The Reformation proper was a spiritual movement, that stood for an action that consisted in exalting the Holy Scriptures as the sole infalalible source of doctrine and truth. According to the literal meaning of the word, the Renaissance was a re-birth. It is needful to ask of what it was the re-birth. Some use the term to denote the entrance of the European nations upon a fresh state of energy in general. Others use the term to signify only revival of natural intellectual activities that were stimulated by the recovery of the ancient, pagan, learning and culture of the Graeco-Roman world, and its application to the arts and literatures of the people of this modern world. The former definition of Renaissance makes it denote the whole change which came over Europe at the close of the Middle Ages, also that represented by the Reformation. The other confines it to what is known as the Revival of Learning, by which is meant that new zeal for the pagan, classical literature, learning and art which sprang up in Italy toward the close of the Middle Ages. This is correct. The term must be applied only to this literature and learning. Yet, the Revival of Learning must be regarded as a function of that energy that brought this modern civilization with its new and pagan conceptions of religion and science, with its manifold inventions and discoveries. The Reformation, however, must be separated from it. Of it the Reformation was no product. The two movements differed. They differed as to the time which each occupied. Each movement had its own forerunners. They differed further as to essence, nature and aim.
The time which each occupied.
Taken within its broadest limits, the period of the Protestant Reformation is identical with the period that makes the transition from the Middle (800-1517) to the Modern Era (1517 to the present). Taken within its narrowest limits, it may be regarded as commencing in the year 1517 and as attaining to a certain consummation in the year 1545. In the former year, Luther, through his publication of his theses, initiated that direct and open renunciation of medieval heretical doctrine that forms one of the elements in the Reformation. In the latter year, the council of Trent again sanctioned and proclaimed that doctrine and thereby erected an inseparable barrier between Rome and the churches of the Reformation. From that time on each communion possessed its distinctive organization and creed, and the struggle that followed attempted to bring about on the part of each the extinction of the opposed form of faith. In Germany this struggle was formally ended by the peace of Augsburg (1555); in Switzerland by the death of Calvin in 1564; in France the outward progress was checked by the massacre on the eve of St. Bartholomew (1572); in Bohemia a final solution was found only with the battle of the White Hill in 1620. These dates may be taken as the formal consummation of the Reformation in the countries specified. In England the movement was decided by the proclamation of William III, Stadholder of the Netherlands, and Mary, as joint sovereigns of England in 1688. With the “Peace of Westphalia” the period of the Reformation on the continent of Europe may be considered closed. With this peace the German Calvinists secured full rights. With the Lutherans they were regarded as one party over against the Catholics.
As to the Renaissance, so the Reformation, it cannot be confined within strict limits of time. The several nations that bore their share in it, did so at different epochs. England was still medieval when Italy had socially and mentally entered on the modern stadium. The Renaissance must be viewed as an internal development—development of sin and the lie—whereby the depraved spiritual energies latent in the Middle Ages grew into actuality and formed a mental habit of the modern world. The process began in Italy, and gradually extended to the utmost bounds of Europe, producing similar results in every nation and establishing a common worldly, pagan civilization and culture. There are dates which can be selected as the starting point of the Renaissance. The first is the year 1453, when Constantinople fell into the hands of the Turks. The shadow of what had been the Eastern Empire now passed suddenly away. At the same time the Holy Roman Empire and the papacy suffered great moral enfeeblement. It became evident that the old order of society had seen its day. There were forces at work in state and church which substituted a confederation of rival European states for the earlier ideal of a universal monarchy, and separate religious constitutions for the previous Catholic unity. And there was nothing to check these forces. The fall of Constantinople caused a great migration of Greek scholars to the West. So many of the exiles took up their residence in Italy, that it was as if Greece had migrated to Italy. These fugitives brought with them many manuscripts unknown to Western scholars. The new learning was gladly received by secular and spiritual potentates alike.
A second date of importance for the Renaissance were the years 1492-1500. In these years the leading nations of Europe began to strive among one another for the possession of Italy, and learned meanwhile that culture which Italy had perfected. In these years the secularization of the Papacy was completed by Alexander VI. The same period was marked by the discovery of America and the exploration of the Indian Sea. It also witnessed the diffusion of knowledge through printing and the invention of gunpowder, and the revolution of cosmology which resulted from the Copernican discovery. Thus the half century between 1450 and 1500 may be termed the culminating point of the Renaissance.
A third decisive date was the year 1527. In this year took place the sack of Rome. It closed the Renaissance for Italy,—the land where it had found its commencement.
Each movement had its forerunners.
The forerunners of the Reformation were Wycliffe in England and John Huss in Bohemia. As translated into action the doctrines of both would spell the overthrow of Roman hierarchy. Both insisted that the sole infallible source of doctrine is Scripture, and that in any and all disputes about truth and moral the question in the final analysis is not, What sayeth the pontiff of Rome or the councils or the doctors in the church, but what sayeth the Scriptures. The striving of both was to lead God’s people back to the Scriptures and to bring them under the authority of Holy Writ. Both preached that the pope cannot forgive sin but can only proclaim forgiveness to the penitent. Both attacked the corruption among clergy and laity alike. Both declared that the church needs no visible head (meaning the pope), that Christ guides His church without such monsters of supreme heads by means of His true disciples scattered through all the world. Both maintained that the pope rules not by immutable and divine right, and that the true church is the community of the elect only.
The forerunner of the Renaissance was Dante. He was born in Florence in 1265. He was exiled in 1302 and died in 1321 at Ravenna. His tomb there is a place of pilgrimage today. It was during the years of his exile that he wrote his great poem, the Divine Comedy. It is an epitome of the life and thought of the church of the Middle Ages. Still he is regarded as having been in a profound sense a prophet of the new age which was approaching. He had a strong feeling for classical antiquity. He speaks lovingly of Virgil as his master and teacher. His attitude towards Graeco-Roman culture was modern as is evident from his free use of the works of the classical, that is, pagan writers.
But the first and the greatest of humanists is Fetrarch. His enthusiasm for the ancient writers bordered on worship. His enthusiasm for the classical authors was contagious. He started a movement that could not be checked.
Each movement had its birthplace.
The birthplace of the Reformation was a monastery in Germany. Rightly considered, its birthplace was the heart of a child of God, disquieted on account of his sins and wanting to know how he could be just before God. The Renaissance had its beginning in Italy for the reason that here in the great Italian city-republics there was nourished a pagan political, intellectual, and artistic life like that of the pagan cities of ancient Greece. Florence became a second Athens. A second circumstance that contributed to make Italy the birthplace of the Renaissance was the fact that in Italy the break between the old pagan civilization of the Graeco-Roman world and Italy was not so complete as it was in other countries of Western Europe. The Italians were closer in language and in blood to the old Romans than were the others nations. The cities themselves were remnants of the old Empire.
(To be continued)