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From Jacob Burckhardt's 2nd edition of the Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy; edited for this on-line publication, by ELLOPOS
Part Six: Morality and Religion
Religion in Daily Life
» Full Contents of this Part
Part Six: Morality and Religion » Morality and Judgement » Morality and Immorality » Religion in Daily Life » Strength of the Old Faith » Religion and the Spirit of the Renaissance » Influence of Ancient Superstition » General Spirit of Doubt
The morality of a people stands in the closest connection with its consciousness of God, that is to say, with its firmer or weaker faith in the divine government of the world, whether this faith looks on the world as destined to happiness or to misery and speedy destruction. The infidelity then prevalent in Italy is notorious, and whoever takes the trouble to look about for proofs, will find them by the hundred. Our present task, here as elsewhere, is to separate and discriminate; refraining from an absolute and final verdict.
The belief in God at earlier times had its source and chief support in Christianity and the outward symbol of Christianity, the Church. When the Church became corrupt, men ought to have drawn a distinction, and kept their religion in spite of all. But this is more easily said than done. It is not every people which is calm enough, or dull enough, to tolerate a lasting contradiction between a principle and its outward expression. But history does not record a heavier responsibility than that which rests upon the decaying Church. She set up as absolute truth, and by the most violent means, a doctrine which she had distorted to serve her own aggrandizement. Safe in the sense of her inviolability, she abandoned herself to the most scandalous profligacy, and, in order to maintain herself in this state, she levelled mortal blows against the conscience and the intellect of nations, and drove multitudes of the noblest spirits, whom she had inwardly estranged, into the arms of unbelief and despair.
Cf. The Ancient Greece * The Ancient Rome
The Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) * The Making of Europe