Transformations in Europe, 1500–1750
Culture and Ideas
A. Religious Reformation
In 1500 the Catholic Church, benefiting from European prosperity, was building new churches including a new Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Pope Leo X raised money for the new basilica by authorizing the sale of indulgences. 2.
The German monk Martin Luther challenged the Pope on the issue of indulgences and other practices that he considered corrupt or not Christian. Luther began the Protestant Reformation, arguing that salvation could be by faith alone, that Christian belief could be based only on the Bible and on Christian tradition.
The Protestant leader John Calvin formulated a different theological position in The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin argued that salvation was God’s gift to those who were predestined and that Christian congregations should be self-governing and stress simplicity in life and in worship. 4.
The Protestant Reformation appealed not only to religious sentiments, but also to Germans who disliked the Italian-dominated Catholic Church and to peasants and urban workers who wanted to reject the religion of their masters. 5.
The Catholic Church agreed on a number of internal reforms and a reaffirmation of fundamental Catholic beliefs in the Council of Trent. These responses to the Protestant Reformation, along with the activities of the newly established Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) comprise the “Catholic Reformation.” 6.
The Protestant Reformation led to a number of “wars of religion,” the last of them being concluded in 1648.
B. Traditional Thinking and Witch-Hunts
European concepts of the natural world were derived from both local folk traditions and Judeo-Christian beliefs. Most people believed that natural events could have supernatural causes.
Belief in the supernatural is vividly demonstrated in the witch-hunts of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. In the witch-hunts over 100,000 people (three-fourths of them women) were tried and about half of them executed on charges of witchcraft.
Modern historians have sought to explain the witch-hunts as manifestations of fear of unattached women or in terms of social stress. Some scholars believe that poor and marginal people may have believed that they were capable of witchcraft and welcomed the notoriety and attention gained from public confession.
C. The Scientific Revolution
European intellectuals derived their understanding of the natural world from the writings of the Greeks and the Romans. These writings suggested that everything on earth was reducible to four elements; that the sun, moon, planets and stars were so light and pure that they floated in crystalline spheres and rotated around the earth in perfectly circular orbits.
The observations of Copernicus and other scientists including Galileo undermined this earth-centered model of the universe and led to the introduction of the Copernican sun-centered model.
The Copernican model was initially criticized and suppressed by Protestant leaders and by the Catholic Church. Despite opposition, printed books spread these and other new scientific ideas among European intellectuals. 4.
Isaac Newton’s discovery of the law of gravity showed why the planets move around the sun in elliptical orbits. Newton’s discoveries led to the development of Newtonian physics. However, Newton and other scientists did not believe that their discoveries were in conflict with religious belief.
D. The Early Enlightenment
The advances in scientific thought inspired European governments and groups of individuals to question the reasonableness of accepted practices in fields ranging from agriculture to laws, religions, and social hierarchies. This intellectual movement, which assumed that social behavior and institutions were governed by scientific laws, is called the Enlightenment.
The Enlightenment thinkers were also...
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