The Disintegration of the Christianitas


The medieval Christianitas was falling apart into the church and the national states. This overall characterization seems to be more adequate than speaking of the end of the feudal age, or the rise of the absolute monarchy, because these latter characterizations restrict the problem already to specific developments and put accents on the politics of the fifteenth century that stem from the secularistic historiography of later periods.

The disintegration of the Christianitas affected both the spiritual and the temporal order insofar as in both spheres the common spirit that induces effective cooperation between persons in spite of divergence of interests, as well as the sense of an obligation to compromise in the spirit of the whole, was seeping out. The "falling apart" means literally the breaking up of a spiritually animated whole into legal jurisdictions; it means the inflexible insistence on rights, and the pursuit of personal and institutional interests without regard to the destruction of the total order.

As far as the church is concerned, . . .The attempt at reforming the church through councils, and the further attempt at giving the church a permanent representative constitution, proved abortive because personal and national interests could no longer be effectively subordinated to general interests. If the universal church was not to sink into parliamentary paralysis, or to break up into national churches, effective representation had to be assumed by the monarchical head. From the failure of the councils as the carriers of the spirit emerges the monarchical pope as the representative of the institution.

In the realm of ideas we could observe the transition of men such as Giuliano Cesarini, Enea Silvio Piccolomini, and Nicolas of Cusa from their early conciliarism to a position that Dempf characterized as that of Monarchioptants—that is, of men who would prefer a representative constitution but bow to the historically inevitable and become monarchists.

In the temporal field we can observe a similar consolidation of institutions as well as concentration of the representative function in a monarchical head. The Hundred Years War between England and France was the great process in which the Western European field of personal, feudal associations was disentangled and the old political units were consolidated in the national, territorial realms of England and France.

The disentanglement was followed by the internal consolidation. The Wars of the Roses were the last feudal struggle over the head of the nation and ended in 1485 with the establishment of the Tudor monarchy.

At the same time, Louis XI consolidated the French absolute monarchy through government by decree since 1469; and in 1480 the royal power was considerably strengthened when on the extinction of the Anjou their possessions fell to the crown. At the same time, the Marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile brought the political unification of Spain, while the victory of Granada in 1492 secured the territory of the new monarchy.

CW VOL 22 (HPI-IV)
Chapter 1, The Order of Power: Machiavelli
§2, The Problems of the Ageďż˝The Trauma of 1494, pp 34-36.

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