Among the several developments that have heralded the beginning of modern world, the two most important developments are the Renaissance and the Reformation. The ideas they unleashed and the effects they created were far reaching.
Renaissance literally means rebirth. It started as a cultural movement in Italy in form of revival of faiths in classical civilization and in power of man to fashion his happiness in the world. Its chief feature was humanism. This exalted man, and his worth was highlighted and he was presented as the best creation of God.
Renaissance questioned the other worldly attitude and established a worldly attitude. It denotes an intellectual, literary, artistic and scientific movement which widened the horizons of man. The intellectual revival was manifested in an interest in the past and a desire for understanding the present.
Its greatest attitude was the development of that inquisitiveness which is necessary to intellectual progress. Interest in what earlier conditions had contributed was great, and the classics were revived.
Man was in the process of making a fundamental change in his attitude towards himself and the world in which he lived. This point of view is called humanism. The Humanists were primarily interested in classical literature. It focused on things of this world.
It threw a question mark on the blind belief in the system as it was prevalent in medieval times, and established man as central theme.
It was this interest in human life, and this world as expressed by the Renaissance scholars that was taken forward by Luther in Reformation. Renaissance scholars by their tireless criticism and search for truth had made breaches on the wall of blind faiths of medieval era.
The Renaissance era gave birth to a new vigour in human’s thinking process and in this context Petrarch’s contributions were immense. He was the epitome of humanism, and dedicated himself to searching for undiscovered Latin texts and writing his own moral treatises thereby initiating a humanist studies.
The other Renaissance scholars developed “Civic humanism” and emphasized that man’s nature equipped him for action. They refused to condemn the striving for material possessions for they argued that the history of human progress is inseparable from mankind’s success in gaining mastery over the earth and its resources.
Lorenzo Valla another Renaissance thinker took the emphasis on humanism and human qualities further. He questioned the papal propagandists on the Donation of Constantine. He applied his expert knowledge of Greek to elucidate the true meaning of St. Paul’s words. This work proved to be an important link between Italian Renaissance scholarship and subsequent Christian humanism.
The Renaissance which originated in Italy began to spread in Northern Europe after 1500. Here Renaissance found expression in form of Christian humanism. Erasmus who wrote the Praise of the folly and Colloquies lambasted scholastic emphasis on pedantry and dogmatism, and held up contemporary religious practices for examination in a more serious way.
Thomas Moore another Renaissance scholar in his Utopia advanced the argument that if the Utopians could manage their society so well without the benefit of the Christian Revolution, the Europeans also knew the Gospels out to be able to do even better. Francois Rabelais, like Erasmus satirized religious ceremonialism, ridiculed scholasticism, scoffed at superstitions and pilloried every form of bigotry.
Thus, the Christian humanists attack on blind dogmatism and their translation of original scriptures prepared men’s mind for reformation. By the time Italian Renaissance reached northern part of the Europe, it had prepared background for Martin Luther. The Italian Renaissance scholars’ emphasis on humanism and northern humanistic questioning of superstitions created the way for Reformation led by Luther.
Furthermore, close humanistic textural study of Bible led to the publication of new, reliable biblical editions which were used by the Protestant reformers. In this regard, a direct line ran from Italian humanist Lorenzo Valla to Erasmus to Luther in so far as Vallas’ notes on the New Testament inspired Erasmus to produce his own Greek edition of new Testament which in turn helped Luther in 1518 to reach some crucial conclusions concerning literal biblical meaning of penance.
Based on the new Biblical versions, Martin Luther, attacked Church’s selling of pardoning certificates or indulgences, and also the selling of appointments to church offices called Simony. He pasted his views on University of Wartburg and originally intended to start a debate. However, some enthusiasts got it translated in German and had his thesis circulated and the Reformation movement began.
Luther thereupon disregarded the bull of excommunication as he got support from German princes against the Papal authority and movement gained strength. Luther believed that man’s salvation rested between himself and god, and the Bible not the Pope was final authority. He also subscribed to the fact that faith would bring salvation.
When the Luther church was established in Northern Germany, civil wars broke out between German princes. A treaty signed at Augsburg in 1555 allowed each German ruler to choose for himself and his people whether to follow Catholicism or Lutheranism. In general, German states became divided into Lutheran North and Catholic South. Soon, Martin Luther’s ideas spread into other European countries. Rulers in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden made Lutheranism the official state religion.
While both the Renaissance and the Reformation aided in the breakdown of old order, and each contributed to the establishment of the new, they operated individually and in some cases were opposed to each other. The Protestant Humanists utilized classical studies in religious controversies, but humanism stimulated pagan learning which Protestants condemned. Renaissance scholars rebelled against the other- worldliness of scholastic Christianity while leading Protestants revived supernaturalism and witch craft.
Even granting for this disharmony, it may be concluded that the Renaissance inaugurated an era of humanism, faith in material world and questioning of superstitions. The culmination of this attitude of questioning culminated in Reformation led by Martin Luther.