The Renaissance, or renewal of learning, in Europe took two different forms. In Italy and Southern Europe, it took the form of renewed interest in art and science. In Germany and northern Europe, it took the form of renewed interest in morality and humanity.
The age was turning religious and not materialistic. It may seem funny to say that the age was turning religious after the strict hold the church has had for these last centuries, but this time the people themselves were becoming religious. Practically every village had its chapel, and every town of any size had several churches. Cologne with 50,000 people had 11 great churches, 19 parishes, 22 monasteries, 12 hospitals and 76 covenants. There were more than 1,000 masses said every day in Cologne.
In 1450, the year of Jubilee, more than 1 million people visited Rome in one week. In 1900, only 500,000 visited Rome in a year. Remorse and fear were the dominant motives in people’s lives. The power of relics was believed miraculous. Frederick the Wise, who later became a protector of Martin Luther, had more than 5,000 relics among which were the hair and bones of various departed saints, Aaron’s rod, bits of the burning bush which Moses saw and two jugs of wine from the Wedding Feast at Cana where Jesus performed his first miracle.
The people were in the mood to learn about salvation. All the relics, the masses, the pilgrimages and the purchase of indulgences were designed in some guise or other to let the people earn salvation. There were some who were not satisfied with these, and they chose to speak out. One of these was a man named John Huss. He lived in Bohemia at Prague, and was a man of highest reputation because of his learning and exemplary life. John Huss declaimed in his sermons against the vice of the church, and in 1408 used his influence to get the university of Prague to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the Roman Church. This aroused the enmity of the Bishops and the Pope, and he was summoned to the Council of Constance to hear his account of his accusations. He had a safe-conduct pass from the emperor and thought himself safe. However, after appearing before the council, he was thrown into prison and burned alive on July 6, 1415. His companion, Jerome, was also thrown into prison and frightened at the prospect of such a death, he abandoned the teachings of John Huss. However, he was not released from prison, so he reiterated his beliefs and he was also burned on May 30, 1416. Before the sentence had been pronounced against Huss and Jerome, the bones of Wycliff, whose opinions they were supposed to follow, were dug up and burned. After disposing of the Huss case, the Council passed the famous decree which took the cup away from the people in celebrating the Lord’s Supper. From that time on, the priests only in the Roman Church were allowed to partake of both wine and bread, and the people took the bread only.
There was an attempt during this century to reunite the Eastern and Western churches. The proposal was made before a council, and the Eastern church was particularly anxious to reunite because they had been in such straits because of the Turks. They thought that being united with the Roman Church would help them against the Turks. The council agreed to accept the Eastern Church on certain conditions, one of which was to acknowledge that the Roman Pope was the universal head of the church. This the Eastern delegates would not do, and so ended the possibility of reuniting the churches.