Germany Literature – Humanism and Reformation Part I

Germany Literature – Humanism and Reformation Part I

At the cradle of German Humanism are F. Petrarca and Cola di Rienzo. The relations of the two Italians with the imperial court of Prague earned the chancellor of Charles IV Johann von Neumarkt and his officials for the new movement. Initially ennobled the official Latin, this Germanic protohumanism immediately tends to raise even the mother tongue to the “beautiful style” and to fertilize national spirits originally in the classical school. In Ackermann aus Böhmen Johann von Saaz’s (circa 1400) flourished humanistic rhetoric is capable of giving shape to a problem of capital importance and deeply felt: the debate between the widowed young bride and Death claims the new meaning of value of life and ends by affirming, while acknowledging the divine order, human dignity. With surprising happiness the new spiritual and literary demands harmonize with those of the German mystical tradition in a work of art worthy of opening an original literature.

But the promising debut was left without a sequel. Instead of continuing on the path of originality, German Humanism allowed itself to be overwhelmed by the overwhelming Italian influence, of which Enea Silvio Piccolomini led the second assault from Vienna; and, attracted by the double mirage of science and eloquence, despising his own language as barbarian, he totally submitted to the canon of imitation of antiquity. They were thus fought in Latin, in numerous universities and schools founded between the middle of the century. XIV and the end of the XV, the battles for the renewal of science, the reform of teaching, the autonomy of the spirit. And Latin was the art literature of the new German educated class in great prevalence. The Reformation, which was also an affirmation of Germanism,

Humanism had made a very valid preparation contribution to the Reformation. Soon oriented towards divine things, he had subjected ecclesiastical texts to philological criticism especially and, declaring himself animated by moral zeal and patriotic pride, he had become the initiator of the movement of detachment from papal Rome. Luther’s rebellion had a natural ally in Humanism; but then the theological and dogmatic struggles, the political commotions aroused by the new religion, its exclusivism and democratism, the threat it feared to culture caused a separation. A separation which, aiding the new courtly taste spread by Spain throughout Europe, produced a serious estrangement between the depository classes of culture and the people, precluding them from the sources of national sentiment.

At the end of the fifteenth century and in the first decades of the sixteenth century, the reforming movement, which prepares itself and explodes, fills every literary work with its passion. The moralism of Sebastiano Brant is already affected; and the satirists, as the storm approaches, become more lively and combative. Thomas Murner passes from the generic nature of his various Narrenbeschwörungen to the plasticity of the anti-Lutheran pamphlet. The humanists (Reuchlin, Wimpheling, Bebel, Erasmus) are inspired by Luciano to bite their adversaries more and more bitterly. To defend the good cause of the freedom of study, that is, of the spirit, Crotus Rubianus and Ulrich von Hutten joined together, composing the most ingenious of jokes of the time, the Epistolae obscurorum virorum. The new way of the humanists to conceive life more fervently and joyfully is empowered by the Reformation in its emergence. But already at the death of U. von Hutten (1523), when the conflict between Luther and Erasmus broke out, the irreconcilability was revealed. Then, while Humanism withdraws into its Latin Olympus, the demands of the religious struggle weigh on every literary manifestation of their tendentiousness. Even without taking into account the professions of faith, programs, sermons, speeches, dialogues, treatises, commentaries in Latin and German, most of the Protestant side, the trend is visible in the drama, from the biblical drama and from the scholastic to Fastnachtspiel, in opera, from Meistergesang to Volkslied. A lot is written, a lot is spread with the new art of printing, often on loose sheets decorated with woodcuts; but it is an exotic mass, from which more and more imagination and art are escaping. Certainly, a new literary era cannot begin with the Reformation. Very few rise up on the monotonous chorus: the most poet is Ulrich von Hutten. It came from Humanism; his fate, very hard, allowed him to overcome the virtuosity of the imitator to find in fiery songs the words of indignation, will, anger, pain, pride in the service of God and of the country. And just as his German is no longer a translation from Latin, and his images are no longer translated with concepts, so his verse has a rhythmic wave, in which passion becomes melody. The controversy does not hinder the fantastic motion,

According to, Luther has a completely different temperament. The word has always above all importance for him as a means. The immense activity to which he is forced does not allow him, in the propaganda writings he accuses defense explanation, to pay attention to art. The artistic effect arises episodically, unwanted, between one and the other of those mighty hammer blows. And in the Lied not the poet speaks religious in the first place, but the confessor and the animator. His songs could have enormous effectiveness precisely because they were typical models, because the Latin of the psalms, of the hymns, of the commandments had in them a simple German expression, adapted to the new needs, persuasive, because the new faith showed itself armed with all the his strength and all his confidence. Even when religious emotion created ghosts and rhythms, it was always the corago of a singing multitude; and his followers in fact varied it without ceasing, giving rise to an endless hymnology. The greatest literary work of the Reformer, the maxim of the century remains the Bible, a translation that was able to make the divine word popularly German and which, widespread in every house, has up to now constituted the first linguistic as well as religious foundation of every Lutheran.

Germany Literature - Humanism and Reformation 1

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