The Scientific Revolution

The Catholic Church which had previously been a formidable force throughout the Medieval period underwent significant changes in light of the Protestant Reformation, and regained a lot of its traction after its own, Catholic, reformation throughout the late 16th and early 17th century in the form of a renewed Roman Inquisition as well as a list of banned books and materials that “good” Catholics were forbidden to read.  This ban on the free exchange of ideas in printed works, however, had little impact on stemming the flow of ideas verbally throughout the Enlightenment period, and advances in science and philosophy continued to grow and to be exchanged through various means despite the Church’s attempts to quell it.  Galileo was a prime example of a thinker in the Enlightenment, whose ideas fit in line with Enlightenment ideals but who clashed head on with the power and authority of the Catholic Church.[1]

Galileo wrote in defense of the Copernican Theory that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe which directly opposed traditional Church doctrine of Earth’s superiority and placement by God.  When forced by the Inquisition to either defend or reject Copernican Theory, Galileo recanted his position described in The Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Ptolemaic and Copernican, and remained throughout the rest of his life under house arrest.[2]   The battle between science and religion had long existed by the time of Galileo’s trial, and continued long after even through the present age.  Ultimately the Pope vindicated Galileo by admitting that his condemnation was an error on the part of the Church, and Galileo’s theories are now widely accepted as factual regardless of the consequences he faced throughout his life for holding them.[3]  The Enlightenment also began the process that has come to be known as the scientific method, and the knowledge and understanding of the natural world began to take shape in the minds and experiments of Enlightenment thinkers and scientists.[4]

[1] Merry Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe 1450-1789 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pg 378.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, pg. 373.


European Exploration in the Renaissance

The most powerful motivation that encouraged European exploration around the world was based on trade.  Trade was the currency of the age, and the ability to trade world-wide, receive luxury goods along with necessary ones and foster colonization around the globe allowed European powers to gain wealth, making them formidable forces on a global scale.  Countries that were landlocked relied on food and material goods that came from trading, and trade was essential for economic reasons.  While exploration and colonization did carry some serious advantages for Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and England, it carried serious consequences as well.

Sea voyages into the Indian Ocean resulted in an abundant spice trade, which was a highly valued commodity.[1]  Silver, agricultural and animal products could be carried from the New World back to Europe, and many crops and animals made their way across the ocean between Europe and the Americas, which became known as the Columbian Exchange.[2]  As agricultural production, mining and plantations took hold in the New World, the need for labor increased.  Although the Spanish initially had some luck with forced labor of the indigenous people in the Americas, the rampant spread of disease killed off large portions of the Indian population who had no immunity to European diseases.[3]  The need for labor ultimately resulted in the mass surge of African slaves that were acquired from explorations to Africa, trading goods including guns to African leaders for slaves.  Other slaves were kidnapped and stolen to work on sugar plantations in the Caribbean and South America.[4]

While Spain and Portugal succeeded in monopolizing the resources of the New World initially, they soon found themselves in competition with both the Dutch and British explorers under the banners of huge trading companies such as the United East India Company and the English East India Company.[5]   These companies encouraged shareholders who would share in the profits and provide monetary support for further exploration, trade expansion and colonization.[6]

[1] Merry Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe 1450-1789 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pg 241.

[2] Ibid, pg. 267.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, pg. 502.

[6] Ibid.

The Counter-Reformation

While the Catholic Reformation (or the counter-reformation) was too little too late to save the schism in the church from the growing Protestant Reformation movement, it was an integral part of salvaging the Catholic church, revitalizing it and directly addressing the corruption that had allowed for the Protestant movement to begin with.[1]

The counter-reformation was positive in that it addressed some key issues within the Church that needed to be addressed and resolved, such as abuses in the Church and its leadership.[2]  Some of the methods it employed however, such as a distinct intolerance for heresy, increased repression, the expansion of the Roman Inquisition and its list of prohibited books made it impossible to reconcile with Protestants and once again unite the Church under a single name or set of doctrines.[3]  While some leaders of the church did desire a more lenient approach, the conservatives were victorious overall.  A growing sense of religious intolerance spread across Europe, with Catholics intolerant of Protestants, Protestants intolerant against Catholics, and Protestants intolerant of other Protestants as well.[4]  The actions of the Protestants in their reformation combined with the actions of the Catholic church in their counter reformation ensured that the Christian Church was permanently and irrevocably divided, and the Catholic church would never have the absolute power that it claimed throughout the medieval period.[5]

New religious orders were created, most notably the Jesuit order under Ignatius Loyola.  The Jesuits, in addition to the standard vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience, the Jesuits also took an additional vow of special loyalty and obedience to the Pope.[6]  The Jesuits became a specialized institution focused on education and were successful missionaries both in Asia and in the New World.[7]  Loyola, St. Teresa and others throughout the counter-reformation period also were commonly interested in combining a form of mysticism with their devout Catholic faith.  For Loyola, this came in the form of the Spiritual Exercises which focused on meditation and special devotion.  For St. Teresa it was visions, and a desire to rededicate the Carmelite order to an ascetic lifestyle rather than a secular one.[8]

The Counter Reformation was not enough to unite the Church again after the Protestant movement had been set into motion, and although it made attempts to reconcile doctrine and address the abuses in the church that had initially been cited as the cause for the Protestant movement, it was too late to stem the growing tide of Protestantism.  It did, however, lead to a renewed love of and passion for the Catholic faith, allowing it to continue into the modern age, ensuring its survival forward into the future.

[1] William Gilbert, Renaissance and Reformation (Lawrence, KS: Carrie Books, 20013) Chapter 19,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

Martin Luther and the Reformation

Martin Luther and the Reformation

By the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church had endured amid controversy, schisms and corruption with little competition throughout much of Western Europe.  All that was about to change, however, with the reformer Martin Luther and his controversial (and heretical) opposition to Church doctrine and practices.

Martin Luther’s primary disagreement with the church originated with the concept of selling indulgences – or essentially purchasing forgiveness of sins.[1]  Luther argued that those convinced to buy indulgences were deceived, and that no indulgence without true repentance of the spirit could release the soul from penalty for sin.[2]

By the sixteenth century, salvation was often considered synonymous with membership within the Catholic Church, rather than salvation through the grace of God himself or the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.[3] Luther, in contrast saw salvation through justification as a gift from God that could not be bought, sold or bargained for.  Salvation through Jesus Christ could only be obtained by true repentance.[4]

In addition to disagreements over salvation, justification and punishment for sin, Luther also began to think differently about the authority of the Pope, and whether any man had the power to truly forgive sin, or whether the power of the Pope was simply through intercession on behalf of the people he served.[5]

Going along with Luther’s views on indulgences and the ability to buy or sell

forgiveness from sins, Martin Luther disagreed with the doctrine of the church about forgiveness altogether. Forgiveness, for Luther, was a free gift from God and not something that could be bought or earned.[6]

Lastly, Luther vehemently disagreed with the application of indulgences or earthly penalties to the souls of those already dead who resided in purgatory, working towards purification.[7]  For Luther, those who had died had been liberated from earthly penalties that may be imposed upon them by the clergy, and that no punishments should be imposed on the dying or those who have already passed away.[8]  Furthermore, Luther insisted that death freed souls from all penalties and that the fear and despair within purgatory was punishment enough.[9]

Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses rocked the world of the Renaissance – a world that was already full of conflict and division between territories, class distinctions and the Church hierarchy and others.  While Luther may never have intended to spark a movement that ran in opposition to and in competition with the Catholic Church, he inspired others to voice their concerns and disagreements that had previously gone unspoken.







Bishop, Paul A. “Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.” Hillsborough Community College. Accessed March 7, 2016.  Https://


Luther, Dr. Martin. “Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” Internet Christian Library. Published 1994-2015, accessed March 7, 2016.

[1] Paul A. Bishop, “Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation,” Hillsborough community College, accessed March 7, 2016,

[2] Dr. Martin Luther, “Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” Internet Christian Library, published 1994-2015, accessed March 7, 2016,

[3] Paul A. Bishop.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Dr. Martin Luther.

[6] Paul A. Bishop, “Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation,” Hillsborough community College, accessed March 7, 2016,

[7] Ibid.

[8] Dr. Martin Luther, “Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” Internet Christian Library, published 1994-2015, accessed March 7, 2016,

[9] Ibid.

In reading about the initial steps of the Reformation this module, two things struck me as interesting and important.  Firstly, I found it interesting to note that Martin Luther was not originally intending by any means to break from the Catholic Church– he was interested in instituting changes in its doctrines and policies.[1]  Its only after his theses were ignored and pushed aside did the true rebellion against the Church itself begin.  In addition to that, I recognized before this class that the Protestant Reformation divided the church, despite repeated efforts, the Protestant Reformation was never technically a united front in and of itself[2].

Germany at the dawn of the Reformation was primed by a number of factors that contributed to Protestantism flourishing within it.  Firstly, it’s where Martin Luther was.  Secondly, Johan Tetzel was appointed in Germany as the commissioner for the sale of indulgences in order to attempt to gain monetary assets to be used to build St. Peter’s basilica in Rome.[3]  Lastly, when the Church initially ignored Martin Luther’s theses, they were widely distributed first in Germany but quickly throughout Europe, allowing discontentment and disagreement with the church that others had been wrestling with to be given a voice and a figure to make those complaints public.[4]  All of those factors combined into what would become the Reformation in Germany, which gained support from those in power who were able to protect Luther and other Protestants from the retribution of the church – at least in their own territories.[5]

Luther’s primary objection against the Catholic Church was the sale of indulgences – or the idea that salvation could somehow be bought rather than freely given under the grace of God himself.[6]  In addition, he challenged the Pope’s authority, and the doctrine that espoused that salvation could be obtained by membership in the Catholic Church and not through the sacrifice of Christ through grace and mercy.[7]  The growth of the Reformation movement can be attributed to the fact that the Catholic Church had long been guilty of vice and greed in the eyes of the general population as was explored in our first learning module with the schisms and the poor behavior of several members of the clergy.  While many people protested inwardly about the church, most were afraid to speak out about it because to do so could be seen as heresy and with the history of the inquisitions throughout Europe, speaking out against the church could be a very dangerous proposal.  Martin Luther, although excommunicated and accused of heresy was willing to speak out, and his boldness allowed others throughout Europe to follow his lead.[8]  His work translating the Bible into German also enabled others who did not speak or read Latin to read the Bible in the vernacular, allowing them to question (much like Luther had) the differences between what they had been taught and what the Bible actually said.[9]

[1] Paul A. Bishop, “Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation,” Hillsborough Community College, accessed March 7, 2016,

[2][2] Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe 1450-1789, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 169.

[3] Paul A. Bishop.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

Renaissance Humanism

Reading about Renaissance humanism emphasized the fact that there was no true “humanist movement” or “philosophy” that characterized the Renaissance, humanism did greatly impact culture, education, publication and art throughout Europe during the Renaissance.  While it can be said that humanism emphasized the dignity of the human being in relation to the divine and helped shift the focus from the spiritual to the physical, there are truths and falsehoods inherent in that statement[1].  Humanism in the Renaissance was mainly a focus on education – or a group of teachers that focused on studia humanitatis – or liberal arts, which differed from the typical medieval scholasticism centered on natural sciences and theological implications[2].  Medieval education focused mainly on the trivium – grammar, rhetoric and dialectic[3].

The early humanist scholars, however, were not typically educators in a formal sense.  They were private individuals that viewed education differently and spread their ideas on to others.  They returned to a study of the classics, including Greek learning which was practically unavailable throughout the medieval period.  They wrote scholarly work and also wrote pieces in the vernacular which were easily distributed by the printing press thus making their work easily accessible to others[4].  An increase in education as well as the brewing religious conflict between Luther, the conflict in the Catholic church from the 14th century and Christian Humanist ideals (as studied from Augustine and highlighted by Erasmus) allowed for an explosion in printed materials not only in Latin, but in local vernacular languages as well[5].  Humanism also emphasized the need to do good in society, which allowed humanist scholars and thinkers to interact with their world and influence politics, learning and art – this civic humanism stressed the importance of practical careers and influence[6].  By embracing the idea that every person was responsible for and held loyalty to their families and by extensions their cities, countries, etc. patronage of education and the arts was a practical application of humanist ideals.


Leaders of city-states in Italy as well as elsewhere recognized the changing focus in art to naturalism and commissioned works by artists, becoming a patron of the artist and often taking an active role as the art that was commissioned was created[7].  The majority of art was created for specific patrons – typically well-off, noble families that were well off and could hire the services of a master craftsman.

[1] Richard K. Hines, “Humanism,” Washington State University, 1996, accessed February 26, 2016,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Merry E. Wisner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe 1450-1789 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)

[5] Hines

[6] Hines.

[7] Wisner-Hanks.

Renaissance Politics and Machiavelli

Renaissance Politics and Machiavelli

Writing at the turn of the 16th century, Nicolo Machiavelli was no stranger to conflict, upheaval and change rather than stability.  The Prince highlights the nature of that instability and offers guidelines, suggestions and examples for would-be rulers to emulate, as well as countless examples best avoided.  By divorcing ethics from politics[1], Machiavelli extoled virtues that could easily be seen as cruel and immoral, and extoled the virtues of several leaders of questionable moral character, perhaps none more so than the figure of Cesare Borgia.

Although Cesare’s rise to power can in many ways attribute its beginnings to the fact that his father was Pope Alexander VI, Machiavelli praises him greatly for the way that he conducted himself while in power.  Machiavelli seemed to admire many of Cesare’s qualities, believing that someone who possessed them would be able to unite all of Italy under a single rule – a feat that Cesare himself may have aspired to but failed to achieve[2].  According to Machiavelli, a good Prince by necessity needed to learn how to commit evil acts, to practice deceit and to not be afraid to take risks, all of which Cesare Borgia had no problems putting into practice[3].  In fact, cruelty was a quality that was to be employed under necessity, and Machiavelli points out that Borgia’s cruelty succeeded in uniting the Romagna and was actually kinder to the people than the alternative they would have faced in his stead[4].

While Machiavelli never hesitates to criticize the failures of the various examples utilized within the Prince, he attributes the failure of Cesare not to Cesare himself, but to the “malignity of fortune[5]”  While Cesare had planned for the inevitability of his father’s death and had put a four-step plan in place to ensure that his power was maintained, he failed to plan for the unexpected turn that caused him to be sick “unto death[6]” as well.  In addition, although he did carry influence within the College of Cardinals, he selected the wrong pope to succeed his father, sealing his own fate and aligning with someone who would not favor him[7].  Although Cesare failed, Machiavelli admits that he cannot be blamed.  He was an example of a Prince that other rulers should emulate for his bravery, his planning and his cruelty[8].

By embracing the necessity for violence, cruelty and deceit, Machiavelli made heroes out of figures that history often reviles and allowed men like Cesare to be looked at in a different light. Although Cesare was ultimately unsuccessful in Machiavelli’s ultimate aim in uniting Italy under a single Prince, Machiavelli clearly highlighted his methodology and his numerous successes while minimizing his ultimate failure in a way that not many other examples within the work enjoyed.  While Machiavelli’s ideal Prince may seem foreign in the 21st century, it was a very real example of the harshness of life at the turn of the 16th, and paints a valuable picture into the realities of a divided and conflicted Italian peninsula.

[1] Liana Cheney, “Italian Renaissance Art: Political Background: Machiavelli and Medici,” University of Massachusetts, Lowell, accessed February 22, 2016,

[2] Dr. Mike Abrams, “Machiavelli’s The Prince a summary with quotations,”, accessed February 22, 2016,

[3] Mike Abrams.

[4] Mike Abrams.

[5] Nicolo Machiavelli, trans. W.K. Marriott, “The Prince,” The Constitution Society accessed February 15, 2016,

[6] Nicolo Machiavelli.

[7] Nicolo Machiavelli.

[8] Nicolo Machiavelli.

Politics, as shown from both this week’s reading from the textbook as well as from reading Machiavelli’s The Prince was convoluted and complicated throughout the renaissance, and while there were many paths to gaining political power, some were considerably considered better than others were.  There were many paths to power, and there were many ways to ultimately lose it and to potentially lose your life along with it if you weren’t careful.  Rulers of many principalities throughout Europe gained power in many different ways and had different strategies and approaches to keeping it, expanding it and consolidating it.  As technology continued to advance and the use of gunpowder became more common-place, the composition of armies and the development of a standing army rather than one called up in time of need became more and more necessary for Kings and Empires, rather than a monarch depending on the reliability and loyalty of their nobles to supply forces when required[1].


Machiavelli, writing in a time of continual conflict and turmoil between Italian city-states (between internal and external forces) highlighted the qualities that a leader should have, even if those qualities are not popular.  He underlines the necessity of sometimes cruel actions that become necessary in order to keep and retain power as in chapter 19 as he discusses the need to be loved, and if being loved is not possible, a Prince should at least strive to not be hated: “And here it should be noted that hatred is acquired as much by good works as by bad ones, therefore, as I said before, a prince wishing to keep his state is very often forced to do evil[2]”.  By separating politics from ethics, Machiavelli highlights and extols virtues that modern society would not consider particularly virtuous but finds them necessary such as being two-faced, deceit, cruelty, and the extermination of not only one’s enemies but also their families to prevent revolts and uprisings in the future.  He also advocates that Princes that have taken over communities that were once free to either destroy them or to reside there in order to limit the desire and the ability to reclaim that freedom[3].  Although such methodology seems foreign to us in the west (for the most part) in the 21st century, such acts were commonplace in the tumultuous world that Machiavelli knew as nation states in Italy and beyond continually warred with each other and were also constantly under threat from both Spain, France and the Ottoman empire[4].


While Machiavelli is a name that came to be reviled from his ability to separate what would be considered good or moral or just from what he perceived to be necessary, several leaders throughout history can be truly called Machiavellian.  In his own day, there were several leaders that Machiavelli seemed to revere, such as Cesare Boriga, whose downfall was not attributed to his own failures, but due to his inability to act decisively as he was deathly ill at the same time that his father, Pope Alexander VI was dying, in chapter 7: “I do not know how to blame him, but rather it appears to me, as I have said, that I ought to offer him for imitation to all those who, by the fortune or the arms of others, are raised to government.  Because he, having a lofty spirit and far-reaching aims, could not have regulated his conduct otherwise, and only the shortness of the life of Alexander and his own sickness frustrated his designs[5].”

[1] Merry Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe 1450-1789 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pg. 88-89.

[2] Nicolo Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. W.K. Marriott (Italy, 1515),

[3] Machiavelli.

[4] Weisner-Hanks.

[5] Machiavelli.