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THE RENAISSANCE AND THE REFORMATION.
BY PHILIP SCHAFF, DD. LL.D.,
Professor of Church History in the Union Theological Seminary, New York.
A paper prepared for the Ninth General Conference of the Evangelical Alliance, held in Florence, April, 1891.*
RENAISSANCE and Reformation are significant words for two kindred, yet distinct movements of history: the one closes the Middle Age, the other opens the modern Age. Both are not simply past events, but living forces which control our civilization, and have not yet finished their mission. Renaissance, Reformation, Reaction, Revolution, Reconstruction, these are the links in the chain of modern history.
The Renaissance was a revival of classical culture, the Reformation a revival of primitive Christianity. The former was an intellectual and aesthetic movement, the latter a moral and religious movement. The Renaissance drew its inspiration from the poets and philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome; the Reformation, from the Apostles and Evangelists. The Renaissance aimed at the development of the natural man; the Reformation at the renewal of the spiritual man. The Renaissance looked down upon earth, the Reformation looked up to heaven. The Renaissance is the work of Italy, the Reformation is the work of Germany and Switzerland. The Renais
*This is the full text of the original. In the absence of the author, an Italian translation by the Rev. Giov. Luzzi, was read before the Conference and published in pamphlet form under the title Il Rinascimento e la Riforma. Firenze, 1891 (Piazza del Duomo, 27), 29 pp. Extracts from it appeared in many newspapers of Europe and America. The whole proceedings of the Conference will shortly be published by the British Branch of the Alliance in London.
sance prepared the way for the Reformation and furnished the necessary intellectual equipment for it. Erasmus and Reuchlin, Melanchthon and Zwingli are the connecting links of the two movements. Without the Renaissance there could have been no Reformation, and the Renaissance is incomplete without a Reformation. For man is a unit, and his intellectual culture and moral character must be developed and perfected in harmony.
I. THE RENAISSANCE.
The Renaissance was born in Florence, the City of Flowers and the Flower of Cities, "the brightest star in star-bright Italy." From Florence it passed to Rome, and from Rome it spread all over Italy and beyond the Alps. Cosimo de Medici and Lorenzo the Magnificent were the chief among the Mæcenases of literature and art. Pope Nicholas V. and several of his successors, down to Leo X. followed their example. Florence gave birth to a brilliant galaxy of poets, statesmen, historians, scientists, architects, sculptors and painters, and yields to no city in the world, except Rome, in wealth of historic reminiscences and treasures of art.
The Renaissance began with Dante, the greatest son of Florence and the greatest Italian poet. His power extends over the civilized world and is growing with the advancing years. A poor exile, he could not eat his own bread, nor ascend or descend his own stairs, but how large is the number of those whom he has fed and taught to descend the steps of his Inferno and to ascend the mountain of his Purgatorio! His Divina Commedia, conceived in 1300-a year noted for the first papal jubilee is a mirror of the moral universe viewed from the standpoint of eternity, a cathedral of immortal spirits, a glorification of the Christian religion and a judgment on the corruptions of the secularized Church and papacy of his age. It is at once autobiographical, national and cosmopolitan, a song of the Middle Ages, and of all ages, a spiritual biography of man as a lost sinner, a helpful penitent, and a glorified saint.
It is a pilgrimage of the soul from the dark forest of temptation, through the depths of despair, up the terraces of purification, to the realms of bliss. The pilgrimage is conducted under the guilance of natural reason (Virgil), and divine revelation (Beatrice). Dante was and still is a prophet rebuking tyranny ani injustice, avarice and pride in high and low places of Church and State, without fear or favor, and pointing to the eternal issues of man's actions. He stands on the transition between the mid lle ages and modern times. He broke the monopoly of the clergy for learning, and of the Latin language as the organ of scholarship. He proved that a layman may be a philosopher and theologian, as well as a statesman and poet, and that the lingua toscana may give expression to the deepest thoughts and emotions, as well as the language of Virgil and Cicero. He proved that one may be a good Catholic Christian, and yet call for a thorough Reformation. If he had lived in the fifteenth century he would have sympathized with Savonarola; in the sixteenth he would have gone half-way with Luther and Calvin; in the nineteenth he would advocate the unity of Italy and the separation of religion and politics, of Church and State, on the basis of equal freedom and independence for both in their different spheres. Such is the power and bearing
To which both heaven and earth have set their hands.”
Petrarca and Boccaccio are far below Dante for depth of genius and extent of influence, but they share with him the honor of being the fathers of Italian literature and the promoters of liberal learning. Petrarca, "the poet of love," was also an enthusiast for classical literature, and the pioneer of humanism in the technical sense of the term. He spared no pains and money for the recovery of old manuscripts from the dust of convents. He was the first collector of private libraries of classical authors, and he studied these as a means for intellectual and æsthetical culture. Cicero and St. Augustin were his patron saints.
His friend Boccaccio followed his example in the search for
manuscripts though he is better known as the master of Italian prose, the author of the Decamerone and the first biographer and commentator of Dante.
In the fifteenth century the enthusiasm for classical literature and humanistic culture spread with irresistible force through all the cities of Italy and even crossed the Alps as far north as Poland and as far west as England and Scotland. The discovery of the classics was the revelation of a long-forgotten civilization and created as much sensation in the fifteenth century as the discovery of the hieroglyphics and cuneiform inscriptions and the excavations of Troy and Mycenae did in our age. Italian scholars traveled to Greece and Constantinople in search of Greek manuscripts and translated them into Latin. Greek scholars who left their native land before and after the fall of Constantinople, brought with them the literary treasures of the East. I can only allude to the illustrious names of Salutato, Marsiglio, Bruni, Poggio, Filelfo, Traversari, Valla, Guarino, Aurispa, Chrysoloras, Plethon, Bessarion. To their indefatigable industry and to the liberal patronage of the Medici and Pope Nicholas V, we owe the discovery and collection of the chief writings of ancient Rome and Greece, with valuable translations and comments.
About the same time the art of printing was invented in Germany and soon spread over all Italy to give wings to thought and to preserve literature from another relapse into barbarism.
Now Homer sang the Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil, the Æneid; Plato and Aristotle taught philosophy; Demosthenes and Cicero delivered orations; Thucydides and Tacitus recited history; all that made Greece and Rome great and prosperous was revived for the instruction and enjoyment of scholars.
The discovery and reproduction of classical literature was followed by the discovery and reproduction of classical art, which revealed the beauty of the human body, as the former had revealed the strength of the human mind. At the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century, the masterpieces of Greek sculpture, such as the Laocoon group, the
Apollo of the Belvidere, the torso of Hercules, were deg from the ruins of palaces and villas of old Rome, and kindled an enthusiasm for similar achievements.
It was a remarkable coincidence that at the same time there arose those marvellous geniuses, as Ghiberti, Masaccio, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Fra Giovanni Angelico, Fra Bartolomeo, Bramante, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, who produced the greatest works of architecture, sculpture and painting known before or since.
The art of the Renaissance blends the purity and sublimity of the Catholic religion with the charms of classical taste. It achieved its highest and most permanent triumphs in temples of worship, the representations of Christ and his Virgin Mother, Moses and the Prophets, the sufferings and glorification of Christ. Fra Giovanni Angelico da Fiesole regarded art as an act of worship and charity and painted saints and angels on his knees. Raphael's last and greatest work represents the divinehuman Saviour soaring high in the air in garments of transparent light, adored by Moses and Elijah, and the three favorite disciples, and shedding the light and peace of heaven over the scene of misery on earth. Truly, "a thing of beauty is a joy forever."
What do we owe to the Renaissance of letters and arts? What is its permanent contribution to the civilization and happiness of mankind? The Renaissance raised Greece and Rome from the dead, recovered and collected the ancient classics, created a taste for the humanities, for literary and artistic culture, produced the national literature of Italy, and the greatest works of art, adorned churches, and filled museums and picture galleries, which will attract admiring visitors from every land to the end of time. The Renaissance destroyed the clerical monopoly of learning and made it accessible to the laity; it emancipated the mind from the bondage of tradition, and introduced the era of intellectual freedom. It substituted for the monastic seclusion from the world the social duty of transforming the world and the institutions which God has founded. It