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The Nature of Man, the Renaissance, and the Protestant Reformation Essay

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Europe was a tumultuous region in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In particular, the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation both introduced radical intellectual and religious ideas that challenged centuries of established doctrine. This period corresponded with a great surge in philosophical, political, and religious writing. Among the most influential thinkers of the time were the Italian humanist Leon Battista Alberti, the Florentine politician Niccolò Machiavelli, and the German monk Martin Luther. Alberti wrote in a time of humanist thought and economic prosperity, Machiavelli in a time of growing political instability and economic uncertainty in Italy, and Luther in a time dominated by an increasingly corrupt Catholic church. While Alberti’s good fortune is reflected in On the Family’s optimism, Machiavelli’s The Prince and Luther’s On Christian Liberty are direct reactions to the perceived crises the authors were witnessing, and both works were written with an obvious sense of urgency.

These writers all put forward strongly worded and drastically different views of the fundamental nature of man. Alberti saw man as an active being seeking a classical education and a good family in which to raise children, Machiavelli perceived man as craving power and impossible to satisfy, and for Luther man was eternally sinful searching only for faith in God. More significant than their visions of human nature is the physical focus of that nature—body or soul—and how the origin of such a attitude was related to the period in which they were living. While Alberti’s vision of human nature focused on a man’s outward actions shaping his inner soul, Luther saw just the opposite, a man’s soul struggling to achieve what...


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...lberti saw a great potential for man and wanted to outline his vision for others. Machiavelli saw man’s flaws and what it caused, and sought only a cold, practical solution without the nuisance of morals. Luther, devastated by the corruption of the ruling religious authority, wished to save Europe’s Christians from a way of life that would seal their fate as sinners.



Works Cited

Alberti. On the Family. Readings in Western Civilization 5: The Renaissance. Ed. Eric Cochrane and Julius Kirshner. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1986.

The Making of the West, Volume B: 1320-1830. Ed. Lynn Hunt, et al. Bedford/St. Martin's: New York, 2001.

Luther, Martin. On Christian Liberty. Trans. W. A. Lambert. Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2003.

Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Trans. Harvey C. Mansfield. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1998.


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