The Protestant Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Italy

By Salvatore Caponetto; Anne C. Tedeschi et al. | Go to book overview

I
LUTHER'S MESSAGE IN THE CRISIS OF THE EARLY SIXTEENTH CENTURY

HOMO FABER FORTUNAE SUAE?

THE QUARTER CENTURY BETWEEN the discovery of America and the publication of Luther's Ninety-Five Theses ( 1492-1517) witnessed a rapid sequence of events of universal significance, events that overturned the framework and vision of life inherited from the Middle Ages and affected the course of human history irrevocably. The discovery of a "Nuevo Mundo," the invention of powerful firearms that could pulverize feudal castles and fortresses, advances in printing that made possible the diffusion of learning even to the lower strata of society, and humanism, which attained its fullness through a vast reappropriation of the writings of the ancients, had opened up new horizons to thought and to the sciences. Humanist civilization, with a magnificent flowering of all the branches of culture and the arts, stimulated hopes and expectations of an imminent "rebirth" of society and of the church, which had been in profound turmoil for more than a century, and dreamed as did Nicolas Cusanus, Pico della Mirandola and Erasmus of Rotterdam, of a pax fidei and a universal peace. Erasmus, the greatest of the sixteenth-century humanists, used sarcasm to combat tyranny, war, and violence. He proclaimed himself a citizen of the world and coined the motto: "Man is born for love and not for war."1

Such dreams, aspirations, and illusions were confronted by hard reality: Most pressing was the Turkish menace, encroaching upon the west after the conquest of the Balkan peninsula, reaching Vienna's very walls in 1529. Tensions in society had deepened with the growing domination of the ruling classes, rich merchants, great landowners, and bankers. They had become puppet masters, who manipulated

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1
Erasmo da Rotterdam, Adagia: Sei sagi politici in forma di proverbi, a cura di S. Seidel Menchi ( Turin: Einaudi, 1980), 202-3.

-1-

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