Four Major Themes that Characterized Renaissance Humanism

■ Individualism. There was great concern with human potential and achievement. The belief in the power of the individual (as opposed to the church or the state) to make a positive difference in the world created a spirit of optimism.

■ Personal religion. Although all Renaissance humanists were devout Christians, they wanted religion to be more personal and less formal and ritualistic. They argued for a religion that could be personally experienced rather than one that the church hierarchy imposed on the people.

■ Intense interest in the past. The Renaissance humanists became enamored with the past. The works of the early Greek and Roman poets, philosophers, and politicians were of special interest. Renaissance scholars wanted to read what the ancients had really said, instead of an “official” interpretation. For example, in 1462, Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499) founded a Platonic academy in Florence. He sought to do for Pla- to’s philosophy what the Scholastics had done for Aristotle’s. Among the humanists, almost every early Greek and Roman philosophy had its adherents, but Plato’s was especially influen- tial. Even some extremely old Eastern religions were rediscovered, stimulating great interest in the occult.

■ Anti-Aristotelianism. Many of the humanists believed that the church had embraced Aris- totle’s philosophy to too great an extent—to the point where Aristotle’s philosophy was as authoritative as the Bible. Passages from Aris- totle commonly settled theological disputes. To the humanists, this was ridiculous because Aristotle had been only human, and like any human, he was capable of error. To the regret of the humanists, Aristotle’s philosophy, along with Christian theology, had been used to create a set of rules, regulations, and beliefs that one had to accept in order to be a Christian. Accepting church dogma became more important than one’s personal relationship with God; therefore,

humanists attacked church dogma harshly. Although there were many interesting Renais- sance humanists, space permits only a brief review of a few of them.

Academic Heros
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