Imagine a time when disease is rampant and wars last decades. Imagine that God himself seems to have fallen silent despite the suffering in the world. How would you react? What would become of society? For the people of Europe, the answer was the Renaissance.
For centuries now, Europe had been a place of great hardship. The Black Death had killed over two-thirds of the population, leading to soaring labor costs and a heavy sense of sadness. In the Catholic Church, the Great Schism between the eastern and western halves of the Church created a loss of faith and questions about religious authority. Seemingly endless wars, such as the Hundred Year’s War between France and England, were just now coming to an end, finally giving the population time to stop and reflect on what had gone on in the past. When they began to mull over things, more inquiries about the state of their current mindset came up. Was religion truly that important? Why should they hold themselves back from their potential? These questions led to the Renaissance.
Humanism, the emphasis on individual achievement, got the Renaissance rolling. In wealthy Italian city-states, the nobles that led the area studied liberal arts such as mathematics, rather than theology, a subject that was heavily emphasized during the Middle Ages. Classic Greek and Roman literature was also studied, as it would be a source of inspiration for future writings, along with physical education to create powerful, well-rounded nobles. City-states were center of new styles of art and architecture, which harkened back to a former era in which more realistic art portrayed secular images. One famous artist was Michelangelo, who was created several religious works of fresco and sculpture in Italy.
The Renaissance resulted in a very changed Europe. The ideas of humanism drew people away from the Church, resulting in a very nonspiritual society. At the same time, the era produced several incredible “Renaissance Men” such as Leonardo da Vinci, an artist and scientist who is still highly revered in modern times. However, most of these things were confined to Italy at the time, until trade and wars drove new ideas farther north.
Outside of Italy, humanism took a very different, more spiritually-centered route. The idea of the power of individuals to improve themselves gave root to Christian humanism, which emphasized inward religiousness and simple forms of worship. Because the Catholic Church’s ideals were very far from this new way of thinking, people began to call it out for its supposed wrongs. Desiderius Erasmus was one of the first to do so, writing The Praise of Folly, a book full of criticism aimed at the...