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Western Civilization 10, Lesson 170 – The Italian War of 1494-1498

King Charles the VIII of France (r. 1483-1498) was a very ambitious king.  He was a young king, who was crowned at the age of 13 and died at the age of 28.  During his reign, there was one major event that is marked as his most memorable act.  In this essay, I am going to discuss the Italian War of 1494-1498, which was caused by King Charles.

In 1494, Charles started to make claims to Naples through some of his ancestors.  He voiced his desire to take Naples as his own.  The ruler of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, was egging on Charles and even invited him and his forces into Italy.  In Sforza’s mind, the threat of the French king would supress his enemies who were threatening him.

However, Charles was more successful than Sforza had expected.  Not only did he conquer Naples, he conquered other Italian city-states.  Suddenly the French king was a threat not only to Sforza’s enemies, but to Sforza himself.

Charles’ war quest led to an alliance of some Northern Italian city-states, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire.  This alliance was known as the League of Venice and was created as a way to protect the Italians from French invasion.  The League eventually forced Charles back and regained the city-states he had conquered.

The war ended in 1498 when Charles died, but his successor, Louis XII, tried to claim Milan as his own.  As expected, none of the other Italian city-states came to rescue Milan or Sforza when the French invaded again, marking the unofficial end of the war.

As you can see, the war was relatively small, for a war, and was not overly significant.  The whole ordeal started because of the poor insights of a man who wanted to scare his enemies.  Perhaps this is a lesson to not get too ambitious when dealing with those you dislike.

Thanks for reading!


Western Civilization 10, Lesson 165 – Erasmus: “The Praise of Folly”

Desiderius Erasmus was a Dutch philosopher and theologian who lived during the 15th century.  He wrote many notable works during his time, the most remembered being The Praise of Folly.  In this essay, I am going to describe some of the points he brought up in The Praise of Folly.

I have only read an excerpt of the actual work, but only from that I managed to deduce some of the points Erasmus was trying to convey in his essay.

He claimed that merchants were corrupt and people knew it.  However, if people knew that the merchants they gave their money to were corrupt, why did they still buy from them?  The answer: merchants had a lot of money and that earned them respect by the common people.  He also accused the friars of being part of the scheme to get profits from the merchants.

Erasmus also warned that the words of people who were considered to be pious and knowledgeable should not be used as a gospel and should only be taken with a grain of salt.  He noted how many men who may seem religious and wise were preaching about staying holy and devoted to God, yet they indulged in wine and women on the side.  He was warning people to be skeptical and to think on their own instead of following the words of these high ranking men blindly.

As you can see, Erasmus was trying to warn the common people of the corrupt people hiding amongst them.  He was trying to show people how the friars, lawyers, and philosophers they idolized were not the perfect men they painted themselves to be.  It was clear to see that Erasmus was a highly skeptical man.  Perhaps that was what made him such a great theologian.

Thanks for reading!

Western Civilization 10, Lesson 160 – Artists From the Early Renaissance

The Early Renaissance, which lasted from 1400-1495, was known for its remarkable art and architecture.  This week in class, I learned about some of the men who were known for their works during this period.  In this essay, I am going to talk about a few of these men.

Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378 – 1455)

Ghiberti was the most well-known artist of his time.  He was commissioned to sculpt panels for the doors of the Florentine baptistery that was next to the Duomo cathedral.  He designed and sculpted twenty-eight panels for the baptistery.  Twenty of the panels were dedicated to the life of Christ, four depicted apostles, and the last four were doctors of the Church.

For those who do not know, doctors of the Church are saints who contributed to the theology by research or writing.

When Michelangelo saw the panels, he praised Ghiberti and even went as far to say that the panels were “so fine that it would grace the entrance of paradise.”

Donatello (1346 – 1466)

Donatello was Ghiberti’s apprentice while he was completing the baptistery.  After his apprenticeship ended, he went on to become yet another well-known artist.  He was known for the two statues of David and the carving of Herod’s feast, which was a relief made of bronze for the Siena Baptistery.  Donatello also sculpted a wooden statue of Mary Magdalene which can only be described as equally beautiful and haunting.

Brunelleschi (1377 – 1446)

Brunelleschi was one of the many artists who were considered for the commission of the Florentine baptistery that Ghiberti was working on.  When he saw Ghiberti’s submission piece to the Florentine guild for the baptistery, he knew he was going to lose and left Italy to study architecture in Rome.  It seemed that his true gift was in architecture as he was later named “the first great architect of the Renaissance.”

He completed the building of the Duomo and created hoisting machines.  These machines made the construction of buildings easier and more efficient instead of the traditional scaffolding that was being used at the time.

Michelangelo was so astounded by the work that he decided to make a sister dome to the Duomo, but promised to not make it as beautiful as Brunelleschi’s work.  This was his way of paying tribute to the man, but also not outshining him.


As you can see, despite there being no technology during this time, artists and architects still managed to create beautiful and intricate works.  I highly suggest looking up some of the works these men created.  Even those who are not artists can appreciate the beauty and design of these pieces.  We can only wonder what these men may have accomplished if they were given the equipment we have today.

Thanks for reading!

Western Civilization 10, Lesson 155 – Key Ideas of the Renaissance

During the 14th century, many disasters and wars happened.  But amidst it all, another renaissance formed.  This time the focus was not on the sciences, but on the arts and individualism.  In this essay, I am going to summarize some of the key ideas of the 14th century renaissance.

The emphasis on individualism started small, with the start of artists signing their works.  For modern-day people that must seem like such a mundane and normal thing, but up until the 14th century it was never a common thing.  Artists were more concerned on showing the beauty and meaning behind their works.  Who created the work was never important.  Along with the signing of art pieces, people also started wanting portraits of themselves.  Another thing that was not common until the renaissance.

Secularism also became a popular idea.  While people were still religious, they started emphasizing how secular pursuits were as important as those who were a part of the clergy.  The view of active virtues rather than contemplative virtues also joined with the secularism movement.  Active virtues were actions taken by people who wanted to do well and be considered worthy.  Contemplative virtues were simply what monks did, they contemplated life and death and were still considered worthy and important.

As you can see, the renaissance focused on the worthiness of the individual man, clergy or otherwise.  Philosophers started emphasizing how men had infinite possibilities because they had the grace of God.  The 14th century renaissance was the start of people finding their individual value and the Church slowly losing their influence over the arts and literature.

Thanks for reading!

Western Civilization 10, Lesson 150 – The Great Western Schism

Popes are often viewed as men of great patience and piety.  While this is true, an event that happened in the late 1300s, known as the Great Western Schism, showed that popes are still human and can be petty and stubborn in their own way.  In this essay, I am going to talk about what led to the schism and what happened.

When Pope Gregory XI died in 1378, the College of Cardinals needed to elect a new pope to take over.  When they gathered a conclave to decide who would be the next pope, a Roman mob assembled outside of the building.  The mob demanded that the cardinals pick a Roman man so the papacy would not be moved to Avignon, where it had been for the last 68 years.

The cardinals eventually chose Bartolomeo Prignano, who took the name of Pope Urban VI.  He was not a Roman, but he was not French either.  This was a compromise the people could accept at the time.

Urban VI was known to be pious and reliable.  However, a few years into his reign as pope he started to display erratic and irrational behavior.  It was said that he started to denounce clergymen in public, and even physically assaulted one.

This forced the College of Cardinals to reassemble to elect a new pope to replace Urban.  They chose a Frenchman who took the name Clement VII.  Unfortunately, Urban was unwilling to abdicate for Clement.  He claimed that Clement was an imposter while the cardinals claimed that Urban was not the legitimate pope since their decision to elect him was made under duress (due to the Roman mob).

Since Urban refused to abdicate, Clement could not take up the Roman papal residence and moved back to Avignon.  This was the exact thing the Roman people wanted to avoid.

Urban started to appoint new cardinals since the ones who elected him obviously did not want him around.  Clement then claimed the original cardinals his.  Now, the people had two sets of popes and cardinals.  This was what officially started the Great Western Schism.

Neither side tried to make any amends to the situation, forcing people to choose between the two popes.  Either you were loyal to the Roman papacy or to the Avignon papacy.

In 1409, the Council of Pisa was formed by the University of Paris.  They were so desperate for a solution that the university had set out a suggestion box in case anyone had ideas as to how to end the whole affair.  The council decided that neither pope should be in power and chose, yet another, pope to take over.

The schism came to an official end in 1415, when the Council of Constance elected Pope Martin V as the one and only legitimate pope.

Personally, I find the whole dilemma quite amusing.  I doubt people who lived during this time shared my sentiments though.  Even when the situation was solved, the event made the Church lose a lot of their credibility and dignity.  It was not until the 20th century when the Church publically stated that the legitimate pope during this time was Urban, the Roman pope.

As you can see, the whole ordeal started because of one man who supposedly went insane.  Even popes have their moments, which can lead to a 37 year long schism.

Thanks for reading!

Western Civilization 10, Lesson 145 – Effects of the Black Death on Europe

The Black Death was one of the most destructive and deadly pandemic in all of history.  It killed nearly half of the European population when it first appeared in 1346.  As anyone could expect, the plague led to many disasters and crises, even after the worst of it was over.  In this essay, I am going to talk about the 14th century crisis that the Black Death caused.

The Black Death itself was a crisis on its own.  It seemed to be a merge of the bubonic plague and the pneumonic plague.  Now, we know that the plague came through the rats on Italian trade ships, but when it first started, no one knew where it came from.  People started to go crazy.  Some went hunting for answers while others drank themselves to death before the plague could get to them.  Others would impose physical pain on themselves as penance for their sins so they would go to heaven when the plague inevitably killed them.

After the plague started to “calm down”, there was not much left for survivors.  The Church had lost half of their men, and started to fill their positions with unqualified people.

Serfs either lost their masters, or simply had no motivation to work anymore.  Many started to abandon the land, forcing landowners to hire workers who demanded more pay than the serfs did.  With nothing left, some landowners had to exchange feudal services instead of money payments for their workers.  However, they did not enjoy doing this and demanded to have a rule on wage stability.

After 1351, the Statue of Laborers was created.  It was stated that no wages were to be paid higher than it was in 1346.  It also stated the prices on certain goods were to be fixed and could not be changed.  However, this rule did not stop serfs from leaving the lands.  If anything, it only promoted them even more than before.

In 1360, it was declared that any serf or peasant who tried to leave the land without permission could be returned by forced and could even be branded on the forehead.  More repressive measures like this were created between 1377 and 1381.

In 1380, a Poll Tax of 1380 was formed.  Everyone over the age of 15 was required to pay the tax to support the government since they were losing funds.  However, majority of the population were unwilling to do this.  The people were frustrated with why they should pay taxes after all their loses in the Hundred Years War that ended in 1369.  Any law enforcers who tried to force the people to pay were chased away.

John Ball, who was one of the few qualified priests at the time, voiced his opinion on the idea of a world with neither rich nor poor man.  No lords or serfs.  His voice is what sparked the Peasants’ Revolt (or the Great Rising).  

The serfs wanted their freedom and the peasants wanted to end all feudal debts that were being hung over their heads.  Towns joined as well, demanding they have the ability to self-govern themselves.  Unfortunately, their efforts were fruitless.  King Richard II did not appreciate this and put down the revolt by executing 110 people, John included, and adorning London Bridge with John’s head.

As you can see, the Black Death was a horrible and devastating event.  But what happened afterwards was equally troubling to the people, especially the lower classes.  As Mr. Woods said in one of his lessons, there were many crises in the 14th century.  The Black Death and the Peasants’ Revolt only being a few of them.  It is safe to say, being a peasant in the 14th century was rough.

Thanks for reading!

Western Civilization 10, Lesson 140 – Conflict Between Roman Emperors and the Papacy

Throughout the history of western civilization, popes and kings have always fought with one another.  Every fight started small, but eventually, it would escalate into a public bashing of one another.  The argument would only end when someone either died, or resigned from their position.  However, what could have possibly caused all of these arguments throughout the decades?

The simple answer: power. 

Every war, or fight, in history was always a fight for power.  The disagreements between popes and kings were no different.  Using the example of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa II (r. 1220-1250) and Pope Innocent III (r. 1198-1216), you can see how the fight between the two started with Frederick II wanting more power, which caused him to break his promise to the Church.

Before being crowned king, Frederick II promised to go on a crusade for the Church.  However, as soon as he had the crown on his head, the promise he made was broken.  He started pillaging Italy and trying to conquer it for his own, like his father did during his reign.  However, Frederick I wanted Italy as a means for more capitol.  Frederick II simply had an infatuation with subjugating the country and turning it into his territory.

Frederick II was excommunicated by Pope Innocent III because of his failure to keep his promise of crusade.  This angered Frederick II and he denounced the Pope publicly.  The two threw threats and snide remarks at one another until 1241, when Pope Innocent III called upon the clergy for a council.  Frederick II then issued an order to arrest any bishop who tried to attend this council.

Pope Innocent III died later that year, and his successor Pope Innocent IV, held the council his predecessor was trying to arrange before his death.  At the council, Frederick’s crimes were listed and his repentance given.  No one believed it him, obviously, and Frederick was deposed as emperor.

Frederick’s father, Frederick Barbarossa I, also had a fight with the pope of his time, Pope Alexander III (r. 1159-1181).  Frederick I was trying to take over Lombard, but the people called upon the Pope to help them fend off the German King.  This angered Frederick I, and he burned Milan to the ground.

Frederick I then started supporting antipopes, who claimed that Pope Alexander III was not the legitimate pope, but the other candidate during the election was.  Pope Alexander excommunicated the supposedly “real” pope, which caused Frederick to call upon the people to denounce Pope Alexander.  If you did not, your possessions would have been taken, and you would have been tortured then exiled.

Their disagreement was not ended by a truce, but by the death of Frederick I in 1190.

As you can see, fights between kings and popes started with the reason of power then became petty.  The king would be excommunicated and the pope would be denounced.  Arguments between the two leaders rarely ever ended in a truce, but when one of the two would die.

Thanks for reading!

Western Civilization 10, Lesson 135 – Gothic Cathedrals

During the Middle Ages, people started to sense a need for change when it came to their churches.  This need for change led to the style of building that created the gothic cathedrals.  This new style of cathedrals was slightly different from the Romanesque cathedrals that were so common in those days.  In this essay, I am going to talk about gothic cathedrals and how they were different from the Romanesque cathedrals.

Romanesque cathedrals tended to have thick, heavy walls to insulate heat and to hold the roof up.  Because of this, the windows were small and narrow, making the inside of the cathedrals very dark.

Gothic cathedrals were designed to showcase God’s traits through small details.  The layout of the building was usually in the shape of a cross.  Gothic cathedrals also had large windows that allowed more light to come into the room compared to the Romanesque cathedrals.

One of the greatest things about Gothic cathedrals was its flying buttresses.  The flying buttresses would transfer the weight of the ceiling to columns that were outside of the building.  Since the weight on the walls was reduced, the windows could be larger and allow more light into the cathedral.

As you can see, Gothic cathedrals, or more specifically, its flying buttresses and its large windows was a refreshing change from the same old Romanesque cathedrals.  Of course both styles are beautiful and have a sense of grandness to them, but the Gothic style was favored because of the amount of light that was able to enter the building.

Thanks for reading!

Western Civilization 10, Lesson 130 – Thomas Aquinas and the Divine Attributes

Thomas Aquinas is friar and philosopher who lived during the 13th century in Italy.  He is considered to be a saint by the people and the Church because of his works showing the divine attributes of God.  In this essay, I am going to talk about two of the five divine attributes he presented in his works.

God is a purely actual being, meaning that He is all-powerful and has no unrealized potentiality.  For those who do not understand, unrealized potentiality is like a human never learning to swim even though they have the capability.  Unrealized potentiality is a mortal concept, which cannot apply to a higher being like God.

Aquinas presents the example of what would happen if there are other gods.  If that is the case, there has to be a way to differentiate the two from each other.  If you use the reasoning that God is more powerful than “god two”, then that must mean that the second god has not unlocked its full potential.  This cannot be the case for a purely actual being, proving that the second god is not a real god.

This brings me to the second, and considerably shorter attribute: God is perfect.

God is a purely actual being, meaning He cannot have any negative features because they are lacks.  He is perfect in every way and has no unactualized potential.

As you can see, Aquinas’ has good points, however they can be hard to understand and even harder to explain.  Personally, the only divine attribute that fully makes sense to me are the two I included in this essay.  If you are curious about the other three attributes, I highly recommend researching about it.  They are intriguing topics to learn about, even if they are hard to understand.

Thanks for reading!

Western Civilization 10, Lesson 125, Essay 2 – The University System During the High Middle Ages

The system of colleges and universities that we are so familiar with today started 900 years ago in the 12th century.  However, these schools have come a long way in those hundreds of years.  In this essay, I am going to briefly describe what the university system was like during the Middle Ages.

When the system of universities first started, things like degrees and fixed programs of study had not been created yet.  There did not seem to be fixed classes, but debates and discussions over a certain topic that was monitored by a teacher.  There was also no standard that each university had to be held to.  Each one could do their own thing as long as they had the approval from a pope or imperial being.

For example, in Bologna, the students practically ran the school.  They decided what they wanted to do on what day, what type of classes to offer, etc.  The students could even punish their teachers if they were unhappy with their classes and teaching methods.  In Paris, there was a rule that university teachers could not plan out their lessons or read from lesson notes.  Whatever they taught in their class was improvised and their lectures had to come from off the top of their heads.

Like modern-day universities, each one had a nearby town where students would go to have fun.  The Church protected university students and cared for their well-being, especially if it meant protecting them from angry townspeople.  If a student, for example, killed a man, the case would be held in an ecclesiastical court, where the student would be treated kinder than in a town court, where everyone already hated them.

As you can see, the beginning of the universities and their system was very different to the one we follow today.  University was a place of debate, with a healthy dose of partying, and sometimes vandalizing, in the nearby towns.

Thanks for reading!