The league of beneficiaries of the Diocletian Order and the Jehovian Settlement of Constantine, i.e. wealthy mercantile families, especially from Venice, Jewish merchants and some landed nobility, coalesced as the Guelph faction in the struggle against the Ghibellines.
The original House of Guelph, after which the faction was named, was intertwined with the German aristocracy, through to the House of Hanover. Almost all the European royal houses in recent times originated from the House of Hanover (George I of England was a Guelph), including the present House of Windsor.
The Ghibelines supported the secular authority of the Holy Roman Emperor, whilst the Guelph faction backed the Pope.
Calculating that they would benefit most from a sustained feudal Christendom under a centralised Papal authority, the Guelphs stood against the threat to the Jehovian Settlement posed by the heirs of Charlemagne. The origin of the Fourteenth-century crisis lay in the success of the reactionary pro-Papacy Guelphs in turning back the clock of history, following the death of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in 1250.
An ultra-feudalist, usurious world order was part of a sweeping change in the correlation of forces in Europe, following Venice’s successful exploitation of its control over the Fourth Crusade (1202-04).
After the killing the heirs to Frederick II’s throne, Manfred and Conradin Hohenstaufen in 1266, the Guelphs unleashed chaos, economic ruin and the rising power of a group of Venice-sponsored Lombard bankers, typified by the House of Bardi, throughout Europe. Through feudal wars, and financial speculation, Europe’s culture and economy collapsed, and death rates rose sharply, principally in the non-money economy amongst the serf population. The collapse of the resulting debt bubble and ensuing bankruptcy of the Bardi and Peruzzi Banks unleashed the final stage of that decay.
Unrecognised at the time, the fourteenth century ushered in the onset of what has since been recognised as the Little Ice Age
The fixed and static society of ultra-feudalism, newly buttressed by Guelph victories, lacked the capacity for change needed with science and technology to increase agricultural production and improve transportation and preservation of food stuffs. The capacity of the population to sustain itself, including its immunological resistance to disease, was significantly reduced. In 1315, unusually heavy rains came,crops failed all over Europe, and famine ensued. People were undernourished and consequently more vulnerable to hunger and disease. A contagion of dysentery prevailed in these years, and famines recurred intermittently after 1315-16, in 1328-29 and 1338-39.
The imposition of ultra-Feudalism by the tripartite group which benefitted from the Diocletian order and Jehovian Settlement, principally the landed nobility, Venetian financiers and Jews, had amounted to an ultra-genocide of serfdom.
Economic devastation in Florence and Siena resulting from the banking collapse, was followed, first by the renewal of war between England and France in 1346, then, by famine in 1347, and, finally, by the first outbreak of plague - the Black Death - in Messina in 1347.
With the vast loss of life brought about by the plague, production slowed, goods became scarce, and prices soared. In France, the price of wheat increased four-fold by 1350. At the same time, the shortage of labour brought a concerted demand for higher wages. In many guilds, workers struck for higher pay and shorter hours.
The response of the ruling feudal oligarchies was repression.
Penalties were established for refusal to work, for leaving a place of employment to seek higher pay, and for the offer of higher pay by employers. This manifested itself in England as the Statute of Labourers of 1351, which was essentially a recodification of the Diocletian Order. It established ultra-Feudalism, with the consequences described above.
Beginning in 1378, the accumulated miseries of the working class gave rise to peasant insurrections in Florence, and one year later in Ghent. Over five years,insurrections succeeded each other in Florence, Flanders, Languedoc, Paris, England, and then back to Flanders and northern France.
In England in 1381, a peasant revolt erupted, precipitated by the third poll tax in four years. The peasants wanted abolition of the old bonds, the right to commute services to rent, and riddance of all the restrictions heaped up by the Statute of Labourers.
However, none of the insurrections were successful. The leaders were hanged and the uprisings suppressed. They were unsuccessful, because they were merely rebelling against the symptoms of the crisis without any concept of its cause or of an alternative organisation of society.
The few who had in fact seen beyond the immediately exploitative practices of the landowning nobility, in the non-money economy, were condemned as heretics by the Church. Serfs who made the association between economic collapse, rising taxes and plague with the malpractices of bankers, currency speculators and the contagion carried along the trading routes of merchants, vented their anger and distress against the Jews. Pope Clement checked this threat to the equilibrium of the Jehovian Settlement in a Bull of September 1348, in which he said that Christians who imputed the pestilence to the Jews, had been “seduced by that liar,the Devil.”
The cultural paradigm of the 14th century stemmed from the determination to maintain a static ultra-feudalism by the parties who benefitted most from the Jehovian Settlement, namely the Black Guelph forces of feudal nobility, Jews and Venetian financiers.
Whilst qualitative change was precluded, the eventual self-weakening and discrediting of that society, offered the potential for a paradigm shift.
At the point that the false axiomatic assumptions of the Dark Ages were exposed as a deadly fantasy,leading civilisation towards a tragic conclusion (such as the chaos of the 14th Century), there was a re-emergence of ideas that had lain dormant for many centuries.
The ideas that broke the mould of the Middle Ages were revolutionary, advanced by individuals at the crucial moment of self-weakening of the Guelph forces. Without the underground preservation of the Platonic tradition, mere rebellion would have led inevitably to suppression and further social stasis under a regime of ultra-feudalism.
The Guelphs were pro-Papacy, the Ghibellines were pro-Empire. But by Dante’s time, the Guelphs had won in Florence. However, the victorious Guelphs then split into the Black faction, which was pro-Papacy, and a White faction, which was anti-Papacy, more or less replicating the old Guelph-Ghibelline conflict under a new name. Dante was a member of the White faction.
The Black Guelphs calculated that the preservation of the Jehovian Settlement needed the integrity of Christendom under the Pope. For Europe to fall under the secular authority of the Empire would have been to risk the widespread emergence of sovereign states and national currencies, the very imposition of order over chaos that the Black Guelphs feared.
Dante fiercely opposed this, being convinced that the only solution for the incessant economic discord was to have Europe united under one monarch. Dante expounded these views at length in his political treatise De monarchia (c. 1314). He had no faith in the ability of citizens to govern themselves. In the Comedyhe had ridiculed Florence’s ever-changing legislation and finances, sarcastically comparing the politically troubled city to an invalid:
How many times, in the years that you remember,
Have you changed laws and coinage, offices, customs,
And even brought in new inhabitants!
And if you see yourself in a clear light,
You will see that you resemble a sick woman
Who cannot stay quiet upon her bed
But twists and turns all the time to ease her pain.
Dante,who was exiled from his native Florence by the victorious Black Guelphs, rejected the bestial condition of peasant serfdom, writing in De Monarchia (1310-13),that ‘the proper work of mankind taken as a whole is to exercise continually its entire capacity for intellectual growth’.
At the climax of Dante’s Comedy the pilgrim saw our own image in the divine, ‘our effigy’, he called it. Hesaw the incarnation, the human image within God. We were created in His image, so there is something human also within the divine.
Man in the image and likeness of God is metaphorical, but it is expressive of a participative divinity. This is man as capax Dei, that is, capable of participating in God, and thus capable of infinitely increasing self perfection in an approach to God. God's capacity to become man and man's capacity to participate directly in God, is the basis of the dignity of every man. What capax Dei allows man is his liberation, his freedom, his own crown, his own mitre.
To participate in an act of creation, an act of the imagination, is a defining characteristic of man that needs nothing of the world of sense-perception, or the ‘poison of representation’ as Dante described it, which has the power to make appearances the only reality.
The transfigurative realisation of capax Dei. (or ‘being a god’ as Plotinus expressed it), strongly implies that the supreme good that one must grasp and possess resides in oneself.
Nicholas of Cusa’s revolutionary concept of government by the consent of the governed, which he posited in his On Catholic Concordance, was derived from Dante and his predecessors in what Ezra Pound described as the Conspiracy of Intelligence.
Personally, I would include in this ‘conspiracy’ - Seneca, Gregory of Nyssa, the pseudo-Dionysius, Eriugena, Bernard Sivestris, Dante, Plutarch, Plethon,Nicholas of Cusa and others. They all believed man was created in the image of God and is thus endowed with the capacity for creative reason. Inoted elsewhere that Dante’s work had little Christ and virtually no Paul. Its triumph ultimately was Eleusinian, as it was in the works of the other ‘conspirators’.
Nicholas wrote in The Catholic Concordance:
Accordingly,since by nature all men are free, any authority by which subjects are prevented from doing evil and their freedom is restrained to doing good through fear from penalties, comes solely from harmony and from the consent of the subjects, whether the authority reside in written law or in the living law which is in the ruler. For if by nature men are equally strong and equally free, the true and settled power of one over the others, the ruler having equal natural power, could be set up only by the choice and consent of the others, just as a law also is set up by consent.
(De concordantia catholica (The Catholic Concordance), tr. P. Sigmund, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, (Cambridge: CUP, 1991), II xiv)
Nicholas argued in On Learned Ignorance and elsewhere, that man as a microcosm has the capacity to act on the basis of his creative intellect to further develop the potential of the macrocosm.
Nicholas drew this thesis from Dante, who had made it the fulcrum point of the Comedy.Dante’s point was that the imagination is a power that removes us from the outside world. It needs nothing of the world of perception. It is a power, he wrote, ‘which so steals us at times from outward things that we pay no heed though a thousand trumpets sound about us.’
Dante rejected the causa efficiens of Augustine and Aquinas in favour of a creation that involved the participation of the creatures. Ultimately, the Timaeus stands behind Dante’s cosmology in the Comedy, and that of Nicholas’ also.
In The Game of Spheres,Nicholas wrote that ‘the power of the soul is to reason and therefore the power to reason is the soul.... For this reason, the soul is the inventive power of the arts and of new sciences.’ For Nicholas, man is acreator and participates in the Divine by being himself the instrument of further creation. It was this concept of man as a second creator, which led to the transformation of the world during the Renaissance of the 15th century. It was the revolutionary concept that challenged the fixity of the Diocletian Order and the Jehovian Settlement.
The self-weakening of the fixed system which produced the Dark Age, the emergence of the nation-state and the significance of the intellectual contributions of Dante and Nicholas of Cusa, created the cultural basis for the Renaissance humanism of the Quattrocento.
Nicholas of Cusa was a key organiser of the Council of Florence 1438–1439, an immense gathering of humanist intellects during the attempted reconciliation of the Roman and Byzantine churches.
The significance of Nicolaus of Cusa was that he contributed directly to the development of the sovereign nation-state, through his work The Catholic Concordance (1433).His contribution flowed directly from a Dantean belief in the primacy of man’s cognitive capacity, which was ultimately reflected in the ‘filioque’ doctrine adopted by both churches.
The Florentine Council’s ecumenical re-affirmation of the ‘filioque’ clause of the Nicene Creed was completely in accord with Dante’s conclusions about capax Dei. ‘Filioque’ literally means ‘and the son.’ By stating that the‘Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son,’ the Nicene Creed affirmed the principle that, since the Son, Christ, is not only God, butal so man, all men and women, who are created in the image of God, imago Dei, are capable of agapic reason. (In the Christian trinity, the Holy Spirit is love, and the Son is the Logos, or Reason.) Thus, the ‘filioque’ principle uniquely emphasised the cognitive capacity of each man and woman made in the image of the Creator - in opposition to the Diocletian Order, which based the political structure of European feudalism on the very bestial condition of peasant serfdom that Dante had rejected.
Shortly before the Council of Florence was convenedto seek a union between the Roman and Eastern churches, Nicholas of Cusa left on a mission to prevent the schism of the Roman Church from within. One month before the Union was signed, the schismatic Council of Basel had excommunicated the Pope and elected an anti-Pope, Felix V, the Duke of Savoy. Nicholas of Cusa spent the next decade preaching, organising, and negotiating in Northern Europe in order to prevent the break between Germany and Rome, which finally did occur in the sixteenth century. Nicholas of Cusa was heartened when he heard the news of the Union between the churches, whilst in Germany. He wrote jubilantly on Aug. 4, 1439, to his friend Tommaso Parentucelli, ‘The Holy Spirit has made itself heard not in Basel, but in Florence.’ (Parentucelli became the first humanist Pope as Nicholas V in 1447, and made public the naming of Nicholas of Cusa as a cardinal of the Church.)
Renaissance humanism was a rejection of the Guelph-serving pedantry associated with medieval scholasticism. Humanists sought to create a citizenry able to speak and write with eloquence and clarity and thus capable of engaging the civic life of their communities and persuading others to virtuous actions. This was to be accomplished by following Cicero's injunction to cultivate the humanities, i.e. grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry and moral philosophy.
The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy describes the rationalism of ancient writings as having tremendous impact on Renaissance scholars:
Here,one felt no weight of the supernatural pressing on the human mind, demanding homage and allegiance. Humanity—with all its distinct capabilities, talents, worries, problems, possibilities—was the centre of interest. It has been said that medieval thinkers philosophised on their knees, but, bolstered by the new studies, they dared to stand up and to rise to full stature.
('Humanism', The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition. Cambridge University Press. 1999. p.397)
In its return to Hellenism and the lifting of irrational Judaic Messianic magic from the tragedy of Jesus; in its return to Platonism and rationalism and in its rejection of bestialised serfdom, Renaissance humanism was a revolution against the Diocletian Order and the Jehovian Settlement.
Nicholas V was the first of a line of Renaissance Popes with a humanist outlook. Under the patronage of these Popes, humanism made rapid strides. Emissaries were sent to the East to attract Greek scholars after the fall of Constantinople. Pope Nicholas V employed Lorenzo Valla to translate Greek histories, pagan as well as Christian, into Latin. This industry, coming just before the dawn of printing, contributed enormously to the sudden expansion of the intellectual horizon.
Libraries of humanist texts were commissioned by the Renaissance Popes, as well as great artworks that will ever be associated with the era, most notably those by Michelangelo and Raphael.
Other Popes struck right at the heart of Guelph interests. Typical of these were the Popes who attempted to limit the impact of the Jews upon the productive economy.
In1478, Pope Sixtus IV established the Spanish Inquisition in the Kingdom of Castile to ensure the orthodoxy of those who converted from Judaism.In 1487, Pope Innocent VIII confirmed Tomas de Torquemada as the Grand Inquisitor as the Inquisition intensified, forcing Jews to either convert or leave Spain. (The expulsion of Jews would have unforeseen consequences later in the 16th and 17th centuries, as the centre of world finance shifted northwards.)
The modern concept of nationhood emerged following Joan of Arc’s posthumous retrial and exoneration in 1455. Pope Callixtus III was instrumental in taking this action, which created the preconditions for the founding of the French nation under Louis XI.
The Pope who struck at Guelph interests hardest was Julius II. By instigating the League of Cambrai against Venice in 1508, he almost brought the world centre of trade, usury and financial speculation to its knees at the Battle of Agnadello (1509).
© John Dunn.