Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The German Reformation

The Reformation has typically been seen in two great contexts, the corruption and chronic institutional weakness of the late medieval church and the challenges presented by humanism. The dominating early figure has been Martin Luther, who, it has been claimed, sparked off the Reformation when he posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

The Reformation has also been placed in the context of earlier reforming movements, those of the Englishman John Wyclif (d. 1384) and the Czech Jan Hus (c.1369-1415). Wyclif had formulated a theology of predestination, rejected transubstantiation and advocate clerical marriage. His followers, known as Lollards, went underground but survived into the early sixteenth century. Hus advocated ‘utraquism’, the laity receiving the sacrament in both kinds, which was a fundamental attack on the privileges of the clergy. He was burned at the Council of Constance in 1415 but the Hussite church remained secure in its national setting of Bohemia and Moravia.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Erasmus of Rotterdam: some useful links

Wikipedia isn't always reliable, but its article on Erasmus is well worth a read. There is more material here and here.
See here for a list of Erasmus's Adages that have become popular sayings.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The print culture

[Above is the library of the Plantin-Moretus Museum, Antwerp.]

Though knowledge of reading and writing was considered desirable in medieval Europe it was a means to an end. The invention of printing revolutionized literacy. Francis Bacon described it as one of the three great inventions (the others were gunpowder and the compass) that had changed the appearance and state of the whole world.

The Invention of Printing
The printing press evolved as a practical solution to a practical problem. Before 1450 all books were hand produced - copied out by scribes in monastic scriptoria. Monks wrote standing at their desks. The illustrations were often lavish and the books were therefore very expensive. They were written on parchment or vellum made from animal skins in a cursive minuscule script dating from the Carolingian Renaissance of the ninth century. But even before the invention of printing there was increasing demand caused by the revived interest in the ancient Greeks (studied mainly in Latin translations), and secular scriptoria supplied the university stationers.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Humanism and the Renaissance

What is humanism?
‘Humanism’ is a nineteenth-century term coined from words which had been in use in the late fifteenth century, when it became common to talk about the liberal/non-theological arts subjects in a university curriculum as humanae litterae (literature which was human rather than divine in focus) and a scholar who had a particular enthusiasm for these subjects was called a humanista. In the Renaissance period it did not have its modern meaning of someone who rejects the claims of revealed religion. The vast majority of humanists were sincere Christians who wished to apply their enthusiasm to the exploration proclamation of their faith.

The Renaissance
The term usually associated with humanism is `Renaissance' (rinascita), a term coined by Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) in his Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects (1550). This term came to define the broad cultural changes of a whole era not merely its art. It is a useful term because it shows that while something new was happening in Europe between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, it was seen as a rediscovery of something very old. The Italian humanist poet Francesco Petrarch (1304-74) [left] so admired the poetic achievements of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) that he proclaimed that they represented a rebirth of poetry as good as anything which had been written in ancient Rome.

The Renaissance began in the Italian cities, which had the advantage of a physical legacy of art and architecture that had survived from the Roman Empire. But by the sixteenth century it had spread to northern Europe where the universities began to adopt the humanist curricula.