Renaissance humanism

Renaissance humanism

Renaissance Humanism was a European intellectual movement beginning in Florence in the last decades of the 14th century. The humanist movement developed from the rediscovery by European scholars of many Latin and Greek texts. Initially, a humanist was simply a teacher of Latin literature. By the mid-15th century humanism described a curriculum — the studia humanitatis — comprising grammar, rhetoric, moral philosophy, poetry and history as studied via classical authors. The early beliefs of humanism were that, although God created the universe, it was humans that developed and industrialized it.

Beauty, a popular topic, was held to represent a deep inner virtue and value, and an essential element in the path towards God.

The humanists were opposed to the philosophers of the day, the "schoolmen," or scholastics, of the Italian universities and later Oxford and Paris. The scholastics' methodology was derived from Thomas Aquinas, and this opposition revived a classical debate which referred back to Plato and the Platonic dialogues.


In the 1480s, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola wrote a preface to the nine hundred page thesis that he submitted for public debate entitled "An Oration on the Dignity of Man". The debate never took place, but the work became a seminal text in the development of humanism. In it, he talked about how God created man and that man's greatness comes from God. He said that man was like a chameleon and could become whatever he wanted to be.

Humanists placed a heavy emphasis on the study of primary sources rather than the study of the interpretations of others. This is reflected in their motto of "ad fontes", or "to the sources" which informed the search for texts in the monastery libraries of Europe. Humanist education, called the "studia humanista" or "studia humanitatis" (study of humanity), concentrated on the study of the liberal arts: Latin and Greek grammar, rhetoric, poetry, moral philosophy or ethics, and history.

Early 15th-century humanists were interested in classical Latin and not in medieval Latin, which was a different and more developed language with many neologisms. Petrarch, sometimes called the father of Renaissance humanism in Italy, called the Latin of the Middle Ages "barbarous;" when he collected his "Familiar Letters" his model was Cicero and his model for Latin was that used by Virgil, who was emerging from the persona as a magus that had accrued in the Middle Ages. This new interest in the classical literature led to the scouring of monastic libraries across Europe for lost texts. One such hunt by Poggio Bracciolini, who was credited with the discovery of the complete works of fifteen different authors, turned up Vitruvius' work on art and architecture, allowing for the completion of the Duomo of Florence by Filippo Brunelleschi.The central feature of humanism in this period was the commitment to the idea that the ancient world (defined effectively as ancient Greece and Rome, which included the entire Mediterranean basin) was the pinnacle of human achievement, especially intellectual achievement, and should be taken as a model by contemporary Europeans. According to this view of history, the fall of Rome to Germanic invaders, in the fifth century, had led to the dissolution and decline of this remarkable culture; the intellectual heritage of the ancient world had been lost—many of its most important books had been destroyed and dispersed—and a thousand years later, Europeans were still living in the ghetto. The only way in which Europeans could expect to pull themselves out of this intellectual catastrophe was to attempt to recover, edit, and make available these lost texts, which included, among others, almost all the works of Plato. (In the process, Greek texts had to be translated into Latin, the language of intellectuals and the learned.) This enterprise, launched through the reintroduction of Greek to Italy by Manuel Chrysoloras, generated enormous enthusiasm, and the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were devoted to this project.

Humanism offered the necessary intellectual and philological tools for the first dispassionate analysis of texts. An early triumph of textual criticism by Lorenzo Valla revealed the "Donation of Constantine" to be an early medieval forgery produced in the Curia. This textual criticism began to create real political controversy when Erasmus began to apply it to biblical texts, in his "Novum Instrumentum".

The crisis of Renaissance humanism came with the trial of Galileo which was centered on the choice between basing the authority of one's beliefs on one's observations, or upon religious teaching. The trial made the contradictions between humanism and traditional religion visibly apparent to all, and humanism was branded a "dangerous doctrine".Fact|date=February 2007

ocial or civic humanism

Social or civic humanism rose out of the republican ideology of Florence at the beginning of the fifteenth century. It sought to create citizens capable of participating in the civic life of their community by placing central emphasis on human . Leonardo Bruni's "Panegyric" is one expression of this philosophy. The emancipated and literate upper bourgeoisie of the independent Italian communes adapted 14th-century Burgundian aristocratic culture and manners to an intensely patriotic civic life. Humanism was a pervasive cultural mode, not merely the product of a handful of geniuses, like Giotto or Leon Battista Alberti.


Renaissance humanists believed that the liberal arts (art, music, grammar, rhetoric, oratory, history, poetry, using classical texts, and the studies of all of the above) should be practiced by all levels of "richness". They also approved of self, human worth and individual dignity.

belief that everything in life has a determinate nature, but man's privilege is to be able to "choose" his own nature. Pico della Mirandola wrote the following concerning the creation of the universe and man's place in it:"Humanists believe that such possibilities lead to the diverse ways of human development. Value is given to this uniqueness and encourages individualism.

Relationship to Christianity

As Neo-Platonism replaced the Aristotelianism of Saint Thomas Aquinas, attempts were made to join the great works of Antiquity with Christian values in a syncretic Christian humanism, such as those by Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola. Ethics was taught independently of theology, and the authority of the Church was tacitly transferred to the reasoning logic of the educated individual. Thus humanists constantly skirted the dangers of being branded as heretics.

One example of such pagan philosophy and Christian doctrine melding is found in "The Epicurean", by Erasmus, the "prince of humanists:"

:If people who live agreeably are Epicureans, none are more truly Epicurean than the righteous and godly. And if it's names that bother us, no one better deserves the name of Epicurean than the revered founder and head of the Christian philosophy Christ, for in Greek "epikouros" means "helper." He alone, when the law of Nature was all but blotted out by sins, when the law of Moses incited to lists rather than cured them, when Satan ruled in the world unchallenged, brought timely aid to perishing humanity. Completely mistaken, therefore, are those who talk in their foolish fashion about Christ's having been sad and gloomy in character and calling upon us to follow a dismal mode of life. On the contrary, he alone shows the most enjoyable life of all and the one most full of true pleasure. (Erasmus 549)

This passage exemplifies the way in which the humanists saw pagan classical works such as the philosophy of Epicurus as being fundamentally in harmony with Christianity, rather than as a nemesis to be pitted against Christianity. Although Renaissance humanists were more accepting of pagan philosophy than their Scholastic contemporaries, they did not necessarily object to the idea that Christian understanding should be dominant over other modes of thought. Many humanists were churchmen, most notably Pope Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini Pius II.


The careers of individual humanists throw light on the movement as a whole. See:
* Thomas More (English)
* Desiderius Erasmus (Dutch)
* Petrarch (Italian)
* Niccolò Machiavelli (Italian)
* Giovanni Boccaccio (Italian)
* Rodolphus Agricola (Frisian)
* Pietro Alcionio (Italian)
* Peter Martyr D'Anghiera (Italian)
* Pietro Aretino (Italian)
* Cosimo de Medici (Italian)
* Janus Lascaris (Greek)
* Ludovico Ariosto (Italian)
* Arnoldus Arlenius (Dutch)
* Pietro Bembo (Italian)
* Philip Melanchthon (German)
* Pier Paolo Vergerio (Italian)
* Étienne de La Boétie (French)
* Poggio Bracciolini (Italian)
* Flavio Biondo (Italian)
* Ignazio Cardini (Corsican/Italian)
* Janus Cornarius (German)
* Giovanni della Casa (Italian)
* Baldassare Castiglione (Italian)
* Manuel Chrysoloras (Greek)
* Herman Boerhaave (Dutch)
* Vittorino da Feltre (Italian)
* Marsilio Ficino (Italian)
* George of Trebizond (Greek)
* Francesco Filelfo (Italian)
* Pieter Gillis (Flemish)
* Theodorus Gaza (Greek)
* Johannes Goropius Becanus (Dutch)
* William Grocyn (English)
* Geert Groote (Dutch)
* Sigismund von Herberstein (Austrian/Slovene)
* Stefano Infessura (Italian)
* Justus Lipsius (Flemish)
* Macropedius (Dutch)
* Bernat Metge (Catalan)
* Simon Atumano (Greco-Turkish)
* George Gemistos Plethon (Greek)
* Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (Italian)
* Michel de Montaigne (French)
* Giovanni Michele Alberto da Carrara (Italian)
* Niccolò de' Niccoli (Italian)
* Niccolò Perotti (Italian)
* François Rabelais (French)
* Andre de Resende (Portuguese)
* Johann Reuchlin (German)
* Francis Robortello (Italian)
* Bessarion (Greek)
* Coluccio Salutati (Italian)
* Raphael Sanzio (Italian)
* Jacopo Sannazaro (Italian)
* Johannes Stöffler (German)

See also

* Renaissance
* Legal humanists
* Humanist Latin
* Humanism in Germany
* Scholasticism
* Humanism
* Greek scholars in the Renaissance

External links and references

* Erasmus, "The Epicurean," in "Colloquies.
* Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, "Oration on the Dignity of Man", in Cassirer, Kristeller, and Randall, "Renaissance Philosophy of Man".
* [ "Dictionary of the History of ideas":] "Renaissance Humanism"
* [ Catholic Encyclopedia article]
* [ "Dictionary of the History of ideas":] Renaissance Idea of the Dignity of Man"
* Kreis, Steven: [ "Renaissance Humanism]
*Celenza, Christopher S. "The Lost Italian Renaissance: Humanism, Historians, and Latin's Legacy". Johns Hopkins University Press. 2004 ISBN 978-0-8018-8384-2

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