(Sample Material) UPSC Mains Philosophy (Optional) Study Kit "Western Philosophy (The Reformation & Counter Reformation)"

Sample Material of UPSC Mains Philosophy (Optional) Study Kit

Topic: Western Philosophy (The Reformation and Counter Reformation)

The Reformation and Counter-Reformation, alike, represent the rebellion of less civilized nations against the intellectual domination of Italy. In the case of the Reformation, the revolt was also political and theological: the authority of the Pope was rejected, and the tribute which he had obtained from the power of the keys ceased to be paid. In the case of the Counter-Reformation, there was only revolt against the intellectual and moral freedom of Renaissance Italy; the power of the Pope was not diminished, but enhanced, while at the same time it was made clear that his authority was incompatible with the easy-going laxity of the Borgias and Medici.
Roughly speaking, the Reformation was German, the Counter-Reformation Spanish; the wars of religion were at the same time wars between Spain and its enemies, coinciding in date with the period when Spanish power was at its height. The attitude of public opinion in northern nations towards Renaissance Italy is illustrated in the English saying of that time:

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An Englishman Italianate Is a devil incarnate

It will be observed how many of the villains in Shakespeare are Italians. Iago is perhaps the most prominent instance, but an even more illustrative one is Iachimo in Cymbeline, who leads astray the virtuous Briton travelling in Italy, and comes to England to practise his wicked wiles upon unsuspecting natives. Moral indignation against Italians had much to do with the Reformation. Unfortunately it involved also intellectual repudiation of what Italy had done for civilization. The three great men of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation are Luther, Calvin, and Loyola. All three, intellectually, are medieval in philosophy, as compared either with the Italians who immediately preceded them, or with such men as Erasmus and More. Philosophically, the century following the beginning of the Reformation is a barren one. Luther and Calvin reverted to Saint Augustine, retaining, however, only that part of his teaching which deals with the relation of the soul to God, not the part which is concerned with the Church. Their theology was such as to diminish the power of the Church. They abolished purgatory, from which the souls of the dead could be delivered by masses. They rejected the doctrine of Indulgences, upon which a large part of the papal revenue depended. By the doctrine of predestination, the fate of the soul after death was made wholly independent of the actions of priests. These innovations, while they helped in the struggle with the Pope, prevented the Protestant Churches from becoming as powerful in Protestant countries as the Catholic Church was in Catholic countries. Protestant divines were (at least at first) just as bigoted as Catholic theologians, but they had less power, and were therefore less able to do harm. Almost from the very beginning, there was a division among Protestants as to the power of the State in religious matters. Luther was willing, wherever the prince was Protestant, to recognize him as head of the Church in his own country. In England, Henry VIII and Elizabeth vigorously asserted their claims in this respect, and so did the Protestant princes of Germany, Scandinavia, and (after the revolt from Spain) Holland. This accelerated the already existing tendency to increase in the power of kings. But those Protestants who took seriously the individualistic aspects of the Reformation were as unwilling to submit to the king as to the Pope. The Anabaptists in Germany were suppressed, but their doctrine spread to Holland and England. The conflict between Cromwell and the Long Parliament had many aspects; in its theological aspect, it was in part a conflict between those who rejected and those who accepted the view that the State should decide in religious matters. Gradually weariness resulting from the wars of religion led to the growth of belief in religious toleration, which was one of the sources of the movement which developed into eighteenth- and nineteenth century liberalism. Protestant success, at first amazingly rapid, was checked mainly as a resultant of Loyola’s creation of the Jesuit order. Loyola had been a soldier, and his order was founded on military models; there must be unquestioning obedience to the General, and every Jesuit was to consider himself engaged in warfare against heresy. As early as the Council of Trent, the Jesuits began to be influential. They were disciplined, able, completely devoted to the cause, and skilful propagandists. Their theology was the opposite of that of the Protestants; they rejected those elements of Saint Augustine’s teaching which the Protestants emphasized. They believed in free will, and opposed predestination. Salvation was not by faith alone, but by both faith and works. The Jesuits acquired prestige by their missionary zeal, especially in the Far East. They became popular as confessors, because (if Pascal is to be believed) they were more lenient, except towards heresy, than other ecclesiastics. They concentrated on education, and thus acquired a firm hold on the minds of the young. Whenever theology did not interfere, the education they gave was the best obtainable; we shall see that they taught Descartes more mathematics than he would have learnt elsewhere. Politically, they were a single united disciplined body, shrinking from no dangers and no exertions; they urged Catholic princes to practise relentless persecution, and, following in the wake of conquering Spanish armies, re-established the terror of the Inquisition, even in Italy, which had had nearly a century of free-thought. The results of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, in the intellectual sphere, were at first wholly bad, but ultimately beneficial. The Thirty Year’s War persuaded everybody that neither Protestants nor Catholics could be completely victorious; it became necessary to abandon the medieval hope of doctrinal unity, and this increased men’s freedom to think for themselves, even about fundamentals. The diversity of creeds in different countries made it possible to escape persecution by living abroad. Disgust with theological warfare turned the attention of able men increasingly to secular learning, especially mathematics and science. These are among the reasons for the fact that, while the sixteenth century, after the rise of Luther, is philosophically barren, the seventeenth contains the greatest names and marks the most notable advance since Greek times. This advance began in science, with which I shall deal in my next chapter.

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