7a – The Age Of Discovery: 1500-1800 AD

Notes Outline


    1. World “Discovery” (c.1500-1600)
      1. In context to the Renaissance that was spreading throughout Europe, explorers set out from Europe.  Driven by a desire for wealth and Christian expansion, they went in search of a cheaper and more direct route to India and the Far East (also bypassing the Muslims in North Africa and the Middle East).  
      2. Spain and Portugal were the dominant naval powers of Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries, and their rivalry led to an intervention of the Pope at the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, giving the West (cf. Americas) to Spain and the East (cf. Africa) to Portugal.  Though Portugal preceded Spain in naval exploration, they only set up trading posts to continue their trade with the Far East (cf. Prince Henry the Navigator, Bartholomeu Dias, Vasco de Gama), while Spain set out to conquer and colonize their new lands (cf. Columbus, Balboa, Magellan, Cortes, Pizarro, etc.).
      3. As gold, silver, spices and slaves began to pour into Spain and Portugal (and consequently their European investors), the rest of Europe—especially the Dutch, French and English—ignored the Papal division of the world and raced to set up their own trading networks with the East and the New World (cf. Cabot, Verrazzano, Cartier, Drake, etc.).  The trans-oceanic networks established and dominated by European powers ushered in the Age of Colonialism (c.1600-1900), in which Europe came control or loosely manage most of the planet.
    2. The “Magisterial Reformation” (c.1500-1650)
      1. As the spirit of the Renaissance also spread through the Roman Church, contentions over corruptions of doctrine (Mariology, purgatory, sacraments, etc.) and practice (simony, indulgences, celibacy, etc.) escalated.  Those who fought for the reformation of the Church generally fell into three categories: Catholic, Protestant and Radical.
      2. The Reformation can be seen as a grassroots, cultural movement within the Church as a whole that found higher expression between those rulers aligned with the Pope and those aligned with the “Magisterial Reformers,” i.e. those with the backing of the local magistrates (e.g. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc.).
      3. European leadership quickly divided along theological and doctrinal lines, often resulting in military conflict which gave rise to the “European Wars of Religion,” e.g. the Peasants’ War (1524-25), Battle of Kappel (1531), Münster Rebellion (1534-35), Denmark’s Conversion (1533-36), English Dissolution of the Monasteries (1535-40), Schmalkaldic Wars (1546-52), Prayer Book Rebellion (1549), French Wars of Religion (1562-98), Scottish Reformation (1559-67), Dutch Revolt (1568-1585), Cologne War (1583-88), Donauwörth Riots (1606), and the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48).
      4. Because so much, economically and politically, depended on allegiance to particular Protestant versus Catholic doctrines, great time and energy was applied to create thorough systematic theologies, which resulted in tightly reasoned doctrinal statements such as the Canons of Dort (1619), Westminister Confession (1642), and Helvetic Confession (1675).
      5. Thirty Years’ War (1618-48)
        1. The tension and conflicts between Protestant and Catholic princes continued to escalate after the Peace of Augsburg, especially with the spread of Calvinism.  Though the war began within the Holy Roman Empire, it grew to include most of the European powers and is thus considered the first modern mass war.
        2. By the end of the war, European populations were decimated (e.g. 1/3 of Germany and 4/5 of Bohemia died), entire regions were annihilated because of foraging armies, which resulted in widespread famine and disease, and the economy of Europe was utterly bankrupted.
        3. The war was brought to an end by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.  Because of the level of devastation caused, the Thirty Years’ War is universally attributed as the primary cause of the Enlightenment and the development of modern secular state.
        4. Early colonization of the “New World” was also primarily in context to the Thirty Years’ War and the struggle for religious freedom.  The Puritans (cf. Plymouth Pilgrims, Mass. Bay Colony, etc.) and other groups rejected the corruption of European leadership and the vestiges of liturgical popery and sought to establish a “holy commonwealth” and “a city set on a hill.”
    3. The “Enlightenment” (c.1650-1800)
      1. In the aftermath of the Thirty Years’ War, widespread disillusionment and cynicism gripped Europe ushering in the “Age of Enlightenment,” in which reason was advocated as the primary source and legitimacy for authority (vs. divine right).  Like the Renaissance from which it developed, Enlightenment thinkers were convinced they were ushering humanity into a new age of light, free from the cruel bondage of religious authorities and their puppet kings.  Central to this “light” was the discovery of “natural laws” by Isaac Newton (1642-1727).
      2. As a movement, the Enlightenment was born in and around France.  Rene Descartes (1596-1650) argued for the exclusive certainty of human reason (cf. cogito, ergo sum, i.e. “I think, therefore I am”); Baruch Spinoza (1632-87) wrote extensively on the pantheism of Nature; and Pierre Bayle (1674-1706) decried the intolerance of the puppeteer Roman Church.  Ultimately, France produced the “prophet of progress,” Francois Marie Arouet, i.e. “Voltaire” (1694-1778), who more than any other brought the antiauthoritarian thinking of the Enlightenment to the masses through biting sarcasm.
        1. As the French Enlightenment spread, its greatest region of impact was England where John Locke (1632-1704) and his view of the human person as a blank slate (i.e. tabula rasa) had established the inherent liberty of the human person, which undergirded the Revolutionary Era (c.1750-1850).  
        2. This environment gave rise to such prominent English figures as David Hume (1711-66), who echoed the harsh skepticism of Voltaire, Edward Gibbon (1737-94), whose Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire markedly criticized early Christianity, and Thomas Paine (1737-1809), who defined much of the Enlightenment Deism that drove the rebellion of the American colonies to the British crown.