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Indeed the Germans, the French, and the rest looked back to an antiquity in which their ancestors had been subjugated by the legions. Nothing is more remarkable therefore than the rapid and irrevocable penetration of Italian ideas and practices among the "barbarians," as the Italian writers referred to them, some of whom were currently invading the peninsula." (Wiener, 124) it's also important to note that influence of antique classicism typical for Italian architecture of the 14-16th centuries is not observed in the north. Classical style of Italian cathedrals and churches, typical for Ancient Greek and Roman pagan temples is usually not observed in buildings of Renaissance epoch in Germany, Britain or France, where architecture was influenced by Gothic style, which got earlier spread in Europe.
Reformation and Counter Reformation
The spread of Protestantism over Europe, which is considered to be one of the most historically significant achievements of Renaissance and Humanism Age, had regional particularities. Ideas of humanism as explained by Kohl: "an educational and philosophical outlook that emphasizes the personal worth of the individual and the central importance of human values as opposed to religious belief, developed in Europe during the Renaissance, influenced by the study of ancient Greek and Latin literature and philosophy. Humanism thus began as an educational program called the humanities, which inculcated those ancient secular values which were consistent with Christian teachings. The Renaissance humanists were often devout Christians, but they promoted secular values and a love of pagan antiquity..."(22-23) in interpretations of philosophers and theologists (M. Luther, J. Hus, Reuchlin and Melanchton) had opposite views on organization of religion to those proposed by Catholic Church (taxation, organization of church as of religious institution, etc.). In addition, protests of the most progressive scholars were supplement by universal discontent of peasants and bourgeoisie in German states, where Catholic Church had in possessions the most profitable feudal economies. From this point the need of church reformation can be viewed more as economic need rather then theological. Scholars such as Martin Luther used ideas of humanism in theological interpretation in order to prove nobility councils bankruptcy of Catholic Church institution from the position of true faith. Reformation in Germany succeeded after years of peasant revolts and agreements of local dukes. Reformations in other countries: Britain, Denmark and Sweden were conducted by local monarchs, who confiscated church lands and distributed them among nobility in order to strengthen relations with elites.
Unlike in Northern Europe, reformation failed in Spain, Italy, France and countries of Central Europe, as these countries had smaller level of urbanization, and were less involved in trade of manufactured production. In these countries local elites didn't have serious confrontations with Catholic Church; local bourgeoisie was weak and so could not force monarchs to confiscate church's property. As a result these countries turned into centre of Counter Reformation. Catholic Church used order of Jesuits as its main weapon against ideological enemies in later years. Such practices allowed to preserve strong catholic traditions in Southern Europe and promoted spread of Catholicism to Central and South America.
Making a conclusion it's important to note that key role of Northern Italy in spread of humanist ideas of Renaissance all over Europe was caused by a number of objective historical reasons: proximity to Middle East, less influence of feudalist orders and patronage of rulers over fine arts. While Western and Northern Europe were overcoming devastating impacts of epidemics, feudal wars and centuries of stagnation caused by feudal economy model, Northern Italy was experiencing economical and cultural prosperity. Rediscovery of antique culture and ethics of Ancient Rome and Greece was quickly accepted by Italian nobility and rich merchant class (bourgeoisie) as it was close to the spirit of Northern Italy state cities, known for more liberal and democratic laws. Economical prosperity and interaction with Arab culture weakened positions of Catholic Church as inquisition practices didn't find support among Italian rulers, as they were economically and politically inexpedient.
Development of trade in the years of relative peace of the 15th century deepened interaction between different European countries which also promoted the spread of Humanistic trends of Renaissance mainly in fine arts and literature. We can observe that painting style of Western European artists of late 15-17th centuries was pretty much influenced by works of early Italian Renaissance School: mainly Michelangelo Buanarotti and Leonardo Da Vinci. Yet, in literature and architecture of Northern and Western Europe there is little of Italian classic influence, due to particularities of local mentalities and stereotypes set by history.
The most significant impact of humanism ideas on catholic Europe was Reformation, directed on establishment of local "protestant" churches separated from Rome. Reformation had objective explanations in theology of humanists and assumed other personal liberties and freedoms typical for "civil society." As a result of reformation Europe was divided on more conservative "Catholic" and more liberal "Protestant" Europe. But differences in people's mentality, foreign politics and local culture set by reformation of 16th century remain to be quite visible even today.
Spread of Humanist ideas all over Europe during renaissance epoch defined inevitable fall of absolutism all over Europe, as according to humanist ideas the highest value is personal freedom. In the most industrialized societies of Northern Europe: Netherlands and Great Britain absolutism fall in 16-17th centuries pawing way to establishment of civil society prototype. it's remarkable that humanist ideas played a key role in these two revolutions as human centered ideology of humanists rejected holly origins of monarch power and instead stated that personal freedom is of the highest value.
Hileman, Tony Living on the Creative Edge of Our Culture available at www.americanhumanist.org/about/messageED1.php
Wiener, Philip P. The Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas available at http://etext.virginia.edu/DicHist/dict.html
Kohl, Benjamin G., and Witt, Ronald G., eds., the Earthly Republic: Italian Humanists on Government and Society (1978)[continue]
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