What was humanism?
- Intellectual movement amongst scholars and educated men of the late 14th to early 16th Centuries. It began in Renaissance Italy , but spread to other areas such as the Netherlands, England, France and Germany.It was the fashionble intellectual trend of the day, and sought to attack the old fashioned ideas of Scholasticism, the main movement of the 13th and 14 Centuries.
- The humanists were fascinated by Classical learning i.e the surviving books of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, and by the surviving traces of Greek and Roman architecture.
- Humanists wanted to re-examine the ancient texts to check if they had been properly understood. They sought out rediscovered Classical texts that had not been available to previous scholars (many had been preserved in the Muslim world but not the Christian west).
- Humanists wanted to rebuild the Golden Age they thought had existed in the Ancient Greek and Roman times. They thought they could learn much from the ancient writings, and by inspiration from the ancient wisdom for a new age.
- They tended to be optimistic about the human ability for progress. For instance, rulers should find rational laws and ways of ruling. They should rule with the interests of their subjects at heart. This contrasted with the medieval outlook, which tended to be pessimistic, seeing little point in trying to reform a corrupted world when one's real reward came in Heaven.
Was humanism dangerous to the Church?
- Humanism did not really directly attack the Church. Many of the great Humanist scholars were churchmen. However, it did encourage ways of thoughts that did challenge the church's position:
- Humanism was a more secular intellectual movement than previous movements such as Scholasticism. The Universities of the 15th Century were still largely for the training of priests, but the secular fields of law and medicine were growing in importance. Most educated men were still clergy, but the numbers of non-clergy scholars were growing.
- Humanism idealised the classical world of ancient Greece and Rome. Most of the great works of classical civilisation were achieved before the Roman Empire became Christian. The Humanists were idealising the glories of a pre-Christian civilisation.
- Humanism encouraged the idea of progress in civilisation here on earth. By contrast the traditional Christian view was that there was no point in striving to improve the secular world. It was a corrupt prelude to Heaven.
- Humanism encouraged the sceptical re-examination of old traditions and learning. Were ideas valid just because they had been followed for centurires? Some scholars began to apply this kind of reasoning to the Bible. Was the translation of the Bible used by the Church (the Latin Vulgate) really accurate? Was what the Church was teaching now really an accuarate interpretation of the Church's traditions- the way it chose to interpret and…