ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

Fourth Period.
Medieval Philosophy from the Middle of the Fifteenth to the Seventeenth Century.

Chapter I.

General Outline.

421. Brief Review of the Fourth Period. -- The capture of Constantinople by the Turks, in 1453, is generally regarded as the close of the Middle Ages in the more proper sense of the term. In reality, the fall of the Byzantine Empire was only one episode in an era of great upheavals which compassed the ruin of medieval civilization and led up to the formation of the modern nationalities. The second half of the fifteenth and the whole of the sixteenth century witnessed a universal revolution in European life: not only in philosophy, but in the arts and sciences generally; not only in intellectual culture but in politics, in religion, in the fundamental conditions of economic and social life.

I. The dominant fact in politics was the formation of distinct nationalities. To the unity of the Christian Empire there succeeded a multiplicity of separate States, pursuing distinct and independent policies. National interests fomented the struggle of temporal princes against popes and stood in the way of a European coalition against the advance of the Turks. In proportion as political and individual liberties asserted themselves feudalism tottered to its fall and the great maritime discoveries shifted the axis of the world's economics.

II. In the intellectual order, a new spirit breathed over the face of Europe. This provoked the movement which is known as the Renaissance: the return to classical antiquity.

Italy was the cradle of the Renaissance; popes and princes

GENERAL OUTLINE 461 --> were its patrons. Broken up into a mosaic of petty republics, the peninsula seemed as if specially prepared to foster the speedy expansion of the new ideas in all their astonishing variety. But from Italy the movement passed with something like lightning rapidity into France, England, Germany and the Low Countries.

Among the causes of the Renaissance, the invention of printing, combined with the exodus of Byzantine learning into Europe, holds the first place: it scattered in profusion over all Europe the new works that were being brought into Italy by the Greek scholars from Constantinople. It was not the fall of Constantinople in 1453 that brought about this great exodus of Byzantine savants into Italy: this had been going on for some years previously. Those émigrés of learning met with a royal welcome in the various cities of Italy. When they sang the glories of the ancient civilizations they found admiring and enthusiastic audiences for their classical themes. Literary and scientific relations between Byzantium and Italy, opened up in the thirteenth century, had steadily increased throughout the fourteenth: thanks to the growing commerce between the two civilizations and the attempts at a rapprochement between the Latin and Greek Churches (Council of Ferrara, 1438). BARLAAM (fl. 1348), a Latin monk of Calabria, taught Greek to Petrarch (1304-1374) and inspired the poet with his ardent enthusiasm for classic antiquity. LEONTIUS PILATUS, a disciple of Barlaam, was tutor to Boccaccio (about 1360), translated Homer, and held the principal chair of Greek literature at Florence. JOHN MALPIGHI, a pupil of Petrarch, taught Latin at Padua and Florence, The Byzantine MANUEL CHRYSOLORAS (fl. 1415) opened courses of instruction in the Greek language and literature and taught the celebrated humanist, LEONARDUS ARETINUS (L. Bruni, fl. 1444). In the fifteenth century, enthusiastic attachment to classical learning was universal.

The Renaissance found expression in a variety of forms. The first to manifest itself was a return towards the literature and art of Greek and Latin antiquity. Then, from this cult of the style of the ancient authors, their forms of literary and artistic expression, the transition was easy to an adoption of their ideas. Thus, paganism became the fashion in education and in manners, and philosophers admiringly revived the ancient systems in their archaic frankness and purity: accompanying the literary and artistic renaissance there was a renaissance in philosophy. We may further add that there was a scientific renaissance as well: or at least a new and rapid advance in science. The discovery of America in 1492 extended the horizon of the geographical world, as the discovery of the telescope afterwards was to roll back indefinitely the limits of the created universe. People grew accustomed to entertain large, ambitious views, and to cultivate, from a love for Nature, a strong and fruitful passion for the sciences of observation.

III. Nearly contemporaneous with the great intellectual revolution of the Renaissance, there appeared the great religious revolution known as the Reformation. Protestantism not only set up, in opposition to the ecclesiastical organization of the Universal Church, a variety of new hierarchies proper to each National Church, but it also modified Catholic teaching in several of its essential theses. The influences of the new Protestant dogma were indirectly felt in the domain of philosophy.

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