Another factor that fueled the Renaissance is the increased flow of ideas, particularly in the newly invented universities . Prior to the 12th century, one would be lucky to have one tutor, and that tutor was not to be questioned or doubted. Universities began as groups of teachers and students gathered together in one place, worked for common interests, and exchanged ideas. For the first time it was common for students to learn from different teachers, perhaps in direct dialogue. Scholars could engage with each other as equals. Fewer and fewer subjects were out of bounds for open conversation. By itself, it was not that strange for a Bible professor at a university, Martin Luther, to post 95 provocative statements for discussion. In fact, the points had already been discussed in other places. What was new was how quickly the ideas flowed beyond his immediate circle and gained a wide audience.
The printing press allowed Luther’s ideas to spread cheaply to large numbers of people in many places. Hand copying documents on leather was extremely expensive and difficult, but printing many copies on paper (a related technology newly brought from China) was easy. As far at the flow of ideas is concerned, the invention of the printing press is right up there with the invention of writing itself and the Internet. The Internet is also worthy of comparison because in both cases some would doubt that the new ideas so easily multiplied are worthy of the honor.
While new ideas were flowing through Europe, the papacy was slow to respond to the new religious and political reality . Perhaps at one point the bishop of Rome (pope) filled a power vacuum and offered stability to Western Europe (through the Holy Roman Empire). As the king of France and German-speaking princes (it would be misleading to speak of Germany as a nation before the 19th century) became more powerful, the papacy faced opposition, and generally handled bad situations badly. In a theology class we will talk about the ideas of Martin Luther. In a political science class the emphasis would be on the princes (especially Frederick) who protected Martin Luther and stood up to Rome. Surely some of the princes sincerely understood and embraced Luther’s ideas, but there was also money and politics at stake. Luther’s first treatise encouraged the princes to stop paying taxes to Rome. Breaking with Rome would mean princes could confiscate church property. Some messages are very easy to hear.
Although the papacy was not quick to accept the intellectual openness of the Renaissance, it does get credit or blame (depending on how you look at it) for promoting Renaissance art and architecture. Many of the masterpieces of Renaissance art and architecture, such as Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, were commissioned by the popes. The controversy comes in how expensive these projects were, and how the money was raised. Today major public works might be funded through taxes or government bonds. Construction of St. Peter’s Basilica was funded through the sale of indulgences. Indulgences exploit the idea that Christ gives the apostles (and their successors the bishops) power to “loosen” sins in the afterlife (see Matthew and John ). Although the forgiveness of sins was a sacrament separate from the sale of indulgences, many were persuaded that they could achieve heaven more quickly and easily if they invested in indulgences. In addition to the inherent abusiveness of the practice, some local “salesmen” in the region of Martin Luther were particularly unscrupulous. It would be wrong to reduce the Reformation to one man or one issue, but this is the issue that set off Martin Luther and his 95 theses, which in turn set off the reformations of the 16th century.
Systematic theology focuses on articulating the traditional faith in light of new ideas in philosophy and culture. The term “systematic” refers to the idea that every individual belief should be consistent with every other belief, as part of a larger “system.” The biblical writers and great theologians of the past never really considered or faced the specific challenges of modern science, globalization of war and commerce, democracy, feminism, genocide, and so forth. Systematic theology tries to find a consistent way of responding to these challenges through engagement with the existing traditions of Christianity. At St. Mary’s the specialist in systematic theology is Dr. Buhrman.
The logic is strong but for many it fails to satisfy the basic human desire for an explanation. It also emphasizes accepting what happens over taking responsibility for overcoming injustice.
Chronologically, this solution goes more with the following unit on the early Jews and Christians. It is found especially in the apocalyptic literature , most of which was excluded from the Hebrew Bible.
Later in the course we will talk more about pluralism and relativism. Pluralism is a good thing in that it brings awareness and tolerance of beliefs other than our own. However, Catholicism opposes relativism, which would say that any religion is as good as any other, and what is true for one person may not be true for another. At this point we will just say that the Israelites did not seek to wipe out all religions other than their own, but they did believe that within their own people it was necessary to make a choice between one god or the other, not both.
Slavery is another issue on which the Bible’s standards do not seem ethical today, but were an improvement at the time. Although slavery was allowed to exist, the restrictions on slavery and rights of slaves were so liberal that slavery resembled contracted labor more than slavery. The Bible also calls for capital punishment for many offenses. Even here, the Bible is still progressive compared to its neighbors in abolishing capital punishment for property crimes (you can’t be executed for stealing).
La Casa del Fico
Santa Maria di Leuca
Litoranea Leuca Novaglie, Km 44
73034 Corigliano del Capo LE
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