HUMANISM. The Christian humanism of the Renaissance and Reformation period was a complex intellectual movement, primarily literary and philological in nature, but with important historical, philosophical, and religious implications. Humanism was rooted in the love of classical antiquity and the desire for its rebirth, both in terms of form (primarily a search for new aesthetic standards) and of norm (a desire for more enlightened ethical and religious values). The return to original sources is reflected in a parallel way in the reformers' emphasis upon the scripture as norm and New Testament Christianity as the ideal form of church life. Humanism developed in Italy during the fourteenth century and persisted through the Reformation well into the age of the Enlightenment.

The word humanism came from the phrase studia humanitatis or humaniora, the liberal arts or humane studies, a concept derived largely from Cicero. The liberal arts curriculum emphasized grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history, and moral philosophy. While the course of studies owed something to the traditional education of the medieval cathedral schools, it was less concerned with dialectic or logic, natural science, and Scholastic metaphysics. The term humanist was originally applied to professional public or private teachers of classical literature who continued the medieval vocation of the dictatores, who taught the skills of letter-writing and proper style in speech and writing. But the word gradually came to assume a more comprehensive meaning, referring to all devotees of classical learning. Humanism came to be cultivated not merely by professional educators but by many men of letters, historians, moral philosophers, statesmen, and churchmen, including regular as well as secular clergy. They set the aurea sapientia, or golden wisdom, of the ancients against the arid dialectic of the Scholastic doctors. Christian humanism tended toward religious syncretism, moralism, and ethical Paulinism, and also toward a Christocentrism that emphasized Christ as an example of good living, rather than a Christology that focused on Christ's sacrifice on the cross as sin-bearer, substitute, and savior.

It was natural that humanism should emerge most strongly in Italy, given the Roman inheritance and the artistic and architectural reminders of ancient glories. Toward the end of the thirteenth century, a form of protohumanism developed in the north of Italy, in Padua, Verona, and Vicenza, and in Arezzo and Florence in Tuscany. But the "father of humanism" was Francesco Petrarch (1304–1374), who gave to Italian literary humanism its basic character. He is perhaps best remembered for his vernacular lyrics, chiefly love poems to Laura; he was crowned poet laureate on the Capitoline Hill in Rome in 1341. Petrarch stressed the purity of the classical Latin style, revived enthusiasm for ancient Rome, and helped develop a sense of distance from the past and a revulsion toward the medieval "dark ages." He raised important personal and religious questions in such writings as On the Solitary Life, the Secretum, Ascent of Mount Ventoux, and On His Own Ignorance and That of Many Others, in which he wrote as an apologist for the Christian view of humanity and the humanists' appreciation of the worth of the individual against certain neo-Aristotelians whose natural philosophy subverted those values.

Petrarch's friend Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) gained renown for his Decameron, a collection of a hundred short stories, for books on famous men and women, and for an encyclopedic Genealogy of the Gods, an important handbook of mythology. Petrarchan humanism spread through Italy, largely as a lay, upper-class, and elitist movement. In the search for classical manuscripts, humanists such as Poggio Bracciolini (1380–1459), Francesco Filelfo (1398–1481), Cyriacus of Ancona (c. 1391–1457), and Giovanni Aurispa (1374–1450) excelled, rediscovering key works of Cicero, Quintilian, Vitruvius, Plautus, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Thucydides, Euripides, Sophocles, and other ancient authors.

Humanism gained new momentum and direction with the Greek revival. In the final decades of the fourteenth century the Byzantine emperor, threatened by the Ottoman Turks, who were encircling Constantinople, made two expeditions to the West, in 1374 and 1399, to seek help. His efforts were futile, but some Greek scholars, such as Manuel Chrysoloras (c. 1355–1415), John Bessarion (1403–1472), and Gemistus Plethon (c. 1355–1450), remained in the West and introduced Greek literature, patristics, and philosophy. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, other scholars fled to the West, notably John Argyropoulos, Demetrius Calcondylas, and John and Constantine Lascaris, adding new momentum to the Greek revival and broadening the dimensions of philosophical discussion.

Certain humanists placed their rhetorical gifts in the service of the Florentine republic against the threatening tyrants of Milan and Naples. These civic humanists, such as chancellor Coluccio Salutati (1331–1406) and Leonardo Bruni (c. 1370–1444), stirred up the patriotic impulses of the citizenry for the defense of the state. In a broader sense civic humanism was more than an ideology of embattled republicanism, for it stood for a life of action spent for the common good. Giannozzo Manetti (1396–1459), who wrote On the Dignity and Excellence of Man, once described the whole duty of humanity as being to understand and to act. Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472), a truly universal man, the architect of Renaissance churches, palaces, and fountains, wrote treatises that for many decades dominated theory on architecture, painting, and the family.

In order to convey humanist ideals to youth, humanist educators not only wrote influential treatises on education but also established schools to put their theories into practice. Generally optimistic about the educability at least of the upper classes, the humanists cultivated the liberal arts to develop leaders with sound character and lofty vision. Pietro Paolo Vergerio (1370–1444) wrote a treatise on the morals befitting a free man, drawing extensively on Plato, Plutarch, and Cicero. Vittorino Rambaldoni da Feltre (1378–1446) and Guarino da Verona (1370–1460) set up model schools with a humanist curriculum and introduced such innovations as physical education and coeducation.

Among the disciplines emphasized was history, for the humanists valued both ancient and contemporary history. What the humanists learned from classical historians was reflected in their own histories, from the History of Florence of Leonardo Bruni to the History of Florence of Niccoló Machiavelli and the History of Italy in His Own Times by Francesco Guicciardini (1483–1540). Flavio Biondo (1389–1463), the founder of modern archaeology, produced massive topographical-historical works on Rome and all of Italy. Lorenzo Valla (1407–1457) anticipated many of the questions raised later by Luther, such as free will and predestination, errors in the Vulgate, and the value of lay piety in contrast to monasticism. In a treatise titled On the Donation of Constantine, he proved with philological and historical critical arguments that the Donation of Constantine was a forgery purporting to prove that when Constantine moved the capital of the Roman empire to the East, he had given the Lateran Palace and outlying provinces to Pope Sylvester I and his successors, as well as conferring immense privileges upon them.

During the second half of the fifteenth century classical scholarship was more closely integrated with literary composition in the vernacular, printing spread rapidly following the establishment of the first printing press in Italy in 1465, and a new metaphysical emphasis superseded the relatively uncomplicated moral philosophy of the literary and civic humanists with the development of Neoplatonic, neo-Pythagorean, neo-Aristotelian, Hermetic, and qabbalistic philosophies and theodicies. Neoplatonism became the most prominent and characteristic form of Renaissance philosophy. The renewal of interest in patristic writings, aided by scholars such as Ambrogio Traversari (1386–1439), and especially in the Greek fathers, added impetus to the Greek revival. Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464) was concerned with the search for unity between the infinite One and the infinite multitude of finite things, the coincidentia oppositorum, a panentheism that raised the specter of pantheism. Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499), the most eminent Renaissance philosopher, presided over the "Platonic Academy" endowed by Cosimo de' Medici, the de facto ruler of Florence. Ficino did editions of Plato's works and edited the Enneads of Plotinus and works of Greek pagan Neoplatonists such as Proclus and Porphyry, as well as of Dionysius the Areopagite, whose christianized Neoplatonism was so influential throughout the medieval period. Among his own influential works were the Theologia Platonica and the De religione Christiana, in which he used Neoplatonism apologetically as a support for the Christian faith. His understudy, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), sought to find the religious truth common to Christianity, Platonism, Aristotelianism, Hermetism, Islam, and Qabbalah. He published for public disputation nine hundred theses, the Conclusiones, in which he sought to summarize all learning. In his oration On the Dignity of Man, sometimes described as the most characteristic Renaissance document, he places humankind at the center of the "great chain of being," the object of special creation, able to rise upward toward God or to sink downward to the sensate animalistic level, as it chooses. Giordano Bruno (1548–1600), combining Nicholas of Cusa's Neoplatonism and Hermetic ideas with the physical implications of Copernican astronomy, synthesized a philosophy that verged on pantheism. Aristotelianism persisted in the universities, and Neo-Aristotelianism found advocates such as Pietro Pomponazzi (1462–1525), who wrote on the nature of immortality, fate, free will, predestination, and providence.

Thanks to close political, commercial, ecclesiastical, and university ties with Italy, the new humanist culture came earlier to Germany than to other countries of northern Europe. The pioneers included wandering poets such as Peter Luder, schoolmaster humanists such as Johannes Murmellius and Rudolf von Langen, half-Scholastic humanists such as Conrad Summenhart and Paul Scriptoris, and moralistic critics of church and society such as Heinrich Bebel, Jacob Wimpfeling, Sebastian Brant, and the preacher Johann Geiler von Kaisersberg. But the man credited with being the father of German humanism was Roelof Huysman (Rodolphus Agricola, 1444–1485), known as the "German Petrarch." After a decade in Italy he returned to "the frozen Northland" and presided over a group of young humanists in Heidelberg, to whom he expounded his theories of rhetoric. One of his disciples, Conrad Pickel (Conradus Celtis, 1459–1508), the "German arch-humanist," organized young humanists into the Rhenish and Danubian sodalities to promote humanism and to do a topographical-historical work entitled Germania illustrata, never completed.

At the universities humanists struggled with Scholastics for positions, and by 1520 humanism had spread to urban centers and to both ecclesiastical and princely courts. The lawyer Conrad Peutinger, the historian Johannes Turmair (Aventinus), the city councilor Willibald Pirckheimer, a friend of Conrad Pickel, and the Nuremberg artist Albrecht Dürer were patrons and advocates of humanism. The clash of humanists and Scholastics came to a head in the celebrated Reuchlin controversy. Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522) did a Hebrew vocabulary and grammar and wrote two major works, On the Wonder-Working Word and On the Qabbalistic Art, in which he used the Jewish mystical Qabbalah in support of Christianity. Reuchlin defended some Hebrew books from a vicious book-burner, Johannes Pfefferkorn, a converted Jew, and was in turn attacked by certain Scholastic doctors at Cologne. An Erfurt humanist, Johann Jäger (Crotus Rubianus, c. 1480–1545), and the young knight Ulrich von Hutten (1488–1523) wrote a biting satire, The Letters of Obscure Men, ridiculing the Scholastics and defending Reuch-lin. In Gotha the canon Mutianus Rufus (1471–1526) gathered a circle of young humanists from the University of Erfurt to promote classical learning.

Although there were early ties with Italy during the Avignon papacy and some promise of a flowering early in the fifteenth century, for example in the circle gathered around chancellor Jean de Montreuil (1354–1418), the Hundred Years' War and the struggle between France and Burgundy delayed the full development of humanism in France. The great flowering of humanism came from 1515 to 1547, during the reign of Francis I, a great patron of art and literature. Guillaume Budé (1468–1540) did a commentary on the Pandects (a digest of Justinian's law), a work on numismatics, a commentary on the Greek language, and a major work on Hellenism. Lefèvre d'Étaples (1455–1536) worked on biblical texts, doing a critical edition of Psalms and commentaries on Paul's letters and on the four Gospels; this work was important to Luther and the French reformers. Margaret of Angoulême, Francis I's sister, was not only an author but also a patroness of humanists and young reformers, along with Bishop Guillaume Briçonnet. François Rabelais (c. 1495–1553), author of the witty, gross, and satirical Gargantua and Pantagruel, offered criticism through the story of a giant and his son. Although sometimes called a skeptic, Rabelais is now seen more as an Erasmian Christian humanist interested in reform. The famous essayist Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) was the greatest French literary figure of the age.

In Spain, Erasmianism, Lutheranism, and mysticism found followers, but nonconformity was effectively suppressed. Cardinal Jiménez de Cisneros (1436–1517) instituted rigorous clerical reforms, founded the University of Alcalá with a trilingual college, and endowed the publication of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible. Antonio de Nebrija (1441–1522), at Salamanca, was an outstanding classicist. The greatest literary figure of Spanish humanism was Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616), author of Don Quixote.

English humanism developed during the fifteenth century from political and ecclesiastical contacts with Italy. Classical studies were cultivated seriously at Oxford by Thomas Linacre (c. 1460–1524), William Grocyn (c. 1466–1519), and William Latimer (c. 1460–1543). John Colet (1467–1519), dean of Saint Paul's and founder of Saint Paul's School, modeled somewhat after the humanist schools of Italy, corresponded with Ficino and was intrigued by Neoplatonism. But he had a serious theological bent, and in his lectures on Romans he emphasized humanity's sinfulness and need for God's forgiveness. Thomas More (1478–1535) wrote the most famous work of English humanism, Utopia.

The prince of the northern humanists was Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469?–1536), who articulated the loftiest ideals of Christian humanism. A great classicist and patristics scholar, he expressed social and ecclesiastical criticism in The Praise of Folly and the Colloquies, expounded his "philosophy of Christ" in the Enchiridion and in Paraclesis, and did editions, with long introductions, of Latin and Greek classical authors and church fathers. His fame was eclipsed by the advent of the Reformation, and he reluctantly attacked Luther on the question of the freedom of the will.

Erasmus inclined toward moralism and spiritualism rather than consequential soteriology, emphasizing Christ the teacher and example rather than the Savior who died on the Cross for the salvation of humankind.

The Reformation owed much to humanism for its success; contributing to an atmosphere favorable to the Reformation were humanism's emphasis on knowledge of the biblical languages and a return to the sources; its criticism of ecclesiastical and social abuses; its negative attitude toward Scholasticism; a concomitant romantic cultural nationalism; the use of the printing press; and the activities of the cadres of young humanists who carried Luther's message to all parts of the Holy Roman Empire in the early years. Luther referred to the Renaissance as akin to John the Baptist heralding the coming of the gospel. The so-called magisterial reformers, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Melanchthon, Bucer, Beza, and others, were all university men with some background in classical studies and humanist learning. Led by Luther, they reformed the university curricula in favor of humanist disciplines, reformed old and founded new universities, and established secondary schools, Gymnasiums and lycées, to promote the liberal arts. They insisted upon compulsory education for boys and girls, thus expanding education beyond the elitist upper-class concerns of the Italian humanists. They stressed teaching as a divine vocation. While Luther loved the classics, rejected Scholasticism, and favored humanism, his colleague Philipp Melanchthon (1497–1560) was the major influence in promoting classicism. In line with Italian humanism, the reformers deemphasized dialectic and stressed the value of rhetoric, poetry, moral philosophy, and history. Along with their concern for pure theology, the proper distinction between law and gospel, and the centrality of sin and grace, the reformers viewed higher culture as a sphere of faith's works and became strong advocates of humanist learning. Learned Protestants such as the polymath Joachim Camerarius (1500–1574), the educator Johannes Sturm (1507–1589), the historian Johannes Philippi (Sleidanus, 1506–1556), the irenic theologian Georg Calixtus (1586–1656), and a host of neo-Latin poets, playwrights, and philosophers carried humanism into the seventeenth century and the beginnings of the Enlightenment. Catholic reformers, too, especially the Jesuits, saw the value of the humaniora, or humane studies, and introduced them into their academies, colleges, and universities. The Reformation owed much to humanism and repaid the debt richly by broadening the popular base of education and carrying humanist learning into modern times.

The Reformation brought to an end the role of Renaissance humanism as an independent cultural force, for thereafter it became associated closely with the various Christian confessions. Lutheran, Calvinist, Catholic, and radical humanist learning was cultivated in secondary schools and universities. Where humanism was transmitted in this academic way, it was preserved much longer than where it remained a matter of a few individuals or groups; but humanism took on a more pedantic and less spontaneous character in the universities.

Humanist impulses were not only widespread horizontally on a European scale but reached down vertically through the centuries. Where humanist influence was strong, it nourished tendencies toward universalism, or at least toward latitudinarianism, especially in England and the Netherlands, and fostered an irenic spirit. The humanist way of thinking has remained in evidence into the twentieth century.

Bruno, Giordano ; Enlightenment, The ; Erasmus, Desiderius ; Ficino, Marsilio ; Neoplatonism ; Nicholas of Cusa ; Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni ; Reformation ; Scholasticism .

For the historical background of Renaissance humanism, such standard works as The New Cambridge Modern History, vol. 1, The Renaissance, 1493–1520, edited by G. R. Potter (Cambridge, 1957), and Myron P. Gilmore's The World of Humanism, 1453–1517 (1952; reprint, Westport, Conn., 1983) serve as excellent guides. Wallace K. Ferguson's The Renaissance in Historical Thought: Five Centuries of Interpretation (Boston, 1948) provides a survey of the changing currents of historiography.

The most excellent work on the thought of the Italian humanists is Charles E. Trinkaus's In Our Image and Likeness: Humanity and Divinity in Italian Humanist Thought, 2 vols. (Chicago, 1970), which in a detailed, profound, and comprehensive way shows how the humanists integrated the surging secular activities and achievements of early modern Europe into the beliefs and practices of the Christian inheritance. See also his brilliant essays in The Scope of Renaissance Humanism (Ann Arbor, 1983). The Florentine scholar Eugenio Garin, in his Italian Humanism: Philosophy and Civic Life in the Renaissance (New York, 1965), offers a succinct analysis of humanism as a reflection of the new urban civic life. The most prolific author and bibliographer of Italian humanism is Paul O. Kristeller, who holds that humanism derived from the studia humanitatis in the Italian universities and offered an educational alternative to Scholasticism. Among his many writings one may cite the representative titles Studies in Renaissance Thought and Letters (Rome, 1956), Renaissance Thought: The Classic, Scholastic and Humanistic Strains (New York, 1961), Eight Philosophers of the Italian Renaissance (Stanford, Calif., 1964), and Renaissance Thought and Its Sources (New York, 1979). The most discussed book on civic humanism is Hans Baron's The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance: Civic Humanism and Republican Liberty in an Age of Classicism and Tyranny, rev. ed. (Princeton, N.J., 1966), in which Baron argues that the threat to Florence from the Visconti tyrants of Milan led the humanist chancellors of the city to write in defense of the republic.

Significant titles for the study of northern humanism include Itinerarium Italicum: The Profile of the Italian Renaissance in the Mirror of Its European Transformations, edited by Heiko A. Oberman and Thomas A. Brady (Leiden, 1975), on the reception of Italian Renaissance culture in France, the Low Countries, England, and Germany; Eckhard Bernstein's German Humanism (Boston, 1983); my book The Religious Renaissance of the German Humanists (Cambridge, Mass., 1963); James H. Overfield's Humanism and Scholasticism in Late Medieval Germany (Princeton, N.J., 1984); Franco Simone's The French Renaissance: Medieval Tradition and Italian Influence in Shaping the Renaissance in France (London, 1969); and Douglas Bush's The Renaissance and English Humanism (Toronto, 1939).

On the Reformation and humanism, see E. Harris Harbison's The Christian Scholar in the Age of the Reformation (New York, 1956); Marilyn J. Harran's Luther and Learning (Selingsgrove, Pa., 1985); Gerhart Hoffmeister's The Renaissance and Reformation in Germany (New York, 1977); Manfred Hoffmann's Martin Luther and the Modern Mind (New York and Toronto, 1985); and Quirinus Breen's John Calvin: A Study in French Humanism, 2d ed. (Hamden, Conn., 1968), underscoring the continuity of humanism in Reformation thought.

New Sources
Gifford, Paul, ed. 2000 Years and Beyond: Faith, Identity, and the "Common Era." New York, 2003.

Kraye, Jill, and W. F. Stone, eds. Humanism and Early Modern Philosophy. New York, 2000.

Mizruchi, Susan, ed. Religion and Cultural Studies. Princeton, 2001.

Olin, John. Erasmus, Utopia, and the Jesuits: Essays on the Outreach of Humanism. New York, 1994.

Radest, Howard. The Devil and Secular Humanism: The Children of the Enlightenment. New York, 1990.

Southern, R. W. Scholastic Humanism and the Unification of Europe. Vol. 1: Foundations; Vol. 2: In the Heroic Age. Oxford, U.K. and Cambridge, Mass., 1995.

Witt, Ronald. In the Footsteps of the Ancients: The Origins of Humanism from Lovati to Bruno. Leiden and Boston, 2000.


Revised Bibliography

Source Citation Spitz, Lewis W. "Humanism." Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. 2nd ed. Vol. 6. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 4174-4178. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 17 Feb. 2010.
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