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Changing Paradigms Quickly: Reforms in Worldview during the Reformation Period

Changing Paradigms Quickly: Reforms in Worldview during the Reformation Period

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Published by HeatherDelancett
In many cases, it seems that the Reformation period was the crux in history between the ancientand medieval world and our current relative post-modernity. Undeniably, it is the point wherethe world got a lot bigger in a myriad of ways. It is my intention to broaden the horizon of our understanding of the Reformation Period by showing some of the other areas in whichreformations were also taking place, specifically in geography, social criticism in art, and astronomy.
In many cases, it seems that the Reformation period was the crux in history between the ancientand medieval world and our current relative post-modernity. Undeniably, it is the point wherethe world got a lot bigger in a myriad of ways. It is my intention to broaden the horizon of our understanding of the Reformation Period by showing some of the other areas in whichreformations were also taking place, specifically in geography, social criticism in art, and astronomy.

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Published by: HeatherDelancett on May 14, 2012
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DeLancett, Heather
2003
1
 
Changing Paradigms Quickly:The Reform of Worldview in the Reformation Period
The Reformation period was a cataclysmic stage of history filled with stress, violence and great
anxiety. The most exemplified parts of this period fit into the realm of the “Reformation Periodof Christian History,” and even these pieces which focus
on the changing religious attitudes andreligious protest movements of the time are most accurately described in the plural, asreformations. The traumatic change in religious attitudes, in hindsight, may be viewed as amajor cultural reaction or backlash as society sought to adjust from the medieval ideals of tradition and authority to a new set of Humanistic ideals introduced by the Renaissance. Thisadjustment, of reformation of worldview, while being the most visible in the religious arena, wasalso culminating in other areas of contemplative inquiry. These challenges to the medievalparadigm and the traditional way of explaining things, as well as questions regarding the idealsof human purpose, were abundant in the time leading up to the Reformation period, and flowedin constant onslaught throughout.In many cases, it seems that the Reformation period was the crux in history between the ancientand medieval world and our current relative post-modernity. Undeniably, it is the point wherethe world got a lot bigger in a myriad of ways. As the medieval focus on the heavenly hereaftershifted to matters more terrestrial, people started looking around them with a new confidenceinspired by the ideal that life on earth mattered also. In particular, three areas of growth inhuman knowledge well personify the magnitude of the changes in worldview taking placeduring the Reformation. It is not my purpose to disregard the immense impact of the protestsdirected at the Church, and the various reformations and breaks that occurred within thereligious attitudes and practices during the period. It is my intention to broaden the horizon of our understanding of the Reformation Period by showing some of the other areas in whichreformations were also taking place, specifically in geography, social criticism in art, andastronomy.
Enough for us that the hidden half of the globe is brought to light, and thePortuguese daily go farther and farther beyond the equator. Thus shores unknownwill soon become accessible; for one in emulation of another sets forth in laboursand mighty perils.
Peter Martyr (1493)
Common misconceptions abound regarding the journeys of Christopher Columbus and his
„discovery‟ of the Americas. This explorer, Columbus, did not need to revolutionize the masses
with ideas of a spherical earth, nor did he fight the Church much about the hermeneutics of Biblical geography. The spherical nature of the earth was a commonly accepted belief by mosteducated people of the 15
th
CE, thought it was not known that the earth revolved on its axis.
 
DeLancett, Heather
2003
2
 
Despite the lack of knowledge of the latter, through the contributions of Arabic astronomersand navigators, the circumference of the globe had been calculated to a nearly exact degree(Odell-
“Geographical Background of the First Voyage of Columbus”). Columbus, a str
ongChristian, had ready access to many of the translated Arabic texts housed in the great libraries,
“the flowers of Spain‟s brilliant Muslim
-Christian-
Jewish culture” but seems to have purposefully
chosen to ignore some contemporary calculations in favor of the inaccurate traditionalestimates of Ptolemy (Vincent-
Barwood, “Columbus: What If?”). Perhaps it was Columbus‟
reliance on faulty antiquity that encouraged funding for the expedition and optimism for thesupposed short duration of the mission intended to sail west and establish a new trade route tothe West Indies.The landmasses that Columbus discovered in his four expeditions westward were never referred
to as the “New World” during his lifetime. Columbus was looking for the West Indies and the
shores of Asia, and convinced himself that he had found them, all the while exploring Jamaica,Puerto Rico, the Lesser Antilles and Cuba and setting up the first permanent European
settlement in the “New World” (Boorstin, 239). Though Columbus did not acce
pt his discoveriesas being anything but the Orient which he had sought, within a month after he had returnedfrom his first voyage and written a letter to his patrons describing his findings, Rome was privyto the possible implications. On May 3
rd
of 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued a papal bullregarding the newly discovered and unchristian lands, mapping out authority of ownership to
Spain, (Borgia‟s bribing patrons), in vague demarcations that would allow for even more „new‟lands „near‟ the West
Indies to be discovered under her flag (Boorstin, 248).
The “New World” would come to be named “America” after the Florentine Amerigo Vespucci. In1501, Vespucci repeated Columbus‟ voyage and reported what he found there to his friend and
patron Lorenzo d
e‟ Medici. Soon he had been commissioned as “pilot major of Spain,” aposition that he held until his death of malaria (contracted on a voyage to the “New World”) in
1512 (Boorstin, 251). An obscure clergyman, Martin Waldseemuller, made the christening of the
“New World” naming it America due to reports that Amerigo Vespucci had discovered a new
land. Waldseemuller had a printing press at his disposal and a love of geography, leading himto publish a new text
Cosmographiae 
in 1507 that included a new map
ping with the „fourthcontinent‟ making an appearance and named “America.” This first book was so popular that
another edition was published four months later (Boorstin, 253). By the time Waldseemuller hadrealized his mistake in crediting the discovery o
f “America” to Vespucci, the misinformation had
already been so far disseminated that it could not be stopped (Boorstin, 253).The newly developed power of the printing press had another great contribution to the risingReformation Period. The 15
th
century had been a major turning point in the development of artas a social message, and as the 16
th
 
century began, the artist‟s role broadened greatly into the
realm of social critic (Shikes, 4, 10). The Reformation invoked many artists in northern Europe toprovide a new type of commentary to the illiterate, and create caustic images to accompany the
texts to reform protests, such as Martin Luther‟s pamphlets (Shikes, 10, 14). “Many artists, swept
up in the struggle of the Protestant Reformation against the established church and papacy,
 
DeLancett, Heather
2003
3
 
were in effect attacking an important aspect of society itself, rather than engaging only in apurely religious quarrel. The Catholic Church and the papacy
were 
 
the social order” (Shikes, 13).
 Besides the deep desire to reform the Church and the papal indulgences, there were otherconditions woven into the new social criticism of art. Major issues focused on were the miseryand horrible living conditions of the peasants and working class, and the root causes underlyingcivil, national and religious wars
generally owing to the greed of the Church and the abusivenational rulers (Shikes, 10). During these early years of printmaking, the easily mass-producedblack and white print, (made with woodblock engravings or an etching upon a metal plate), was
the artist‟s main means of self 
-expression because painting was generally done on commissionby the church or wealthy patrons (Shikes, xxiv). Efforts by the Church to stop the flow of anti-propaganda were made in 1521 at the Edict of Worms. The Diets of Nuremburg of 1524 andAugsburg in 1530 sought to strengthen these new censorship laws with little success (Shikes,15). These efforts of censorship were met with increasingly brutal and mocking images, such asLucas Cranach the
Elder‟s series of woodcuts. Cranach certainly upped the ante on artistic self 
-
expression with “On the Origin and Arrival of the Antichrist,” (which he designed to accompanyLuther‟s “
Abbildung des Papstum 
”     
),
which illustrates the origins of the Pope as “s
pawned by a
female demon and wearing a triple crown, being nurtured by various agents of the devil”
(Shikes, 15).Not everyone at the time was so eager to fall out of Church favor. Nicolaus Copernicus hadattended the University of Cracow, and was taught (as every student in every university was)
from the accepted authority Aristotle. Aristotle‟s treatise “
On the Heavens 
” propounded the
commonly accepted beliefs, including the theory of concentric spheres made of unchangingaether, which moved the planets
and the stars uniformly in circles around the universe‟s center –
 i.e. the Earth. There had been problems noted with this theory, especially regarding the orbits
of Venus and Mercury when they seemed to move backwards. To save the great philosopher‟s
theory, a number of inventive geometrical devices had been employed, beginning in the 1
st
 century B.C. (Burke, 89). Copernicus was struck by a seemingly natural inclination that physicsand mathematics should be mutually synchronous. Sometime between 1508 and 1515, he
composed a short treatise, “
Commentariolus,
” which he did not publish due to the upheaval his
new calculations and theories might bring as well as fear of papal disapproval (Burke, 89-90).Eventually, his close circle of friends encouraged him to publish his work, and he did so under
the name of his friend, Georg Joachim Rheticus, in 1540. The preface of Copernicus‟ next work
On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres 
,” was addressed to Pope Paul III, pleading for papal
approval in his attemp
ts to restore „symmetria‟ to the universe. (Burke, 90). The reactions to hisnew ideas were strange. Mathematical astronomers used pieces of Copernicus‟ calculations fit
into the old Aristotelian order, while ignoring or rejecting his more radical statements.
However, by the 1570‟s, his fellow mathematical astronomers were well acquainted with his
works and theories, often passing heavily annotated copies between themselves. One of theseannotated copies passed to the hands of Johannes Kepler when he was a young student (Burke,90-91).

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