Session Notes

What We Will Learn Today

  1. The Three Questions we Ask
  2. The World Around 1500
  3. The Role of the Mongols
  4. Defining Our Terms


Lesson One - Part One

The World Around 1500

We will ask these basic questions pertaining to the people who effected religious and social change in the 16th c.

  1. Who was it?
  2. Why were they doing it?
  3. Why did it work?

In order to understand the Western European Reformation of the 16th century, it helps to look at the world outside of Western Europe.

A look at a few maps

Sebastian Münster Cosmographia

  1. Africa and Asia were the largest known “unknowns”
  2. Note how small east Asia, modern China is
  3. See how a lack of knowledge regarding the Americas drastically effected the Treaty of Tordesillas and the remapping of the West
  4. A tripartite map- more symbolic than geographic- shows an understanding of only 3 continents

Meanwhile in China…

Could have been the dominant world power with its...

  1. Fleet size
  2. Population
  3. Technological innovations (gunpowder et. al.)
  4. Those Chinese who did interface with the outside world were often seen as:
    1. Traders, generally peaceful nomadic peoples
    2. Raiders, mobs usually harden resources
    3. Sellers of exotic spices, linens, etc… what would become the primary purpose for long overland travel from the East to the West

“Because of the Mongols”

  1. The Chinese literally walled themselves off from the outside world due to the fear of invading Mongols

Centuries of civil war and strife left many of the kingdoms in modern day Asia and India without strong leadership, and thus were susceptible to takeover and consolidation by the Mongols and others “Barbarian” Hordes.

The Asia and the Indian Subcontinent was divided into various kingdoms,including:

  1. Khmer
  2. Siam
  3. Burma

In India, strong leadership under Ibrahim Lodi gave way to the more militant, Islamic Zahir-ud-Din Muhammed Babur who sought a larger empire and ties to other muslim kingdoms to the west.

The so-called “Ottoman Turks” would consolidate under the family line of Osman I, or Othman the Leg Breaker.

  1. Yet, they too would be pushed westward by the Mongols, right to the steps of Eastern Europe.

This would cause panic amongst the Western European leaders of the day

  1. Charles V of Habsburg was the Holy Roman Emperor
  2. Leo X was the Pope, indebted to many for protection and wars, but wielding spiritual authority nonetheless

In order to protect western Europe (often referred to as “Christendom” in those days), these rulers needed:

  1. Money
  2. Support

The indulgence controversy revolved around the need for Pope Leo X to finance his various projects

  1. An indulgence was a certificate of the application of God’s grace held by Papal authorities and dispensed, usually for both good works and church offerings
  2. Charles V, in particular, needed the support of the Germanic peoples
    1. Many were on the border between the “turks” and the rest of Western Europe
    2. To harass, or kill a national hero, would alienate the German peoples from the empire

Such a national hero was Martin Luther

  1. And thus, while other heretics (notably Jan Hus) would be put to death for religious subversion, Martin Luther was not and this his early Reformation was not prematurely snuffed out

Lesson One - Part Two

The terms we use:

  1. The Reformation Era (Church history)
  2. Renaissance (Art and Culture)
  3. Early Modern (1450-1648)

We bifurcate the sacred and the secular

  1. We see the religious implications of the Renaissance and the Reformation’s social implications
  2. Our modern fascination with biology and rationality can keep us from understanding the medieval mind that blurred categories we have today
  3. “Medieval” means middle!

The Dark Ages 500-1500

  1. The Medieval church can be described as one with:
    1. “diversity without adversity”
  2. Mardi Gras and Carnival come out of the Medieval mind
  3. Why did the church let Carnival take place (with its inversion of social roles and expectations)?
    1. It was a safety valve, designed to let people blow off steam
    2. Especially amongst the common people

The question of authority is at the forefront

Conciliarism: The idea that the councils, who elected the Popes, actually have the ultimate authority

  1. This leads to adversity amongst the elite and ecclesiastical classes, so much so that at one point in the Middle Ages, there were three men claiming to be Pope.


  1. NOT secular Humanism, but rather an educational program (quadrivium, trivium, etc…)
  2. a way of training the whole self!
  3. the battle cry of the Reformation:
  4. Ad Fontes! Back to the Sources

In examining these texts, some questions of authority came into focus with the examination of the Donation of Constantine

  1. The Donation of Constantine was a text that claimed to have been written by the Emperor Constantine, ceding the Holy Lands in Italy to the Pope in perpetuity.
    1. New textual criticism discovered this text to be a fake, adding to further controversy
  2. Erasmus
  3. Jacques Lefèvre D’etaples
  4. A man by the name of Martin Luther


Lesson One - Part Three:

  1. Isenheim Altarpiece changed the way we looked at Jesus
    1. the medieval Jesus was a judge- a tough guy!
  2. the Black Death brought people's attention back to death
      1. A suffering Jesus came back in vogue
      2. The late medieval piety and devotion seen in this painting helped set the stage for the Reformation
  3. The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein
    1. The importance of portraiture
    2. Travel
    3. Lute w/ broken string and Lutheran hymnal (a reference to discord in the church during the Reformation?)
    4. The crucifix and the skull
    5. Memento Mori- Remember you are going to die!
    6. The “art of dying well” seen in the skull
  4. Gesetz und Gnade (Law and Grace/Gospel) by Cranach the Elder in Gotha
    1. Art can be didactic
    2. establish Hierarchy
    3. Entertainment

Interested in getting into this topic?

Further Reading:

  1. Major Works: Johann Huzinga
  2. Barbara Tuchman a Distant Mirror
  3. Pettegree Europe in the Sixteenth
  4. Peter Burke- the Renaissance
  5. Hale- Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance