The Role Of Humanism In Medieval Society

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The word humanism is a relatively broad term described by Merriam-Webster as, “a system of values and beliefs that is based on the idea that people are basically good and that problems can be solved using reason instead of religion”. While this seems a perfectly reasonable definition for the present day, it does not adequately apply to medieval society. If such a definition was used by a person from the 12th century, that person would likely be looked at incredulously and then swiftly called a heretic or a blasphemer. The role of religion in medieval society is too ingrained in the medieval world. Richard Southern provides a more likely definition of medieval humanism. He describes humanism as having “elements of dignity, order, reason and…show more content…
Southern describes a key part of medieval humanism is intelligibility. Further, he goes on to say that “leading scholars of the secular schools, from the beginning of the twelfth century onwards, stressed the natural remedies to the ravages of sin” (Southern 40). At this time the literacy rate was abysmal. The only people learning to read were at the pinnacle of society or were members of the clergy. Guibert was a member of this lucky few that learned how to read. Throughout the autobiography, Guibert expresses his thirst and appreciation for knowledge. “Thou hadst granted understanding might make me zealous in the pursuit of knowledge” (Guibert 45). This quote shows that Guibert believed that knowledge and thirst for knowledge comes from God. Therefore as a good God-fearing man, Guibert throws himself into the studies available at the time which included bible study, study of great writers and Greek philosophers (Aristotle, Plato). Learned men knew “that man’s affinity with every part of nature gives him the power to understand everything in nature” (Southern 40). Guibert seems to acknowledge that in some of his tirades about the superiority of mankind. While Guibert does not epitomize rationalism, he does seem to have elements of respect for knowledge in his writings and disparages ignorance (especially ignorance of God). Guibert despises ignorance and superstition which included relics. He abhorred relics to such an extent that he wrote an entire treatise on it called De Pignoribus Sanctorum. Guibert begins his treatise by saying, “What shall I say of those saints whose fame is supported by no shred of testimony from without, and who are rather darkened than illustrated by the fact that they are believed to be celebrated in certain worthless records?” Even in this first sentence, Guibert plainly
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