Grace, Free Will, and Human Nature: Three Significant Renaissance Writers

Grace, Free Will, and Human Nature: Three Significant Renaissance Writers

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When the Renaissance dawned over Europe’s Dark Ages, half a millennium of intellectual thought, long unchallenged, found new opponents on all sides. Aided by the printing press, fresh ideas in science, art, and religion spread freely across the Western World, falling under the scrutiny of an ever-expanding population of the literate. With this widespread intellectual excitement came greater individualism, more celebration of human achievement, and stronger focus on the secular world—a major shift from the heaven-focused outlook of the Middle Ages, in which people felt they were little more than the feeble playthings of fate. But are human beings really able to change their destinies through their choices? Are they capable of good? Three significant Renaissance writers—Machiavelli, Erasmus, and Luther—each provide an answer to these essential questions of the day.
Among the three, Machiavelli takes a unique position, writing from a purely secular point of view. Throughout his book The Prince, he champions human ability, describing how a would-be conqueror can use his skills, talents, and cunning to gain and keep power. Since each chapter in the book focuses almost exclusively on strategies and qualities that aspiring princes should use and develop, it is obvious that Machiavelli believes that human will, used carefully, is powerful enough to conquer something as significant as an empire. In Machiavelli’s view, no higher power—whether it be fate or God—has complete control over who governs. His shrewd, analytical, and completely irreligious point of view was actually rather radical for his time, since many people still believed in the divine right of kings.
Machiavelli, however, does acknowledge that it would be naïve to assume th...

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... average ones, are unlikely do good, and the former two writers compliment elite men while condemning the impotent commoners. Luther, on the other hand, ventured to say that God chooses the elite—to him, man is doomed to wait for destiny. Is the Renaissance really a time emerging humanism, individualism, and secularism? If it were that simple, it seems that Machiavelli, Erasmus, and Luther each present views on human nature and free will that are half-stuck in the Middle Ages.

Works Cited

Erasmus, Desiderius. “On Free Will.” J. Willard Marriott Library Electronic Reserve Course Materials. University of Utah. 1982. Web. 5 April 2014.
Luther, Martin. “The Enslaved Will.” J. Willard Marriott Library Electronic Reserve Course Materials. University of Utah. 1982. Web. 5 April 2014.
Machiavelli, Niccolό. The Prince. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Print.

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