Renaissance Humanism Effect on Christianity
In studying the Renaissance, it would appear that the period was moving on a more secular route than previous centuries. The Humanistic movement did lessen the hold that religion had over mankind by emphasizing individualism.
Yet, this period was also the birth of the Protestant Reformation. Religion became more important to people. Ironically, religion lost its hold while gaining fascinating new inroads.
Before we go any further, let's see what humanism really is. According to the Webster dictionary, humanism is "devotion to...literary culture...emphasis on secular concerns...devotion to human welfare...a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests and values...usually rejects supernatural and stresses individual's dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason."
Look at it like it is a deeper look into what impacts mankind. It wasn't just pleasure and comfort. It wasn't living for oneself and ignoring any higher order. It was actually something much more spiritual. It was making spirituality real. Humanism, especially during the Renaissance period, was focused on getting the spiritual concerns focused back on humanity and improving the individual.
Return to Scriptures
Humanism brought many Christians back to the Scriptures; many were reading the Holy Bible for the first time, including many within the church structure. Typically, religious people looked to the priests to tell them what was in the sacred writings. The wave of humanism had them looking to the original words themselves. In truth, “humanism inevitably became involved with religion.” (1)
It was humanism that brought about the Protestant Reformation. Digging deeper into religion and religious life opened the eyes to many who began to see the curtains fall aside, revealing the dirtier side of the Catholic Church. “The church was coming to resemble a business” that was full of scandal and deceit. (2) What was once thought to be religious was more secular that most of the world outside the Church.
The Stray From Scriptures
The push of the Protestant Reformation came from Martin Luther's observation of tradition over scripture. Within the Catholic Church, tradition held a lot of weight in the daily lives of the religious. Over time, tradition became equal to scripture. There was no argument against the practices that had been in use for hundreds of years even if they were not straight from scripture.
Practices such as purchase and possession of relics and purchases of indulgences were not found in the holy scriptures. The more Reformers read the scriptures, the more they found practices that appeared to be more for the benefit of Rome, particularly the coffers.
Humanism brought the religious back to the foundation of the Christian religion. It cleared away what many saw as weighted extras that were not needed and what prevented the religion from adhereing to its roots of caring for mankind
A Merging of Secular and Religious
The Renaissance period did not really become more secular, it just brought the secular and the religious worlds to center stage and overlapped them. Religion had been more secular and became more religious during this period. The secular world officially entered areas that on the surface were not.
Though “man was now the creator of his own destiny,” this did not mean that the Renaissance was necessarily more secular. (3) It just meant that man was not controlled by the Church; “man had the power so to shape his own development that he could become either bestialized or spiritualized.” (4) Man could decide to be religious and study the Scriptures as much as he desired.
The humanism movement of the Renaissance can be felt today. Because of this movement, the Catholic church split and formed many Protestant denominations of the Christian religion.
Classical works were preserved so that could access them today. Great pieces of art were based on the classics and are still seen today in museums. This movement also helped create the classical educations we have today and inspires many educational systems where logic and rhetoric are emphasized. Without the humanism impact on the Renaissance, there is no telling as to where we might be today.
(1) J.R. Hale, Renaissance Europe 1480-1520, (Malden: Blackwell, 2000), 231.
(2) Ibid, 169.
(3) Stephen Kreis, “Lecture 3: The Protestant Reformation,” The History Guide: Lectures on Early Modern European History, (accessed 2/16/2011) http://www.historyguide.org/earlymod/lecture3c.html
(4) Hale, 219.