The World from 1450 to 1700

By John E. Wills Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Old Ways Made New,
1530–1570

In the world of 1450 to 1700, many people were dissatisfied with the religious and moral life around them, but almost no one wanted to make a radical break with tradition. They dreamed of the old gods and the ancient sages. Europeans wanted a renaissance, that is, a rebirth of the noble ways of ancient Greece and Rome. They wanted not a break with Christianity, but a purification, a reformation. Asians sought a personal vision of the god Krishna or a pure way to become sages themselves, morally perfect people, like the ancient teacher Confucius and the sage kings he revered.

These proclamations were not just smoke screens to hide innovation from the guardians of orthodoxy or delusions on the parts of the innovators. Every tradition as it is handed down loses its freshness, becomes routine, makes its peace with practices against which it once struggled, and becomes in one way or another established and comfortable. Especially when the original passions and visions are preserved and passed down in writing, there always are people who carefully read the records of the original vision or revelation and cannot get over the gap between the original purity and the current routine. Back to the gospel message! The way of the sage kings can be found today! True Muslims must abandon all these pagan practices! But each great tradition is a tangled skein of continuities and interactions, not a monolith, and the would-be reviver sometimes re-braids them in strands of the old ways and new practices and interpretations in skeins whose novelty startles even their maker.

In Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, new passions for the ancient world interacted in very confusing ways with re-shapings and revivals of Christianity. For example, any selection of great Renaissance paintings provides examples of Biblical scenes and of scenes from Greco-Roman mythology or history, rendered in the same glorious techniques and finishes. People all over Western Europe contributed to these changes, but they always looked to Italy for leadership and great examples; think, for example, of the Italian settings of many of Shakespeare’s plays.

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The World from 1450 to 1700
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Editors’ Preface xi
  • Prologue- Texas - And the World 1
  • Chapter 1 - Islam and a Wider World, 1450–1490 7
  • Chapter 2 - Columbian Exchanges, 1490–1530 26
  • Chapter 3 - Old Ways Made New, 1530–1570 49
  • Chapter 4 - New Shapes of Power, 1570–1610 72
  • Chapter 5 - Settlers and Diasporas, 1610–1640 96
  • Chapter 6 - Time of Troubles, 1640–1670 119
  • Chapter 7 - Toward an Early Modern World, 1670–1700 140
  • Chronology 155
  • Notes 157
  • Further Reading 160
  • Web Sites 164
  • Acknowledgments 166
  • Index 168
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