The Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation Essay Sample

The Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation


The Renaissance began the process of destruction of the theological outlook of the Middle Ages with its religious dogmatism and traditional well-established forms of life. Since then, secularization had become the main trend of development of European culture, i.e. the release of the human mind from the absolute power of religion and the church. Secularization was putting in question the traditional beliefs in the supernatural, the rituals associated with them, which led to the loss by the church (and to some extent religion in general) of its social impact. The main phenomenon that contributed to the final victory of the secular elements of culture after the Renaissance was the 16th century Reformation. A huge impact on the Reformation was made by the Renaissance humanism.

The Essence of the Renaissance and the Advent of the Reformation

Externally, the Renaissance was associated with an ancient pagan culture, ancient science, and art. The Reformation, on the other hand, sought to return the Catholic Church to the world-view of the first apostles of Christianity. Despite the ideological difference (e.g. of the pagan and early Christian traditions), they were brought together by the desire to overcome the value and normative crisis caused by the rapid development of cities. The norms of urban population found themselves in conflict with the norms prevailing in the castles, convents, and peasant community, which inevitably affected the stability of social bonds.

In the late Middle Ages, beginning in Italy, the ideology distinction between the divine and the earthly was rapidly eroding, which destroyed the value and normative structure of the medieval society. A favorable geographical position, the lack of centralized authority, and benefits of maritime transport stimulated the development of cities and city-state structure. Economic and political activity was regarded as an effective means of social affirmation. The structure of the municipal government included new social groups united by no caste origin, but by the fact that their people (the clergy, the nobility, the burghers of the town) have created their reputation through talent, education, and bursting energy.

Even such change as the introduction of mechanical watches, transparent glasses, and mirrors in the everyday urban life was already an indicator of the increasing importance of earthly time, of a new spatial vision, and of an increased interest of people to their own internal and external appearance. Not to mention such a well-known event as the wide spread of printing. Books swept away the obstacles to the spread of new value systems. Due to better education, the logical culture of the population grew immeasurably. In fact, the Renaissance was an irresistible desire for self-assertion of the urban population and the ideological renewal associated with it. The ideal of the Renaissance man is an independent and spontaneous personality. This ideal has stimulated the development of new – compared with the Middle Ages – ideas about human existence and the nature of relationship between God and men.

Along with the changing ideas about the meaning and way of human existence, there were significant shifts in the value and normative structure of urban civilization of the late Middle Ages. Above all, it was manifested in the basics of a classic medieval man’s concept of the place and role of God in creation. This was most clearly seen in the distribution of pantheistic concepts, which synthesized ancient and Christian values. In pantheism of humanists, God and the created world were not opposed to one another in the degree of perfection and merged into a single entity. It was believed that the world is filled with God’s grace and wisdom. Thus, a new concept of nature was introduced in the cultural use, which was gradually becoming the most important measure of all manifestations, including human life.

A new value was acquired also by human relationship with nature as the divine. If the world stops being a creature and becomes the nature, the human activity ceases to be a service of expressing obedience to the Creator, but becomes creativity itself. Man, who had previously been a servant of God, became the creator. For example, Renaissance artists worked to imitate nature, but it did not turn into mere copying, but took the form of active discovery of the divine beauty, i.e. into an active transformation of natural, divine in their works. The synthesis of the divine and natural blurred the medieval division of human nature into a sin in body and divine spirit, rehabilitating the earthly existence of human beings.

However, by the end of the 15th century a tragic mood of spiritual quests of humanists was quite distinct. The church started burning witches and heretics with much greater intensity than in the Middle Ages. The recovery in economic activity often gave way to stagnation, preceded by bloody political turmoil and predatory wars of mercenaries. It would be too simple to explain all of this only by resistance from the old medieval heritage. Value judgments of the Renaissance and of its humanistic component were internally inconsistent. The fact is that the culture of the European Middle Ages, which the Renaissance tried to update, was a product of three original pre-Christian spiritual formations: the Jewish religion, Greek philosophy, and Roman law. The unity of these formations was provided by the undivided domination of the divine, eternal, and perfect over the created and temporary. The spirit of the Renaissance renovation undermined this cultural core, releasing the energy of the individual components. Not only philosophy, but also law, arts, economic and political activity rebelled against the state of servants of theology. The ideal of human integrity of Humanism was actually implemented as an element of individual self-assertion in all spheres of life. This individualism became the main basis of Reformation.

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The Reformation was essentially a secondary, after the Renaissance, reaction to the collapse of values and normative culture core of the late Middle Ages. It was a reaction to the failure of the Renaissance to create a new culture and a new man. Europe came close to a cultural catastrophe, not finding ways to transfer the energy of individualism into social and acceptable forms. This sense of the abyss (of Judgment Day) was experienced by some layers consciously and unconsciously by others, but they all shared the fear of a growing social crisis. Luther’s theses became a symbolic act, which finally drew a line under the medieval conception of the world and opened the way to a qualitatively different civilization reality. That is why, very soon the movement against the sale of indulgences turned into a protest against the ideology of the humanists among the lower layers against Catholicism and its adherents among the social elite. Reformation movement was increasingly filled with the spirit opposite to the value orientation of the Renaissance, which was secular in nature.

Protestantism freed people from outer religiosity by making religiosity a part of their inner world and laid thereby the basis for the non-church religiosity. Such religious character oriented people to take responsibility for the solutions of all the problems by themselves. Moreover, the limits of their responsibilities and activities were set by the high standard of the Gospel. Personal faith in God, claiming personal knowledge of divine truth, and personal responsibility contributed to the formation of a new personality, which appreciated business, firmly followed a good cause, condemned idleness and wastefulness, meaningless and hypocritical charity. With the external obedience, a Protestant was an individualist fully obsessed by the idea of personal salvation. He/she relied mainly on himself/herself in this enterprise and fanatically believed in his/her own ‘chosen’ status. Paradoxically, the earthly life and the life for God’s sake turned into a personal vocation, a kind of creative work. The reformer operated with an eye to God, who burned his soul and who was identical to conscience. In this way, the Renaissance and Reformation in a specific way influenced the emergence of new roles in the human life.

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Neither the Renaissance nor the Reformation was a mere transition to a personal way of being human. Freeing a person from the dictates of higher authorities and a religious monopoly on the ultimate truth, they contributed to the establishment of a new social and cultural community, where the existence of a person entered into a direct dependence on relationships with other people with consequent changes in the world outlook.

By its humanistic component, the Renaissance introduced a new, more universal content in the ideals of Good and Beauty, but the idea of self-worth of personality was discovered only partially in the great art of the Renaissance. In other spheres of human activity, it was crushed by the elements of unbridled individualism. Reformation, on the other hand, was significant for its civilizing effects because it formed a more perfect disciplinary space, which subdued the vitalism of the natural man, although initially it appeared a crusade against individual morality and the human desire for beauty. However, the relationship of the Renaissance and the Reformation in terms of cultural significance are seen rather as mutually complementary rather than hierarchical.

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The Renaissance attempted to go beyond the cultural horizon of late Middle Ages. The Reformation created for this purpose not only civilization background, but also a cultural space. Defending the right to personal religiosity, it has created the conditions for the autonomy of cultural values from the religious one, and this fact determined the dynamics of the social and cultural processes in the modern era. In some sense, the New Age is the humanistic ideals of the Renaissance, which were included into the social and cultural space cleared by the Reformation. It ultimately determined the quality of the new civilization and culture, which were different from both the Renaissance and the Reformation. While in its time Christianity was the result of the synthesis of a specific set of values and ancient Judaism, the New Times absorbed the ideas of the Renaissance and the Reformation.

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