01:506:101 Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Pope Boniface Viii, Piers Plowman, William Langland

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Ch. 2: The Upheaval in Christendom, 1300-1560
(pp. 46-105)
Intro: Societies in transition from a traditional to a modernized form of society tend to become
secularized-- developing activities outside of the sphere of religion. Latin Christendom was the first area to go
through this process, developing natural science, industrial technology, and military and economic power--
aspects of Western culture that non-European peoples have been most willing to adopt in our time.
The triumphantly Christian Europe of the 13th century experienced a series of disasters Mongol control of Russia (1250-
1450) and Ottoman Turkish penetration of the Byzantine Empire (capturing Constantinople in 1453). Moreover, the
authority of the Pope was increasingly called into question. "Yet new forces also asserted themselves.... Government, law,
philosophy, science, the arts, material and economic activities were pursued with
less regard for Christian values. Power, order, beauty, wealth, knowledge, and control of nature were regarded
as desirable in themselves."
5. The Disasters of the Fourteenth Century
(pp. 47-53)
A. The Black Death and Its Consequences:
1. Abruptly, almost half of the population was wiped out, a combination of sporadic local famines and
the bubonic plague, which first struck in 1348. Towns were especially vulnerable. Survivors found their labor
scarce and more valuable, but in the general disorganization many of the poor were unable to find work.
There were massive insurrections of peasants, as Wat Tyler's rebellion in England in 1381; begun over local
grievances, these insurrections also led to spokesman questioning the class structure, as in the couplet: When
Adam delved and love span / Who was then a gentleman? Governments repressed these revolts, but in the
long run the condition of the poor was improved. Not only were wages increased, but peasants were often
given permanent tenure over their land for a fixed money payment--which, with inflation, made them in
effect a class of small peasant property owners, especially in England and France. [Be sure to check the chart
on page 48.]
2. Kings also faced problems, needing to increase income to pay for royal armies of foot soldiers to
combat rebellions by feudal knights. Kings debased the coinage-dividing up a given weight of gold into
more pounds or liras, inflating their value. Kings also sought new taxes --taxing the clergy, noble
landowners, and merchants. Taxpayer resistance made this period a golden age of medieval parliaments.
3. This period was also the time of the Hundred Years War (1327-1453) between England and France.
Battles were fought sporadically in France, with England winning all major pitched battles (longbow) and
the French ultimately winning the war due to the rise of French national patriotism (largely due to Jeanne
d’Arcy). In England, Parliament was able to widen its powers because of the need for money for the war.
But the great barons became unruly, ultimately participating in royal political struggles; they formed private
armies and fought in what is now called the Wars of the Roses (1450-1485). Upset by this feudal anarchy,
the English people accepted a century of strong rules by the Tudors.
B. Troubles of the Medieval Church
1. "It faced the danger that besets every successful institution...the danger of believing that the
institution exists for the benefit of those who conduct its affairs. The papacy...was most liable to this danger.
It became 'corrupt,' set in its ways, out of touch with public opinion, and controlled by a self-perpetuating
bureaucracy. It was unable to reform itself, and unwilling to let anyone else reform it."
2. In the 1290's both Philip IV of France and Edward I of England taxed the landed estates of the Church. In response,
Pope Boniface VIII first prohibited such taxes and finally claimed the supremacy of the Pope over "every human
creature." Philip IV sent troops to arrest Boniface, who died while in French custody. The College of Cardinals,
strongly influenced by Philip, now elected a subservient French pope who moved the papal court to the district of
Avignon on the border with France. During the next 70 years of Church history (the Babylonian Captivity) French
popes and cardinals live in Avignon. The rest of Europe regards them as tools of French policy, and the prestige of the
papacy declined. In 1378 a split in the College of Cardinals results in the election of a French and an Italian Pope;
France and its allies recognized the pope in Avignon, and England and most of Germany recognized the pope in Rome.
This Great Schism lasts from 1378 to 1414. Papal courts and bureaucracies swelled, and pious Christians were
shocked by the behavior of the cardinals.
3. In a world stricken by the plague, people needed the assurance of salvation, but with two popes, who
could know? Many people began to doubt the powers of their ecclesiastical superiors. In the 1360s humble
cleric named William Langland wrote Piers Plowman, in which he contrasted the sufferings of the honest
poor with hypocrisy and corruption in high places. John Wyclif, a teacher at Oxford, began to question the
elaborate possessions of the church; he even began to doubt the necessity of an organized Church in
achieving salvation. He felt ordinary people could obtain salvation by reading the Bible, which he began to
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translate into English. In Bohemia, John Huss used similar ideas to move towards a national church.
Such ideas were viewed as heretical.
C. The Conciliar Movement
1. In the fifteenth century general councils of the church met to solve the problems. The first, at Pisa
in 1409, deposed both popes and selected a third --but all three continued to claim authority. In 1414 the
Council of Constance successfully ended the schism--and interrogated, condemned, and burned John Huss.
The new pope, Martin V, reaffirmed papal supremacy--and popes proceeded to fight with church councils
for the next 30 years
2. The result of this struggle was that real church problems could not be dealt with: Bribery and
simony, the buying and selling of church offices were rampant; many churchmen had mistresses, and
frequently gave lucrative church positions to children or other relatives (nepotism). Perhaps worst,
indulgences, or the sparing of certain of the temporal punishments of purgatory, could be obtained for
money--though of course the sinner must be properly confessed, absolved, and truly repentant. The latter
conditions were not always met (shock!).
3. The victory of the popes in the struggle brought the papacy into the hands of a "series of cultivated
gentlemen, men of the world, men of 'modern' outlook in tune with their times--the famous popes of the
Renaissance. Some, like Nicholas V (1447-1455) or Pius II (1458-1464) were accomplished scholars and
connoisseurs of books....Alexander VI (1492-1503) of the Spanish Borgia family, exploited his office for
the benefit of his relatives, trying to make his son Cesare Borgia the ruler of all Italy....Julius II (1503-1513)
was a capable general, and Leo X (1513-1521) was a superb patron of architects and painters."
6. The Renaissance in Italy
(pp. 53-62)
A. Italy in the with century, particularly in Florence, produced a new attitude towards the world. The
Renaissance (rebirth) was the product of men who saw the Middle Ages as a dark time and believed they
were resuming a civilization like that of the Greco-Romans. We must realize that the languages and
nationalities, the institutions of laws government and the economy all originated in the Middle Ages.
However, the Renaissance did mark a new era in thought and feeling, particularly in the areas of literature
and the arts: "They involved the whole area of culture which is neither theological nor scientific but
concerns essentially moral and civic questions, asking what man ought to be or ought to do, and is reflected
in matters of taste, style, propriety, decorum, personal character, and education....it was in Renaissance Italy
that an almost purely secular attitude first appeared....".
B. The Italian Cities and the New Conception of Man
1. Italian towns boomed with trade; merchants made fortunes in commerce and became bankers; they
bought the wares of craftsmen-artists. People rejoiced Kin the beautiful things and psychological
satisfactions that money could buy." Towns were independent city-states controlled by merchant
oligarchies. Some, like Milan, were under local despots; others, like Venice, Genoa, and Florence,
governed themselves as republics.
2. Florence was only moderately large, but it produced an extraordinary series of brilliant men
between 1350 (Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio) and 1527 (Machiavelli). Florence was run by the Medici
family, first unofficially and later as Grand Dukes. The family began in wool trade, became bankers and
then used their wealth to rule--reaching full power under Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-1492).
3. What was produced in Italy was a new conception of man. Instead of seeing man as a frail creature,
in need of redemption and full of renunciation of the physical world, a new type of scholar called humanists
praised the full life in this world. Renaissance individualism put its emphasis on outstanding attainments.
The great individual shaped his own world and excelled in all things. New forms of painting, sculpture, and
architecture arose, focusing on this world. Space was no longer indeterminable or unknowable, but a zone
occupied by physical human beings; it was the artists' function to convey this reality. Buildings had to
reflect the classical principle of design--symmetry and balance, with the classical column, arch, and dome;
they should be set to human scale, not to dwarf man into insignificance like the cathedrals. Sculpture
likewise returned to the classical conception of man. Painting continued to reflect religious values, but the
subjects had a new humanity and were set into a real, three-dimensional world.
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