The Renaissance and Humanism Essay

The Renaissance and Humanism Essay

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The Renaissance and Humanism


You may wonder about, "The Renaissance" and its relationship to another term, "humanism" which fits into the same time period. If you check the dictionary, you will find that both terms can be used in a broad sense or more specifically. Humanism refers generally to a "devotion to the humanities: literary culture." (My definitions come from Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary). According to that definition we should all be humanists.

The other general meaning is the one that disturbs the fundamentalists who attack secular humanism: "a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values; especially a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual's dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason."

This definition places human beings at the center of the universe, capable of finding their way by human reason without the help of a supernatural God. It comes under attack from two sides--on one hand by those who defend religious values, on the other by some members of the scientific community who see humans as a kind of accident in a world without purpose.

Humanism can also refer to a specific happening in history: "the revival of classical letters, individualistic and critical spirit, and emphasis on secular concerns characteristic of the Renaissance." The phrase "characteristic of the Renaissance" shows how ambivalent is the relationship between the two terms, humanism and Renaissance. In other words, which term is the broader, encompassing the other? We associate both with the revival or rebirth of Greco-Roman civilization. Both have been broadened to include more than that. The more specific meaning of the Renaissa...


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...oser to Erasmus' position. Perhaps Mennonites have tended to teach grace and live by works. Grierson suggests that Spenser's Fairie Queene comes closest to the spirit of Luther because of its emphasis on grace whereas Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained reminds us of Erasmas--of the responsibility of humankind to make "a new earth" (26).

In conclusion, I believe that each generation must examine the conflict (real or imagined) between the "desire for amusement" and religion, for the answers are neither simple nor abstract. Each "renaissance" period requires a reworking of our responses.

Works Cited

Abrams, M. H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Vol I. 5th Ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1986.

Grierson, Herbert. Cross-Currents in 17th Century English Literature: The World, he Flesh, and the Spirit. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958.

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