Humanism and the Renaissance + Protestant Reformation = Scientific Revolution

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Humanism and the Renaissance + Protestant Reformation = Scientific Revolution

Kelly McCabe

CCM Summer Session III

Professor Pilant

Term Paper

CCM Summer Session III 2012

Early Modern European History

Term Paper

The later Middle Ages is characterized as a time of great transition and advancement, especially pertaining to areas of politics, economics, art and intellect. A new trend towards the pursuit of new knowledge and ideas first emerged in fifteenth century Renaissance Italy. This new area of intellect marks the emergence of humanism, which essentially came to be the defining characteristic leading up to the Scientific Revolution in the eighteenth century. The Protestant Reformation can be seen as the second catalyst to the Scientific Revolution, which occurred around the turn of the fifteenth century. It was the combination of the expansion of humanism first witnessed during the Renaissance creating the desire for knowledge, greater meaning and ultimate truths, with the power gained on part of the individual during the Protestant Reformation allowing for the pursuit of these new questions and ideas which, at the time, opposed existing knowledge that was universally accepted to be true; this combination ultimately culminated in the methods, principles, knowledge and foundations realized during the Scientific Revolution.

The Renaissance is a seen a distinct period of time emerging in the beginning of the fifteenth century, immediately following what is now termed the Middle Ages. First manifesting itself in Italy, it is considered “a period which witnessed transition from the medieval to the modern age, that is to say, the latter part of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century” (Bishop, 130).[i] Renaissance literally means “rebirth,” referring to the rebirth of antiquity, or Greco-Roman civilization. Prior to this, “the advanced knowledge of the natural world possessed by the ancient Greeks meant little to the Romans, and for a long time that knowledge went into decline,” – this is, until now (Henry, 557).[ii] Many aspects of life were greatly impacted, including areas of politics, economics, art and intellect. This new outlook sparked the initiation of a movement toward greater education.

Education was seen as the key to living a prosperous and fulfilled life. In particular, the importance of liberal studies was widely agreed upon. Several key events during this time allowed for the spread of knowledge, creating the “beckoning toward wider horizons” (Buttimer, 11).[iii] For example, the invention of the printing press encouraged the printing of books, which culminated in scholarly research. Additionally, there was a greater availability to the lay people than ever before; previously, there was simply no access to such information. A historian describes this occurrence: “alien tongues and races have been drawn together, and have learned once again to understand each other’s speech, and to enter into each other’s thought” (Bishop, 131).[iv] Intellect and education began bringing people together who otherwise would not have ever circulated his or her new ideas and thoughts.

Some individuals in particular are credited with the fact that “the reforms enacted were substantial. At an increasing number of Northern universities, Greek became a regular subject and specialists were hired to teach it. Old Textbooks … were abandoned after having been used for centuries and were replaced with products of humanism” (Nauert, 429).[v] Among the individuals most recognized for their impact on this time in history exists Desiderius Erasmus. Inarguably, Erasmus can be seen as a perfect demonstration of a humanist. “Erasmus was before all else a scholar and a humanist. He was filled with a genuine enthusiasm for learning” (Bishop, 137).[vi] It was this motivated spirit that drove the...
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