Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

Click for Detailed notes on McCabe - scroll down for selections from A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (1948).

Here's the full A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (about 1.3 MBytes; Word format; includes notes on some of its limits)

Renaissance, The.

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

Originally the word ("rebirth") meant the revival of classical architecture as opposed to Gothic, and it was then applied to the recovery of classical literature and the restoration in Italy of Greek and Roman ideals. Even for the Renaissance in this narrower sense no precise date can be given. In what sense the monks preserved the classics may be gathered from the fact that it took Italian scholars 150 years, beginning with the activity of Petrarch and Boccaccio, about the middle of the fourteenth century, to recover the Latin classics from the dust and rubbish of monastic libraries, and some of them, and almost all the Greek classics, had to be got from the East. Symonds counts the period as 1350-1500, England, France, and Germany lagging far behind Italy, and Spain being later still. Possibly the social consequences of this zeal of a few thousand scholars for classical studies were exaggerated by historians of the last century, but it was important in restoring Greek and Roman ideals. In England and Italy, for instance, it led to the writing of Utopias (More, Campanella, etc.) which quickened social idealism; and, especially in France, it helped to promote the scientific revival. On the other hand, the Catholic charge that it was in any measure responsible for the admitted grossness of morals in Italy is preposterous. In Italy the sexual licence was accompanied by fiendish cruelty and treachery, and these were certainly not learned from any classical literature. But the Age of Chivalry , which preceded the classical revival by two centuries and affected a class a hundred times more numerous in every country, had already steeped Europe in vice and cruelty.
      The word "Renaissance" is now taken in a broader sense as meaning the recovery of civilization in Europe. This began in France and Italy, and was late in reaching England and Germany, and still later in Spain (where it did not last a century). The American writers who betray Catholic influence and deny that there was a Dark Age which ended in a Renaissance say that if we use the latter word at all we must speak of a Carolingian Renaissance in the eighth century and an Ottonian in the tenth. To claim a restoration of civilization in the days of Charlemagne is not a discovery, but a reversion to an uncritical earlier history, and the revival of art and (in a much more restricted degree) culture in Saxony under Otto (chiefly owing to a marriage with the very corrupt Byzantine Court) was not much greater and lasted very little longer. These writers seem to be ignorant of the fact, which Catholics do not want obtruded because it discredits the Papacy, that culture had never been quite extinguished in the Lombard cities of North Italy. Even in the Iron Age, when Rome was barbaric, these cities had elegant writers of Latin and were refined even in their vices. The contemporary Bishop Ratherius of Verona, for instance, in an indignant page (Praeloquia, V, 71) on the corruption of the higher clergy (about 910-20, when the highest "noble" ladies in Rome could not write their names), speaks of their hunting in gorgeous clothes, with gold belts and golden bridles to their horses, massive gold wine-vessels at their luxurious banquets, and beds inlaid with gold and silver, and with silk coverlets, to which they retire with the ladies. This may be vice, but is certainly civilization. It was this Lombard civilization that had inspired the boorish Charlemagne, and it had much to do with the revival in Saxony. But a far stronger and healthier influence came into Europe with the civilization of the Arabs in Spain and South Italy. In the second half of the eleventh century the south of France [see Abélard and Education], as well as the north of Italy, began the advance which opened the era of permanent recovery. Frederic II greatly promoted the work in Italy, and the troubadour (in Germany Minnesinger) literature everywhere raised the material, if it lowered the moral, standard. The contemporary revival of trade and accumulation of wealth, the notable expansion of ship-ping, the great increase of travel, the growth of cities, and the slow diffusion of Arab science, made the recovery permanent, in spite of war and the Papacy. In the end (the second half of the fifteenth century) Rome itself [see next article] rose to the common Italian level in both the vices and virtues of the new civilization. According to all the authorities on the subject (chiefly J. A. Symonds, The Renaissance in Italy, 7 vols., 1875-86, and J. Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Period of the Renaissance in Italy, Engl. trans., 15th ed., 2 vols., 1937) the splendid art of the period was not more characteristic of it than its vices; a licence of morals that is not surpassed (particularly in regard to sodomy) in history, a proneness to appalling cruelty in all classes - from nobles who invented the "Forty Days' Torture," or flung delinquent servants on the hall-fire, to the worker who killed a neighbour's boy and got the unsuspecting father to eat a joint of the body - and a treachery and dishonouring of engagements which would have astounded the Greeks and Romans. Here the Catholic historian Pastor agrees with the authorities, and it is surprising to find Positivist and other non-Christian writers, who regard integrity of character as the first mark of civilization, praising the Middle Ages and its Church. Of small recent works, Prof. W. H. Hudson's Story of the Renaissance (1924) is the only commendable study. Prof. H. S. Lucas's book The Renaissance and the Reformation (1934) is vitiated by uncritical reliance on Catholic works [see Reformation]. Sidney Dark's Story of the Renaissance is Catholic rhetoric.


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