Tuesday, January 14, 2014


In February 1510, Roman Catholic Christianity seemed to be at an apex. Powerful Pope Julius II sat on the throne of Peter. Bramante was building the grandest basilica in Christendom. Michelangelo was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Raphael was embellishing the papal library with The School of Athens, that monumental tribute to human reason. Venice's claims on papal territories had been crushed decisively.

Roman carnival that year was exuberant:
All the familiar entertainments were on show. Bulls were released into the crowds and slain by men on horseback armed with lances. Convicted criminals were executed in the Piazza del Popolo by a hangman dressed as a harlequin. South of the piazza, races along Via del Corso included a competition between prostitutes. An even more popular attraction was the "racing of the Jews," a contest in which Jews of all ages were forced to don bizarre costumes and then sprint down the street to insults from the crowd and sharp prods from the spears of the soldiers galloping behind…There were even races between hunchbacks and cripples.
A jolly good time was had by all.

Well, not all. Not if you were the butt of the joke. One cringes to imagine that the speaker of the Sermon on the Mount were witness to these gross obscenities.

Martin Luther was 27 years old. More to the point, in exactly a century Galileo would turn his newly-fashioned telescope to the sky and the Scientific Revolution would have its own moment of triumph. Empiricism would eclipse revelation. The Enlightenment would push back against cruel excess.

(The quote above is from Ross King's Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling.)