7. Cultural Cycles & Climate Change - Western Culture Cycle 3 First Half

This third Western cycle from 1246 – 2100 is an important one so two blogs will be offered. It covers the periods of Renaissance, Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution and our current stage of Globalisation. 

Here are some highlights of the Air Period, A New Impulse from 1246 – 1544:

  • A cultural Renaissance inspired by Greek philosophic thought and Christian teaching with an important emphasis on the power, freedom and the great potential of the individual.
  • Florence

 became the  focal point as it was the home of the wealthy, influential Medici family and of Marsilio Ficino, who became an instrument for the Platonic renewal, including links to Christianity.

  • There was a great flourishing of the arts and an expansion of intellectual life, as well as economic growth on a global basis by a group of distinct countries.

The Renaissance

As the Western culture re-emerged from its inward, reflective period, the people of Europe were found to have new energy, new inspiration and aspirations. This revitalisation came to be known as the Renaissance, the rebirth of the human spirit, the recognition of the divine within the human. Central to this impulse was the newly awakened interest in the values and achievements of the ancient Greeks which was enhanced by the Latin translation of the works Plato by Marsilio Ficino, under the patronage of the Medici family.

Following the tradition further, Ficino founded the Platonic Academy of Florence in order to enable a greater understanding of the works so that intellectual learning could be transformed into living action. 

What was also important about this new period was the focus on the individual. The main theme was to extol the natural virtues and qualities of the human being. People were encouraged to think and judge for themselves, rather than waiting to be given orders, or to consult others before acting. It was a time of growing individual freedom. There was a real impulse to create something new. One group of people who took this on very fully were the artists. Many artists, such as Leonardo DaVinci, Michaelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, and Hans Holbein made a lasting impression on European culture. Renaissance art was not only painting, it included sculpture and the decorative arts, which also emerged as a distinct style in Italy in about 1400. In parallel, there were also developments in literature, music, and science. 

European Economy began to expand. Florence became a wealthy city, in spite of its inland location away from the major trade routes. Family fortunes were made in banking and industry in Florence, it became the banking centre of Italy during the 14th century. During the 15th century, the Medici bank began opening branches in major cities in Europe. 

Water Period, Expansion 1425 – 1782 CE

This was a period where the initial impulse of the Renaissance began to spread to the rest of the world. A pattern evolved where the European countries set out initially to expand trade and bravely sailed in uncharted waters towards new countries. A summary of the three stages are Commerce, Colonisation and then Conversion. This is how the Spanish and British empires developed. Efforts to convert the people to Christianity prevailed during this period. 

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Global trade by sea and land expands dramatically.
  • Magellan voyages around the world, 1434.
  • Columbus ‘discovers’ America, 1492.
  • Italy’s power gradually wanes as countries like Portugal establish trade routes to the East.
  • England’s colonising of America, Africa and the West Indies
  • Spanish take-over of South/Central American lands including Mexico
  • Dutch voyages and colonisation of Indonesia.
  • Portugal colonisation in Africa and Brasil
  • France – expanded presence in Africa and Canada

Trade was very active with India and China, which started to awaken the West to the scope of these ancient cultures. The awe and wonder lasted only a short time before efforts started to focus on building up trading relations. 

  • Reformation and Counter Reformation

One of the main elements of the European Renaissance was an emphasis on individual freedom. This manifested in many ways, one of the first reactions was resistance against the rigid rule of the Catholic Church. Martin Luther was one of the main protagonists who called for reform of the Church.

It was aggressively rejected by the Church, though his approach appealed to German princes, who opposed the imperial dominance, consequently, they offered their support. This resulted in a movement called Protestantism, which spread around Europe. In England this eventually resulted in Henry VIII’s break with Rome in the 1530s.

The Catholic Church responded to the criticism and a movement called the Counter-Reformation arose. After a series of meetings organised by the Church from 1545–1563, reforms were implemented. Many of the old religious orders were reformed and new ones created, the most notable one being the Jesuits, under the guidance of their founder Ignatius Loyola.

Another major stimulant for change was the implementation of practical printing services directed by Johannes Gutenberg. The first book printed on his press was the Bible in 1455. The translation of the Bible into local languages offered another level of freedom for individuals who, before having access to a local language text, had to depend totally on the Church’s interpretation.

In parallel there was a rise in capitalism. The birth of businesses, such as the English and Dutch East India companies in the early 16th century, enabled the wide expansion of trade to new lucrative markets. The British East India company expanded in India and set up bases in Bombay and Calcutta, and in 1694 it was granted a monopoly on trade with India. This greater emphasis on business was the foundation for the Industrial Revolution, that was to begin in England in the mid-18th century.

The next blog will look at important Fire period which proved to be a game-changer for the Western culture and the world

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