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Renaissance Humanism | Definition, Principles, History, & Influence

– Renaissance Humanism –

Renaissance Humanism was a philosophical movement characterized by a renewed interest in the classical world. And studies that focused on what it meant to be human rather than religious.

However, we can trace its beginnings back to 14th-century Italy, where authors like Petrarch (1304-1374) sought ‘lost’ antique manuscripts. Humanism had swept throughout Europe by the 15th century.

Humanists believed in the value of classical education and the promotion of civic virtue, or the realization of one’s full potential for one’s personal good and the welfare of the society in which one lives.

Despite the difficulties of defining humanism and its ever-evolving nature. They largely recognized it as the distinguishing feature of Europe from 1400 to 1600, and the reason that period is a Renaissance or “rebirth” of ideas.

History of Renaissance Humanism

In the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, Renaissance humanism was a rebirth in the study of ancient antiquity, which began in Italy and expanded over Western Europe.

Humanist (Italian:umanista) was a term used throughout the time to describe professors and students of the humanities, which encompassed grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry, and moral philosophy.

However, It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that this was referred to as humanism rather than the original humanities, and then as Renaissance humanism to distinguish it from later humanist advances.

Most humanists during the Renaissance were Christians, therefore their goal was to “purify and reinvigorate Christianity,” not to abolish it. Their goal was to bring ad fontes (“to the sources”) back into the classroom.

Also, humanists established new rhetoric and learning under the influence and inspiration of the classics.

Humanism, according to some researchers, established new moral and civic viewpoints and principles that provide guidance in life.

Renaissance humanism was a reaction to the “narrow pedantry” associated with medieval scholasticism, as subsequent Whig historians described it.

Humanists aimed to build a populace capable of speaking and writing with elegance and clarity, allowing them to take part in civic life and persuade others to do virtuous and judicious choices.

Definition of Humanism

Humanism was a phrase coined in the nineteenth century to express the Renaissance notion that studying antiquity directly was an important element of a well-rounded education (but not the only part).

Because of this stance, the study of humanity should take precedence over religious considerations that arose (which need not be neglected or contradicted by humanist studies).

The importance of public and private morality, Latin grammar, rhetorical methods, history, literature.

And poetic norms and moral philosophy were all-important classical ideals to humanists.

However, the adherents of this schooling did not develop an all-encompassing philosophy or worldview. Many students who had a humanist education became Catholics or Protestants, for example.

Because the term ‘humanism’ has taken on a new connotation in modern times (a rational and non-religious way of life), they often explain it as ‘Renaissance Humanism’ when applied to the period 1400-1600.

However, It’s crucial to recall, though, that Renaissance intellectuals didn’t coin the term “humanism,” and they didn’t agree on everything.

Some historians prefer to use the word studiua humanitatis.

Invented by the Roman statesman Cicero (106-43 BCE) and reintroduced by the Florentine scholar Coluccio Salutati, due to these definitional issues (1331-1406).

Studia humanitatis refers to studies that, rather than focusing on religious issues, investigate what it means to be human, and more specifically, what it means to be a virtuous individual in its broadest sense.

What are the Main Elements of Renaissance Humanism?

  1. Interest in antiquity literature and art 
  2. Interest in the expressive use of Latin and philology 
  3. A conviction in the importance and power of education in the development of useful citizens
  4. The encouragement of personal and civic virtue
  5. A conviction in the value of observation, critical thinking, and innovation
  6. The concept that poets, writers, and artists may help humanity achieve a higher standard of living
  7. Fascination with the topic, “What does it mean to be human?”
  8. A stance against scholasticism
  9. Non-religious studies are encouraged
  10. Focus on the person and their moral autonomy

Origin of Renaissance Humanism

In the late 13th century, Europeans’ ambition to study classical books met with a desire to replicate the manner of those authors, resulting in Renaissance Humanism.

They weren’t supposed to be exact replicas, but they were supposed to draw inspiration from historical models, picking up terminology, styles, purposes, and form.

However, Renaissance Humanism did not turn into a group of second-generation imitators.

Rather, it employed knowledge, passion, and perhaps even obsession with the past to influence how they and others saw and thought about their own century.

It was not a pastiche, but a new consciousness, with a new historical viewpoint that offered a historically grounded alternative to “medieval” thought.

Humanism influenced culture and society, and it was largely responsible for what we now refer to as the Renaissance.

Basic Principles and Attitudes of Renaissance Humanism

Humanism’s early manifestations were based on beliefs and attitudes that gave the movement its distinct personality and shaped its future growth.

1. Classicism

Rather than nostalgia or awe, early humanists returned to the classics with a sensation of deep familiarity. As if it had brought them into new contact with manifestations of a fundamental and permanent human reality.

Humanists considered the classical inheritance as “the common norm and paradigm by which to direct all artistic endeavor,” according to historian Paul Oscar Kristeller.

As the theory gained traction, a focus on humanities and liberal arts education spread across society.

The term “humanism” comes from the Italian phrase “studia humanitatis,” which means the study of human undertakings.

And was used by Leonardo Bruni, who produced the first modern history book, History of the Florentine People (1442).

He separated history into three periods: Antiquity, Middle Ages, and Moderns.

Moreso, and regarded the Middle Ages as a dismal period, although the Christian church defined and dominated the period.

Humanism, when joined with the study of ancient writings, became a secularizing effect, resulting in the development of a new curriculum. That viewed the modern era as awakening from a dark age into the light of antiquity.

2. Scientific Inquiry

Plato’s dialogues introduced humanists to Socrates, who claims to have declared that he was the wisest of men only because he knew nothing.

His philosophical technique emphasizes inquiry and a ferocious round of questioning to challenge assumed knowledge.

However, As a result, Humanism emphasized skepticism, inquiry, and scientific investigation in contrast to its other tendency, which was to glorify antiquity. As a result, the humanists were driven by observation and experimentation.

For example, painters such as da Vinci and Michelangelo researched human anatomy and performed autopsies on corpses.

Despite the Catholic church’s prohibition. Art and science were equally essential and frequently intertwined pursuits.

3. Realism

Early humanists shared a realism that eschewed established assumptions in favor of an aim examination of perceived reality.

The emergence of modern social science, which began as a practical instrument of social self-inquiry rather than an academic discipline, is credited to humanism.

Also, Humanists read history voraciously, passed it down to their children, and, perhaps most importantly, wrote it themselves.

They were certain that appropriate historical procedure, would strengthen their active engagement in the present. By extending their grasp of human reality across time.

History would form the foundation of a new political science for Machiavelli. Who claimed to treat men as they were, not as they ought to be. Similarly, personal experience trumped conventional thinking. 

Similarly, personal experience trumped conventional thinking.

Francesco Guicciardini would reiterate Leon Battista Alberti’s pronouncement that we could only find an essential sort of wisdom “at the public marketplace, in the theater, and in people’s homes.”

4. Detail-Oriented Inspection and Concerns

A completely critical attitude was required of humanistic realism. Indeed, early humanism’s works were a declaration of independence from all prejudices and inherited programs, at least in the secular world.

Salutati’s textual emendations and Boccaccio’s myth interpretations both exemplified critical self-confidence. That could we can find throughout practically every humanistic endeavor.

Also, he associated it with a new specificity, a deep concern with the precise aspects of the events, that spread across the arts, literary and historical fields.

Which, however, would have a significant impact on the development of modern science.

We can see this growth in the increasing significance of mathematics as an aesthetic principle and academic discipline.

Paganism and Christianity in the Renaissance

Many humanists were churchmen, including Pope Pius II, Sixtus IV, and Leo X, and high church authorities frequently patronized humanists.

Before and after the Reformation, non-Italian Northern European intellectuals like Erasmus, Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples, William Grocyn, Swedish Catholic Archbishop.

And Emile Claus Magnus made significant contributions to increasing the understanding and translations of Biblical and early Christian writings.

The rationalism of ancient works had a huge impact on Renaissance intellectuals, according to the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy.

There was no sense of the supernatural crushing down on the human mind, demanding adoration and devotion.

Humanity was the focus of attention, with all of its unique powers, talents, concerns, challenges, and opportunities.

Also, It is stated that medieval intellectuals philosophized on their knees, yet emboldened by new research, they dared to stand up and rise to their full height.

However in 1417, for example, Poggio Bracciolini discovered the manuscript of LucretiusDe rerum natura, which had been lost for centuries.

This also explained Epicurean doctrine, though at the time Renaissance scholars who confined themselves to remarks about Lucretius’s grammar and syntax made no comment on it.

Only in 1564 did French commentator Denys Lambin (1519–72) announce in the preface to the work. That “he regarded Lucretius’s Epicurean ideas as ‘fanciful, absurd, and opposed to Christianity’.”

Although, Lambin’s preface remained standard until the nineteenth century. Epicurus’s unacceptable doctrine that pleasure was the highest good “ensured the unpopularity of his philosophy”.

1. Epicureanism

Valla’s “epicureanism” is considered by Charles Trinkhaus as a ruse.

Not meant seriously by Valla but intended to discredit Stoicism, which he regarded as equally inferior to Christianity as epicureanism. 

Erasmus, the “Prince of Humanists,” in The Epicurean later took Valla’s support, or modification up:

If Epicureans are those who live in harmony, the righteous and pious are the truest Epicureans.

If it’s titles that trouble us, no one merits the title of Epicurean more than Jesus Christ, the respected founder and head of Christian philosophy, because epikouros means “helper” in Greek.

When the law of Nature had been all but blotted out my sins when the law of Moses had incited to lists rather than cured them when Satan ruled the earth unchallenged.

He was the only one who could bring timely relief to perishing humanity.And that he calls us to live in a gloomy manner are completely erroneous.

He is the only one who shows the most pleasurable of all lives and the one that is most full of genuine delight. 

This text shows how humanists viewed pagan classical works, such as Epicurus’ philosophy, as being compatible with their interpretations.

2. Neo-Platonism

According to the proposals of early Church Fathers, Lactantius and Saint Augustine, Renaissance.

Neo-Platonists such as Marsilio Ficino (whose translations of Plato’s writings into Latin utilized into the nineteenth century) strove to reconcile Platonism with Christianity.

Also, Pico Della Mirandola attempted to build a syncretism of religions and ideas with Christianity in this spirit.

But the church authorities rejected his work was due to his beliefs in magic.

Reception and Evolution of Renaissance Humanism

Every idea takes time to grow, however, for an idea to grow. It has to be accepted and received by a vast group of individuals. 

1. Widespread View

When historian Steven Kreis says, Historian Steven Kreis shares a prevalent perspective (drawn from 19th-century Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt).

The period from the fourteenth through the seventeenth centuries was favorable to individual liberation.

Northern Italian city-states had come into contact with a variety of Eastern customs, progressively allowing expression in questions of taste and attire.

Although, It emphasized the virtues of intellectual freedom and independent expression in Dante’s writings. As well as in the theories of Petrarch and humanists like Machiavelli.

The individualistic vision of existence gained possibly the most powerful and expressive expression in the history of literature. And philosophy in Montaigne’s works.

Two noteworthy trends in Renaissance humanism were

  1. Renaissance Neo-Platonism 
  2. Hermeticism

However, via the works of figures like Nicholas of KuesGiordano BrunoCornelius AgrippaCampanella, and Pico Della. Mirandola sometimes came close to constituting a new religion itself. 

2. Beyond the Sixteenth Century

Despite, the fact that humanists continued to use their scholarship in the church’s service well into the sixteenth century and beyond.

The sharply confrontational religious climate following the Reformation resulted in the Counter-Reformation, which sought to silence challenges to Catholic theology.

Also, Protestant denominations made similar efforts. Among others are, Philipp Melanchthon, Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Luther, Henry VIII, John Calvin.

And William Tyndale was among the humanists who joined the Reformation movement and assumed leadership roles.

The Classical Ideal

Many Greek professors escaped the disintegrating Byzantine Empire after Constantinople fell in 1453, bringing ancient books with them to Europe, particularly Italy.

These were a welcome supplement to the Latin books found in convent libraries by intellectuals like Petrarch.

As a result, by 1515, all the main classical authors’ writings were available in print.

Looking at these works one concept that Renaissance thinkers were particularly interested in was virtus (virtue or excellence) and civic duty.

Petrarch had studied this for half a century, but it was only now that the idea that the ancient world had anything worthwhile to teach the people of the 15th century gained traction.

Renaissance humanists desired to improve one’s public image by using, analyzing, and criticizing ancient texts.

Scholars’ fascination with old texts, which may be regarded as antiquated and irrelevant to contemporary society, seems weird nowadays.

However, for humanist thinkers, antiquity provided a fresh and lively alternative to the stagnant pool of ideas. So closely guarded by the medieval church, as evidenced by so many newly unearthed manuscripts.

More Details on The Classical Ideal

The Renaissance process appeared to be an intellectual rebirth.

Because of the fresh possibilities afforded by these works and the ancient experts’ ostensibly unbiased approach to studying and interpreting the world with no predetermined views.

Humanist scholars were not uncritical of ancient materials; on the contrary, they approached any subject with critical scrutiny, as did many ancient intellectuals.

Furthermore, in order to approach a subject objectively. One must be intellectually free, and with this idea developed the concept of the free-thinking individual, free of religious or political prejudice.

Some even believed that God had given humanity the world as a test, to do with it as they pleased and apply their virtue of making it a better place.

For many thinkers, humanism did not oppose religion in this sense, but it contributed to the concept of a morally autonomous individual, which led to individualism.

Another reason to appreciate the ancients was their rhetorical brilliance. Cicero was held up as that of the pinnacle of Latin writing excellence.

Rhetoric was originally the art of delivering eloquent argument, another term that modernity has distorted beyond recognition from its original meaning.

Furthermore, this was not only a gimmick for academics to apply in their writing, became a tool that was used in everyday life.

Eloquence is persuasion, and power comes with persuasion. Rhetoric may become a vehicle for humanists to propagate their beliefs.

Persuading everyone from a literate shopkeeper to the monarch of a dukedom that their way of life, work, and the rule was the best.

Humanism’s Expansion

From their origins in Italy to the north of Europe, the printing press aided the dissemination of humanist ideas.

Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam was, in fact, the most famous humanist scholar of his day (c. 1469-1536).

Erasmus felt that the Catholic Church’s issues might be solved through education (and not a radical Reformation).

He accomplished this by compiling editions of classical literature and creating a new Latin and Greek translation of the New Testament.

Erasmus’ acute and critical investigation of ancient writings. His textual analysis of current versions and his interest in philology would influence other Renaissance scholars.

Although many early humanists were Christians. The movement’s emphasis on critical inquiry inevitably clashed with Church authorities who relied on mass.

Unthinking acceptance of secondhand doctrine interpretations. Another point of dispute was that certain humanist intellectuals became defenders of pagan classics.

Humanist researchers in northern Europe were more concerned with religious reforms than elsewhere. This is why their kind of humanism is Religious Humanism.

The English scholar and statesman Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) was a key player in this movement.

He notably created Utopia in 1516, about an ideal society based on a fictitious island, as a supporter of the Catholic Church against the Reformers.

The work was most likely meant as a thinly veiled critique of Henry VIII of England’s (r. 1509-1547) rule.

But it’s a bold depiction of society. Where everyone works for the common good and shares equally in its success struck a chord with humanist thinkers around the world. Another argument was the clear connection to Plato’s Republic.

Humanist Education

Erasmus was also significant in another area: universal education.

It was fine for academics to discuss educational objectives in theory, but more practical solutions were required to realize the humanist goal of broadening education.

As a result, Erasmus published many textbooks, such as On Copia (1512), which taught pupils how to argue, amend texts, and create new ones.

Although, In 1521, he published On Writing Letters, which taught how to write better letters, target specific audiences, and use eloquent phrasing.

Erasmus even produced guides for those wishing to establish a school and compiled recommended syllabuses.

Humanists emphasized the value of a liberal arts education that included rhetoric, moral philosophy, language, history, and poetry.

They also regarded physical activity as an important aspect of a well-rounded education in ancient Greece, allowing young people to reach their full potential and become decent citizens.

Furthermore, a humanist education lasted a lifetime, and it was never too late to learn about its benefits, particularly for rulers.

The Influence of Humanism in Science

Observing, analyzing, and categorizing the world, as it had been in antiquity, was an important aspect of humanist thought.

As a result, science advanced dramatically throughout the Renaissance, aided initially by advances in mathematics.

The Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) postulated that the solar system was heliocentric. Amongst other new concepts, in his On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, published in 1543.

Copernicus was a traditional Renaissance researcher who studied antiquity, directly saw what he could in the world.

Compiled all previously researched work in his discipline, and then proposed a new perspective on the matter at hand. Perhaps the most important contribution of humanism to science was its quest for knowledge.

The Influence of Humanism in Arts

Federico da Montefeltro (1422-1482 in Urbino) and Cosimo I de’ Medici (1519-1574 in Florence) were both outstanding antiquarians, who amassed impressive humanists collections.

They were also ancient art collectors, collecting sculptures, sarcophagi, relief panels, and coins.

Both men were also significant art patrons, fostering humanist artists. This was a pattern that kings all around Europe followed.

Classical mythology piqued the curiosity of Renaissance artists and sculptors. who occasionally combined it with Christian themes, such as quietly depicting Venus as the Virgin Mary.

They depicted explicitly ancient thinkers in art, most notably in Raphael’s School of Athens fresco in the Vatican (1483-1520).

There was also admiration for ancient artists’ abilities, particularly sculptors’ ability to portray reality in metal or marble.

Renaissance artists were eager to capture this realism for themselves. A process that began with Giotto (b. 1267 or 1277 – d. 1337) and culminated with late Renaissance Netherlandish artists’ hyper-realistic portraits.

Artists, like Renaissance writers, strove to not only replicate but also improve on the classical legacy.

As a result, Renaissance artists had to become increasingly exact in their use of perspective.

Artists also believed that their forefathers had uncovered mathematical mysteries of proportion, particularly in relation to the human body.

More Details on The Influence of Humanism in Arts

Artists focused more on the human experience in their work. A classical book next to the sitter in a portrait, for example, may emphasize the sitter’s humanist tendencies.

Even religious artwork from the time places a strong emphasis on human people and their stories inside the scene.

Artists, like humanist writers, understood the power of their words to leave a lasting aesthetic impression on the observer.

Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is perhaps the best example of this wow factor.

Finally, humanism’s emphasis on the individual manifested itself in how artists saw themselves.

As great artisans who used their intelligence, to study art and produce masterpieces that would carry their names.

They planned buildings to be graceful, symmetrical, useful, and harmonious with their environment, exactly as they had been in ancient Rome.

Above all, the length and height, ratios of the buildings were traditional.

Also, Humanism gained expression in the performing arts, particularly in the plays of William Shakespeare (1564-1616). 

Who was interested in characters who could reveal the breadth and depth of human experience.

Shakespeare may not take a side in the humanist disputes depicted in his works. But he does, at the very least, masterfully employ that humanist power instrument – language – to achieve his desired effects.

The Legacy of Renaissance Humanism

With the discovery, promotion, and adaption of classical works, humanism revolutionized education and revitalized the world of ideas and art.

It resulted in the formation of a worldwide network of scholars linked by letters and books.

The separation of church and state, the critical analysis of writings that revealed mistakes and even frauds, and the establishment of public libraries.

However, as humanist scholars and intellectuals specialized in diverse areas of what was already a ridiculously large field of human endeavor, they eventually separated into groups.

There were realists vs. moralists, those who wished to forget about religion vs. those who didn’t, republicans vs. royalists, and republicans vs. royalists.

There were humanists who saw language study as a goal in and of itself, while others saw it as only a tool to comprehend ideas.

In contrast to those who clung to the idea of putting humanism into political practice, some preferred a life of contemplation.

Renaissance humanism ended as science, the arts, history, philosophy, and theology all split apart. Scholarly specialization won the war against gaining a complete perspective of the human condition.

Despite the dismantling of the humanist movement into its constituent elements, the core premise humans are deserving of serious study has remained unchanged.

This concept has only grown in breadth and depth. The humanities refer to the areas that were significant to study in classical texts.

Such as philosophy, history, and literature, and they currently make up major faculties in colleges and universities around the world.

The study of this concept of renaissance humanism is a really vast, and deep study. However, we hope this article has been insightful to you.

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