraving, in which he may have recognized a method for producing pictorial matrices from which to cast reliefs that could be set with the type, initial letters, and calligraphic scrolls. It is at present no more than a hypothesis, but Gutenberg’s absorption in both copper engraving and the Psalter decorations would certainly have increased Johann Fust’s impatience and vindictiveness.

A number of other printings used to be attributed to Gutenberg. They are now considered the work of other minor printers; among these is a Thirty-six-Line Bible printed in Bamberg, a typographic resetting of the Forty-two-Line Bible. Attributed to Gutenberg himself is a Türkenkalender, a warning against the impending danger of Turkish invasion after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, printed December 1454 for 1455 use, some letters of indulgence, and some school grammars. The identity of the printer of a Missale Speciale Constantiense is still not established, but it was probably produced about 1473 in Basel, Switzerland.

In January 1465 the archbishop of Mainz pensioned Gutenberg, giving him an annual measure of grain, wine, and clothing and exempting him from certain taxes. His financial status in his last years has been debated but was probably not destitute.

Hellmut E. Lehmann-Haupt

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Absolutism and Enlightenment

In the Early Modern Era, absolutism—the concentration of undivided power in the hands of the Princes—prevailed as the form of government in many countries. It was based on theories formulated by political philosophers such as Niccolo Macchiavelli and Thomas Hobbes from the 16th and 17th century onwards. In these tracts, concepts such as that of the mison d'etat ("'reason of state") and the absolute sovereignty of the ruler were developed. The primary instruments of power of the absolutist princes were the standing army and an administrative bureaucracy that was solely responsible to the ruler.

A particular form of absolutism emerged in conjunction with the Enlightenment of the 18th century that attempted to apply humanism, as well as the philosophical and scientific discoveries of the 17th century, throughout society.

Since the 17th century scholars such as Rene Descartes, John Locke, Baruch de Spinoza, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz had found methods to free deduction from religious dogma.

Scientists such as Galileo Galilei and Issac Newton shaped a new worldview based on knowledge gained through scientific discovery.

The great Enlightenment philosophers of the 18th century such as Montesquieu and Voltaire championed freedom of the spirit, of religion, and the decoupling of knowledge from religious doctrine. They also demanded a review of the methods of government on the basis of reason and an image of mankind that presumed the equality and community of all mankind.

The philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant, however, attacked absolutism through their critiques of the politics and institutions of the state, and above all of the church.

Enlightened Absolutist princes took advantage of the already present structures of church and state to achieve their goals: the good of the state and the welfare of their subjects. The centralization of the state was in this way pushed forwards, while the influence of the church, particularly in the school and education systems, was decreased. However, even the reform-minded monarchs such as King Frederick the Great of Prussia or Emperor Joseph II were not prepared to give their subjects, particularly the upward striving bourgeoisie, a political voice. The division of powers, for example, demanded by the Enlightenment philosophers was never implemented.













see also

Masterpieces of World Literature










VOLTAIRE "Candide" Illustrations by  Moreau le Jeune







Battle of Hohenfriedberg, Attack of the Prussian Infantry, by Carl Rochling.

Among European states of the High Renaissance, the republic of Venice provided the only important exception to princely rule. Following the court of Burgundy, where chivalric ideals vied with the self-indulgence of feast, joust, and hunt, Charles V, Francis I, and Henry VIII acted out the rites of kingship in sumptuous courts. Enormous Poland, particularly during the reign of Sigismund I (1506–48), and the miniature realms of Germany and Italy experienced the same type of regime and subscribed to the same enduring values that were to determine the principles of absolute monarchy. Appeal to God justified the valuable rights that the kings of France and Spain enjoyed over their churches and added sanction to hereditary right and constitutional authority. Henry VIII moved further when he broke with Rome and took to himself complete sovereignty.

Rebellion was always a threat. The skill of Elizabeth I (1558–1603) helped prevent England being torn apart by Roman Catholic and Puritan factions. Philip II (1555–98) failed to repress the continuing rebellion of what became a new state formed out of the northern Burgundian provinces. Neither Charles IX (1560–74) nor Henry III (1574–89) could stop the civil wars in which the Huguenots created an unassailable state within France. The failure of Maximilian I (1493–1519) to implement reforms had left the empire in poor shape to withstand the religious and political challenges of the Reformation. Such power as Charles V (1519–56) enjoyed in Germany was never enough to do more than contain schism within the bounds confirmed by the Treaty of Augsburg in 1555. Most of Hungary had been lost after the Turkish victory at Mohács in 1526. Imperial authority waned further under Maximilian II (1564–76) and Rudolf II (1576–1612). The terms of Augsburg were flouted as further church lands were secularized and Calvinism gained adherents, some in restless Bohemia. In these ways the stage was set for the subsequent wars and political developments.

With the tendency, characteristic of the Renaissance period, for sovereigns to enlarge their authority and assume new rights in justice and finance, went larger revenues, credit, and patronage. Princes fought with as little regard for economic consequences as their medieval precursors had shown. Ominously, the Italian wars had become part of a larger conflict, centring on the dynastic ambitions of the houses of Habsburg and Valois; similarly, the Reformation led to the formation of alliances whose objectives were not religious. The scale and expertise of diplomacy grew with the pretensions of sovereignty. The professional diplomat and permanent embassy, the regular soldier and standing army, served princes still generally free to act in their traditional spheres. But beyond them, in finance and government, what would be the balance of powers? From the answer to this question will come definition of the absolutism that is commonly seen as characteristic of the age.

The authority of a sovereign was exercised in a society of orders and corporations, each having duties and privileges. St. Paul’s image of the Christian body was not difficult for a 17th-century European to understand; the organic society was a commonplace of political debate. The orders, as represented in estates or diets, were, first, the clergy; second, the nobility (represented with the lords spiritual in the English House of Lords); and, third, commoners. There were variations: upper and lower nobles were sometimes divided; certain towns represented the Third Estate, as in the Castilian Cortes; in Sweden, uniquely, there was an estate of peasants, whose successful effort to maintain their privilege was one component of Queen Christina’s crisis of 1650. When, as in the 16th century, such institutions flourished, estates were held to represent not the whole population as individuals but the important elements—the “political nation.” Even then the nobility tended to dominate. Their claim to represent all who dwelled on their estates was sounder in law and popular understanding than may appear to those accustomed to the idea of individual political rights.

In the empire, the estates were influential because they controlled the purse. Wherever monarchy was weak in relation to local elites, the diet tended to be used to further their interests. The Cortes of Aragon maintained into the 17th century the virtual immunity from taxation that was a significant factor in Spanish weakness. The strength of the representative institution was proportionate to that of the crown, which depended largely on the conditions of accession. The elective principle might be preserved in form, as in the English coronation service, but generally it had withered as the principle of heredity had been established. Where a succession was disputed, as between branches of the house of Vasa in Sweden after 1595, the need to gain the support of the privileged classes usually led to concessions being made to the body that they controlled. In Poland, where monarchy was elective, the Sejm exercised such power that successive kings, bound by conditions imposed at accession, found it hard to muster forces to defend their frontiers. The constitution remained unshakable even during the reign of John Sobieski (1674–96), hero of the relief of Vienna, who failed to secure the succession of his son. Under the Saxon kings Augustus II (1697–1733) and Augustus III (1734–63), foreign interference led to civil wars, but repeated and factious exercise of the veto rendered abortive all attempts to reform. It required the threat—and in 1772, the reality—of partition to give Stanisław II August Poniatowski (1764–95) sufficient support to effect reforms, but this came too late to save Poland.

At the other extreme were the Russian zemsky sobor, which fulfilled a last service to the tsars in expressing the landowners’ demand for stricter laws after the disorders of 1648, and the Estates-General of France, where the size of the country meant that rulers preferred to deal with the smaller assemblies of provinces (pays d’états) lately incorporated into the realm, such as Languedoc and Brittany. They met regularly and had a permanent staff for raising taxes on property. With respect to the other provinces (pays d’élection), the crown had enjoyed the crucial advantage of an annual tax since 1439, when Charles VII successfully asserted the right to levy the personal taille without consent. When Richelieu tried to abolish one of the pays d’état, the Dauphiné, he met with resistance sufficient to deter him and successive ministers from tampering with this form of fiscal privilege. It survived until the Revolution: to ministers it was a deformity, to critics of the régime it provided at least one guarantee against arbitrary rule. The zemsky sobor had always been the creature of the ruler, characteristic of a society that knew nothing of fundamental laws or corporate rights. When it disappeared, the tsarist government was truly the despotism that the French feared but did not, except in particular cases, experience. When, in 1789, the Estates-General met for the first time since 1614, it abolished the privileged estates and corporations in the name of the freedom that they had claimed to protect. The age of natural human rights had dawned.

The experience of England, where Parliament played a vital part in the Reformation proceedings of Henry VIII’s reign and thus gained in authority, shows that power could be shared between princes and representative bodies. On the Continent it was generally a different story. The Estates-General had been discredited because it had come to be seen as the instrument of faction. Religious differences had stimulated debate about the nature of authority, but extreme interpretations of the right of resistance, such as those that provoked the assassinations of William I the Silent, stadtholder of the Netherlands, in 1584 and Henry III of France in 1589, not only exposed the doctrine of tyrannicide but also pointed to the need for a regime strong enough to impose a religious solution. One such was the Edict of Nantes of 1598, which conceded to the Huguenots not only freedom of worship but also their own schools, law courts, and fortified towns. From the start the Edict constituted a challenge to monarchy and a test of its ability to govern. Richelieu’s capture of La Rochelle, the most powerful Huguenot fortress and epicentre of disturbance, after a 14-month siege (1627–28) was therefore a landmark in the making of absolute monarchy, crucial for France and, because of its increasing power, for Europe as a whole.

Encyclopaedia Britannica





William Blake's Newton as a divine geometer

European history
French Siècle De Lumières (“Age of the Enlightened”), German Aufklärung
a European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries in which ideas concerning God, reason, nature, and man were synthesized into a worldview that gained wide assent and that instigated revolutionary developments in art, philosophy, and politics. Central to Enlightenment thought were the use and the celebration of reason, the power by which man understands the universe and improves his own condition. The goals of rational man were considered to be knowledge, freedom, and happiness.

A brief treatment of the Enlightenment follows. For full treatment, see Europe, history of: The Enlightenment.

The powers and uses of reason had first been explored by the philosophers of ancient Greece, who discerned in the ordered regularity of nature the workings of an intelligent mind. Rome adopted and preserved much of Greek culture, notably including the ideas of a rational natural order and natural law. Amid the turmoil of empire, however, a new concern arose for personal salvation, and the way was paved for the triumph of the Christian religion. Christian thinkers gradually found uses for their Greco-Roman heritage. The system of thought known as scholasticism, culminating in the work of Thomas Aquinas, resurrected reason as a tool of understanding but subordinated it to spiritual revelation and the revealed truths of Christianity.

The intellectual and political edifice of Christianity, seemingly impregnable in the European Middle Ages, fell in turn to the assaults made on it by humanism, the Renaissance, and the Protestant Reformation. Humanism bred the experimental science of Francis Bacon, Nicolaus Copernicus, and Galileo and the mathematical rigour of René Descartes, G.W. Leibniz, and Sir Isaac Newton. The Renaissance rediscovered much of classical culture and revived the notion of man as a creative being, while the Reformation, more directly but in the long run no less effectively, challenged the monolithic authority of the Roman Catholic church. For Luther as for Bacon or Descartes, the way to truth lay in the application of human reason. Received authority, whether of Ptolemy in the sciences or of the church in matters of the spirit, was to be subject to the probings of unfettered minds.

The successful application of reason to any question depended on its correct application—on the development of a methodology of reasoning that would serve as its own guarantee of validity. Such a methodology was most spectacularly achieved in the sciences and mathematics, where the logics of induction and deduction made possible the creation of a sweeping new cosmology. The success of Newton, in particular, in capturing in a few mathematical equations the laws that govern the motions of the planets gave great impetus to a growing faith in man’s capacity to attain knowledge. At the same time, the idea of the universe as a mechanism governed by a few simple (and discoverable) laws had a subversive effect on the concepts of a personal God and individual salvation that were central to Christianity.

Inevitably, the method of reason was applied to religion itself. The product of a search for a natural—rational—religion was deism, which, although never an organized cult or movement, conflicted with Christianity for two centuries, especially in England and France. For the deist a very few religious truths sufficed, and they were truths felt to be manifest to all rational beings: the existence of one God, often conceived of as architect or mechanician, the existence of a system of rewards and punishments administered by that God, and the obligation of men to virtue and piety. Beyond the natural religion of the deists lay the more radical products of the application of reason to religion: skepticism, atheism, and materialism.

The Enlightenment produced the first modern secularized theories of psychology and ethics. John Locke conceived of the human mind as being at birth a tabula rasa, a blank slate on which experience wrote freely and boldly, creating the individual character according to the individual experience of the world. Supposed innate qualities, such as goodness or original sin, had no reality. In a darker vein, Thomas Hobbes portrayed man as moved solely by considerations of his own pleasure and pain. The notion of man as neither good nor bad but interested principally in survival and the maximization of his own pleasure led to radical political theories. Where the state had once been viewed as an earthly approximation of an eternal order, with the city of man modeled on the city of God, now it came to be seen as a mutually beneficial arrangement among men aimed at protecting the natural rights and self-interest of each.

The idea of society as a social contract, however, contrasted sharply with the realities of actual societies. Thus the Enlightenment became critical, reforming, and eventually revolutionary. Locke and Jeremy Bentham in England, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Voltaire in France, and Thomas Jefferson in America all contributed to an evolving critique of the arbitrary, authoritarian state and to sketching the outline of a higher form of social organization, based on natural rights and functioning as a political democracy. Such powerful ideas found expression as reform in England and as revolution in France and America.

The Enlightenment expired as the victim of its own excesses. The more rarefied the religion of the deists became, the less it offered those who sought solace or salvation. The celebration of abstract reason provoked contrary spirits to begin exploring the world of sensation and emotion in the cultural movement known as Romanticism. The Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution severely tested the belief that man could govern himself. The high optimism that marked much of Enlightenment thought, however, survived as one of the movement’s most enduring legacies: the belief that human history is a record of general progress.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



The Rise of the Bourgeoisie

Humanism and the Reformation particularly influenced the thinking of the European middle classes, which had become wealthy through early capitalism. This new wealth brought with it respect and a new and influential position in society. In order to maintain a counterweight to the power of the princes and the church, the absolutist princes leaned on the middle classes: with access to a university education, increasing numbers were able to hold state offices. In the state economics, trade and business, which lay in the hands of the middle classes, was promoted.

Also in 9 cultural life the middle classes took on increasing significance.

9 A middle-class cultural Salon in Paris, 18th century

Despite this, the bourgeoisie, as the middle classes became known, were prevented from taking part in political decision-making processes. The conflicts that arose out of this contradiction culminated in the French Revolution of 1789, which, together with the American Declaration of Independence, marked the beginning of the "Age of the Bourgeoisie" and the rise to power of the middle classes.



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