Let us pause to recapitulate the wonders which this age of the Renaissance had seen—a new world of Africa discovered in the South, a new world of America in the West, the rise of Spain, the conquest of the last of the western Saracens at Granada and the rise of the Turks in the East, the rise of Russia, the downfall of the last vestige of the ancient empire of Rome, the last expiring effort of feudalism in Charles the Bold, and of errant knighthood in Maximilian; the beginning of modern statecraft in Louis XI of France, Henry VII of England, and Ferdinand the Wise of Spain; the spread of printing and with it the spread of thought and knowledge among the masses; and, sometimes accounted greatest of all, came the wonderful awakening of art in Italy. We have traced the early part of this under the Medici and Pope Nicholas. Lorenzo de’Medici was the centre of its later development. From his court went forth that galaxy of artists which the world of art unites in calling the unequalled masters of all ages—Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and a host of others.
Unfortunately in Italy at least the great movement in art and literature took an antireligious, sometimes an antipatriotic, tone. Lorenzo was openly defiant and scornful of the teachings of the Church, and after his death a French king, Charles VIII, was able to enter Italy and march from end to end of it without opposition. Religion seemed dying there, and love of country dead.
Florence underwent an extravagant though brief religious revival. The monk Savonarola preached against wickedness in high places, and thundered at the Florentines for their presumption and vanity. The impressionable people wept, they appointed a “day of vanities” and laid all their rich robes and jewels at Savonarola’s feet. They made him ruler of the city. But, alas! they soon tired of his severities, sighed for their vanities back again, and at last burned the reformer at the stake.
In Rome itself there arose popes, Lorenzo’s followers, who preferred art to Christianity, or others like the terrible Alexander Borgia, who adopted the maxims of the new statecraft. Alexander, a worthy disciple of Louis XI, admired falsehood before truth, and sought to win his aims by poisoning his enemies. The career of his nephew Caesar Borgia has supplied history with its most awful picture of successful crime, and the book written in his praise by Macchiavelli has given us a new word for Satanic subtlety and treachery. We call it Macchiavellian. The rest of Europe shrank from Italy in fear, and named it “poisoning Italy."
Against the spiritual dominance of such a land the world was surely ready for revolt. The mind of man, so long and slowly awakening, and at last so intensely roused, seeing great discoveries on every hand, was no longer to be controlled by authority. The time was ripe for the Reformation.