Friday, 22 July 2011

Perhaps not Reformation but Renaissance

The doomed agreement to preserve the Euro prompts an intriguing suggestion from Simon Jenkins in the Guardian this morning;
As before the Reformation, the taxing of northern Europe to sustain the subsidies and debts of mother church lasted awhile, but it could not last for ever. German taxpayers may bail out the Greeks, because half the Greeks' debts are to foreign banks. But these taxpayers will not also bail out the Portuguese, the Spaniards and the Italians. The attempted revival of the Holy Roman Empire is doomed. Luther's theses will soon be nailed to the doors not of Wittenberg but of the Berlaymont palace in Brussels.
In England, it was naked greed rather than theology that truly drove the Reformation. The Church's stranglehold on wealth and land was too great a temptation for the rich and powerful; the result was plunder and waste on a princely scale. The poor became poorer as alms and dole disappeared, hospitals and medical care vanished and the infrastructure of Maisons Dieu across the country that provided sheltered accommodation for the halt, the lame and the crippled in mind and body threw their burdens onto the midden. Learning and scholarship, never popular with the titled class, fell into desuetude. Taxpayers enjoyed no benefit; in most cases they merely exchanged an ordained tax-collector for an unholy one. The dukes and earls and barons and every unwholesome dag who managed to thrust their sticky hands into the pot were the ones who gained. If the winners of a new European 'reformation' are similarly to be the banks, the powerful corporations and the Central State - our modern post-feudal aristocracy - then no thanks to Reformation.


It was the democratisation of the Renaissance that truly brought benefits to us all. The growth of a powerful middle class independent of Church or State, with law for all, the grammar schools, intellectual freedom, a flowering of science, philosophy and art and not just the Bard but Kit Marlowe, Spenser, Bacon, Milton, Sidney, Byrd, Tallis and Taverner. We had parlours and chimneys, and meat on the table, and shoes on our feet. The power of the aristocracy was curbed and regulated. It was the age not of the dukes and earls but of the knights from the Shires and staunch yeomen with stout houses and fertile holdings. A modern Renaissance that returns power and wealth from the centre, that undermines the malign power of the banks and international corporations, that emasculates the pernicious political class and repatriates our sovereignty is rather to be welcomed. 


Reformation saw half a century of war and famine, with a third of Northern Europe's population killed by the sword, fire or starvation. The Renaissance gave us Bottom and Toby Belch. 

11 comments:

Gallovidian said...

Excellent post.

Greg Tingey said...

And John Dee and Francis Bacon and the age of Exploration.

Don't forget Tycho Brahe, either!

Anonymous said...

A return to the feudal system, would suit the European elite quite nicely.

As to pestilence, famine and such, that base is covered; "it is global warming and it's all the fault of the proles' slovenly ways!"
And; "Only a great and beneficent Emprire can save your miserable souls!"
A quasi-religion, without the [nasty bits] certitude of; absolute moral rectitude, theology and ethics.
Luvly jubly! just like having your cake and eating it, the work in Britain is done, now...... will the Germans put up with it?

Span Ows said...

Excellent post!

"unwholesome dag"...just so good.

Amanda said...

The Renaissance came when we had a leader who cared about the country (Queen Bess), who had an extremely intelligent band of men to guide her, who told Europe where to go, and released the English entrepreneurial spirit. Europe tried to damage Bess economically - cutting off export markets. So she gave them two fingers and turned to the rest of the world - and thus was born the Commonwealth (and the start of the industrial revolution).

She also had a number of rising middle class who started buying land to use more productively, which gave more opportunities lower down for social mobility. To restore the social welfare system of the church, she put in the poor laws, and self-help for every community.

Finally, she got rid of politically correctness and refused to create a window into men's souls But had huge problems with religious groups from the PC Puritains (read lefty types) to the Jesuits (read Muslims). In the end the latter, in the form of Catholics, had to be banned from holding power in any form, as they could not be relied on to behave themselves !!

Lot of lessons to be learnt from sixteenth and seventeenth century history.

Anne Istorian said...

erm, didn't the Renaissance happen before the Reformation, not the other way round...

Raedwald said...

Uhm, no, not that simple, though that's how it was taught at schools in the same way as electrons orbiting an archetypal proton.

Impossible to capture in two or three paras in a blog post, but in England the Reformation came in a concentrated burst in the mid 16th, but the Renaissance had a much slower burn. See the terracotta roundels at Hampton Court etc. The Renaissance in England was in full flood in the early 17th. Every nation-state in Europe experienced the two in different ways.

Hard to imagine today how an idea could take scores of years to travel from one end of Europe to the other, but there it is.

BrianSJ said...

Then we had Cromwell and the land-grab by the city boys who backed him. 1 in 10 adult males killed.

Anne Istorian said...

Yes but...the Italian Renaissance of the 15th century gave birth to the Humanists, men like Erasmus, who greatly influenced the early reformers, thus influencing the Reformation. However, I take the point that the true flowering of the English Renaissance happened under Elizabeth I and James I.

Raedwald said...

But Erasmus dissociated himself from the standpoint of Luther and Calvin, realising early that reform of this type merely moved power and all its failings and abuses from the Church to the new aristocracy;

"Look around on this ‘Evangelical’ generation, and observe whether amongst them less indulgence is given to luxury, lust, or avarice, than amongst those whom you so detest. Show me any one person who by *that* Gospel has been reclaimed from drunkenness to sobriety, from fury and passion to meekness, from avarice to liberality, from reviling to well-speaking, from wantonness to modesty. I will show you a great many who have become worse through following it....The solemn prayers of the Church are abolished, but now there are very many who never pray at all...."

One can argue that in England Reformation happened in spite of rather than because of Erasmus and the Humanists ...

Anne Istorian said...

One can indeed Raedwald, and I concede...lovely to have some intelligent debate though - thank you!