Last modified on April 13, 2014, at 00:46

World History Lecture Seven


In this lecture we recount how the Middle Ages ended: with the Renaissance. The Renaissance lasted from the 1300s to the 1600s, and it brought the Middle Ages to a close.

“Renaissance” is a French word for “rebirth”. This rebirth was in renewed respect for artistic and intellectual progress not seen since classical Greece and Rome. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary describes “Renaissance” as follows: “the transitional movement in Europe between medieval and modern times beginning in the 14th century in Italy, lasting into the 17th century,” which included “a flowering of the arts and literature” and “the beginnings of modern science.”[1]

A poet named Petrach (A.D 1304-1374) described the early Middle Ages (A.D. 476-1000) as the “Dark Ages” of social decay. The “rebirth” or “revival” in the Renaissance was the rediscovery of the Roman and Greek cultures, as enhanced by Christianity. The “new learning” was a new recognition of the ideas discovered and developed in the past in art, science and other fields of inquiry, and attempts to improve on them.

The earliest beginning of the Renaissance was the poet Dante Alighieri (A.D. 1265-1321), who is famous for writing Dante’s Inferno about Hell. Another beginning date for the Renaissance is the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, when gunpowder and the cannon became essential parts of warfare. This military defeat caused Greek (Byzantine) scholars to flee to Rome, bringing their scholarship with them. They also brought their hostility to the Roman Catholic Church, causing changes to the religious order in Europe.

By the 1400s there were numerous wonderful artists, and also advances in the existing Gothic Art. By the year 1500 the High Renaissance was in full bloom. But additional internal splits in Christianity were just around the corner. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther founded Protestantism when he nailed 95 “Theses” or issues to the door of his Wittenberg Church in what is now Germany. A decade later, in 1529, the English King Henry VIII founded another Christian denomination for an entirely different reason: he wanted the pope to approve his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and when the pope refused, the king founded the Church of England and seized all the property of the Catholic Church in England. Other Protestant faiths also began in the 1500s, and the Catholic Church responded with an ambitious reform effort of its own, often called the "Counter-Reformation".

But before we reach those events, let's first review the origin and development of the English language. English does not come from Sanskrit or Hebrew or Greek or Latin. The Roman empire never conquered Germany, and English developed from Germanic people who settled in England.

The History of the English Language

The development of the English language is divided into three periods: Old English (also called "Anglo-Saxon"), Middle English, and Modern English (which we speak today). Germanic tribes settled in England around the time when the Roman empire fell, around A.D. 450. Old English[2] developed and was used until shortly after the Norman conquest of 1066, when Latin began to cause improvements in Old English, and it upgraded to medieval Middle English. Modern English is considered to have begun shortly after the end of the Middle Ages in 1500.

A good dictionary will provide the date of origin for a word, and old dates are "13c" or A.D. 1200. For example, the date of first use of the word "chase", meaning "the hunting of wild animals," is listed by Merriam-Webster dictionary as "13c". More modern words, such as "homeschool" (1980), have more recent dates of first use. In general, the study of the origin of a word is known as "etymology".

One can spend hours enjoyably learning about the history of human thought simply by looking at when words were first created for important concepts. For example, by looking up the word "tyranny" in the dictionary we see that it was developed in the 14th century (A.D. 1300s), which was about the time that feudalism was being replaced by centralized nation-states in England and France.

Old and Middle English

Old English is almost impossible to understand today:[3]

Eft he axode, hu ðære ðeode nama wære þe hi of comon. Him wæs geandwyrd, þæt hi Angle genemnode wæron. Þa cwæð he, "Rihtlice hi sind Angle gehatene, for ðan ðe hi engla wlite habbað, and swilcum gedafenað þæt hi on heofonum engla geferan beon."

Some simple pronouns like "he" are recognizable, as are the Old English equivalents of verbs like "were". Here is the modern equivalent for the above passage:[3]

Again he [Pope Gregory] asked what might be the name of the people from which they came. It was answered to him that they were named Anglos [as in Anglo-Saxon]. Then he said, "Rightly are they called Anglos because they have the beauty of angels, and it is fitting that such as they should be angels' companions in heaven."

Middle English was an improvement due to the importation of Latin from Europe into England, at least among scholars. John Wycliffe used Middle English when he produced the first English translation of the Bible in the late 1300s, which was the first new translation of the Bible in nearly 1000 years (since the translation of the Bible into Latin in AD 400, known as the Vulgate).

John Wycliffe was nearly 200 years "ahead of his time," meaning he was that far ahead of the Reformation that came later. For that reason he is called the "Morning star of the Reformation."[4] A brilliant scholar, Wycliffe developed his own views of Christianity and attracted a following of itinerant preachers known as the "Lollards". Wycliffe simplified aspects of Christianity for peasants who otherwise had difficulties understanding it, such as developing a doctrine of the Lord's Supper in only twelve short sentences, and having his itinerant preachers teach that everywhere. The chancellor of the University of Oxford pronounced some of Wycliffe's theories as heretical. Wycliffe eventually criticized scholasticism, monasteries, and the papacy, and became increasingly disliked by the English royal hierarchy.

At the time the Catholic Church prohibited new translations of the Bible, in order to maintain control and combat heresies. But Wycliffe died peacefully in 1384, without having been excommunicated by the Church or executed by the King. He was blamed in England, however, for supposedly causing revolt by the peasants (such as the Peasants' Revolt of 1381). Later a Council of the Church declared some of Wycliffe's theories to have been heretical.

Here is the Parable of the Prodigal Son from Wycliffe's Middle English translation of the Bible in 1389 (compare it to your own at Luke 15:11-21):[5]

11 Forsothe he seith, Sum man hadde tweye sones;
12 And the 3ongere seide to the fadir, Fadir, 3yue to me the porcioun of substaunce, that byfallith to me. And the fadir departide to him the substaunce.
13 And not aftir manye dayes, alle thingis gederid to gidre, the 3ongere sone wente in pilgrymage in to a fer cuntree; and there he wastide his substaunce in lyuynge leccherously.
14 And aftir that he hadde endid alle thingis, a strong hungir was maad in that cuntree, and he bigan to haue nede.
15 And he wente, and cleuyde to oon of the citeseyns of that cuntree. And he sente him in to his toun, that he schulde feede hoggis.
16 And he coueitide to fille his wombe of the coddis whiche the hoggis eeten, and no man 3af to him.
17 Sothli he turned a3en in to him silf, seyde, Hou many hirid men in my fadir hous, han plente of looues; forsothe I perische here thur3 hungir.
18 I schal ryse, and I schal go to my fadir, and I schal seie to him, Fadir, I haue synned a3ens heuene, and bifore thee;
19 Now I am not worthi to be clepid thi sone, make me as oon of thi hyrid men.
20 And he rysinge cam to his fadir. Sothli whanne he was 3it fer, his fadir sy3 him, and he was stirid by mercy. And he rennynge to, felde on his necke, and kiste him.
21 And the sone seyde to him, Fadir, I haue synned a3ens heuene, and bifore thee ; and now I am not worthi to be clepid thi sone.

Shakespeare, the greatest playwright in world history, wrote in English around 1600. He used modern English, but the language has changed much in 400 years since then. His language was easily understood in his day, but some parts are difficult to understand today. The term "copyright" did not exist yet, and Shakespeare never published any of his plays in writing because he had no legal protection against someone copying his work; all his works were written and preserved after he died. Here is the beginning of Mark Antony's famous speech in Shakespeare's play named Julius Caesar:[6]

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest--
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men--
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

By the end of this speech Marc Antony had turned the crowd in favor of Caesar and against his murderer, Brutus.


The Renaissance was a cultural “rebirth” that began in Florence, Italy, but spread to all of Europe from about 1300 to 1600 (and including 1700 in northern Europe).

During this time period, Europeans experienced a renewed interest in classical Greek and Roman civilization and in learning science, mathematics, literature, the arts, and philosophy. The term “Renaissance man” has come to mean a man who is remarkably well-rounded and learned in every subject, as this is what was expected of men during the Renaissance.

The Renaissance sparked tremendous achievements in science by Copernicus, Kepler and, to a lesser extent, Galileo, all of whom we will discuss more in the next lecture. Exploration of the world also began during the Renaissance, including the voyages of Columbus (1492), Magellan and Da Gama, whom we will also address in the next class.

The northern city-states of Italy were a perfect location for the Renaissance to occur, as Italian culture was built off of classical Greek and Roman civilization. Recall that Italy and Germany did not form nation-states like France and England, and without a centralized government the Italian city-states were conducive to culture and intellectual renewal. The Italian cities had become important and wealthy locations by selling and trading during the Crusades, and Muslim and Byzantine cultural influences came to Italy because of the Crusades. The Italian city of Florence was home to wealthy families, such as the prominent Medici family, who were willing to finance artists. Friendly competition among the different city-states brought out the best in people and created an environment in which initiative and creativity flourished.

The Medici family was the most prominent family in Italy, and in all of Europe, in the 1400s. They acquired wealth through banking, and used their wealth both to become powerful politicians and to serve as patrons of phenomenal artists like Michelangelo, making him the first wealthy artist in history. Cosimo de Medici (1389-1464) became ruler of Florence, and Lorenzo de Medici (“Lorenzo the Magnificent”) (1449-92) and his brother later governed Florence too. Lorenzo’s second son became Pope Leo X, who was pope when the Reformation began.

Renaissance man Leon Battista Alberti declared, “Men can do all things if they will.” This "can-do" spirit was typical of the Renaissance. Alberti, himself a poet, scientist, painter, architect, and mathematician, was the one who first coined the idea of “rebirth” or “Renaissance”.

There were many fabulous artists, writers, sculptors and philosophers during the Renaissance. Let's begin reviewing their work.


Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Renaissance was the outstanding artwork it produced, especially in the Italian cities of Florence and Rome. Astonishing works of art in sculpture, painting and architecture emerged. The devout Christian atmosphere in Italy, combined with the competitive spirit of the Italian city-states, created a perfect environment for art to flourish.

One of the first early Renaissance artists to incorporate new ideas into his artwork was Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337), who included elements of realism into his paintings. Giotto, a typical Renaissance jack-of-all-trades, also designed the innovative campanile (bell tower) for the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral in Florence.

Flemish (Dutch) artists introduced oil paints, and the technique of perspective was introduced by artists like Tommaso Masaccio and Filippo Brunelleschi. Brunelleschi also designed the Duomo (dome) for the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral in Florence, a breakthrough in engineering and architecture that revealed Brunelleschi’s deep understanding of mathematics.

Donatello (1386-1466) was an influential painter and sculptor of the early Renaissance from Florence. He sculpted a bronze “David” and a famous statue of St. George. Work like this had not been done since ancient Greece and Rome. Titian (Tiziano Vicelli) (1477-1576) was a painter skilled with unprecedented use of color and loose brushwork, evident in his stunning masterpiece The Assumption of the Virgin. Raphael (1482-1520) also mastered colorful artwork and painted beautiful frescoes in churches and for private patrons, the most famous of which may be The School of Athens, a painting depicting Plato and Aristotle surrounded by their pupils. He also inspired the two greatest artists in the history of the world: Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

Michelangelo (1475-1564) is best known for his sculpture of a full-sized statue of David and for painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, an astounding fresco that includes over 300 Biblical figures (including the famous image of God creating Adam with an outstretched arm and hand that touches Adam's outstretched arm and hand). The Sistine Chapel took more than four years to complete, and an impatient Church official who wanted it completed sooner ended up being featured in the depiction of Hell! Michelangelo also sculpted amazing renditions of Moses and “the Pieta,” a sculpture of Jesus in Mary’s arms after the Crucifixion (see above right). The Pieta has an overpowering sense of love and tragedy to it unmatched by any other work of art in history. Following Brunelleschi’s model Duomo in Florence, Michelangelo also designed the dome for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) embodied the “Renaissance man.” He was an architect, anatomist, sculptor, scientist, mathematician, musician, and painter. He created masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa, the famous portrait of a plain-looking woman with an enigmatic smile, and The Last Supper, a fabulous wall painting of Christ and the Twelve Apostles which, unfortunately, has not been well-preserved. He kept notebooks full of anatomical drawings such as the Vitruvian Man. It is said that Leonardo could draw with one hand while at the same time painting with the other, and he wrote backwards in his notebooks, so they would have to be held up to a mirror to be read. He was way ahead of his time and created conceptual designs for many devices such as a flying machine and an armored tank. He was the first to come up with the ideas of the calculator and the use of solar power for energy.

Characteristics of the Renaissance paintings include use of realism, perspective, individual persons (portraits) and frescoes. Nature was not the subject of many Renaissance paintings; most of the paintings were of humans, and hence the name "humanism" is used to describe this period. But do not be confused by that term, because the Renaissance artists were devout Christians, unlike the "humanists" of today.

Annibale Carracci 1585.jpg

After the Reformation in Germany (discussed below), painters began to adopt the Baroque style as part of the Counter-Reformation by the Catholic Church to appeal spiritually to the audience, and to make inroads into Protestant regions. The primary Baroque artists were Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Peter Paul Rubens. This style used the “revolutionary technique of dramatic, selective illumination of figures out of deep shadow - a hallmark of Baroque painting. Contrary to the traditional idealized interpretation of religious subjects, Baroque realistically presents models from the streets.”[7] An artist who specialized in the Baroque style was Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), from the northern Italian city of Bologna. Carracci used the technique of shadows and emotion to display the surprise reaction of the holy women who visited the empty tomb of Jesus on Resurrection Sunday, as reproduced here (see right).


Dante (1265-1321) was an early Renaissance poet, born to a prominent family in Florence. (The Italian town of Florence was considered the cradle of the Renaissance by 1425, but Venice and Rome became just as successful by the early 1500s.) Rather than writing in Latin, the common language throughout Europe, Dante wrote in his local Italian language (a local language is known as "the vernacular"). Dante described the path of a soul to salvation in The Divine Comedy, in which Dante travels through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Paradise (Paradiso). In this journey, Dante is first guided by the Roman epic poet Virgil, and then he is later guided by a girl he loved as a youth, named Beatrice, who had tragically died in real life. The account of Hell is known as Dante’s Inferno, and it is frightful. Throughout Christian history Hell was emphasized far more than it is today.

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) wrote The Prince, which is an account of government by which the "end justifies the means" (such that a politician uses any means, even dishonesty, to gain power). Even today the term "Machiavellian" is used to criticize a politician who spends all his time and effort on getting ahead and manipulating other people for his own gain. A "Machiavellian" politician is a cunning person who will say or do anything if he thinks it brings him political benefit. For centuries the reputation of Machiavelli was that he had been inspired by the devil. Like other Renaissance artists and thinkers, Machiavelli lived in Florence.

Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374) was another poet of Florence, a devout Christian who saw no conflict between religious faith and fully developing man’s potential. He wrote in Latin rather than the Italian vernacular and, being a colorful person, he even wrote a few letters to Virgil and Cicero of Ancient Rome (who of course did not respond!). Petrarch also wrote romantic poems about a woman named “Laura” based on merely seeing her once in church.

The Philosophy of the Renaissance

The Renaissance was led by devout Christians who looked to Jesus for inspiration. None of the leading Renaissance artists or writers were atheists or anti-Christians. Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were as Christian as anyone. Their Christian faith was the wellspring for their creativity and intellectual achievements.

Some historians attempt to de-emphasize the Christian foundation of the Renaissance, and claim that it shifted away from spirituality in order to focus material, earthly things ("humanism"). Renaissance artists did focus more on human beings, such as the Mona Lisa, rather than on the afterlife. But the extraordinary artists and thinkers of the Renaissance were inspired by Christianity in performing their works, and the objects of their work were men and women created in the image of God. There was nothing anti-religious about the Renaissance. Perhaps 90% or more of its achievements were inspired by Christian beliefs and faith.

Centuries after the Renaissance, secularism did creep in. Secularism is defined as preoccupation with the material world at the expense of the heavenly one. This caused people to become increasingly materialistic. The teachings of the Bible lost importance to some. Some people rejected religion altogether, becoming “secular humanists.” But even later, the greatest scientific works were by devout Christians like Isaac Newton and Louis Pasteur.

Some suggest that materialism crept into the Church when the extravagant Medici Pope Leo X spent more money than several previous popes combined. The selling of indulgences to fund church building projects, explained further below, spawned the Protestant Reformation. But even materialism in building magnificent churches or funding artists like Michelangelo is not the same as the atheistic philosophy of humanism.

The Northern Renaissance

The heart of the Renaissance was in Italy, but there were also great artists and thinkers in northern Europe (primarily the Netherlands and Germany) who built on the achievements of those in Italy. Their achievements are known as the “Northern Renaissance.”

The leading thinker of the Northern Renaissance was Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) in the Netherlands. He wanted more spirituality in the Catholic Church and urged more of an emphasis on the teachings of Jesus. He published a Greek edition of the New Testament, and was the first scholar to become famous through use of the printing press, developed in Germany in 1447 during the Northern Renaissance. Erasmus also wrote satires about the Church that led others to criticize it too, but Erasmus condemned Luther and strenuously opposed the Reformation.

Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) was the leading artist in Germany, copying the style of the High Renaissance that combined grace and extreme elegance, a style known as “Mannerism”. Durer created famous woodcuts and copper engravings.

The greatest painter in all of Northern Europe was the Dutch (Netherlands) artist Rembrandt (1606-1669), who drew many marvelous portraits known for their depiction of light and shadow. The increased number of portraits by Rembrandt and others demonstrated the new emphasis on individualism in the Renaissance. Other superb painters included Jan Van Eyck (1400s) and Pieter Bruegel (mid-1500s), both of Flanders (a region from parts of the Netherlands, Belgium and France today).

In England, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) became the greatest playwright in the history of the world, and Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was a leading English statesman, writer and philosopher, who rose to become Lord Chancellor (1618) until he was impeached in 1621 for accepting bribes.

Francois Rabelais (early 1500s) was a leading French thinker and writer.


Schisms in Christianity had previously occurred in the Middle Ages, most notably between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. But throughout the Middle Ages, from A.D. 500 to 1500, the Holy Roman Empire maintained one Christian church in western and northern Europe, based in Rome, under the leadership and authority of a pope.

As the independent power of England and the German territory grew, it seems doubtful that the King of England and powerful German princes would accept the authority of any religious leader in Rome forever. Kings and princes do not usually like being told what to do, and a big disagreement is usually resolved in favor of the person having the biggest army. Even what appears to be a little disagreement, such as a dispute over the use of icons, can spark a separation that was already festering for decades or centuries. Peoples who speak different languages and have different cultures are difficult to hold together in one organization.

The "Great Schism" was between East and West. Now we consider disagreements within Christianity in the West, which became known as the "Reformation".

The Reformation in Germany

The disagreement that ignited the Reformation did not seem large at the time. Pope Leo X was an ambitious and extravagant man from the prominent Italian Medici family, and he became pope of the Catholic Church at the vigorous young age of 37 (today most popes are elderly). Pope Leo wanted to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican in a lavish style that he thought was appropriate for such a special church. To do so, he needed to raise a great deal of money. He invited donations in the names of the deceased, usually a relative of the donor.

Under Catholic doctrine the souls of the deceased enter “purgatory” for a process of purification before reaching Heaven. Prayers are typically offered for the benefit of the souls of the deceased, quite often relatives. “Indulgences” are the lessening of the punishment (purification) of someone after they die. A person typically seeks an indulgence for a dear relative or friend who has passed away.

In fundraising to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica, church officials offered indulgences in exchange for donations. No one in Rome seemed to mind, but Martin Luther in Germany objected. He nailed 95 objections or “Theses” to a church door in the German part of Europe in 1517, inviting debate on how the pope was offering indulgences. Here are two of Luther’s "theses" or objections:

Thesis 82: “Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial.”
Thesis 86: “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?”

Pope Leo X was a "patron" of Renaissance artists, such as Raphael, by personally providing financial support. Pope Leo X probably never recognized the significance of Martin Luther and his followers.

There was a political element to Germany breaking away from Rome. German nobles did not like the flow of money to Rome, and they backed Martin Luther in order to cut off the donations by Germans to support Rome.

In 1520, Pope Leo X announced the papal bull (formal proclamation) Exsurge Domine, which required Luther to withdraw 41 of his 95 Theses or be excommunicated. Luther refused and was then excommunicated (kicked out) by the Catholic Church.

It was then up to German authorities to take any legal action against Luther. The 21-year-old Holy Roman Emperor Charles V ordered Luther to stand trial before an assembly (a “Diet”) of estates of the Holy Roman Empire that met in Worms, a small town in what is now Germany. This famous assembly is therefore known as the “Diet of Worms.” The verdict (the “Edict of Worms”) was “guilty”. Luther was declared an outlaw who should be arrested.

But Luther had already left the trial before the verdict was rendered. He hid at Wartburg Castle at Eisenach, where Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, protected him. Luther took the pseudonym Junker Jorg (Nobleman George), grew a wide beard and dressed like a knight. While in hiding he translated the New Testament from Greek into German in 1522. (By 1534, Luther had translated all of the Old Testament from Hebrew to German also.)

Luther translated Romans 3:28 by adding an extra German word for “alone” (alleine or alleyn) after the phrase: “justified by faith”: “So halten wir nun dafür, daß der Mensch gerecht werde ohne des Gesetzes Werke, alleyn durch den Glauben.” Luther believed that man is justified (saved) by faith alone, and that salvation comes only from faith. The Catholic Church (and Eastern Orthodox Church) taught that man is justified (saved) by faith and good works.

A remarkable invention awaited Luther’s German translation of the Bible. Previously, in 1447, the German Johannes Gutenberg had already invented the printing press (with movable type). This enabled Luther’s translation to be printed for the public in September 1522. The Christian world would never be the same again. (The original Gutenberg Bible was in Latin, not German, and had already been printed in 1455; it is the oldest existing (extant) book in the West.)

The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V tried to stop this new Christian religion of Lutheranism. In 1544, Charles V even sent armies against the German princes. But the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 gave each German ruler the right to choose the religion for his own State. The princes in southern Germany selected Roman Catholicism, but the princes in northern Germany chose Lutheranism. After World War II, when Germany split into West and East Germany, the West German part contained the predominantly Roman Catholic regions and the East German part consisted of the mostly Lutheran regions.

Martin Luther continued to write, and taught at a German university for his financial support. He wrote extremely harsh things about the pope and about Jewish people, even urging the destruction of their homes and the burning of synagogues and schools. Historians debate today whether Luther’s anti-Semitic (anti-Jewish) writings were responsible, directly or indirectly, for the Holocaust by the Germans in World War II. Luther harshly criticized many peoples in addition to Jews; a pamphlet of his in 1545 was entitled “Against the Roman Papacy an Institution of the Devil,” and he urged burning witches to death. Some of Luther’s writings seem quite vulgar by today’s standards. Luther was in poor health for several years before he died, in 1546.

Today Lutheranism has about 70 million adherents, which is only about 7% as much as the Catholic population. But nearly all Christians, including Catholics, have sung a famous hymn written by Luther: “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Moreover, hundreds of millions of Christians worldwide agree with Luther that justification or salvation is by faith alone.

The Schism in England

As discussed at the outset of this lecture, there were criticisms of the Roman Catholic Church in England as early as 1361. John Wycliffe (or Wyclif) (1330-1384) was a lecturer at Oxford University, a leading world university founded in the late 1100s. Wycliffe was very critical of the perceived wealth and power of the Catholic Church and questioned the scriptural basis for the pope. Wycliffe declared the Bible as the sole guide for Christians, and Wycliffe translated the Bible into English. But Wycliffe was forced out of Oxford when he rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation and when the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 was blamed on Wycliffe’s teachings.

The King of England split from the Roman Catholic Church in 1529 for reasons completely independent of Martin Luther and the German schism. In fact, the King of England defended the pope against Martin Luther’s complaints. But a different issue arose in England that had nothing to do with theology. The King of England did not think that a pope in Rome should have the power to tell him whom he could or could not marry. This schism was purely over power.

King Henry VIII sought a (male) heir, but did not have any sons from his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon. King Henry VIII demanded a divorce from her so that he could take a younger wife (Anne Boleyn), who might give birth to a baby boy. King Henry VIII sought approval by the pope to divorce Queen Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope refused. The king next did what he wanted and founded the Church of England (the Anglican Church) in 1529. The pope excommunicated the king around 1535. The king then beheaded any member of the Catholic clergy (including Thomas More) who refused to bow down to this new Church of England, and the king seized lands belonging to the Catholic Church for the benefit of the new Church of England. Religious conflict in England ensued for several hundred years.

Subsequently, King Henry VIII tired of his new wife Anne Boleyn, and arranged for a divorce from her in order to marry Jane Seymour. He forced Anne Boleyn to be beheaded, along with others falsely accused of wrongdoing. Jane Seymour did give birth to a son (Edward) who became Henry VIII’s heir to the thrown. But Henry VIII divorced and married, and divorced and married, and divorced and married, over and over. He had a total of six wives in his life. The fate of each of the six wives of King Henry VIII can be remembered by this catchy mnemonic: “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.”

There were subsequently “protestant” separations from the Church of England. For example, the Pilgrims who left England on the Mayflower and landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, sought to break away from the Church of England. The larger and more successful Puritans who settled in Boston sought to “purify” the Church of England while remaining in it.

Today the Anglican Church and its affiliate branches worldwide (called the Episcopalians in the United States) have about 80 million members - roughly the same size as the Lutheran Church.

Other Protestant Reformation Movements

Before Luther

Martin Luther was not the first to protest against the Catholic Church, and to break away from it. Wycliffe in England, discussed earlier in this lecture, was nearly 200 years before Luther. Then, 100 years before Luther, John Huss (or Jan Hus) (1372-1415) was a preacher in Prague who picked up on Wycliffe’s views and spread them in northern and eastern Europe. Born in southern Bohemia, Huss harshly criticized immorality in the clergy and preached a doctrine concerning the Eucharist that was considered to be heretical. He was excommunicated by the Catholic Church in 1411. A Council of Constance was convened under an “antipope” (not the official pope), and this Council tried Huss in 1414 and burned him at the stake, making him a martyr. His followers, known as Hussites, successfully fought battles against the Holy Roman Empire.

There was even internal strife within the Catholic Church in Italy in the late 1400s, before the Reformation. A Dominican friar in Florence named Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498) challenged the authority of the pope with fiery sermons and, after his excommunication, would provide Mass without authority to do so. His outspokenness against immorality in the Catholic Church and in the powerful Medici family won Savonarola many supporters at first, but eventually the people of Florence turned against him, stormed his monastery, took him prisoner, and then tried, convicted and hanged him.

There was a Reformation in Switzerland started by Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) and continued by John Calvin (1509-1564), who emphasized justification by faith alone and also predestination. Predestination is a doctrine stating that the decision about who goes to Heaven and who to Hell was made before the creation of the world, and this differentiates Calvinism from other Christian denominations. It is not obvious how predestination can be reconciled with free will, and most Christians reject predestination, but Calvinists say that both free will and predestination exist. Calvin established a theocracy in Geneva, Switzerland.

After Luther

After the above movements, and after Martin Luther's larger movement in Germany, the floodgates opened to the founding of new Protestant denominations throughout northern Europe. French Protestants or French Calvinists were called Huguenots, and many settled later in New Jersey where they assisted Americans during the Revolution. In 1572, French Catholics massacred many Huguenots, leaving much bitterness. The Edict of Nantes granted the French Huguenots religious freedom.

Another denomination called “Anabaptists” developed based on adult baptism and a strict separation of church and state. The Quakers, Baptists, Amish and Mennonites, including many in this country, are from the Anabaptists. The Quakers are essentially “protestant” of any Christian denomination that has a paid clergy, because the Quakers reject the concept of a paid clergy. In a sense, Quakers are "Protestant Protestants," protesting against even organized Protestant denominations. Another denomination, the Presbyterian Church, arose in Scotland, founded by John Knox.

Today, there are over 33,000 Protestant denominations in 238 countries, increasing at a rate of about 270 to 300 new denominations each year.[8] Protestants total 590 million today, about 27% of the worldwide Christian population, though it is not always clear whether a Christian denomination should be labeled as “Protestant”. Is the Anglican Church, which has more than 10% of the total, properly called “Protestant”? Many Anglicans would answer, “no”. Are Mormons “Protestant”?

A majority of the United States has always been Protestant, as has nearly every president except John F. Kennedy (who was Catholic). Nearly every Founder of the United States was Protestant.

The Counter-Reformation

In 1545, the Catholic Church convened the Council of Trent to address Protestantism, and the Council deliberated until 1563 -- nearly 20 years. The Council banned the sale of any indulgences. The Council affirmed the Church’s view that the Bible and Church were of equal authority, and that the Church’s interpretation of the Bible was the final authority. Both faith and good works were necessary for salvation under Church doctrine. The Council also created an Index of Forbidden Books, which listed books that Catholics were not to read. This Index remained in effect until 1966, when the Second Vatican Council abolished it. In sum, the Catholic Church reaffirmed its basic doctrines in its response to the Reformation.

Meanwhile, Ignatius of Loyola had founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1534. This group ambitiously embarked on the Counter-Reformation to invigorate the Catholic Church against the threat of the Reformation. The Jesuits founded numerous schools and colleges throughout Europe (and later in the United States), established many missions to faraway lands, and worked against the spread of Protestantism. The Jesuits accepted only the smartest and hardest working priests into their order, and to this day it is considered a special honor in the Catholic Church to become a Jesuit. The Jesuit schools brought many families to the Catholic Church for hundreds of years, though in recent times many of these schools (like Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.) have been criticized for losing their commitment to basic Christian principles like pro-life. President Bill Clinton, a pro-abortion politician, was inspired, guided and promoted by a liberal Georgetown professor while Clinton attended college there.

Recall that Christianity had reconverted Spain after a period of Muslim rule, and in 1478 Pope Sixtus IV authorized a council in Spain under the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand II and Isabella I to fight heresy. Contrary to popular belief today, the initial focus was to combat heresy. Defendants were given an opportunity to recant their disfavored interpretations of Christian doctrine before being burned at the stake. Torquemada was the first Grand Inquisitor. Critics today make a big deal about how torture was used by the Grand Inquisitor, but torture was used by virtually all civil authorities in that time, usually as a threat to discourage lying by witnesses (perjury). Torture could be applied only once and could not endanger life or limb. Pope Sixtus IV did complain that torture was being used too often, but the Spanish King and Queen who were trying to extricate Islam ignored the complaints by the pope.

The Muslim empire continued to threaten Spain and repeatedly attempted to reconquer it from Muslim strongholds in northern Africa. It was not until 1492 that the armies of Ferdinand and Isabella were able to defeat the last Muslim fighters in Spain. But they feared the continuing threat and told the Muslim Moors to convert to Christianity or leave. There was a small but influential Jewish community that thrived within the Muslim society at the time, and the order to convert or leave applied to them also.

After the Reformation, this "Spanish Inquisition" was used with less violence to combat Protestantism. It was disbanded in the 1800s. Today Spain is virtually 100% Catholic, but in name only, as Spain has become very liberal on social issues. Its economy is socialistic, a mere shell of the mighty empire that it was in the 1500s.

Effects of the Reformation

The immediate effect of the Reformation was to strengthen the nation-state. England and Germany acquired their own churches, and that meant Rome was no longer the center of power. Catholics and Protestants began competing against each other, seeking to increase their numbers. Both started building better schools, and overall began trying harder.

The Reformation resulted in the translation of the Bible into local languages, which increased the use of "vernacular" (local languages) and decreased reliance on Latin.

The bad news is that for more than a hundred years, and even longer in England, religious wars raged between Catholics and Protestants. Tragically, Christians killed other Christians over religious differences. To this day the division between Catholics and Protestants weakens Christianity in several respects and makes it easier for enemies of Christianity to prevail. Often anti-Christians will try to drive a wedge between Christians and cause disagreements that would not otherwise arise, in order to gain advantage against all Christians.

Asia in the Middle Ages

The massive continent of Asia is divided into “South Asia” (India), “East Asia” (China, Japan and Korea), “Southeast Asia” (Vietnam and Cambodia), and “Southwest Asia” (the Middle East). In this section we learn about East and Southeast Asia, discussing in particular what happened in China in the Middle Ages (other than the Mongols, whom we discussed in our prior lecture).

Recall that in the ancient world China first had the Zhou dynasty (1027-221 B.C.) north of the Yangtze River. Next China had its first imperial or national Chinese dynasty: the Qin or Ch’in dynasty (221-206 B.C.), which was founded by the ruler of the Zhou vassal state Qin, Prince Zheng. The Qin dynasty began to construct the Great Wall to defend against foreign invaders, which stretches today for 1,400 miles. It has been said that the Great Wall is the only man-made structure visible from outer space, but actually several other structures (ancient Egyptian pyramids and the Hoover Dam) are even more visible.[9]

The Han empire or dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220, with only a brief interruption from A.D. 6-23) built on the foundation of the Qin dynasty, extending the walls and roads. The Han dynasty expanded the territory of China into Southeastern Asia regions of Vietnam and Korea, and administered the country from a centralized and organized civil service. This Han dynasty was comparable to the Roman empire, and lasted the longest of any dynasty in China. Its state philosophy was Confucianism. But the Han dynasty fell just as the Roman empire did.

Afterward, China was ruled by regional governments known as the Three Kingdoms (A.D. 220-280). In A.D. 589, the Sui dynasty arose to reestablish centralized government. Subsequently the longer Tang and Song Dynasties ruled China.

Sui Dynasty

The Sui dynasty established centralized rule in China in A.D. 589 for the first time since the Han dynasty in A.D. 220. In other words, China went without a centralized government for over 300 years, from 220 to the establishment of the Sui Dynasty in 589.

The Sui dynasty ruled for only a very brief period of 29 years, until A.D. 618. But in that brief period of time it accomplished something magnificent: it built the Grand Canal to connect northern and southern China. This tremendous engineering achievement established a canal nearly 1240 miles long, with a road running alongside it on each side. It enabled the transportation of agricultural products such as rice from the fertile Yangtze River valley to northern China.

Other construction also occurred, such as repairing walls that defend China. (The current “Great Wall of China” was based on walls built as early as 210 B.C., but its present form was not completed until the Ming dynasty (A.D. 1368-1544)).

The Sui dynasty ended in a revolution against high taxes in northern China and the assassination in 618 of the emperor Sui Yangdi.

Tang Dynasty

Subsequent to the Sui dynasty, the Tang dynasty ruled for nearly 300 years, from A.D. 618 to 907. This is known as the golden age of art and poetry in China. New territories were acquired, including Manchuria, Tibet, Korea and northern Vietnam.

This dynasty became known as the “Middle Kingdom,” whereby it drew wealth from surrounding states through a ritualistic “kowtow”, such that diplomats from surrounding states were expected to pay homage to the emperor by touching their forehead repeatedly to the ground beneath the emperor. (The phrase is used in English today to describe a politician who does what someone else wants.)

The Tang dynasty accumulated vast wealth for China during this period. Many roads were built, along with inns, post offices and stables for the horses of travelers. The roads were used for trade and communication in a manner similar to the Persian Royal Road and the roads of the Roman empire.

The most powerful ruler during the Tang dynasty was Tang Taizong (A.D. 627-649). He gained power by killing his opponents, but then ruled in a benevolent or fair manner, keeping taxes low.

Government offices were filled with the Confucian civil service system that valued education. The three requirements were to learn the writings of Confucius, study the Chinese classics, and pass the civil service exam. Land was distributed based on fertility of the soil and the needs of the farmers, but eventually powerful families and Buddhist monasteries gained control of much of the land.

Ultimately the peasants rebelled over the misuse of funds by the government. In A.D. 907 the last Tang emperor gave up. Regional rule by warlords then prevailed over China.

Song Dynasty

About 50 years after the fall of the Tang dynasty, the Song dynasty united China again under centralized rule. This dynasty governed for about 300 years, from A.D. 960 to 1279. It emphasized education even more than the Tang dynasty did. Art and literature thrived. Paper money was invented during the Song dynasty.

The Song dynasty ultimately collapsed from too much bureaucracy and its weak military. It was unable to fight off invading tribes like the Khitan and the Jurchen, which invaded north China and forced the Song dynasty southward.

The Mongols (whom we studied in the last lecture) then took over southern China in 1279, causing the complete end or demise of the Song dynasty.

Culture, Trade and Religion under the Tang and Song Dynasties

Buddhism spread in China initially in the form of Mahayana Buddhism, which treated Buddha like a god. The Chinese version of Buddhism was different from the Indian form and was called “Chan Buddhism”; the Japanese version was named “Zen Buddhism.” Chan and Zen Buddhism focused more on enlightenment and meditation than Indian Buddhism. The Chinese dynasties then introduced Buddhism to Vietnam. Meanwhile, Confucianism changed to “neo-Confucianism” to adapt to these Buddhist changes.

The culture of China during this period included a practice of the wealthy Chinese in “foot-binding” young girls’ feet with strips of cloth in order to make it more difficult for them to walk and work when they became adults. Historians criticize this as a way that men made women dependent on them, but this cultural practice was also considered to make women more attractive and to be a sign that they were wealthy enough not to work.

Population grew during the Tang and Song Dynasties, and there was one tremendous invention (by accident) that would change the world: gunpowder. Other inventions included good porcelain (“chinaware”), moveable type for printing (which distributed Buddhist texts) and the magnetic compass for facilitating travel to Africa and the Persian Gulf. Iron production aided farmers and soldiers.

The civil servants (government workers) were the upper class, while merchants and shopkeepers formed the middle class. Trade by the Malay sailors brought goods from faraway. Tea and a fast-growing rice came from Vietnam, and the Chinese learned to plant and harvest two crops each year rather than just one on the same soil. The Chinese enjoyed a surplus of food, and exported for payment the excess of food that it did not consume.

The adjacent countries of Japan, Korea and Vietnam all adopted modifications of the Chinese writing system, religion and type of government. Each of these regions, as well as present-day Cambodia, had empires of its own.


Vietnam, which has a large population of 84 million today, won its independence in A.D. 939, soon after the fall of the Tang dynasty.

The Lu dynasty of Vietnam ruled from 1009 to 1225 and established a capital at Hanoi, which remains the capital to this day.

The Vietnamese have always been fierce fighters. They defeated three attempts by the mighty Mongols to conquer Hanoi in the late 1200s, defeated France in the 1950s, and defeated the United States in the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Historians describe the treatment of women in Vietnam as having been better than in China.


The Silla dynasty in Korea formed an alliance with the Chinese Tang dynasty and then unified the three kingdoms of the Korean peninsula for the first time in A.D. 668. The Silla dynasty expelled the Tang a decade later, establishing self-rule for the Koreans that continues today. Korea was thus one of the first nation-states to emerge in the entire world, and it assumed many of the linguistic and cultural features that it has to this day.

While Korea adopted the Chinese bureaucratic model, the old aristocracy remained in control in Korea. Its art consisted of lotus blossoms, flowing lines, complex floral patterns and soft edges. Under the Silla dynasty, poetry also became popular, and artists developed a famous green celadon pottery.

In 935 a Koryo dynasty emerged after it overthrew the Silla dynasty. “Korea” today takes its name from the “Koryo dynasty.” Scholars and soldiers took control of Korea in 1392, after the Mongols invaded Korea from 1231 to 1350, and the scholars established the Choson or Yi dynasty.

South Korea today is one of the most Christian nations in the world. Christian missionaries credit the Holy Spirit for their success at conversions, and historians note that the timing was good in Korea in the 20th century for welcoming Christianity because the region was then receptive to new ideas.

Khmer Empire

This empire peaked in A.D. 1200 in modern Cambodia, thriving on rice production and trade with China and India. The Khmer empire built the Angkor Wat, a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu with mixed Southeast Asian and Indian art.

The Siamese, which is the name for the residents of the modern Thailand (called “Siam” until 1939), destroyed the Khmer empire with conquests up until the 14th century. But “Khmer Republic” came back as the official name for Cambodia in 1970-75.

The “Khmer Rouge” was a Cambodian communist movement that savagely killed about 2 million Cambodians in the 1970s and destroyed much of the nation after the United States left nearby Vietnam. Later, Vietnamese communists invaded and overthrew the Cambodian communists.


  2. An attempt to translate some Modern English words into Old English exists at .
  3. 3.0 3.1
  8. See the World Christian Encyclopedia (2001) by David B. Barrett, et al.