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Protest and Reform: The Waning of the Old Order ca. 1400–1600

Chapter

19

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Figure 19.1 ALBRECHT DÜRER, Knight, Death, and the Devil, 1513. Engraving, 95⁄8 � 71⁄2 in. Dürer’s engraving is remarkable for its wealth of microscopic detail. Objects in the real world— the horse, the dog, and the lizard—are depicted as precisely as those imagined: the devil and the horned demon.

“Now what else is the whole life of mortals but a sort of comedy, in which the various actors, disguised by various costumes and masks, walk on and play each one his part, until the manager waves them off the stage?” Erasmus

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L O O K I N G A H E A D

The Temper of Reform

Science and Technology

CHAPTER 19 Protest and Reform: The Waning of the Old Order 1

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1450, in the city of Mainz, the German goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg (ca. 1400–ca. 1468) perfected a printing press that made it possible to fabricate books more cheaply, more rapidly, and in greater numbers than ever before (Figure 19.2). As information became a commodity for mass pro- duction, vast areas of knowledge—heretofore the exclusive domain of the monastery, the Church, and the universi- ty—became available to the public. The printing press facilitated the rise of popular education and encouraged individuals to form their own opinions by reading for themselves. It accelerated the growing interest in vernacu- lar literature, which in turn enhanced national and indi- vidual self-consciousness. Print technology proved to be the single most important factor in the success of the Protestant Reformation, as it brought the complaints of Church reformers to the attention of all literate folk.

By the sixteenth century, the old medieval order was crumbling.

Classical humanism and the influence of Italian Renaissance

artist–scientists were spreading throughout Northern Europe (Map

19.1). European exploration and expansion were promoting a

broader world-view and new markets for trade. The rise of a glob-

al economy with vast opportunities for material wealth was

inevitable. Europe’s population grew from 69 million in 1500 to 188

million in 1600. As European nation-states tried to strengthen their

international influence, political rivalry intensified. The “super-

powers”—Spain, under the Hapsburg ruler Philip II (1527–1598)

and England, under Elizabeth I (1533–1603)—contended for

advantage in Atlantic shipping and trade. In order to resist the

encroachment of Europe’s stronger nation-states, the weaker ones

formed balance-of-power alliances that often provoked war. The

new order took Europe on an irreversibly modern course.

While political and commercial factors worked to transform

the West, the event that most effectively destroyed the old

medieval order was the Protestant Reformation. In the wake of

Protestantism, the unity of European Christendom would disap-

pear forever. Beginning in the fifteenth century, the Northern

Renaissance, endorsed by middle-class patrons and Christian

humanists, assumed a religious direction that set it apart from

Italy’s Classical revival. Its literary giants, from Erasmus to

Shakespeare, and its visual artists, Flemish and German, shared

little of the idealism of their Italian Renaissance counterparts.

Their concern for the realities of human folly and for the fate

of the Christian soul launched a message of protest and a plea

for church reform expedited by way of the newly perfected

printing press.

The Impact of Technology In the transition from medieval to early modern times, technology played a crucial role. Gunpowder, the light cannon, and other military devices made warfare more impersonal and ultimately more deadly. At the same time, Western advances in navigation, shipbuilding, and mar- itime instrumentation propelled Europe into a dominant position in the world.

Just as the musket and the cannon transformed the his- tory of European warfare, so the technology of mechanical printing revolutionized learning and communication. Block printing originated in China in the ninth century and movable type in the eleventh, but print technology did not reach Western Europe until the fifteenth century. By

1320 paper adopted for use in Europe (having long been in use in China)

1450 the Dutch devise the first firearm small enough to be carried by a single person

1451 Nicolas of Cusa (German) uses concave lenses to amend nearsightedness

1454 Johannes Gutenberg (German) prints the Bible with movable metal type

Figure 19.2 An early sixteenth-century woodcut of a printer at work.

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Oxford Amsterdam

Antwerp Brussels

Bruges

Rotterdam London

Hamburg Wittenberg

ErfurtCologne

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Prague Nuremberg

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Dijon Basel Constance

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Christian Humanism and the Northern Renaissance The new print technology broadcast an old message of reli- gious protest and reform. For two centuries, critics had attacked the wealth, worldliness, and unchecked corrup- tion of the Church of Rome. During the early fifteenth century, the rekindled sparks of lay piety and anticlerical- ism spread throughout the Netherlands, where religious leaders launched the movement known as the devotio moderna (“modern devotion”). Lay Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life, as they were called, organized houses in which they studied and taught Scripture. Living in the manner of Christian monks and nuns, but taking no monastic vows, these lay Christians cultivated a devotion- al lifestyle that fulfilled the ideals of the apostles and the church fathers. They followed the mandate of Thomas a Kempis (1380–1471), himself a Brother of the Common Life and author of the Imitatio Christi (Imitation of Christ), to put the message of Jesus into daily practice. After the Bible, the Imitatio Christi was the most frequently published book in the Christian West well into modern times.

The devotio moderna spread quickly throughout Northern Europe, harnessing the dominant strains of anti- clericalism, lay piety, and mysticism, even as it coincided with the revival of Classical studies in the newly estab- lished universities of Germany. Although Northern humanists, like their Italian Renaissance counterparts, encouraged learning in Greek and Latin, they were more concerned with the study and translation of Early Christian manuscripts than with the Classical and largely

secular texts that pre- occupied the Italian humanists. This criti- cal reappraisal of reli- gious texts is known as Christian humanism. Christian humanists

studied the Bible and the writings of the church fathers with the same intellectual fervor that the Italian humanists had brought to their examination of Plato and Cicero. The efforts of these Northern scholars gave rise to a rebirth (or renaissance) that focused on the late Classical world and, specifically, on the revival of church life and doctrine as gleaned from Early Christian literature. The Northern Renaissance put Christian humanism at the service of evangelical Christianity.

The leading Christian humanist of the sixteenth centu- ry—often called “the Prince of Humanists”—was Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466–1536; Figure 19.3). Schooled among the Brothers of the Common Life and learned in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, Erasmus was a superb scholar and a prolific writer (see Reading 19.2). The first humanist to make extensive use of the printing press, he once dared a famous publisher to print his words as fast as he could write them. Erasmus was a fervent Neoclassicist— he held that almost everything worth knowing was set forth in Greek and Latin. He was also a devout Christian. Advocating a return to the basic teachings of Christ, he criticized the Church and all Christians whose faith had been jaded by slavish adherence to dogma and ritual. Using four different Greek manuscripts of the Gospels, he pro- duced a critical edition of the New Testament that correct- ed Jerome’s mistranslations of key passages. Erasmus’ New Testament became the source of most sixteenth-century German and English vernacular translations of this central text of Christian humanism.

Map 19.1 Renaissance Europe, ca. 1500.

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The Protestant Reformation

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priesthood. Inspired by the words of Saint Paul, “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17), Luther argued that sal- vation could be attained only by faith in the validity of Christ’s sacrifice: human beings were saved by the unearned gift of God’s grace, not by their good works on earth. The purchase of indulgences, the veneration of relics, making pilgrimages, and seeking the intercession of the saints were useless, because only the grace of God could save the Christian soul. Justified by faith alone, Christians should assume full responsibility for their own actions and intentions.

In 1517, in pointed criticism of Church abuses, Luther posted on the door of the collegiate church at Wittenberg a list of ninety-five issues he intended for dispute with the leaders of the Church of Rome. The Ninety-Five Theses, which took the confrontational tone of the sample below, were put to press and circulated throughout Europe:

27 They are wrong who say that the soul flies out of Purgatory as soon as the money thrown into the chest rattles. 32 Those who believe that, through letters of pardon [indulgences], they are made sure of their own salvation will be eternally damned along with their teachers. 37 Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has a share in all the benefits of Christ and of the Church, given by God, even without letters of pardon. 43 Christians should be taught that he who gives to a poor man, or lends to a needy man, does better than if he bought pardons. 44 Because by works of charity, charity increases,

During the sixteenth century, papal extravagance and immorality reached new heights, and Church reform became an urgent public issue. In the territories of Germany, loosely united under the leadership of the Holy Roman emperor Charles V (1500–1558), the voices of protest were more strident than anywhere else in Europe. Across Germany, the sale of indulgences (see chapter 15) for the benefit of the Church of Rome—specifically for the rebuilding of Saint Peter’s Cathedral—provoked harsh criticism, especially by those who saw the luxuries of the papacy as a betrayal of apostolic ideals. As with most movements of religious reform, it fell to one individual to galvanize popular sentiment. In 1505, Martin Luther (1483–1546), the son of a rural coal miner, abandoned his legal studies to become an Augustinian monk (Figure 19.4). Thereafter, as a doctor of theology at the University of Wittenberg, he spoke out against the Church. His inflammatory sermons and essays offered radical remedies to what he called “the misery and wretchedness of Christendom.”

Luther was convinced of the inherent sinfulness of humankind, but he took issue with the traditional medieval view—as promulgated, for instance, in Everyman —that salvation was earned through the performance of good works and grace mediated by the Church and its

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Figure 19.3 ALBRECHT DÜRER, Erasmus of Rotterdam, 1526. Engraving, 93⁄4 � 71⁄2 in. The Latin inscription at the top of the engraving reports that Dürer executed the portrait from life. The Greek inscription below reads, “The better image [is found] in his writings.” The artist wrote to his friend that he felt the portrait was not a striking likeness.

Figure 19.4 LUCAS CRANACH THE ELDER, Portrait of Martin Luther, 1533. Panel, 8 � 53⁄4 in.

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and the man becomes better; while by means of pardons, he does not become better, but only freer from punishment. 45 Christians should be taught that he who sees any one in need, and, passing him by, gives money for pardons, is not purchasing for himself the indulgences of the Pope but the anger of God. 49 Christians should be taught that the Pope’s pardons are useful if they do not put their trust in them, but most hurtful if through them they lose the fear of God. 50 Christians should be taught that if the Pope were acquainted with the exactions of the Preachers of pardons, he would prefer that the Basilica of St. Peter should be burnt to ashes rather than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep. 54 Wrong is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or longer time is spent on pardons than on it. 62 The true treasure of the Church is the Holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God. 66 The treasures of indulgences are nets, wherewith they now fish for the riches of men. 67 Those indulgences which the preachers loudly proclaim to be the greatest graces, are seen to be truly such as regards the promotion of gain. 68 Yet they are in reality most insignificant when compared to the grace of God and the piety of the cross. 86 . . . why does not the Pope, whose riches are at this day more ample than those of the wealthiest of the wealthy, build the single Basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with that of poor believers? . . .

Luther did not set out to destroy Catholicism, but rather, to reform it. Gradually he extended his criticism of Church abuses to criticism of church doctrine. For instance, because he found justification in Scripture for only two Roman Catholic sacraments—baptism and Holy Communion—he rejected the other five. He attacked monasticism and clerical celibacy. (Luther himself married and fathered six children.) Luther’s boldest challenge to the old medieval order, however, was his unwillingness to accept the pope as the ultimate source of religious author- ity. Denying that the pope was the spiritual heir to Saint Peter, he claimed that the head of the Church, like any other human being, was subject to error and correction. Christians, argued Luther, were collectively a priesthood of believers; they were “consecrated as priests by baptism.” The ultimate source of authority in matters of faith and doctrine was Scripture, as interpreted by the individual Christian. To encourage the reading of the Bible among his followers, Luther translated the Old and New Testaments into German.

Luther’s assertions were revolutionary because they defied both church dogma and the authority of the Church

of Rome. In 1520, Pope Leo X issued an edict excommuni- cating the outspoken reformer. Luther promptly burned the edict in the presence of his students at the University of Wittenberg. The following year, he was summoned to the city of Worms in order to appear before the Diet—the German parliamentary council. Charged with heresy, Luther stubbornly refused to back down, concluding, “I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” Luther’s confrontational temperament and down-to-earth style are captured in this excerpt from his Address to the German Nobility, a call for religious reform written shortly before the Diet of Worms and circulated widely in a print- ed edition.

From Luther’s Address to the German Nobility (1520)

It has been devised that the Pope, bishops, priests, and 1 monks are called the spiritual estate; princes, lords, artificers, and peasants are the temporal estate. This is an artful lie and hypocritical device, but let no one be made afraid by it, and that for this reason: that all Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference among them, save of office alone. As St. Paul says (1 Cor.: 12), we are all one body, though each member does its own work, to serve the others. This is because we have one baptism, one Gospel, one faith, and 10 are all Christians alike; for baptism, Gospel, and faith, these alone make spiritual and Christian people.

As for the unction by a pope or a bishop, tonsure, ordination, consecration, and clothes differing from those of laymen—all this may make a hypocrite or an anointed puppet, but never a Christian or a spiritual man. Thus we are all consecrated as priests by baptism. . . .

And to put the matter even more plainly, if a little company of pious Christian laymen were taken prisoners and carried away to a desert, and had not among them a 20 priest consecrated by a bishop, and were there to agree to elect one of them, born in wedlock or not, and were to order him to baptise, to celebrate the mass, to absolve, and to preach, this man would as truly be a priest, as if all the bishops and all the popes had consecrated him. That is why in cases of necessity every man can baptise and absolve, which would not be possible if we were not all priests. . . .

[Members of the Church of Rome] alone pretend to be considered masters of the Scriptures; although they learn 30 nothing of them all their life. They assume authority, and juggle before us with impudent words, saying that the Pope cannot err in matters of faith, whether he be evil or good, albeit they cannot prove it by a single letter. That is why the canon law contains so many heretical and unchristian, nay unnatural, laws. . . .

And though they say that this authority was given to St. Peter when the keys were given to him, it is plain enough that the keys were not given to St. Peter alone,

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Q Which of Luther’s assertions would the Church of Rome have found heretical? Why?

Q Which aspects of this selection might be called anti-authoritarian? Which might be called democratic?

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landholding aristocracy. The result was full-scale war, the so-called “Peasant Revolts,” that resulted in the bloody defeat of thousands of peasants. Although Luther con- demned the violence and brutality of the Peasant Revolts, social unrest and ideological warfare had only just begun. His denunciation of the lower-class rebels brought many of the German princes to his side; and some used their new religious allegiance as an excuse to seize and usurp church properties and revenues within their own domains. As the floodgates of dissent opened wide, civil wars broke out between German princes who were faithful to Rome and those who called themselves Lutheran. The wars lasted for some twenty-five years, until, under the terms of the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, it was agreed that each German prince should have the right to choose the religion to be practiced within his own domain. Nevertheless, religious wars resumed in the late sixteenth century and devastated German lands for almost a century.

Calvin All of Europe was affected by Luther’s break with the Church. The Lutheran insistence that enlightened Christians could arrive at truth by way of Scripture led reformers everywhere to interpret the Bible for themselves. The result was the birth of many new Protestant sects, each based on its own interpretation of Scripture. In the inde- pendent city of Geneva, Switzerland, the French theolo- gian John Calvin (1509–1564) set up a government in which elected officials, using the Bible as the supreme law, ruled the community. Calvin held that Christians were predestined from birth for either salvation or damnation, a circumstance that made good works irrelevant. The “Doctrine of Predestination” encouraged Calvinists to glorify God by living an upright life, one that required abstention from dancing, gambling, swearing, drunken- ness, and from all forms of public display. For, although one’s status was known only by God, Christians might manifest that they were among the “elect” by a show of moral rectitude. Finally, since Calvin taught that wealth was a sign of God’s favor, Calvinists extolled the “work ethic” as consistent with the divine will.

The Anabaptists In nearby Zürich, a radical wing of Protestantism emerged: the Anabaptists (given this name by those who opposed their practice of “rebaptizing” adult Christians) rejected all seven of the sacraments (including infant baptism) as sources of God’s grace. Placing total emphasis on Christian conscience and the voluntary acceptance of Christ, the Anabaptists called for the abolition of the Mass and the complete separation of Church and state: holding individ- ual responsibility and personal liberty as fundamental ideals, they were among the first Westerners to offer reli- gious sanction for political disobedience. Many Anabaptist reformers met death at the hands of local governments— the men were burned at the stake and the women were usually drowned. English offshoots of the Anabaptists— the Baptists and the Quakers—would come to follow

but to the whole community. Besides, the keys were not 40 ordained for doctrine or authority, but for sin, to bind or loose; and what they claim besides this from the keys is mere invention. . . .

Only consider the matter. They must needs acknowledge that there are pious Christians among us that have the true faith, spirit, understanding, word, and mind of Christ: why then should we reject their word and understanding, and follow a pope who has neither understanding nor spirit? Surely this were to deny our whole faith and the Christian Church. . . . 50

Therefore when need requires, and the Pope is a cause of offence to Christendom, in these cases whoever can best do so, as a faithful member of the whole body, must do what he can to procure a true free council. This no one can do so well as the temporal authorities, especially since they are fellow-Christians, fellow-priests, sharing one spirit and one power in all things, . . . Would it not be most unnatural, if a fire were to break out in a city, and every one were to keep still and let it burn on and on, whatever might be burnt, simply because they had not the mayor’s 60 authority, or because the fire perchance broke out at the mayor’s house? Is not every citizen bound in this case to rouse and call in the rest? How much more should this be done in the spiritual city of Christ, if a fire of offence breaks out, either at the Pope’s government or wherever it may! The like happens if an enemy attacks a town. The first to rouse up the rest earns glory and thanks. Why then should not he earn glory that decries the coming of our enemies from hell and rouses and summons all Christians?

But as for their boasts of their authority, that no one 70 must oppose it, this is idle talk. No one in Christendom has any authority to do harm, or to forbid others to prevent harm being done. There is no authority in the Church but for reformation. Therefore if the Pope wished to use his power to prevent the calling of a free council, so as to prevent the reformation of the Church, we must not respect him or his power; and if he should begin to excommunicate and fulminate, we must despise this as the doings of a madman, and, trusting in God, excommunicate and repel him as best we may. 80

The Spread of Protestantism Luther’s criticism constituted an open revolt against the institution that for centuries had governed the lives of Western Christians. With the aid of the printing press, his “protestant” sermons and letters circulated throughout Europe. His defense of Christian conscience worked to jus- tify protest against all forms of dominion. In 1524, under the banner of Christian liberty, German commoners insti- gated a series of violent uprisings against the oppressive

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Anabaptist precepts, including the rejection of religious ritual (and imagery) and a fundamentalist approach to Scripture.

The Anglican Church In England, the Tudor monarch Henry VIII (1491–1547) broke with the Roman Catholic Church and established a church under his own leadership. Political expediency col- ored the king’s motives: Henry was determined to leave England with a male heir, but when eighteen years of mar- riage to Catherine of Aragon produced only one heir (a daughter), he attempted to annul the marriage and take a new wife. The pope refused, prompting the king—former- ly a staunch supporter of the Catholic Church—to break with Rome. In 1526, Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church in England. In 1536, with the support of Parliament, he closed all Christian monasteries and sold church lands, accumulating vast revenues for the royal treasury. His actions led to years of dispute and hostility between Roman Catholics and Anglicans (members of the new English Church). By the mid-sixteenth century, the consequences of Luther’s protests were evident: the reli- gious unity of Western Christendom was shattered forever. Social and political upheaval had become the order of the day.

Music and the Reformation Since the Reformation clearly dominated the religious and social history of the sixteenth century, it also touched, directly or indirectly, all forms of artistic endeavor, includ- ing music. Luther himself was a student of music, an active performer, and an admirer of Josquin des Prez (see chapter 17). Emphasizing music as a source of religious instruction, he encouraged the writing of hymnals and reorganized the German Mass to include both congregational and profes- sional singing. Luther held that all religious texts should be sung in German, so that the faithful might understand their message. The text, according to Luther, should be both comprehensible and appealing.

Luther’s favorite music was the chorale, a congregation- al hymn that served to enhance the spirit of Protestant worship. Chorales, written in German, drew on Latin hymns and German folk tunes. They were characterized by monophonic clarity and simplicity, features that encour- aged performance by untrained congregations. The most famous Lutheran chorale (the melody of which may not have originated with Luther) is “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott” (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”)—a hymn that has been called “the anthem of the Reformation.” Luther’s chorales had a major influence on religious music for cen- turies. And although in the hands of later composers the chorale became a complex polyphonic vehicle for voices and instruments, at its inception it was …