Italy and Germany, 1400-1700by Rit Nosotro
Discuss the development of Italy and Germany between 1400-1700
When reflecting on European history, we note the many changes that came over numerous nations between 1400 and 1700 A.D. Italy and Germany, in particular, underwent many changes, as both countries entered the 1400s without a reliable government. During this time, these two nations both endured a time of political, military and religious insecurity and disunity. While Italy was significantly affected by the rise of humanism through the Renaissance, Germany was greatly influenced by the Protestant Reformation. Italy stumbled out of the 1300s after years of "confusion, lawlessness, wars, and rebellions." 1 But through the works of scholars, writers, and artists from the various Italian city-states, the Renaissance grew and eventually spawned the movement of Humanism. Germans, however, went through a different change, as they witnessed the posting and dissemination (facilitated by Gutenburg's moveable printing press) of Martin Luther's ninety-five theses (in addition to his German translation of the Bible), which led to the Protestant Reformation. In the 17th century, Germany saw the rise of the Counter-Reformation, and sustained heavy losses during the 30 Years' War.
As Germany approached the 1400s, their political authority was unstable. Whenever a new emperor was about to be elected, there would always be disagreements between the numerous German states. Because there were too many states voting in the elections, there was always the risk of civil war breaking out. 2 To put an end to this instability and to bring order to elections, Emperor Charles IV issued the Golden Bull, which established a couple of important rules. First, it decreased the number of electors to seven. Second, it limited the power of the emperor, as he would share it with other nobles. In essence, the emperor was thought "as merely the first among equals." 3 Although he might be considered first, he was not more important, as he would not be able to pass laws without the consent of the other nobles. Because neither the emperor nor the nobles had complete rule, Germans might have thought that this decree would benefit their country. Contrarily, the Golden Bull prevented Germany from becoming a strong and unified nation 4, and the emperor's authority quickly became insecure.
Like Germany, Italy remained politically fragmented 5 for a couple hundred years, especially during the 1300s. Because of this, there was very little peace and security. Cities eventually had to give up their freedom to powerful despots who promised peace. These reckless rulers, eager to augment their power, eventually gained control of the numerous, lesser states. By 1454, only five major city-states remained (along with three or four minor ones): the Duchy of Milan, the Republic of Venice, the Republic of Florence, the Papal States, and the Kingdom of Naples. 6 Despite the semblance of stability found within each of these major city-states, there was not the sense of nationhood. For example, if one were to ask an Italian during the 1400s where he came from, he would respond, "Florence" or "Venice". This lack of national pride and disunity between the major city-states continued on for centuries.
Amidst all the political dissension arose a new thinking in Italy. The rulers were finely skilled in science, literature, and art, and this spawned interest from the people. Soon, the Italian culture developed great interest in nature and man, resulting in the rise of humanism. As this movement spread throughout Europe, Italy ushered in the beginning of the Renaissance. During this time, the human way of thinking took a significant turn. A group of philosophers began to emphasize the idea that man had "an unlimited capacity for goodness and excellence." 7 This humanistic view began to affect literature, architecture, art, and learning. Artists shifted their subjects from religious people to nature, composers began making major changes to their music, and scientists began to exclude God in their thinking. Francesco Petrarch, an Italian author, introduced a new style of writing in which he wrote just like he talked. He agreed with the Greek and Roman ideas of human achievement, despite the fact that they were pagan civilizations. 8 The Renaissance continued to spread northward, as Europe began to lose their faith in God and "question things they did not understand". 9 (Psalms 92:5-7) People began to distrust the Roman Catholic Church, which eventually lead to the Reformation.
Throughout Europe, people were unhappy with the corruption within the Roman Catholic Church. Instead of providing a moral example for people, the Roman Church would take bribes, sell indulgences 10, and commit many other wrongdoings. Some brave protesters spoke up against the Church, but they were severely punished. One such man was Jan Hus, a Bohemian, who questioned the leadership of the pope, as well as the Church's practice of transubstantiation 11. Although Huss gained many followers, he eventually was burned at the stake after being excommunicated from the Roman Church. However, in Germany, a protester could find protection from his local ruler. 12 Thus, one can see why the Protestant Reformation originated in Germany. One man who spurred the Reformation on was Martin Luther, a German theologian. Luther was terribly disturbed with the corruption in the Church and disagreed with many of their doctrines. 13 On October 31, 1517, he posted his "95 Theses" to a church door. In his thesis, Luther listed ninety-five debating points about the Church. Within six months, copies of his thesis (originally written in Latin) were translated into German and widely distributed throughout the country. Several years later, Luther completed his German translation of the Bible. As Gutenberg's moveable printing press developed, so too did the demand for religious writings. 14 In this way, more Germans were able to read the Bible for themselves, without the Church interfering and imposing propaganda upon the people. 15
When the Roman Church saw the rising tide of the Protestant Reformation, they were determined to curb this movement and to eliminate Church abuses. 16 But because they had waited so long to correct these abuses, "the Church was rejected almost entirely as a spiritual authority, while the Reformation spread throughout Europe." 17 In 1534, Pope Paul II called a meeting to discuss reforms, even though many corrupt clergymen wanted no changes. 18 However, changes were made despite the protests. Churchmen were restricted to the number of duties they held, only qualified men were accepted to the clergy, and simony 19 was discontinued. The Roman Church's response to Protestantism was known as the Counter-Reformation. Despite all this, some countries remained loyal to the Roman Catholic Church. Italy, for example, did not accept Protestantism due to the strong influence from the Roman Church.
Reformation was far from the minds of Italians, as their city-states were too busy struggling to keep their regions free from foreign reign. Even the stronger Italian states could not stop the expansion of Spain and France, who both vied for territorial (as well as political) rule over Italy. Most often, however, these two powerful nations rationalized their takeover of Italy by using "dynastic claims". 20 In 1494, Charles VIII of France claimed the Kingdom of Naples, which resulted in several Franco-Spanish wars over Naples and other parts of Italy. Five years later, his successor, Louis XII, annexed the Duchy of Milan. Eventually, France and Spain agreed to share their authority over Italy. Although these wars helped to spread the Renaissance into Western Europe, they also prevented Italy from uniting. Of the five major city-states remaining in Italy, only Venice and the Papal States remained independent. 21 It wasn't until the mid-1800s that Italy was united.
Back in Germany, the battle between the Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church played an integral role in the Thirty Years' War. During the period 1618 to 1648, in what was largely a German civil war, both religious conflict and international hostilities added to the complexity of the Thirty Years' War. 22 As a whole, the war could be considered "a struggle of German Protestant princes and foreign powers 23 [endnote: France, Sweden, Denmark, England, the United Provinces], against the unity and power of the Holy Roman Empire as represented by the Hapsburgs, allied with the Catholic princes, and against the Hapsburgs themselves." 24 Following this war and the Peace of Westphalia, countries within the Holy Roman Empire gained more independence and freedom from the empire's dominance. In fact, the Holy Roman Empire began its decline as its power started to diminish. 25 Germany's economy was in disarray and its population was terribly ravaged as a direct result of this civil war. 26 It took Germany two centuries to recover from this "economic stagnation" 27, as the war had nearly depleted the country's industry and commerce.
Toward the end of the 17th century, Germany, like Italy, faced threats to its sovereignty from more powerful, neighboring countries. Because of the heavy losses it sustained, many German states were powerless to stop France from seizing parts of southwestern Germany, including the city of Strasbourg in 1681. 28 Another menace to Germany was the Ottoman Empire (Turkey), which overthrew Vienna in 1683. Germans began to worry that the Turks would simply march through Austria and overthrow their own nation. In the same way, Italy's city-states were worried that yet another country would storm in and take over their region. But when the Ottoman Empire signed the Treaty of Passarowitz in 1718, agreeing to peace terms with Austria and Venice, both Italy and Germany breathed a sigh of relief. 29 The development of these two nations over the period of 1400 to 1700 underscored their inherent political, military and religious instability. As with many nations, the response to tumultuous times reveals a nation's character. Romans 5:3-4 says, ".we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. God's desire of us as individuals and as nations is that we make good choices in our response to trying times. While nationhood and instability would eventually strengthen and stabilize over the years in Germany and Italy, history continues to prove that we must constantly to make good decisions moment by moment and not rest on our own accomplishments.
Return1, 5, 6 Stanton, Mary and Hyma, Albert. Streams of Civilization Life Publishers. 1992. Page 360. 23. Feb. 2004.
Return2, 4 Stanton, Mary and Hyma, Albert. Streams of Civilization Life Publishers. 1992. Page 353. 23. Feb. 2004.
Return7 Richards, James. Toward the Second "Europe": The Era 1350-1650 as a Transitional Period 2001. 23. Feb. 2004.
Return8, 9 Stanton, Mary and Hyma, Albert. Streams of Civilization Life Publishers. 1992. Page 368. 23. Feb. 2004.
Return10 An indulgence was a grant by the pope of forgiveness and freedom the penalty for sins. It also replaced the good works which was required of a Catholic believer. See more details in the following article: Indulgences
Return12 Stanton, Mary and Hyma, Albert. Streams of Civilization Life Publishers. 1992. Page 376. 23. Feb. 2004.
Return15 During this time, there was an excess of rag paper made from (literally) tons of clothing left over from the countless numbers of dead killed by the Plague. Although rag paper had been an expensive commodity before the Plague, its price was drastically lowered due to this surplus. This, therefore, gave Gutenburg an inexpensive material on which he could "print and distribute information". See more details in the following article: Media Lullabies: The Reinvention of the World Wide Web
Return16 Stanton, Mary and Hyma, Albert. Streams of Civilization Life Publishers. 1992. Page 381. 23. Feb. 2004.
Return17, 18 Stanton, Mary and Hyma, Albert. Streams of Civilization Life Publishers. 1992. Page 382. 23. Feb. 2004.
Return23 France, Sweden, Denmark, England, the United Provinces
Return26 Some scholars say that that more than ¼ of Germany's population died.
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