I have reached chapter 25 of Christianity through the Centuries by Earle Cairns. Medieval history has just ended and is rapidly transitioning into the Renaissance and anything that catalyzed the Reformation. I have just written about the internal struggles in the Church with the Great Schism, the Babylonian Captivity, the 2 or 3 popes at one time, the tempests caused by Jan Hus and John Wycliffe, and general disappointment in the lack of spirituality among the church leaders.
Before I get to Luther, Cairns sets the background of culture changes that began outside the church, but also influenced church history. So far, the would-be reformers in the current Catholic church wanted religion to be more personal. Everything was in Latin, and they wanted lay people to have more access to Scriptures and theology. They wanted the Scriptures to be the chief source of authority. If the pope or church councils conflicted with it, then the Scriptures were to prevail. Also, they wanted the Roan church to be simply more democratic in its organization. They wanted less rule by one or a few people and more public input to hold the leaders accountable.
Voila, the Renaissance Era occurred from 1350 to 1650. Nobody woke up in 1350 and said, "Yay, it's the Renaissance now!" Things simply transitioned from medieval structure to modern structure. The scholars rediscovered classic Greek writings and searched the original Greek and Hebrew Bible manuscripts. There was also a rise of a middle class and a need to study things empirically rather than deductively.
Italy was still the cultural center of Europe. It has many relics from its past greatness, and hey, it has Rome. The Renaissance really started in Florence when Lorenzo de Medici commissioned artists to decorate his surroundings. Around the year 1453, Constantinople fell, and thus Greek thinkers migrated to the Western empire bringing with them their classic manuscripts. Men like Manuel Chrysoloras and Petrarch reached Florence where the people wanted to learn the original languages.
Renaissance Italy saw the rise of individualism over identifying oneself with a family or a group of people. It saw more versatility. For example, Michelangelo was a painter, and architect, and a designer. Leonardo da Vinci was a painter, inventor, scientist, innovator, experimenter, and on and on. With the increase in art patronage, people grew to appreciate the beauty in nature and in many to an extent that it became a cult. The joys of the present in this life took precedent over religion which mostly involved eternity and the future. The result: people still accepted church dogmas and rites, but their religious life was mostly divorced from their daily lives. It became like Christianity in the southern united states. It's more of a culture thing than a sincerity thing.
Popes began contributing to this rebirth in art and humanism. Nicholas V supported architects to repair bridges, aqueducts, and great churches in Rome. He donated his whole library to form the Vatican library that is still enjoyed today. To show how indifferent people were to religion at the time, Nicholas's secretary, Lorenzo Valla, began exploring the science of textual criticism and discovered that the Donation of Constantine was a fake. Nobody punished him or even slapped his wrist.
Julius II is the pope who commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel.
Leo X was pope when Martin Luther began is revolution. He was a member of the Medici family, the same family that began the Renaissance, and was such a patron of the arts that it trumped his spirituality. He is the one who started selling indulgences in order to support the building of St. Peter's Cathedral. There will be more on him later.
This enthusiasm leaked beyond the Alps and reached the northern continent. While Italy was more secular, Germany, France, and Spain wanted to study the Bible in its original languages. Their humanism was different in that it cared for individual men and women who had souls. Their goal was not to glorify man as a rational creature. The following is a numbered list of influential people who led the northern Renaissance which was more a hybrid of secular and sacred.
1. There was a man named Savonarola who carried on the same work and Wycliffe and Hus in Italy. He was also martyred for suggesting that the church leaders were less than perfect. He had followers led by Marsilia Ficino who translated Plato into Latin. They desired to integrate the Bible and Greek philosophy.
2. Jacque Lefevre wrote a Latin commentary on Paul's Epistles in 1512 France. This paved the way for the Huguenot activity that occurred when the Reformation happened.
3. He was born Jiminez Francisco de Cisneros. He became Cardinal Ximenes, archbishop of Toledo. Queen Isabella came to him for confession and he was the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. He founded the University of Alcala to train Bible clergy and printed his own translation of the Greek New Testament in 1514. He also supervised the publishing of a Polyglot Bible, or a Bible with many languages side-by-side.
4. John Colette, a Wycliffe disciple, belonged to the Oxford Reformers in England. He came back from Italy and began lecture to develop a literal meaning of Paul's Epistles. This troubled the waters because most religious scholars tried to find an allegory in all of Scripture. Colette wanted the literal reading.
5. John Reuchlin went to Italy and learned Hebrew, its language, literature, and theology. He wrote the Hebrew grammar textbook and dictionary called Of the Rudiments of Hebrew in 1506. This is the man who also advised Philip Melanchthon when he was in school.
6. The most influential man was Desiderius Erasmus. He never desired to leave the Roman Catholic church, but he did want to reform many abuses that he noticed. He wrote satirical works against the leadership, and he also produced a Greek New Testament in 1516 by using four Greek manuscripts. People began comparing the Ren church to the NT church and grew more dissatisfied.
7. This time also saw the increase of science and geography as men had a greater interest in nature. This led to Vasco de Gama, Columbus, Copernicus, and Galileo.