Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
In studying the Renaissance, it would appear that the period was moving on a more secular route than previous centuries. The Humanistic movement did lessen the hold that religion had over mankind by emphasizing individualism. Yet, this period was also the birth of the Protestant Reformation. Religion became more important to people. Ironically, religion lost its hold while gaining fascinating new inroads.
Humanism brought many Christians back to the Scriptures; many were reading the Holy Bible for the first time, including many within the church structure. Typically, religious people looked to the priests to tell them what was in the sacred writings. The wave of humanism had them looking to the original words themselves. In truth, “humanism inevitably became involved with religion.” (1)
It was humanism that brought about the Protestant Reformation. Digging deeper into religion and religious life opened the eyes to many who began to see the curtains fall aside, revealing the dirtier side of the Catholic Church. “The church was coming to resemble a business” that was full of scandal and deceit. (2) What was once thought to be religious was more secular that most of the world outside the Church.
The Renaissance period did not really become more secular, it just brought the secular and the religious worlds to center stage and overlapped them. Religion had been more secular and became more religious during this period. The secular world officially entered areas that on the surface were not.
Though “man was now the creator of his own destiny,” this did not mean that the Renaissance was necessarily more secular. (3) It just meant that man was not controlled by the Church; “man had the power so to shape his own development that he could become either bestialized or spiritualized.” (4) Man could decide to be religious and study the Scriptures as much as he desired.
(1) J.R. Hale, Renaissance Europe 1480-1520, (Malden: Blackwell, 2000), 231.
(2) Ibid, 169.
(3) Stephen Kreis, “Lecture 3: The Protestant Reformation,” The History Guide: Lectures on Early Modern European History, (accessed 2/16/2011) http://www.historyguide.org/earlymod/lecture3c.html
(4) Hale, 219.