Introduction | The Protestant Reformation | Literature | Bibliography


Michel de Montaigne (depicted left in a painting by Thomas de Leu [1580]) was a French Renaissance writer. he is best for inventing, or at least popularizing the essay. This has been an extremely important literary form throughout history since, because it is a uniformly accepted method of making opinions known. It is also belived that William Shakespeare was familiar with, and influenced by, his work. Montaigne himself was a Catholic but due to his analitical mind, he was able to respect different sides of issues and often acted as mediator between Catholic and Protestant discussion. He was a great believer in the feeling that other cultures and beliefs should be respected and perhaps even learned from. Unlike Sir Thomas More, he was critical of Christianity altogether and looked to other thoughts and beliefs to help shape his own.

William Shakespeare (right) was likely one of the most important figures in European literature. He was a poet and playwright. Though his family was likely Catholic, he was extremely critical of the church, however many of his plays have a religious undercurrent running through them in part to please the royalty they were written for. He had a very pessimistic view of man, believing him to be largely evil. His plays reflect his views that life and man are insignifigant. This is probably best summed up in an excerpt from Macbeth.

"Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

This is an extreme version of the feelings Shakespeare had about life, man and religion.

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (seen to the left as painted in 1523 by Hans Holbein the Younger) was a humanist and theologian. He was a Catholic as well as a classical scholar and he created new versions of the New Testament. He brought up many arguements and points about religion of the time, but never officially broke away from the Catholic church. However, his teachings would be used and influencial in the later Reformation. He was not sitting idly by, however. He believed that he was more likely to make an impact reforming the church from the inside.
He felt that Catholics were too organized. That is, he felt people were simply going through the motions of faith. He called this 'formalism' and described it a being too firmly rooted in tradition instead of true belief and faith. Erasmus felt this was the cheif evil. He wrote a book on the subject, Enchiridion militis Christiani, or the Handbook of the Christian Soldier in 1503. However, these views did not actually conflict with the faith of the Catholic church, simply the way people were practising them. Though his supporters like Albrecht Durer wanted him to, he did not find this to be enough fodder to justify his breaking away from the church. Though Montaigne also didn't split, it was for almost the opposite reason: Montaigne wasn't sure of the faith itself.
Though Erasmus was sympathetic to many of Martin Luther's initial points, and they shared a mutual respect for eachother, he did not agree with Luther's methods. He felt that breaking away from the church would give him less power and thus jeopordize his position of influence where he felt he could change more and do more good. Luther felt this was simply due to cowardice, and they devolved into a much less friendly relationship which included Luther calling Erasmus "the very mouth and organ of Satan."