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Contrasting Perspectives From Historical Documents

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1. As Islam spread across large regions, Muslim scholars began to adopt ideas from Ancient philosophers. In the following passages, we read some thoughts about the role of Aristotle in Muslim and Renaissance Italian political thought. The first passage was written by Muslim scholar Mohammed Al-Farabi.

When one receives instruction, if he perceives their ideas themselves with his intellect, and his assent to them is by means of certain demonstration, then the science that comprises these cognitions is philosophy. Therefore, according to the ancients [Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates], religion is an imitation of philosophy. Both comprise the same subjects and both give an account of the ultimate principles of the beings. For both supply knowledge about the first principle and cause of the beings, and both give an account of the ultimate end for the sake of which man is made - that is, supreme happiness - and the ultimate end of every one of the other beings. In everything of which philosophy gives an account based on intellectual perception or conception, religion gives an account based on imagination. In everything demonstrated by philosophy, religion employs persuasion. It follows, then, that the idea of Imam, Philosopher and Legislator is a single entity. - l-Farabi (ca. 870-950)

Islam. (n.d.). Islam.
Retrieved from http://www.fordham.edu/Halsall/source/arab-y67s11.asp

The following passage comes from medieval thinker Roger Bacon:

The next consideration from effects is taken by comparing our state with that of the ancient Philosophers; who, though they were without that quickening grace which makes man worthy of eternal life, and where into we enter at baptism, yet lived beyond all comparison better than we, both in all decency and in contempt of the world, with all its delights and riches and honors; as all men may read in the works of Aristotle Seneca, Tully [Cicero], Plato, Socrates, and others; and so it was that they attained to the secrets of wisdom and found out all knowledge. But we Christians have discovered nothing worthy of those philosophers, nor can we even understand their wisdom; which ignorance of ours springs from this cause, that our morals are worse than theirs. For it is impossible that wisdom should coexist with sin. But certain it is that, if there were so much wisdom in the world as men think, these evils would not be committed. And therefore, when we see everywhere (and especially among the clergy) such corruption of life, then their studies must needs be corrupt. Many wise men considering this, and pondering on God's wisdom and the learning of the saints and the truth of histories have reckoned that the times of Antichrist are at hand in these days of ours. ~ Roger Bacon ca. 1271

Paul Halsall (1996) Medieval Sourcebook: Roger Bacon: Despair over Thirteenth Century Learning
Retrieved from http://www.fordham.edu/Halsall/source/bacon1.asp

Question: Based on these words, what can we say about the relationship between religion and philosophy in Islamic circles? In Christian Renaissance circles? Since both passages are drawing from the same ancient philosophers, what does this tell us about the origins of the Renaissance? Write 200 words.

2, The following passage was written in the twelfth century by a Dominican Priest named John of Paris. Read this and consider what it tells us about the later dispute between the political power of Church versus State.

Secular power is more diverse, because of the diversity of climates and physical constitutions. Secondly, because one man alone cannot rule the world in temporal affairs as can one alone in spiritual affairs. Spiritual power can easily extend its sanction to everyone, near and far, since it is verbal. Secular power, however, cannot so easily extend its sword very far, since it is wielded by hand. It is far easier to extend verbal than physical authority. Third, because the temporalities of laymen are not communal...; each is master of his own property as acquired through his own industry. There is no need therefore for one to administer temporalities in common since each is his own administrator to do with his own what he wishes. On the other hand, ecclesiastical property was given to the [Christian] community as a whole... (pp. 85-6).

J.A. Watt. (n.d.). John of Paris
Retrieved from http://www.fordham.edu/Halsall/source/johnparis-y67s14a.asp

The next passage was written by Marsilius of Padua in 1324. It is part of a longer list of "truths" about the nature of authority. Consider again what it tells us about disputes of power during the later Reformation.

There can be only one supreme ruling power in a state or kingdom.

The number and the qualifications of persons who hold state offices and all civil matters are to be determined solely by the Christian ruler according to the law or approved custom [of the state].

No prince, no partial council, nor single person of any position, has full authority and control over other persons, laymen or clergy, without the authorization of the legislator.

No bishop or priest has coercive authority or jurisdiction over any layman or clergyman, even if he is a heretic.

The prince who rules by the authority of the "legislator" has jurisdiction over the persons and possessions of every single mortal of every station, whether lay or clerical, and over every body of laymen or clergy.

No bishop or priest or body of bishops or priests has the authority to excommunicate anyone or to interdict the performance of divine services, without the authorization of the "legislator."

Paul Halsall. (1996). Medieval Sourcebook: Marsiligio of Padua: Conclusions from Defensor Pacis, 1324
Retrieved from http://www.fordham.edu/Halsall/source/marsiglio1.asp

Question: Both of these works enjoyed a resurgence during the religious conflict of the sixteenth century. How would these arguments be used to support or challenge a break between the political king and the spiritual center in Rome? Be sure to mention which passage would support Catholic goals and which would support Protestant reforms. Write 200 words.

3. In 1569, the Scottish Presbyter John Knox wrote a powerful treatise against the idea of women in government. He was responding in part to the swift changes in society caused by the Reformation, but also responding to the accident of history that brought multiple women into roles of power in the mid-sixteenth century, including: Mary, Queen of Scots; Mary Tudor, Queen of England; and Catherine de Medici, Queen Mother and Regent of France. Hoping for a favorable Protestant King, Knox wrote this and published it a year after the Protestant Elizabeth took the English throne (which changed his tune, since her Protestant faith was in line with Knox's wishes for governance). However, Knox did not know what to expect from Queen Elizabeth when he wrote the following words:

For who can deny but it repugneth to nature, that the blind shall be appointed to lead and conduct such as do see? That the weak, the sick, and impotent persons shall nourish and keep the whole and strong, and finally, that the foolish, mad and frenetic shall govern the discrete, and give counsel to such as be sober of mind? And such be all women, compared unto man in bearing of authority. For their sight in civil regiment, is but blindness: their strength, weakness: their counsel, foolishness: and judgment, frenzy, if it be rightly considered. - John Knox, "The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women"

Kevin Reed. (1995). The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women 1558
Retrieve from http://www.swrb.com/newslett/actualNLs/firblast.htm

The following passage is taken from the 1542 publication of Agrippa von Nettesheim, A treatise of the nobility and excellence of womankind. Consider the different views on womanhood expressed here:

The woman has that same mind that a man has, that same reason and speech, she goes to the same end of blissfulness [heaven]. And thus between man and woman by substance of the soul, one hath no higher preeminence of nobility above the other, but both of them naturally have equal liberty of dignity and worthiness. For all, a woman was the last of the creatures created, the full end and most perfect of all God's work. It is well known, that for the more part, a woman hath always more pity and mercy than a man. Moreover, it was proved by the civil laws that women might lawfully look to their own profit, to other men's hindrance. Women should not merely grind at the mill, nor drudge in the kitchen. It is permitted unto noble women to judge, to arbitrate and decide matters, to do and take homage and fealty, to keep courts, and minister Justice among their tenants. And for this purpose, the woman may have servants of her own, as well as the man may: and a woman may be judge, yea among strangers. She may also give name to her family and kindred: so that the children shall be named after their mother, and not after their father. - Agrippa von Nettesheim, 1542

(source: Bodleian Library, Oxford University, STC 71:08)

Question: What do these passages say about the status of women in Renaissance and Reformation Europe? Write 200 words explaining your reaction to these descriptions and what they tell us about European women between 1200 and 1600:

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Solution Preview

1. First I will write a word of caution. To take one paragraph from one man and extrapolate that to an entire culture during a particular time in history is foolish. The following ideas are gross generalizations based on an extremely small writing sample. From the paragraph written by Mohammed Al-Farabi it would seem that he was skeptical of religion and perhaps cynical of it as well. He contends that while philosophy and religion deal with and answer the same questions, philosophy relies on the intellect while religion relies on emotional persuasion. Bacon, on the other hand, views God as essential and religion as a form of enlightenment both intellectual and spiritual. He clearly ...

Solution Summary

This solution examines three specific historical debates in light of primary documents. These historical issues are: the relationship between philosophy and religion, the ability of women to govern as well as men, the balance between political and religious power. This is approximately 500 words of original text along with the original documents and questions.

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