Frederick McGinness

in Renaissance and Reformation

ISBN: 9780195399301
Published online August 2011 | | DOI:

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy


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A study of the papacy or the Holy See (the episcopal office of the bishop of Rome) between the years 1350 and 1650 must take into account the long history of the papacy, which extends back to the early centuries of the Common Era and continues to the present day. In this long stretch were laid, often haphazardly, the foundations of papal authority, the claims of the popes as spiritual leaders of the Western church, and the development of the complex administrative machinery centered on Rome to govern the institutional church. A study of the papacy must look as well at the continuous involvement of popes in the major religious, political, economic, and cultural movements in Europe and the East. In these centuries papal government, assertions of authority and influence extended into virtually every aspect of European life and thought. Scholars generally place the beginnings of the Renaissance papacy at Rome around 1421, when Odo Colonna, Pope Martin V, returned to his native city after the papal residence at Avignon (1309–1378), the resolution of the Western Schism, the dampening of the conciliarist crisis after the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438–1445), and the reassertion of papal sovereignty and political power over the city of Rome and the Papal States. With the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks (1453) and the “loss” of the Eastern church, the papacy in the later 15th century assumed greater prominence as a princely power and as spiritual leader of Christians at a time of increasing peril to Christian Europe, and by this time most of the elements of the papacy as we know it today were set. The Renaissance at Rome is seen as waning after Martin Luther’s challenge to papal authority, the Reformation in northern Europe, and the devastating sack of Rome (1527) at the hands of the army of the Holy Roman emperor. Only after the Council of Trent (1545–1563) and a series of zealous, reform-minded popes did the papacy appear to regain prestige and authority. By the 17th century the papacy’s spiritual and temporal authority and eminence were again acknowledged throughout the Catholic lands of Europe, and the institution played a major hand in the contest of empires throughout the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) and in the New World. At the war’s close, however, with the Peace of Westphalia (1648) and the Peace of the Pyrenees (1659), the pope’s role as a major player in the politics of Europe was largely exhausted.

Article.  11865 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

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