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The Northern Renaissance

by Charles Park
October 2013

The Annunciation (part of The Altar of Ghent by Jan Van Eyck).

Author’s note: This revised article will provide a window into how leaders of the Renaissance employed the unique concept of “man made in the creative image of the Creator” (“Imago viva Dei”), to transform civilization. Discovering the method by which these thinkers successfully conveyed this concept of “Imago Viva Dei” to a bestialized peasant of the Middle Ages is very relevant for us today, as we find ourselves in the midst of a more devastating Dark Age threat to humanity. If we master the ideas and learn to wield these same conceptual weapons now, we can forge a new paradigm shift, defeat the oligarchy and inspire a new Renaissance.

This is dedicated to what has been known as the ‘No Future Generation,’ but, through the inspiration of economist and statesman Lyndon LaRouche, can now become the ‘Renaissance Generation.’

Prolegomena: Dark Age

“The epidemic has begun to spread rapidly, the number of victims increased eight-fold in one year. The following year, new ... cases have tripled.... We have experienced a steady depopulation, characterized by a 1.5 ... times excess of deaths over births. It is almost two times below the level necessary for the simple numerical replacement of generations of parents by their children. In some areas ... the expected population decline ranges from 34% to 40%, in others 15% to 18%. It is manifest in the reduction of life expectancy …. … No fewer than 70 million people, i.e., over half the population, live on the brink of devastation. The threat of mass malnutrition and even famine has arisen in the country. ... There are two aborted pregnancies for every child who is born and more than half a million children are growing up without parental care.... Statistics suggest that 500.000 minors and 1 million young, ages 18 to 25 are under the influence of destructive cults. The policy of the oligarchy’s appropriation of the national wealth has brought about the degradation of a large part of the human potential, as well as personal catastrophe for millions of people, who have been placed in intolerable conditions of life.”

This quote from a book by Sergei Glazyev, entitled “Genocide”, (published by Executive Intelligence Review, 1999), documenting the devastating effects of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Russia since the collapse of the Soviet system elaborates an important point: when most people think of genocide, they think of Africa, where we know there is genocide. But what is going on in places like Russia, other parts of Asia, Greece (under the Troika), South America, and even in the USA, is horrendous suffering, directly from a hideous policy of looting and destruction, imposed on them by an Anglo-Dutch/Saudi financial elite, that controls the murderous policies of the IMF, the World Bank, and Wall Street. Keep in mind as we talk about the Renaissance, that we are, today, right on the cusp of a Dark Age, such as we saw in the period from the middle of the 1300’s to the late 1400’s. We determine whether the planet will, once again, be subjected to devastation, destruction, and two-thirds, or more, of the world’s population dying off through famine, pestilence, and war; or whether we stop this process from overtaking the planet.

Let us look at how the people of the 14th century Dark Age took up the challenge to stop the genocide of that era.

The previous decades-long destructive economic policies, the result of official incompetence and outright evil oligarchic practices, devastated food production. Famines, each separated by an interval of approximately 3 years, ravaged Europe. During the second of these famines, the over-bloated financial system collapsed under its own weight and added financial chaos to the evils already plaguing the society. New diseases, previously unknown in the West, began to infect and decimate the weakened population.

The mounting warning signals of these impending catastrophes were simply ignored by smug political, religious, and other public figures. The undeniable truth of the extent of the disaster burst upon the self-deluded population only as overwhelming numbers of people from every social strata began to die in the streets. But, by then, it was almost too late.

The population over the next 50 years was reduced by almost half. Terror ruled. Neighbors refused to acknowledge their infected brethren; parents shunned and deserted their helplessly ill children, and, as the dead were shoveled into mass graves for burial, terrified priests refused to administer their Last Rites. Superstition, greed, chaos, and Satanism began to dominate the previously Christian morals of society.

“And no church bells were sounded and no one whined, no matter how many (friends, relatives, or children- ed) he had lost, because almost everyone waited for his own death ... and the people said and believed- 'that the end of the world had come.' "[1]

The above is a very accurate description of Europe from the period beginning approximately in the year 1333 and extending into the 1400’s. The political situation was dominated by the conquest of Rome, in the first decade of the 1300’s, by the French. The French King, Philipp IV, imprisoned the Roman Pope and imposed one of his own countrymen as the new Pope, Clement V. The Roman cardinals refused to recognize the new Pope and in 1309, they forced him to flee to the protection of the French, where in Avignon, he established his Papal seat. Thus, a schism was unleashed, which was to create religious disunity in Europe well into the next century. Over the intervening period, Europe was to see not only two, but three ‘Popes,’ vying for recognition as Father of the Church. So you had complete destruction of any moral leadership in this period.

In the secular realm, the situation was no better. The English not only sided with the Italian Popes against the French, but the English King declared himself to be the sole legitimate heir to the French crown. The long-standing tension between the two countries broke out into gruesome, open conflict in 1337-1338, and began what was later to be referred to as the Hundred Years War. This is exactly what we are about to see on this planet in the modern era, if we don’t stop the process we face now; religious warfare and breakdown of morality, leading to the breakup of the stable institutions of society.

So, this was the situation in Europe: a schism in the Church, famine and disease and princes and kings marauding each other to get power. It was barbarism and chaos. The population was, not without reason, pessimistic and resigned to its fate. To visualize the society at that time, let’s take a quick look at some of the paintings of Bruegel.

Bruegel - Fall of Icarus (detail)
 Bruegel - Fall of Icarus (complete).

Bruegel gives you a very precise insight into the problems of the society at that time, as one can see from the plow depicted in the picture. We see a peasant class that used the most primitive technologies, and experienced no change or improvement over hundreds of years. We see another whole world stretching off into the infinity as depicted in the ocean scene in the background, but look at the head of this serf. He has no conception of the world outside of himself. He's literally like a beast of burden, and that's why his head doesn't exist. There's not a thought in his brain.

Bruegel - Corn in Harvest (detail)
 Bruegel -Corn in Harvest(complete).

Now let's look at another one. Again you have this expanse of ocean in the background, but all of the peasants are completely demoralized and blocked off from that larger reality. They're drunk. They're wiped out from their menial labor. So Bruegel is conveying very graphically by the obstruction of their faces, or the bestial expressions on those faces, that this was a peasant society, which had no conception of what it was to be human or how the real world functioned.

Bruegel - The Peasant Dance (detail).
 Bruegel - The Peasant Dance (complete).

The final picture may look familiar to many today. Here Bruegel shows a society that was completely into Bacchanalia, i.e., pleasure. When you examine the faces, you realize that these were not quite the highest intellectuals on the planet. Look at these guys. They're bestial. They are about to kill each other. They're whores and thieves. They are mental dwarfs.

Hopefully you have in your imagination now —given the quotes on the Black Death, where half the population died, the description of the chaos reigning in the institutions and the visual image of the mental world of the peasantry— what kind of society we are dealing with.

Now, this poses the question: If you are committed to creating a renaissance in this kind of situation, what would you do? How would you transform this society? What would be the first thing you would want to do?

Similar to how LaRouche has approached the problem of saving our current civilization from an otherwise inevitable Dark Age, the renaissance decided to educate that strata of the population that would be most open to reorganize the way they think: the Youth.

Johannes Gerson and the Education of Character

Johannes Gerson.

One of the most important figures in the subsequent success of the reform movement was Johannes Gerson, the Rector of the University of Paris-Sorbonne between the years 1385 and 1419. He addressed this problem with the following supposition: “If one wished to affect a thorough reform in every aspect of the moral life of Christianity, one must begin with the children. Upon their proper training depends all hope of reform.” [2]

In his concern to successfully implement this conviction, Gerson wrote a series of treatises, which not only had a profound impact on the reformers of the late 1400 and early 1500's but they demonstrated a remarkable similarity to the concepts of modern education successfully employed in the 1800's by Humboldt, in his Reform of the German Educational System. The common thread in all these reform efforts was the emphasis placed on the development of the moral character of the child.

Upon assuming the Chancellorship of the University of Paris in 1395, Gerson began to use the church schools in Paris and in the outlying districts as the basis for his educational reforms. To this purpose he wrote the treatise- 'Regulations for the Teachers and Students of the Paris Cathedral Schools'. Gerson based his education system on three main subject areas, Grammar, Logic and Music. Point number seven in the above cited treatise develops this concept: “The music teacher should (lastly) teach the children ... in Choral music, contra-point and a respectable Descant.”[3]

Since Gerson's goal was to insure the widest proliferation, and comprehension, among the population of proper Christian doctrine, he integrated the use of the native language into his educational system.

His concept of education was explicitly humanist, in the Platonic tradition. Gerson stressed that because of the uniqueness of every individual child the teacher must take this into account and exercise flexibility in his handling of each child. He urged restraint in the use of punishment and emphasized that praise for the child's achievements, no matter how small they appeared to be, had a greater effect than any form of reprimand. He admonished the teacher, stating, “Whereas when love is lacking in the instructor, of what avail are his lessons, for the children will not listen willingly, nor will they obey commands given, so that a teacher should leave all things aside, and become little for the children.” [4]

Clearly, Gerson is committed to evoke the joy of learning within the student by having teachers that are concerned with the development of the mind of the pupil. That is the core of a humanist education system.

Gerson, just before his death in 1429, directly helped to shape the mind of the future King of France by writing a treatise on education for the young Dauphin. The treatise reiterates the importance of love and character-building as the basis for education stating, “A noble mind will be better led through Love than through force.”[5] He goes on to detail the basis for a comprehensive educational program. He recommends not only a thorough familiarity with the writings of the Church Fathers, like Saint Augustine and Saint Bernard, but also the study of the classic writers like Plato, Plutarch, Seneca and Aesop.

Gerson’s commitment to such a humanist educational system stems from his own early training at the University of Paris (1377-1394), under the tutelage of Peter D’Ailly, Gerson’s predecessor as Chancellor of the Sorbonne. D’Ailly was an expert in the works of the Twelfth Century Englishman, Roger Bacon, and was otherwise deeply involved in the study of mathematics, astronomy and perspective. Gerson and D’Ailly became close collaborators in the reform movement of the Church. Both were sponsored by one of the richest and most politically influential dukes of Europe at this time, the English allied Philipp the Bold from Burgundy.

Philipp ruled Burgundy from 1383 until 1404, when he was assassinated on the orders of his factional rival for the control of the French government, d’Argenac, the Duke of Orleans. Philipp had appointed Gerson, in 1394, to the influential post of Dean in the Diocese of Brugge and, in 1397, he appointed D’Ailly as Deacon in Cambrai.

Gerson proved that he was committed to principle by his attack on the then dominant Aristotelian influence at theUniversity of Paris, called Nominalism. Drawing on a multiplicity of sources such as the neo-platonic tradition of St. Augustine, and the twelfth century writings of the Victorines, St. Bonaventure and others, he succeeded for a very short period of time, in 1405, to ban the Nominalist teachings, but this was reversed with the British takeover of Paris.

What Gerson developed as his personal philosophy was a concept of Christian ‘Mystical Theology’, which was strikingly similar to the ideas on this subject from Dante and Petrarca. For Gerson, Christian mysticism was not, as the modern historians tend to portray it, some obscure, anti scientific, magical concept of the unfathomable workings of God. Instead, it was a concept rooted in the Christian notion of universal love, which was referred to in biblical terms as Charity (Caritas) or Agape. This is the basis of the entire Renaissance.

When you read the following quote from Gerson, you immediately see the reflection of Plato’s metaphor of the bronze, silver and golden souls and Dante’s concept of the three stages of perfection in man. Gerson describes Man, in the lowest stage of development, as similar to the animals, driven by his basic instinctual desires. In the next stage, Man is ruled by understanding and reason. Gerson describes those in this stage as – “those who, like mercenaries, are faithful in the hope of receiving a reward”[6] – i.e. a Kantian commitment to duty; if I do good, I’ll go to heaven, etc. The last and highest level is “those whose service is inspired by love/caritas.”[7] This notion integrates, and transcends, faith and reason through man’s willful action in accordance with the harmonic ordering of God’s universe. Thus, man acts through the motivation of pure Love; love of God’s divine creation, and love that flows from that divine aspect of Man’s individual existence, his divine soul or Reason. While Gerson perceives Man as an active participant in the propagation of God’s work, and thus opposes predestination, by insisting that Man can make a conscious decision to do Good, he defines ‘doing good’, as “bringing Man’s free will into conformity with the Will of God.”[8] We see here very advanced concepts, which will be developed later by Friedrich Schiller, who describes how the Good Samaritan acts because ‘his nature’ and ‘the right thing to do,’ are one. Gerson insists, as later Thomas A’Kempis would do in his work ‘The Imitation of Christ’, that Man is capable of self-perfection and of becoming God-like. In one of his sermons to his congregation, Gerson admonishes, “Do not say to me that we cannot be like St. Peter and St. Paul. We are men as they were, and the love of God can do with us what it did with them.”[9]

The testing of Gerson’s personal character, and steadfastness in his beliefs, began in the first years of his career as Chancellor at the University of Paris/Sorbonne. In 1407, the son of the Duke of Burgundy, Johanne the Fearless, avenged his father’s murder by arranging the assassination of the Duke of Orleans. Joanne’s minister, Jean Petit, justified this as a patriotic act taken on behalf of the interests of the population, and the nation, against the arbitrary and oppressive policies of the Duke of Armagnac. Johannes Gerson counter-argued that regardless of whether the grievances were legitimate or not, tyrannicide could not be condoned. Tyrannicide was in opposition to God’s law; defied the divine rights of the King to rule; and made the governance of a nation impossible, because anyone could justify the recourse to assassination as a remedy for real, or perceived, injustices. This stance by Gerson cost him the patronage of the Duke of Burgundy, and later, as Gerson concluded his crucial role as chairman of the Council of Constance, 1414-1418, he was forced to spend the last ten years of his life in exile, due to the dominance of the Burgundian forces in Paris.

Prior to the Council of Constance, Gerson had been a supporter of the supremacy of the Pope over the General Council. He modified that position at the Council of Constance, stating: “Though it (the Council) cannot destroy the plenitude of the Papal power, … in circumstances of a schism, a General Council could assemble without the consent of the Pope, and that it's rulings were binding on him.” [10] Gerson’s overriding concern was to end the schism and ironically, he utilized the Council as a means to reunify the Church under a single Pope. The Council designated Cardinal Colonna, as the new Pope, Martin V. While the struggle between the Papal advocates was not to be fully resolved unto the dissolving of the anti-Papal Council of Basel in 1438, Gerson was, in effect, successful in ending the schism within the Church.

At an earlier, unsuccessful, attempt to resolve the schism at the Council of Pisa in the year 1409, Gerson had strongly polemicized that the first obligation of the new Pope should be the reunification of the eastern and western churches. This goal was realized ten years after his death, at the famous Council of Florence, in 1439. Gerson’s influence on this process, however, cannot be doubted.

Shortly before his death on July 12, 1429, Gerson took another step which was crucial for the success of the Renaissance and the establishment of the first nation-state on the planet, and that was his defense of Joan of Arc. The Dauphin Charles, who was to become King Charles VII, asked Gerson to evaluate Joan of Arc. It was people associated with Gerson, who examined Joan at Poitiers on behalf of the Dauphin and recommended that he allow her to lead the troops into battle against the English. Since this is the area where the Brotherhood of the Common Life was also active, the overlap of these networks is more than probable. Gerson also wrote a treatise entitled, ‘Concerning the Admirable Triumph of a Certain Maid, Who Went from Guarding her Sheep to Becoming the Head of the Armies of the King of France at war with the English’. Written right after Joan’s victory in lifting the English siege of Orleans, Gerson said that Joan did not use magic or sorcery, and that she had no personal interest. In fact, she was exposing herself to danger as proof of her faith. Gerson stressed the condition of France, saying that it had become absolutely necessary to drive out the English. He explained that it was necessary for her to wear masculine clothing, because she was like a man at arms, a warrior. Thus he concluded, Joan could be supported in her mission.”

Gerson, at the Council of Constance, led the defense of the Brotherhood of the Common Life. The Dominican Monk, Grabow, had argued that the practice of Christian perfection should be restricted to members of the established orders who professed the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Gerson argued that practice of Christian perfection was open to all Christians, not just those who took the vows. Through his action, the BCL was able to act independently outside of the control of the corrupted elements of the Church, while still being recognized by the Church. So, Gerson’s action to secure a relative degree of independence for the Brotherhood was critical for allowing the BCL to become the seminal dissemination point for the ideas of the Renaissance. Ideas, which were to shape the development of the whole era.

The Creation of the Brotherhood of the Common Life

Nicholas of Cusa

When one compares the similarity in ideology and practical activities of Gerson to those of the founders of the Brotherhood of the Common Life, Gerson’s support for the Brotherhood becomes quite understandable.

An examination of Petrarca and the influence of his ideas in Northern Europe during the fourteenth century is necessary in order to properly evaluate the ideology of the founder of the Brotherhood, Gerard Groote (1340-1387), and to appreciate the subsequent development of this movement. Petrarca was the humanist successor of Dante, and the standard-bearer of the anti-Aristotelian tradition of the twelfth Century Chartre School of Education. He launched a project for the recovery and translation of the lost works of the ancients, and he personally discovered a number of works from St. Augustine and Cicero. It was through the encouragement of Petrarca, and Boccaccio, that the first Latin translation of the Iliad and the Odyssey occurred in Europe during the 1300s. Simultaneously, Petrarca rekindled a new interest in the fields of art, music, poetry and astronomy. The theoretical basis for Petrarca’s initiatives was rooted in his abhorrence of the fixed dogmas of Aristotelian logic, and in his advocacy of the hypothesis-forming tradition of St. Augustine.

Gerard Groote.

Gerard Groote, like Petrarca, was an admirer of St Augustine and St. Jerome, and ruthlessly attacked the sterile ideology of Aristotle. In one of his sermons he states:

“Alas, how misguided are the young people today, that they depend solely on the personal word of Aristotle or of another philosopher whom they personally esteem very highly, persuade and convince themselves of many opinions which they scarcely understand, or indeed even before they have penetrated to the heart of them, solely on account of the person who expresses them.”[11]

As you can see, Groote, like all the great truth-seekers, knew what real education was and grasped the method by which one could discover true knowledge. Think of today, when people mindlessly say: ‘I’m for free trade and Adam Smith’; or ‘FDR is a communist’, or “there are too many people” etc., and you see how relevant for today’s world, Groote’s attack on the cult of popular opinion was in his attempt to save the youth and culture of his day.

Groote is known not only to have read the writings of Petrarca and to have recommended them to his associates, but it is presumed that the two had personally met in Avignon before Petrarca’s death in 1373.

Petrarca had also spent a number of years as court advisor to the Kaiser in Prague and the Kaiser’s Chancellor, Johanne von Neumarkt, was considered Petrarca’s personal student and friend. Neumarkt, who read Dante’s Divine Comedy in the original Italian, was responsible for stimulating numerous translations of Petrarca’s works. These translations were widely circulated among the scholarly circles of the North during the last quarter of the fourteenth Century. So, a handful of people, very consciously, began a movement to bring the best of the early Italian renaissance into the North to create a generation who would study and master these ideas. The young people in the monasteries searched out the old forgotten manuscripts and translated them. If you want to translate something into another language, you must have mastered not only the words, but, the underlying concept embedded within the philosophical document, or poem, that you are working with. It was through this method of working with the original documents, and replicating the original discoveries of the ancients, that a generation of geniuses was developed.

“Between 1361 and 1401, some 180 students from the Netherlands completed their studies in Prague,” [12] the Northern nodal point for Petrarca’s influence at that time. Among these students was the core of gifted men that Groote, particularly during the last five years of his life (1379-1384), had assembled around himself. Florens Radewijns, the rector of the Brotherhood school in Deventer, and Groote’s designated successor, completed his studies in Prague in 1378. John Cele, who had received his Masters degree from the University of Paris, and was to serve for the 42 years between 1375 and 1417 as the Rector of the Zwolle branch of the Brotherhood of the Common Life, had requested permission from Groote in 1381 to further his studies in Prague. Another Deventer member of the Brotherhood, William Vroede, was commissioned by Groote to copy the commentaries of the Bible by John Crysostums (354-407), during his stay in Prague. These were some of the men who established the initial chapters, and affiliated schools of the Brotherhood in Deventer, Zwolle, Windesheim and many other towns in Flanders, the Netherlands and later, Germany.

In 1378, three years after Groote’s death, the monastery in Windesheim was founded under the direction of John Vos. Before his death in1424, the original four monasteries under the administration of the Windesheim congregation were expanded to a union of twenty-four. By 1460, there “…were 80 reformed monasteries united with Windesheim and spread over 17 dioceses; more that 50 congregations of Brothers and Sisters, and over a hundred foundations of the third order.”[13] The schools in Deventer and Zwolle provided an extra two years of advanced training to their students in the field of Philosophy. Today we see a similar explosive expansion of LaRouche’s youth movement, but on a global scale, with new renaissance outposts developing throughout the USA; but also in Germany, France, Mexico, South Africa, and even Australia.

The function of the Brotherhood was focused on three tasks. The first was the moral and educational development of the students. The second was the recovery of the original works of the Church Fathers, and the classical writers, and the translation of them into the native language. Finally, they were committed to the reformation of the monasteries and the Church in general.

One of the first projects of the Windesheim Congregation was “to create a uniform text for the choir books, the Bible and the Church Fathers.”[14] In order to do this, they assembled all the various versions of the Bible then in use in the North; compared these translations to a translation by St. Jerome, made from the original Hebrew, and then wrote the first semi-official interpretation of the Bible, and Church doctrine, for use in all of their affiliated monasteries. This massive project was a direct attack on the false teachings, and outright charlatanry that were then rampant among the clergy in the North. It was also a precedent setting activity for the entire development of the reform movement

The Council of Constance, (1414-1418), under Gerson’s chairmanship, was a key turning point for the renaissance, not only because it succeeded in legitimizing the ground-breaking work of the BCL, but it provided the first prolonged forum for the intellectual exchange and extended collaboration between the Petrarchian-influenced humanists in the North and those from Italy. “Germany had never seen a more glittering convergence of all the leading minds of Europe … 3 Patriarchs, 23 Cardinals, 93 Archbishops, 151 bishops…”[15] resided in Constance during the four year duration of the Council. One of these participants was the Italian humanist Poggio Bracciolini, 1380-1459. He was a student of both John of Ravenna, the personal secretary to Petrarca and of Manuel Chrysolaras, the Greek humanist, who, after settling in Florence in 1397, spurred the study of the Greek language and the Platonic writings in Europe. Poggio was acquainted with other Italian humanists like Filefo, the famous Florentine educator: and Alberti, the collaborator of Brunelleschi, and the author of the groundbreaking book on the principles of perspective. Poggio also collaborated with the former personal friend and follower of Petrarca, Coluccio Salutati, in the Petrarchian project to recover the lost classics. During his stay in Constance, Poggio searched the libraries of Saint Gallen, Langre, Weingarten and Reichenau, and recovered, among many other important works, the ‘Institutiones’ from Quintellian. The young northern Reformer, Nicolas of Cusa, carried this project forward after the conclusion of the Council. During the 1420’s, Cusa discovered in Cologne twelve lost comedies from Plautus and Terenz. These works were then delivered to Poggio in Florence where they were copied.

Organizing Against Oligarchical Methods

Repeatedly, in history, we see the importance of this process of assembling great minds in a forum for dialogue and deliberation as a means for advancing history. The Platonic Academy was one such example. Another example is how the great minds of the thirteen colonies only became a potent force, when they came together in the Constitutional Convention. They then began to think as a body, to determine the principles upon which they would act to establish a new nation, and defeat the British Empire. This is similar to what Lyndon and Helga LaRouche initiated in Frankfurt, Germany in April, 2013. The great minds of Russia, China, Japan, the Middle-East, the Americas, and the developing sector, were brought together as a deliberative body to create a new credit system. This allows these individuals and nations to take on a higher power of action in the world.

The basis that had been laid by the originally, somewhat isolated activities of individuals like Dante, Petrarca and Groote, now coalesced around Poggio, Gerson, Cusa, and other participants of the Council of Constance into a new, deeper level of cooperation between the Northern and Southern humanists. The Council was, therefore, a significant turning point for the entire reform movement; an event which enabled the humanists to launch a new, concerted, all-out assault upon every backward aspect of the existing society.

Each segment of the then existing power structure, the nobility, the financier strata and the Church, was divided from within; a division which took its roots in the most fundamental of theological, and ideological, concepts concerning the true character and purpose of Man’s existence in the universe. The Aristotelian, Nominalist faction conceived of Man as a fixed entity, as merely a cleverer beast of burden. With an ideology, which so delimited and degraded the dignity of Man, all forms of immoral oppressive policies became justifiable. The landed aristocracy justified the levying of exorbitant taxes upon their subjects, which reduced them to the condition of virtual serfdom; a privileged Priest-class obfuscated the basic tenets of religion for the masses, and imposed such practices as Simony within the Church; and finally, the financial elites imposed usury, hoarding and other speculative practices, for their own personal gain, but to the detriment of society at large.

In contrast, the Neo-platonic, Augustinian tradition conceived Man as unique individuals, each capable of comprehending and altering his own nature and the workings of the universe, to the betterment of both. This concept of Man as a creative, divine being, actively participating in God’s creation, was articulated, and victoriously established, as the official underpinning for the existence of Western culture through the acceptance of the ‘Filioque Principle’ at the Council of Florence in 1439. The Filioque affirmed that man derived his existence from both God the Father and the Son, i.e. that Man was both mortal and divine. This scientifically rooted moral Principle consequently transformed the purpose of institutions within society. Government’s role now became the furtherance of the individual and his divine capabilities, and any contrary activity was viewed as an attempt to degrade the dignity of Man, and as a direct sin against God and his creation. This is the foundation for the concept of the nation-state, which culminated in the American Revolution and the US Constitution.

Thus the battle lines of this ancient ideological conflict were now clearly defined. What now ensued was a decades-long struggle between these two irreconcilable forces, each vying for the ultimate supremacy over the other.

In the North, it was primarily the young prodigies of the Brotherhood of the Common Life; the new generation of young humanists, acting consciously in the tradition of Gerson and Petrarca, which assumed the primary responsibility for the success of this campaign.

The Humanist forces began very deliberately to polarize, split and capture different elements within the Church, the nobility and the growing mercantilist forces, to the humanist concept. They were moving to create humanist princes; to reform the Church to create humanist monks, instead of charlatans, and also to organize the mercantilists as a force against the, then dominant, financier class. It is similar to the present, where President Obama, and others in the Democratic Party have disenfranchised the productive interests of their base, on behalf of the financial parasites of Wall St and London. LaRouche, by organizing the population around the principles of the general welfare, and the FDR tradition, is isolating the backward forces, which are the oligarchs of today.

One of the first priorities of the Humanists, was the imposition of the Church reforms upon the still highly resistant clergy in the majority of the remaining monasteries of the North. In 1423, the Bursfelder Reforms, which applied to a union of approximately 100 monasteries in the region surrounding Goettingen, were sanctioned by the Pope. These reforms increased the authority of the Church over the monasteries. It imposed uniform regulations defining acceptable activities for the monks, and it also established disciplinary measures for disobedience of these rules. Clarification of Church doctrine and standardization of Church ceremonies, along the lines of the Windesheim example, were also introduced. Johannes Busch, Nicolas of Cusa, Dionysius the Carthuser, and other Brotherhood trained individuals, used the Bursfelder Reforms as the spearhead for their reform activities. In 1450, Cardinal Cusa made a year-long organizing tour of the entirety of the monasteries in Germany and the Netherlands, in order to personally oversee the implementation of the reform measures. A copy of Johannes Gerson’s reform proposals accompanied him throughout this tour.

Another priority campaign of the humanist reformers centered on an expanded concern with education. While many students made the pilgrimage to Italy in order to study in the humanist centers in Padua, Pavia, Florence, and Rome, simultaneous efforts were made to extend the humanist ideas into the secondary schools and universities of the North. In 1450, Louis Dringenberg, a former student of Thomas a’Kempis from the BCL, founded in Muenster the first influential secondary school in Germany. Many important advocates of the humanist cause, such as Jacob Wimpheling, who became known as the ‘Educator of Germany’, received their initial training under Dringenberg’s guidance. The Humanists also began to infiltrate the largely Nominalist controlled Universities of Vienna, Rostock, Erfurt and Heidelberg with increasing numbers of reform oriented professors. Unfortunately, their influence was often limited to specific departments within the University and, even within these departments, bitter ideological differences frequently existed between the faculty members. Thus, the resistance and restraints imposed by the Nominalist-oligarchical forces severely hampered the successful, total conversion of these institutions.

One solution to this problem was for the humanists to create entirely new institutions of their own. In 1428, the University of Loewen was brought into existence with a provision in its charter, which banned the teaching of the Nominalist’s ideology. Its original 12 professors were drawn from the best of the reform circles out of every corner of the continent. Dionysius the Carthuser, who was also trained by the Brotherhood, in Deventer, and was a close collaborator of Nicholas of Cusa, was the initiator of this project. In 1478 another member of the Brotherhood, Gabriel Biel, founded the famous University of Tuebingen with the financial patronage of the Prince of Wuertemburg, Eberhard von Bart.

Dante reading his poem.

Collaboration between the reformers and the nobility in Europe was not an accidental occurrence. The humanists had made a conscious effort, even from the time of Petrarca and Dante, to convert or influence the reigning Kaisers, princes and dukes to their cause. A particularly successful effort, however, occurred in the aftermath of the Council of Basel, the second Church Council held in the North between the years 1431 and 1438. In attendance from Italy were the Cardinals Carvajal, Albergati and Bessarion, and two future humanist Popes, Thomas Parentucilli and Aneas Sylvius Piccolimini. These men were all close collaborators of Nicolas of Cusa. At the Council itself, Cusa had quickly distanced himself from the schismatic-inclined Conciliarist movement, and had thrown his wholehearted support behind the Pope, who, subsequently, declared the Council null and void. However, this network of humanists, which had further solidified their collaboration during the Council, now launched a campaign under Cusa’s direction, to bring the German princes into open alliance with the Papacy. In 1440, Friedrich III from Austria was elected as the new King. Two years later, Cusa’s friend, Sylvius Aneas, assumed the important position of Secretary to the Kaiser. He was thus strategically positioned to actively organize for the reconciliation between the Pope and Friedrich. In 1447, Thomas Parentucelli became Pope Nicolas V. He immediately named his former humanist patron, the Florentine mercantilist Cosimo d’Medici, as the official banker of the Papacy. In the following year, Cusa and Carvajal oversaw the official alliance between the German Empire and the Papacy through the signing of the ‘Wiener Concordat’. Shortly thereafter, Pope Nicolas V ordained Friedrich III with the title of Holy Roman Emperor.


The final, crucial, element for the success of the humanist movement was the mercantile class. The nascent mercantilism forces of the thirteen hundreds had begun, by the turn of the century, to rapidly increase their power and influence over the course of events in Europe. In the North, the original mercantilist centers were in Burgundy, starting with the reign of Philipp the Bold in 1383, and slightly later in certain German cities. The wealthy mercantilist families, ‘Patrizier Familien’ like the Tucher and Pirckheimer families of Nuremburg, quickly established almost hereditary rights for themselves in the positions of power within their respective city-states, and played an important role in the humanist culture. They derived their wealth primarily from investments in cloth production, mining and in the trade of commodities like spices and wine. The Mercantilists were enthusiastic supporters of technological and scientific breakthroughs, and were particularly opposed to the usurious practices of the speculative financiers, because such policies strangled the potential investments in real productive ventures. Such attributes made the mercantilist strata the natural allies of the humanist forces.

The majority of the Patrizier were exposed to the humanist ideas from the earliest period of their education. For example, in the 1430’s the three Pirckheimer brothers, Franz the Junger, Thomas, and Johann (Hans), the grandfather of the humanist friend of Dürer, Willibad Pirckheimer, began their studies in Cologne, and then continued them in the humanist influenced Italian universities in Pavia, Padua and Bologna. Here, they quickly came under the influence of Poggio, Cardinal Bessarion, Aneas Sylvius and many of the other Italian humanists. At the same time, the Pirckheimers established lifelong, personal relationships with the small core of Germans who were then studying in Italy. Numbered among this close circle of friends were the Bishop from Eichstatt, Johanne III von Eich and his successor, Wilhelm von Reichenau, Hartmann Schedel and Nicolas of Cusa. Thomas Pirckheimer, who became a trusted advisor of Duke Albrecht III from Munich, also served in 1454 as the Provost of the Eichstatter Cathedral. In 1467, the father of Willibad Pirckheimer, Dr. Johann P. Pirckheimer, followed this tradition and joined the small circle of humanists centered around Wilhelm von Reichenau in Eichstatt. Hans Pirckheimer, Willibads’s great-grandfather, wrote a treatise in 1462, in which he detailed the humanist goal of converting the nobility to recognize the “importance of education, art and science for themselves and their subjects.” This same Hans Pirckheimer served over 18 years in the Nuremburg Advisory Council, and simultaneously oversaw the massive business interests of the Pirckheimer family.

Another important Nuremburg Patrizier family that had been a major political and financial force in Nuremburg since the early 1300’s, was the Tucher family. They had amassed a family fortune beyond comparison in Nuremburg at that time. The Tuchers, Pirckheimers, and other Patrizier families had developed Nuremburg into the premier center of the European metal industry. They monopolized the entire chain of production, from the ownership of the mines, to the production of the final manufactured goods, ranging from household tools and other artifacts, to military armaments. These goods, in addition to the cloth and wine products from Burgundy, were the exchange items for spices, fruits and certain drugs from the East.

Venetian Manipulation

The problem was that the Venetians controlled the existing known sea routes between the East and the West. They were in the classic position of the usurious middleman, controlling the terms of the trade between the two sectors. They produced no real wealth of their own. The slave trade was their main source of income, but they were able to politically determine the speculative process of the goods traded and thus reap massive financial benefits for themselves. By putting the princes into debt through usurious practices, and then demanding payment, even when it entailed the looting of their populations beyond their physical means of survival, the Venetians threw the entirety of Europe into bankruptcy, and unleashed the conditions for the Black Plague, and the ensuing Dark Ages. This is the model for the Venetian spawned British/Saudi Empire and the Pax Americana imperialists, around President Obama today; controlling the sea routes, controlling finance through the mechanism of central banks and the European Union Troika, which act above the commitment of the sovereign states to the welfare of their populations. Like our fight today against these parasitic policies, one of the main objectives of the mercantile forces, and their humanist allies, was to break this monopoly of the Venetians.

The Humanist’s offensive involved various stages of development, and shifted geographically, depending upon changing political circumstances. The one constant variable throughout this entire process however, was the coordinating role exercised by the leadership Troika, composed of the humanist forces from the nobility, the Church and the Mercantilists. The first successful challenge to the Venetian trade monopoly occurred in 1461, with the crowning of Louis XI as the King of France. The humanist educated King had established close relations with the anti-Venetian forces in Florence and Milan, led by the d’Medicis and Francesco Sforza. Another vehement opponent of the Venetians, Aneas Sylvius, now Pope Pius II, and his trusted adviser, Nicolas of Cusa, ardently supported Louis’ accession to the throne.

In the mid 1300’s, Venice had dominated European trade and finance, with Geneva exercising the dominant role in this arrangement. In 1465, Louis XI successfully undermined this influence by establishing Lyon as the new textile and financial center of Europe. The d’Medicis and the Tuchers immediately supported this effort by establishing a permanent business presence in Lyon. Here we see a very coordinated operation, moving immediately off the ascension of power of the humanist prince, Louis XI, in conjunction with the Mercantilists and the Cusa networks to break the control of the Venetian oligarchy

The Tuchers also performed another crucial service for the existence of the humanist forces as head of one of the largest private intelligence services in Europe. The German Patrizier and merchant families had organized themselves into a ‘brotherhood’, with the purpose of coordinating, and advancing, their common interests. This brotherhood, under the direction of the Tuchers, formed the leadership core of an intelligence apparatus, which utilized their massive, European-wide, trade connections to simultaneously gather information on the political, financial and religious developments in Europe. This intelligence service rivaled those of the Venetians and of the ‘Spider King’, Louis XI. The Emperor Friedrich III considered the intelligence provided to him by the Tuchers as superior to his own.

Louis XI had forged France into the first successful experiment in the establishment of an independent, mercantilist-based nation-state. Unfortunately, after his death in 1483, his successors proved themselves to be increasingly manipulated by the Venetian financial interests, to the great detriment of France and Europe as a whole.

A more devastating blow, however, to the Venetian power was to occur with the discovery of the sea routes to the East Indies in the last decades of the 1400’s.The first fledgling steps in this development had been taken by Philipp the Good in Burgundy. Philipp, who was not a very good guy, came to power in 1419, well over a decade before Cosimo d’Medici was to consolidate his power in Florence, and he governed over a mercantilist trade empire which spanned the entirety of Europe. In 1430, Philipp married Isabella, the daughter of the King of Portugal. As early as 1415, Isabella’s brother, Prince Henry the Navigator, had launched a series of sea expeditions with the objective of finding new trade routes to the East. To further aid the success of this project, both Henry, and Philipp the Good, encouraged the application of scientific methods to the art of navigation. Through the establishment of the famous School of Navigation in Portugal, and similar efforts in Burgundy, new navigational devices, astronomical observations and precise mapping techniques were rapidly developed. The Brotherhood of the Common Life, and Cusa’s associates, assumed the dominant role in this crucial flanking operation against the Venetians.

Cusa’s Scientific Networks

The networks around Cusa were zealously involved in these scientific investigations, and they contributed many fundamental discoveries, which were to transform the course of science and history for centuries to come. Cusa, almost a century before Copernicus, advocated a rotational motion of the Earth on its axis, and a circular, orbital motion of the Earth itself. He encouraged through his personal and literary interchanges, the creative minds of Georg von Peuerbach (1423-1461) and Johann Mueller (Regiomontan, 1436-1475), the two re-discoverers of an independent and direct investigation of nature; the Fathers of the calculable and observable Astronomy.” Puerbach, on the request of Cardinal Bessarion, had begun the translation of the Greek ‘Almagest’ and other works of Ptolemy. Upon his early death, his student Regiomontan continued this project, while simultaneously refining the re-discovered knowledge of the Arabian trigonometry. In 1471, Regiomontan set up an Observatory and workshop in Nuremburg with the financial backing of the Nuremburger Patrizier, Bernhard Walther. Regiomontan chose Nuremburg as his place of residence because it was the premier producer of instruments necessary for his scientific and astronomical work and the intellectual crossroads for the enlightened Renaissance leaders of Europe. He proceeded to set up a printing press in Nuremburg, published the first calendar for the use of the general population and encouraged excitement for the sciences among the youth, by sponsoring the first known public science fairs. Kepler’s revolutionary planetary theory benefited directly from the groundbreaking work of Cusa, Puerbach and Regiomontan. A student of Regiomontan’s, the geographer Martin Behaim, produced the first world globe, and also participated in one of the early Portuguese sea expeditions. The entire arsenal of the humanist tradition was assembled by Columbus in preparation for his voyages. He examined the writings of Gerson’s friend, Pierre D’Ailly, with his ample quotations from the geographical studies of Roger Bacon, and he also read the work by Sylvius Aneas on the geography of Asia. He studied the astronomical charts of Regiomontan and Puerbach, and utilized many of the nautical instruments that had found their origin in Nuremburg. With the discovery of the sea routes to the East Indies and the New World, the absolute power of the Venetians, and their allies was severely shattered, but not eradicated.

At this stage of the struggle, what was required was an institution, which would serve as the unified command center of the humanists, coordinating their various activities throughout the entirety of the Northern region. The ‘Sodalitas litteria’, founded by the German, Conrad Celtis (1459-1508), fulfilled this purpose. The Sodalitas was modeled explicitly on the Platonic Academy of Florence, founded by Cosimo d’Medici and Cardinal Bessarion. The Sodalitas even adopted the practice, in Florence, of celebrating the date of Plato’s birth and death with a great feast, which included a program consisting of music, poetry and other intellectual festivities.

One of the early teachers and collaborators of Celtis was the humanist Rudolph Agricola (1442-1485). Agricola, similar to his contemporary, Alexander Hegius, the teacher of Erasmus, had received his early training from Thomas a’Kempis at the Brotherhood School in Zwolle. He then continued his education at the universities of Loewen and Paris. Agricola’s teacher in Paris was John Wesel von Gansforth, also a former student of Thomas a’Kempis, and a close personal friend of Cardinal Bessarion. As Agricola traveled through Italy between the years of 1469 and 1478, he was respected by the Italian Humanists, not only for his extraordinary knowledge of the Greek and Roman classics, but also for his talent as an accomplished painter and musician. He was even a trained builder of organs. Agricola wrote the first biography of Petrarca published in Germany. In this work, he expressed the great debt that the entire Humanist movement owed to Petrarca. He praised him for transforming the century by reviving the lost works of the ancients, but also, for launching a new renaissance culture for his century and being the inspiration for future generations.

In 1487, Agricola’s’ protégé, Conrad Celtis, became the first German to receive the poets Laurel Crown from the Kaiser, Friedrich III. Between 1489 and 1491, Celtis gathered around himself, in Krakow, a core of humanist followers. One of these followers was the teacher of Copernicus, Albert Blar, and another was the Florentine, Callimachus, who then served as the private secretary to the King of Poland. Celtis and another Krakow collaborator of his, Laurentius Corvinus, introduced revolutionary concepts into the field of education. For example, in-order to instill an enthusiasm among his students for the history and language of the ancients Corvinus had them perform the Eunuch from Terenz, and the Aulularia from Plautus. Celtis also recognized that the thematic content of these comedies had an educational function, in that it dealt with the basic moral principles required for the development of good character. He therefore arranged for the performance of these comedies before the Emperor Maximilian in Vienna, as a means of reinforcing these qualities among the leadership of Europe. The beginning of the modern concept of the theater, in the tradition later perfected by Shakespeare and Schiller, find its roots here.

In 1495, the first chapter of the ‘Sodalitas litteria’ was founded in Heidelberg. Shortly thereafter, primarily through the incessant personal organizing activity of Celtis himself, seven different branches of the Sodalitas were established. For the first time, the humanists within the Church, the financial strata and the nobility from Danzig, Krakow, Warsaw, Vienna and the rest of Northern Europe, were integrated, albeit in an informal manner, through the European-wide institutional structure of the Sodalitas litteria.

No realm of knowledge, religious or scientific controversy remained outside the interests and intervention of the members of the Sodalitas. For example, it was the Sodalitas member, Willibad Pirckheimer, who launched an uncompromising offensive against the ‘Venetian faction’ of usurious financiers; the Fuggers of Augsburg. In a devastating satire entitled ‘Der Enteckte Eck’, the friend of Erasmus, Pirckheimer, ridicules the apologist for the Fuggers, the Professor of Theology at the University of Ingolstadt, Johann Eck. Two short excerpts demonstrate this quite clearly:

Friend- … “Let’s write to your friend in Augsburg, the rich merchant.

Eck- … “But which one do you mean? There are many, quite rich merchants there, all who are good friends of mine.

Friend- “Naturally, he to whom you one time rented your tongue, and, enticed by gold, gave permission for levying of unlimited interest, and then, with theological arguments, you provided the evidence that allowed this.”[17]

And later:

Surgeon- “Was this a matter concerning the subject of religion?

Eck- “Absolutely, because I made it perfectly clear, that the rich are allowed to loan money for interest, but not the poor, unless there are certain extenuating circumstances.

Surgeon- “In any case, I didn’t know that interest had anything to do with Religion.

Eck- … “As I see, you were never in Rome.” [18]

Another Sodalitas member, Johannes Tritemius, who was also a great educator, unequivocally condemned the hoarders, speculators, and usurers. He said that the usurers were no better than the robber on the street and condemned the speculators for acting as if they were above all law, and of having no concern for the common welfare of the people.

The humanists of the 15th and early 16th Century understood a basic principle, which is, unfortunately, as foreign to the financial barons of today as it was to those of their age, namely, that economic policy and morality cannot be divorced from one another; that a moral and successful economic policy is measured by the same standard; the effective advancement of the productive well-being and creative potential of the population as a whole.

Even the early reformers realized that the task of awakening this slumbering creativity was not solely a question of reforms, or of scientific and economic progress, which they could affect. What they required was a means to reach into the very soul of the individual; to inspire him, and transform his entire conception of himself. This was the goal of the Renaissance artist. Almost without exception, we find that the thematic subjects, chosen by the artists of the 1400’s, reflected their intimate involvement with their humanist contemporaries.

Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441)

Man in a Turban (by Van Eyck).
Cardinal Albergati (by Van Eyck).

One of the earliest examples, before the discovery of the single vanishing point concept of perspective, were the paintings of Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441). His portrait of Cusa’s close friend, Cardinal Albergati, points to his close association with Cusa’s humanist current. Van Eyck’s paintings represent a comprehensive, precisely thought out conception. The pose and gestures of his figures, the choice of background and architecture, and the skillful use of symbolism are all designed to develop a unified idea to the observer. Van Eyck then accents this concept through his subtle manipulation of light, shadow, perspective and the reflective principles of light. He is thus able to highlight the deeper quality, or irony, of the painting, on which he wishes the viewer to reflect.

The Altar of Ghent.

The Altar of Ghent is so composed. Norbert Schneider in his book, Jan van Eyck-The Genter Altar, documents that the theme of the Altar, which was completed in 1432, the same year that the Council of Basel was convened, addresses the political and theological issues that this conference was supposed to resolve. The debate centered on the power relations between the Emperor and the Pope, the Pope and the Cardinals, and finally, between the Church and the laity. Nicolas von Cusa wrote the treatise, Concordantia Catholica, with the intent of resolving these questions. He recognized the power of the Pope, but a Pope elected, and subjected to constraints by the Council of Cardinals. The Emperor was conceived as acting with the divine blessing of the Church (i.e. the Pope), to further God’s work in the secular world.

Van Eyck represents Cusa’s factional outlook in the Genter Alter by placing the crown of the Emperor at the foot of the God/Christ figure, who is wearing the crown of the Pope, thus making it clear that the Emperor’s power is derived from Christ through his earthly representative, the Pope. In the panel of the Adoration of the Lamb, Van Eyck emphasizes a Cusa-like conception of the interrelations between the Pope, the Cardinals and the laity, by hierarchically crowding one group behind the other. This creates the impression that the existence of the Church is dependent upon the interaction of these three groupings as a whole, mediated through the spirit of Christ.

Ghent Altar - Crown at Foot of God/Christ Figure.   Ghent Altar - Saints, Popes, Cardinals, People.
Ghent Altar - Adam and Eve Panel

But how do you convey, in a painting, the more subtle concepts, such as Man being both divine and human, or that Man possesses a deeper quality, i.e. a soul? Van Eyck composes the Adam and Eve panels of the Altar, using the concept of dissonances or paradoxes, to provoke the mind of the viewer to discover these concepts. By placing Adam and Eve on each end of the panels, which deal with the harmonic realm of God and the angels, Van Eyck reminds the viewer of their original inclusion in God’s Paradise. But a counter-posing theme is immediately introduced by his skillful use of perspective. By painting Adam “as seen from below,”[19] one’s attention is focused on Adam’s right foot, which is conspicuously protruding out the frame. Thus, Van Eyck accents Adam’s banishment from this divine realm to the mortal realm below. Adam’s distinct mortal, or human nature, is further developed by Van Eyck’s minute depiction of Adam’s bone and muscle structure, and through portrayal of his inwardly reflective facial expression. Additionally, by subtly positioning Adam’s left arm across his mid-section, but at a slight distance away from his body, as is evidenced by the shadow seen between the arm and the body, Van Eyck paints Adam as a real, three-dimensional being, or perhaps better stated, as a human being with a deeper dimension, or soul. Finally, while the figures of Adam and Eve are each individually, proportionally correct, indicating Man as a creation of God’s universal laws, Van Eyck underscores the separation between the divine and mortal realms by using a metric for “the relation of the figures to the surrounding space,” in the Adam and Eve panels, “which is completely different from those of the other panels.”[20]

As early as1419, a ’Sangerschule’ was established in the northern city of Djon, which was dedicated to the intense study of the science of music. This school became a dominant influence in music, throughout Europe, for the next one hundred years. Indeed, the majority of the singers in Rome came from the Netherlands.

Dufay and Binchois

Dufay and Binchois.

One of the key figures in the revolution that occurred in music at this time was Guillerme Dufay. Born in Cambrai in 1400, and later active in both Cambrai and Brugge as a Canon of the Church, Dufay “was universally regarded as the greatest composer of his time.”[21] After receiving his initial training in the Cambrai Cathedral Choir, he spent a number of years in Italy at the court of Malatesta and in the papal choirs under Pope Martin V and Eugenius IV. Dufay is credited, along with his collaborator, Gilles Binchois, the Court Chaplain to Philipp the Good, with the development of the new Contra-point music. Their music displayed a good command of the registers. Dufay’s four-voice motet, ‘Nuper rosarum flores’, was performed at the Baptismal ceremony celebrating the completion of Brunelleschi’s Dome. What is absolutely unique about this composition is that the entire piece is composed using the same geometric relations as Brunelleschi utilized to construct the Dome. “The two lower voices are performed four times at different speeds with the proportional lengths 6:4; 2:3; which correspond to the proportions of the Nave, the crossing, the apse, and the height of the cupola in the Florence Cathedral.”[22]

Ghent Altar - Singing Angels (1432).

It is not surprising therefore, that Van Eyck should reflect this Netherland-centered, humanist musical current in his paintings. He was active at the same court as Gilles Binchois, and is believed to have used Binchois as the model for his portrait, Timoteus. In the ‘Singing Angels’ panel of the Genter Altar, completed in 1432, almost ten years before Della Robbia’s famous, ‘Singende Knaben’ sculpture, Van Eyck demonstrates the Bel Canto method being developed at the time, through his precise depiction of the rounded-mouth formations corresponding to the different singing voices of these angels.

The members of the Sodalitas, of the late 1400’s, lawfully continued the tradition of becoming the main patrons of their contemporary Renaissance artists. A few examples underscore this point. The sepulcher of the Sodalitas member Johannes Trithemius, in Neumuenster, was designed by the famous renaissance sculptor, Tilman Riemannschneider, while that of Callimachus in Krakow was designed by two equally famous sculptors, Peter Vischer and Veit Stoss. Later, as Veit Stoss moved to Nuremburg, we find Sixtus and Anton II Tucher to be his most faithful patrons. The portrait by Hans Holbein the Elder, of Georg Moerlin, another Sodalitas member and Abbott of the St. Ulrich and Afra Cloister in Augsburg, is yet another indication of this intimate, collaboration. Of course, the most famous example is the intimate lifelong relationship, which existed between Willibad Pirckheimer and Albrecht Dürer.

The Humanist movement represented a continuity of thought and development from the “Mystical Theology” of Gerson to the formation of the humanist network of the Sodalitas. The underlying, unifying, concept of this entire renaissance period was most clearly expressed by the nun, Caritas Pirckheimer, the sister of Willibad Pirckheimer, in a letter to Conrad Celtis. She states,

“Johannes Gerson, the Doctor from Paris, demonstrated that the Mystical Theology is nothing other than the Art of Love or Caritas. To have God in the sciences. Science without Love is indeed more to be dammed, as to be praised. According to the Apostle’s word, ‘Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifies. (1 Corinthians)… Because the letter kills and the soul makes one living.’”[23]

G.W. Leibniz   Cotton Mather

This is the whole philosophy of the humanist renaissance, which we have to continue today. These renaissance leaders launched a cultural revolution, which was not completely successful, but which saved civilization from complete destruction. Their cultural revolution unleashed a process by which the dignity of Man became an inextinguishable concept within society. This is, literally, the conceptual basis upon which people like the Mather’s and Leibniz founded our nation, and Franklin and others carried it forth in the creation of our Republic. These renaissance Prometheans are the founding fathers of modern western civilization.


The Issue of Leadership Today

We have our Anglo/Dutch Venetian faction today. They have unleashed their moronic wars in an attempt to impose their delusions of world-empire, and establish their self-professed genetic superiority over the planet. The world is once again being confronted with the necessity to fight for the freedom and dignity of Mankind, to save civilization from global destruction, and secure the centuries ahead for humanity. The revival of the tradition and spirit of the Brotherhood of the Common Life and the Sodalitas is needed now, more than ever.

The problem to be solved for Humanity today is the same as in the Renaissance. How do we develop the qualities of leadership required among the youth and others for the tasks before us? Lyndon LaRouche addresses this problem in the following beautiful way:

“The history of humanity is dependent upon leadership. For example: in Christianity, the exemplification of such leadership is the person of Jesus Christ. That’s the image of the need for leadership: To take a broken humanity, which found itself in the age of Tiberius- and Augustus before him- under the rule of evil. Under the rule of an evil, which had taken over the society of the Mediterranean region. And, in this evil, someone came, as a leader, a model of leadership, and sacrificed their life, in a manner described by Socrates, in Plato’s writing on Socrates: to sacrifice their life willingly- not to flee from death; but, to stand in place, and put their life on the line, for the sake of future humanity. That is a leader.

Nothing else is a leader, in a time of crisis. As we remember Martin Luther King, in this connection, in his address. He stood and he died. Not just for the African-American people. He died for all humanity, in the image of Christ, which inspired him.

Or the beginning of modern European civilization, which was made possible by a little girl (not so little, but a girl): Jeanne d’Arc. Jeanne d’Arc refused to flinch in her mission. And her courage, in going to be burned alive by the Inquisition, inspired France to create the first modern nation-state, and inspired, to a great degree, the Renaissance, launched from Italy, which created modern society, and brought us out of the darkness of the Middle Ages.

It is always the kind of leadership, which is exceptional, and which has a certain specific quality; a quality which is called, “a sense of immortality.” And, that is what it takes to become a leader, an effective leader, in times of crisis.”

And then he says,

“Therefore, by sharing knowledge and transmitting it, we bring humanity from a poorer state to a higher state. We liberate Mankind from oppressive conditions, and bring it into a more noble condition. And the most noble thing we do, is, as it is said in the New Testament, on the question of the talent: we use the “talent” of mortality, which is given to us. We invest it, by expending it in such a way, that our lives mean something to those who have gone before us, and to those who come after us. Therefore, we have spent our talent wisely.

What we can do, that accomplishes that, is to share in the discovery of universal principles. To relive the great discoveries, made by people thousands of years before us; to transmit these discoveries, as in education and other means, to our contemporaries. And, to share this to future generations, and also to transmit to them, the knowledge of how to continue this process, of increasing man’s power in and over the universe.”

That’s what I hope we have done here.


[1] Durant, Des hohe Mittelalter und die Fruhrenaissance p. 290

[2] F. X. Kunz, Padagogishche schriften (Breisgau 1904) p. 92

[3] ibid., p.132

[4] John L. Connolly, John Gerson- Reformer and Mystic. Librairie Univeritaire Louvan. Heider Book Co., St Louis, MO, 1928.

[5] Padagogische Schriften, op. Cit., p. 150-51

[6] Connolly, op. Cit., p. 297

[7] Connolly, ibid.

[8] Connolly, ibid., p. 364-65

[9] Connolly, ibid., p.133

[10] Connolly, ibid., p. 177-178

[11] R.R. Post, The Modern Devotion, p. 763

[12] Paul Mesterverdt, Die Anfange des Erasmus. Humanismus und Devotio Moderna. Leipzig, 1917, p. 108

[13] Post, op. Cit., 494

[14] ibid., p. 304

[15] Max Guisberg, Repertorium fur Kunstwissenschaft Die Anfange des deustchen Kupferstiches und der Meister E. S. Helmuth. Th. Bossert, p. 191-192

[16] Arnold Reimann, Die Altern Pirckheimer. Leipzig, 1944, p. 176

[17] Willibad Pirckheimer, Der Enteckte Eck Ubersetzt und Heraushegeben von Niklas Holzberg Phillip reclam Jun., Stuttgart, Germany, p. 15

[18] ibid., p.49

[19] Norbert Schneider, Jan van Eyck – Der Genter Altar Vorschlage fur eine Reform der Kirche Fischer Taschenbuch verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1986, p. 45

[20] ibid., p. 43

[21] Bach Cantatas website,, Guillaaume Dufay, ( Composer)

[22] Tomas Luis de Victoria, Music History, Nuper Rosarum Flores

[23] Georg Deichstetler, Caritas Pirckheimer Wien und Koln Verlag, Koln, Germany 1982, p. 97