The Renaissance and its Humanistic Principles

4 April 2017

“How and to what extent did the methods and ideals of Renaissance humanism contribute to the Protestant Reformation? ” The renaissance and it’s humanistic principles took form in different ways across Europe. In the Italian states, for example, humanism permeated art, resulting is some of mans greatest works which reflect the artists appreciation of the individual and focus away from god.

In northern Europe however, humanists didn’t turn away from god, they instead worked to reform the church and allow for humanistic principles to transfuse religion. The translations of the bible, Erasmus’s writings and protestants rejection of the catholic church’s domination civil society are examples of how humanism infused religion and resulted in the formation of several denominations of Christianity, many of which are still practiced. One attribute of humanism is it’s appreciation of ancient languages and texts.

Erasmus subscribed to this philosophy and translated the bible from Latin to Greek thus allowing a broader audience to read the bible and gave people the ability to interpret scripture themselves as opposed to relying on the pope and clergy for biblical interpretations. This empowered the individual (yet another humanistic theme) and weakened the church because many of the church’s practices, such as the 7 sacraments , did not come directly from the bible; people recognized this and a growing resentment of the church formed.

Martin Luther expanded on this when he translated the bible into the common German vernacular which opened all literate Christians with the ability to speak German to interpret the bible freely. This opened a Pandora’s box of sorts as more people began to draw their own conclusions about scripture and it’s meanings. The advent of the printing press also contributed to this because bibles became cheaper and more broadly available. The idea that biblical knowledge should be readily available to the population is blatantly humanistic.

The Modern Devotion, also known as the Brothers of the Common Life, sparked many reform movements in the sixteenth century, this is because of it’s humanistic attributes. The modern Devotion educated reform minded laity, it emphasized individuality and practical religion, while spreading it’s influence throughout Europe. One student of the Modern Devotion was Desiderius Erasmus, a very influential humanistic thinker who inspired reformists such as Luther and Calvin with his writings, many of which were derived from his time as a student of the Modern Devotion.

The influence of humanism on Erasmus and his writings built the foundation for many protestant beliefs. As previously stated, as the number of people with the ability to interpret the bible increased, so did a resentment of the church which had grown into an oppressing political power by the time of the reformation. Protestant religions put more focus on the individuals relationship with god which is exemplified by Martin Luther’s ‘Sola fide’ Belief. ‘Sola fide’ means that only faith in god can earn one eternal salvation.

Luther’s beliefs are derived from scripture, Romans 10:13 states, “For whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”. This contradicted the church’s teachings which said, “For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. ” Although not embraced by the Catholic church, humanistic individualism is shown in Lutheranism and other protestant movements which acknowledged the power of the individual in relation to god and allowed people more political liberty.

It was because of the humanistic religious movements of the reformation that different denominations of Christianity exist. The focus on individualism, civil liberty, and the many reform movements of this time are a direct result of the humanistic movement As shown by the work of the Modern Devotion and it’s influences on Erasmus, Erasmus’s teachings and translation of the bible, and the work of protestants like Martin Luther.

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