Healing in the History of Christianity

By Amanda Porterfield | Go to book overview

4
Healing in Early Modern
Christianity

The sixteenth century witnessed a peculiar kind of religious unrest in which belief in the existence of spiritual realities fell under wide- spread scrutiny, even as the material manifestations of those reali- ties, and testimonies to them, multiplied. Efforts to purify Christian- ity were not new, but the effort to rid it of superstition had never gone so far or been so widespread. The attack against superstition signaled an unsettling distrust of received tradition. At the same time, it triggered new enthusiasm for divine revelation and authen- tic signs of Christ and coincided with new prophecies and new claims about miracles, witchcraft, and demons. The clamor for reli- gious purity characteristic of early modern reformers coincided with growing unease about religious authority. And their concern about religious truth coincided with growing concern about the proper reach of human knowledge and power. Demands for religious purity and truth mounted with the invention of the printing press, civil un- rest, expanding market economies, the growth of urban centers, and the exploration of the globe.

On one hand, the religious splendor and evangelical fervor of Catholic Christianity had never been greater. The growing prosperity of the middle class, the wealth of chantries (endowments for masses and prayers) and guilds affiliated with saints, the popularity of devo- tion to Mary and the Eucharist issued in a profusion of religious art. In Zurich, for example, the number of commissions for church art increased by a factor of 100 between 1500 and 1518.1 The boundaries

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