Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Bibles in the Hands of an Angry Ploughboy

Aaron Swartz

So. It was interesting to see that over the tidal-wave course of events that crashed through the Middle Ages and deposited it's flotsam on the shores of the Renaissance, we have literacy. And that's not all! We have the beginnings of questioning authority!
It's amazing what a little reading can inspire.
Colet's sermon especially I think captured the fiery resistance to authority, his cursing of "covetousness! Of thee cometh these chargeful visitation of bishops. Of thee cometh the corrupness of courts, and these daily new inventions wherewith the silly people are so sore vexed"(Colet). It's interesting that what led to the Religious Reformation, that availability of religion to "ploughboys," was the squabbling of the great powers of Europe. King Henry VIII chafing against the Catholic church as well as Luther's rebellion of what he understood to be the corruption and oppression of an unjust power ultimately led to the very means that would enable those that had once been powerless to question their situations. Mary setting fire to Protestants definitely did not help the situation.
Connections between the education-fueled outrage of the Renaissance of the past can be made to the present technological Renaissance of today when MIT student Aaron Swartz was arrested in 2011 for downloading and posting JSTOR articles on the internet where they could be accessible by people outside of his school's subscription. His argument was that such scholarly material should be free to the public, and that by keeping it exclusively available to students or people capable of affording access to such information it was dividing the public.
Regardless, the multiple translations, access to literature, and religious debate that was happening during the latter Renaissance enabled people to have more autonomy when they imagined themselves in their social hierarchy.

Colet. "The Sermon of Doctor Colet Made to the convocation at St. Paul's." Web.  


  1. I wonder if there's a flip-side to literacy. I mean, obviously literacy was one of the core elements of the ad fontes-style return to Biblical scripture. But weren't many literate people just as convinced by the attacks of the Catholic Church as by the sermons and protests of Protestant thinkers? I'm not saying exactly what I mean here, but I'm wondering if a nation's literacy was used against it in times like these, when the entities with the greatest publishing power were able to use it to sway minds in a way that word-of-mouth could have avoided.


  2. I, too, enjoyed Colet's sermon. It was very entertaining and "fiery." I thought you had great and modern connection to the Aaron Swartz case. I never made that connection before but I can definitely see how wide-spread access to scholarly material makes a difference.