Two Turning Points The Renaissance and the Reformation


From: Wandi
Great changes do not occur within short time-spans. Between 1350 and the early 1700s decisive changes occurred that have led modern historians to select various persons or years in that period as the beginning of, or the transition to, the modern age. Such designations have produced sharp controversies over the exact character of this period of Western Civilization because, on the one hand, many elements of the traditional world view persisted yet, on the other hand, vast changes redrew the image of that world.  
In the age of discovery the world became global; scholars and philosophers conjured up new visions of nature and the cosmos; the works of classical antiquity were recovered, critically assessed, and adulated to an unprecedented degree; over a thousand years of a united latin Christendom ended; and the state, emerging as the basic framework for peoples' lives, provoked discussions of statecraft, collective identity, customs, and laws.
Chronologically, Italian Renaissance historiography is best discussed in two parts: first, the quattrocento histories written when the Italian states were prosperous, secure, and dynamic, and, second, the histories written after 1499 when Italy suffered sixty years of warfare as the battlefield of the European powers. Topically, one must address the humanists' tentativeness about universal history and their decisive innovations, which only gradually were seen to have a revolutionary character.
Humanist historiography fused enthusiasm for ancient models with pride in the contemporary patria, the city-state. Its prototype was created by one of the historians, Leonardo Bruni. He ascribed Florence's success to her republican liberty, from which flowed virtue, beauty of style, courage, industriousness, and strength. Bruni also followed his classical models when he divided his works into books, inserted dramatic set speeches, wrote an elegant classical Latin, made a whole people the central figure, told mainly about affairs of state, and reaffirmed the civic use of history. The emphasis on politics enabled Bruni to maintain the traditional view that the individual's psyche produced the true causes of change in the world.
Humanist historiography in Rome fastened on the personalities of the popes, the greatness of Rome, and Italian consciousness. One scholar, Bartolomeo Sacchi, better known as Platina, narrated the Lives of the Popes. The commissioned work was well-informed, often frank, sometimes critical, and vastly popular-partly because people have always craved information on the lives of the prominent and partly because Protestants used it, in Robert Barnes's translation, as proof of the medieval church's corruption. In the new spirit of humanist criticism, the old tales of Venetian history were now generally downgraded, but it was less any humanist ideal than the Venetian pragmatic attitude that made historians add to their works official records such as deliberations of governing bodies, correspondence, treaties, and diplomatic reports. In the main, Venetian historians told about Venetian realpolitik with love for the republic but without flourish and substantial digressions into the world of high ideals.  
Humanists restructured the Western past through the concept of the Dark Ages. Italian humanists had rejected the notion of the translatio imperii with its continuity between the Roman and the medieval empires, because it gave legitimacy to the Holy Roman Empire, whose claims the citizens of Italian citystates had rebuffed in long struggles. Bracciolini termed the notion a Germanic invention. The humanists arrived at a tripartite division of Western history: (1) the Ancient Period, (2) the Dark Ages, and (3) the Renaissance, which was seen as the rebirth of the Ancient Period.
Renaissance historians, inspired by the ancients, simply granted mankind a greater measure of "home rule ," which in turn made them stress the importance of human deeds and motives in history.
When the humanist historians emphasized Greek and Roman models of historical explanation they began to weaken the dominant medieval Bible entered account of human affairs.
The neoclassicism of the Italian humanists and their conviction that they had spearheaded a return to intellectual and aesthetic glory proved contagious elsewhere. Most other countries, however, lacked those elements which had made humanism flourish in Italy: an abundance of Roman ruins, city-states and sophisticated courts, and a sense of close connections between classical Rome and the present. When acceptance occurred, the classicism of the humanists was inevitably modified by national conditions. Such acceptance was not merely of literary and aesthetic import but became an ingredient in the slow nation- forming process.
German humanism, including a humanist historiography, found its major support at the imperial court and in the cities. By 1520 German historiography had acquired many humanistic attributes, and the new printing presses enhanced the trend. Then the Lutheran Reformation and decades of religious controversy changed the intellectual world radically. It became a manifestation of the new interest in what we now call the auxiliary fields: working on inscriptions, collecting manuscripts and coins, and editing sources.
In the 1480s and 1490s Italian humanism inspired a small but influential group of French scholars gathered around Guillaume Fichet, a professor at the Sorbonne. The battle over the true church tradition was raging in all of Europe when in France another tradition came under attack: the centuries-old version of Roman law.
About 1513 Thomas More wrote his History of Richard III, the first English historical work carrying the marks of humanist historiography: emulation of Roman historians; an elegant Latin; brilliantly constructed speeches; a conscious attempt to compose the narrative rather than to narrate events year by year; a stress on human characteristics and motives and a reaffirmation of history's teaching role. The work, with its lesson on the destructiveness of tyrannical rule, was much admired when from 1543 it was published in various, frequently poor, editions. Thus the humanist seed was scattered. A more complete inventory would show that many humanists served patrons in regions from the Atlantic into Eastern Europe, producing influential humanist historiographical enclaves in the midst of chronicle territories.
The Italian humanists had tried to restore the "pure" classical heritage by removing layer upon layer of accretions deposited by the "Dark Ages." Such an endeavor held no fascination for Martin Luther, who viewed the classical achievements as products of feeble human reason, devoid of spiritual purpose. But Luther engaged in his own work of restoration when he called for a return to the "pure" holy Christian church, that of Christ and his apostles. He and other reformers, laboring to remove the "corrupt" layers of tradition accumulated over centuries, realized the need for historical studies that would help to reestablish the pure and timeless faith and church.
In an unexpected parallel to humanist historiography, Peucer's edition of Melanchthon's chronicle made a sharp distinction between the two orders, the sacred and the profane. Protestant historiography thus came to a fork in the road leading to two entirely separate histories: one ecclesiastical, telling the story of Christ's church, and one mundane, concerned with the state as God's instrument. Although God still linked the two, this link was deemphasized with every passing century.

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