Hope Greenberg
History 300
Daily Questions: July 12,1993

1) The Catholic Church experienced severe economic problems during the 15th century. List five factors that contributed to these problems.

Although it might seem that the return to Rome after a century of division and confusion would signal a new era of strength for the papacy, the truth is that it faced severe economic problems. Contributing to these problems were:
€a reduction in papal revenue. For example the Council of Basel (1433-1435) suppressed annates and chancery fees. Other councils redirected fees formerly paid to the pope to the counciliar body instead.
€an increase in the size of the institution itself, demanding more funding.
€the political focus of a papacy determined to enlarge its dominions, resulting in costly wars.
€the increased emphasis on luxury, pomp, and patronage of the arts.
€the growth of nationalism in other western european countries with a corresponding tendency on the part of their churches to pursue autonomy from Rome, granting more control to secular rulers.

2) Most of the 15th-century Italians who read Valla's arguments against the Donation of Constantine were convinced his arguments were correct. Why did they find Valla so convincing?

Valla, in marshalling his arguments against the papal claim to the western empire, calls upon images that accord well with his contemporaries: patriotism, allegiance to family and faction, anti-papal sentiment, the paternal responsibility of a ruler, and the analysis of the primary documents as opposed to the reliance on glosses.

He divides his arguments into a two-pronged attack: what is likely to have taken place, and what the documentation itself reveals. In the first, he assumes that a leader would not simply give up so fine a city as Rome and all its attendant possessions. Given the developing elevation of all things connected with classical Rome, his contemporaries would have no difficulty empathizing with this argument. He also argues that no one would deprive his family and dependents of such a prize. He conjures up the image of a paternalistic ruler who would consider it a dereliction of his duties to so defraud his people.

His second attack is through close analysis of documentation. His contemporaries would also agree that the classics are more to be trusted than the interpretations of later scholars. For example, he quotes from a near contemporary of Constantine's that shows him offering only the palace and some land for the construction of churches as a gift following his conversion.

In all these instances, Valla appeals to the growing distrust of the Church and the feeling that individuals can and should determine truth for themselves.

3) What do the documents written by Savonarola and by Aeneas Sylvius reveal about the religious values of Renaissance Italy?

There are numerous presuppositions about religious values in the documents by Savonarola and Aeneas Sylvius. Despite the obvious political maneuvering evident in the election of a pope, Valla, like Savonarola wants to conclude that "all good government comes from God." He sees the church as an institution filled with glory yet composed of humble and abstemious men. He also is aware of and despises the corruption and nepotism that surrounds the church, believing that it should be pure, serving the spiritual needs of the people.

Savonarola's ideals, incorporated as they are in a document designed to compare reality to what might be, are much more obviously expressed. According to him, people should love one another and fear God. Rulers, indeed anyone in a position of authority should strive to be just. Savonarola does not hesitate to believe that temporal rewards await the good as well as spiritual rewards. He adheres to the belief in the common good and is anti nepotistic. Also he reflects the fascination with ancient Rome as well as the current "Mariology".

And on another topic......I'm sure you know about the Vatican Exhibit at the Library of Congress but I thought I would mention that much of the exhibit is available "on-line". I just noticed that they've added a Columbus exhibit as well. If you are interested in seeing these or would like more information I'd be happy to discuss it with you.

This file is part of Hope Greenberg's Graduate Portfolio for the course History 300. Created 15 October 1996.