Friday, January 8, 2016

Niccolo Machiavelli and Religion

“Hypocrisy is the tribute which vice pays to virtue.” --French thinker and writer, La Rochefoucauld

While many suppose that religion and politics
are opposed to one another, the renaissance prince, Niccolo Machiavelli would disagree. Machiavelli lived in Florence, Italy; he was born there in 1469, the son of an established Tuscan family, and died in the city in 1527. His father was a lawyer working under the Medici regime. The Machiavelli family considered themselves to be republicans, that is to say they favored a republic form of government over despots.

While nearly 500 years have passed since his life, some things are more perennial than he. His world was one of the famous Florentine princes who succeeded in ruling over Italy's various city-states, or polis as Aristotle had referred to them 500 years earlier. As a modern nation-state Italy had yet to come into her own. She existed as a geographic place on the European map, composed of a number of cities, each which behaved as independent entities unto themselves. Thus to travel from one city to another, was to voyage into a foreign territory without citizenship beyond the city of one's birth.

It is in this world that the Roman Popes
as well as the Florentines came to influence, one with religion and the others with political might bought by great financial acumen. It is also this world that is the setting for the Christian bible.

The advent of Martin Luther's famous dissent in the German states brought further angst to the renaissance world. Astonishingly Machiavelli's books were placed on the Index of Prohibited Books in 1559; the inquisition nearly led to the erasure of his books, and the Council of Trent later affirmed their inclusion on the Index. In 1579 French Protestants wrote and widely circulated pamphlets against the writings of Niccolo Machiavelli; even bard William Shakespeare mentions Machiavelli in his works! Over time his writings have been variously viewed as” the “devil,” pragmatic, amoral, and satirical, among others

As a religious thinker, Machiavelli was in his day, necessarily involved with religion. Under monarchy or emperorship, the Roman tradition of dictating religion to the masses was common, widely enforced and widely followed. It was this for which Machiavelli was most hostile.

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