Humanism Essay

1245 words - 5 pages


Humanism was a new way of thinking that came about in fourteenth century, the time of the Renaissance.  Many scholars refer to it as the "Spirit of the Renaissance."  Humanism was a lay phenomenon that emphasized human beings - as opposed to deities - as well as their interests, achievements and capabilities.  Humanism is derived from the Latin word humanitas, which Cicero, the noted orator of the Roman Empire, referred to as the "literary culture needed by anyone who would be considered educated and civilized." 

Humanism and Literature

Humanists searched for wisdom from the past.  They copied the lifestyles of the ancient Greeks and Romans.  They also traced their families back to the days of the ancient Romans. They endeavored on archaeological expeditions to recover ancient manuscripts, statues and monuments so that they may better understand human nature.  The Christian humanists, however, were sometimes skeptical as to the authority of the ancient writers.  Medieval humanists accepted pagan and classical authors uncritically.  The humanists of the Renaissance, however, viewed the classics from a Christian perspective, "Man is created in God's image."  They rejected any classical ideas that opposed Christianity but sometimes found an underlying harmony between secular and pagan ideas and the Christian faith. 

The humanists of the Renaissance loved the language of the classics and thought it was finer and more pure than the corrupt Latin taught in medieval schools.  They became more concerned with form rather than content.  Literary humanists wrote in the style of the ancient writers.  The leading humanists of the time were rhetoricians.  They held discussions in the same style used in the ancient Platonian academy.  They also sought more effective and eloquent methods of communication, both oral and written.

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola wrote an essay entitled Oration on the Dignity of Man, in which he said that the reason for man's dignity is that he was created in God's image.  He said that man's place in the universe is between the beasts and the angels, but because of his divine image, he can choose his fate and there are no limits to what he can accomplish.

Another literary humanist of the renaissance was Erasmus, who wrote The Shipwreck.  Erasmus was a satirist who, in The Shipwreck, made fun of the way people practiced their religions.  He showed how some people were hypocritical, they say one thing but practice something else.  He also made fun of people who made extravagant offerings to many saints and gods alike.

Humanism and Art

In history, art has often been used by the church to educate the illiterate.  The church invested money to decorate its churches and cathedrals with art depicting scenes from the Bible.  Even if not commissioned by the church, artists often chose to depict Biblical scenes.  As humanism became more widespread in Europe, however, art steadily became more secular. ...

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