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Christian Humanism The European World. Religion: Now & Then NOW  Voluntary  Private  Individual THEN  Mandatory  Public  Shared  Peter Marshall:

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Presentation on theme: "Christian Humanism The European World. Religion: Now & Then NOW  Voluntary  Private  Individual THEN  Mandatory  Public  Shared  Peter Marshall:"— Presentation transcript:

1 Christian Humanism The European World

2 Religion: Now & Then NOW  Voluntary  Private  Individual THEN  Mandatory  Public  Shared  Peter Marshall: ‘where faith met community’  Corporate souls, members of the body of Christ which had visible expression in local structures.

3 LECTURE STRUCTURE:  What is Christian Humanism?  Erasmus  The Legacy of Christian Humanism  Anticlericalism  A prequel to the Reformation?


5 THE RENAISSANCE Outgrowth of the Renaissance C14th – C16th process of learning, art and rejuvenation centred upon antiquity and the potentiality of humanity. ‘Rebirth’ – Petrarch (1304-74):  the medieval centuries dismissed as ‘barbarous’  Professed a sublime confidence that ancient civilisation could be restored through humanist’s ability to re-discover the heritage of antiquity  Reform in university education, more attention to classical languages and literatures.

6 ITALIAN ORIGINS:  Humanism – a practice, not a movement.  Bequeathed to the rest of Europe a set of skills and intellectual priorities:  Linguistic – mastery of Greek and Hebrew (previously unknown in medieval Western Christendom)  Access to classical literature (most of the major Latin authors were available in print by 1500).  Back to the sources of classical culture cancel out centuries of impurity & decay.

7 SO WHAT?  Learning had the capacity to change society – to make it more virtuous.  Man was defined by what separated from beast (the intellect) – to become more learned to become more human.  To become more human, was to become more humane.  Learning therefore had a direct impact upon society:  Learning about classical politics would improve contemporary politics  Learning about classical science would improve contemporary science  And so on……..

8 BEYOND ITALY: Each region took from Italy only what it found attractive. Italian humanism had been secular:  Goal was to transform education, literature, political life  Not have clearly defined religious goals. Culture in Europe above the Alps very different, and before Humanism could establish a grip there it would have to become more religious in focus:  Unite Italianate classical interests with reforms that embraced a longing for a personal and spiritual renewal and reform of the Church.

9 Rogier van der Weyden, The Descent from the Cross (1435).


11 DETAIL: The Descent from the Cross The ‘swoon’ of Mary & her tear. Guides how viewers were meant to respond to the depicition A decidedly EMOTIVE, INTROSPECTIVE approach towards Christ in his humiliated state. Related to a work of intense Christocentric devotion: Thomas Kempis, Imitatio Christi (1418). Urges the reader to engage with Christ’s suffering – closer to Him. Virgin understood to be near death as Christ’s spirit left Him.

12 EARLY CHRISTIAN HUMANISM:  Not very spiritual  Peter Luder (1415-72)  Conrad Celtis (1459-1505)  Notoriously dissolute – more interested in whoring than writing.  Change began to occur in 1500:  Desire to restore classical civilisation with a determination to bring about a revival of spiritual life/ institutional reform of the Church.

13 Devotio Moderna:  New style of C15th piety – intense, introspective and an imaginative mode of reaching out to God.  Series of practical actions and organisation of thoughts and life encapsulated in The Imitation of Christ (best-seller).  New order: Brethren Of The Common Life.  Important members: Thomas a Kempis; Gabriel Biel; Pope Adrian VI.  But origins, C14th Dutch Geert Groote – never passed beyond Deacon.  Evidence of a ‘popular’ engagement in the Church, of pious activism.  Promised that the laity could aspire to the high personal standards that previously only attainable by the clergy.

14 Two key thinkers: Jakob Wimpfeling (1450-1528) – Alsatian humanist John Colet (1467-1519) – Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  believed that improvements in the education of lay and clerical elites would lead to an improvement in the condition of Christendom.  Attracted to Italian humanism, but they were also fearful of its ‘pagan’ influences.

15 Problem: how to integrate admiration for ancient civilisation into efforts to recapture the inner spirit of the ancient Church.  Jacques Lefèvre d’Etaples (1453-1536)  Desiderius Erasmus (1467-1536)  Like Wimpfeling and Colet, believed that best way to regenerate corrupt Christianity was through education of future leaders.  Renewal should be nourished by scripture, works of the Church Fathers and the noblest elements of classical thought.  Erasmus ultimately proved to be the more eloquent, ambitious and belligerent of the two.

16 ERASMUS (1467- 1536) Combined the study of: classics, Church Fathers (the Church’s earliest thinkers) Bible And a conception of personal piety and reform of the Church that swept through the educated classes of Western Europe. Worship God in the SPIRIT not in the material fabric of the Church. Capture ancient heritage of Greece and Rome; & the spiritual power of the early Church in the New Testament.

17 THE PHILOSOPHY OF CHRIST: Key part of being a Christian is a highly personal devotion to God:  Rather than to ‘external’ things like dogmas and rituals. Tension with some aspects of late medieval Catholicism:  Rites/practices of Church – through clergy – key to Church. Erasmus, material rather than spiritual. Personal devotion to Christ expressed through a life devoted to the welfare of religion and society. Enchiridion militis Christiani (Handbook of the Militant Christian), 1503.


19 WHAT IT MEANS TO READ:  ‘what I say about money also applies to honours, pleasure, health – in fact to the life of the body itself. Our determination to imitate Christ should be of such nature that we have no time for these matters’.  ‘You must believe me when I say that there is no temptation so violent that a sincere resort to Holy Writ will not easily get rid of it. There is no misfortune so sad that reading of the scriptures does not render bearable’.

20 STUDYING SCRIPTURE.  Spirit would also be brought back into Christianity through a rejuvenation of its foundation documents: Turned to the ‘official’ Bible of the Church – the Latin Vulgate, as translated by Jerome – as his object of study.  Translation of the New Testament (1516)  Made him an idol for young humanists who wanted to bring about a fundamental – if peaceful – reform in the Church.

21 TRANSLATION - PEELING BACK ERROR:  Rewrote Angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary:  Foundation of the Hail Mary  ‘gratiosa’ (‘gracious’) rather than ‘gratia plena’ (‘full of grace’ – that is, full of the merits of God and therefore a medium).  Problematized Mary as a prop for devotion and for Good Works, & therefore many of the Church’s activities in procuring salvation.  LEFT THE WHOLE FABRIC OF THE CULT OF MARY VULNERABLE TO CRITICISM – HOW ‘HOLY’ WAS SHE?

22 The legacy of Christian Humanism

23 A VICTIM OF CIRCUMSTANCE:  Tarred with Luther’s brush:  Even though the two fell out (spectacularly)  De libero arbitrio (On Freedom of the Will, 1524)  By mid-century, many of Erasmus’s books had been banned by the Papacy and copies were burnt:  The Christian Humanism which had inspired young humanists in the generation between 1500 and 1530 was now objectionable in the new context of Reform.  As the division between Protestants and Catholics deepened, it was clear that the position of Erasmus – which was critical of so much of Catholic orthodoxy – was no longer tenable.

24 CATHOLICS: MODERATE & MAINSTREAM MODERATES:  Many of those who formed part of the Curia under Pope Paul III inspired by Christian Humanism  In 1540, several even came close to reaching an agreement with the Lutherans on theology at the Diet of Regensburg.  Ends with Pope Paul IV. MAINSTREAM: Jesuits – ‘shock troops’ of the Counter Reformation. More narrow ambition than in its first generation Retained the emphasis on education and personal devotion to Christ as crucial to rejuvenation of Christianity. Avoided Erasmus’s attacks on clerical corruption and the excessive strains of individualistic piety But humanist learning, rhetorical study and education became a Jesuit stock-in- trade.

25 Anti-clericalism

26 TYPES OF CRITICISM:  Satire  Clashes over the tithe  Indictment of ‘immoral’ behaviour  Papal schism 1309-76/ Avignon Papacy:  Led to the formation of the ‘conciliar movement’.  An attempt to subordinate the Papacy to the authority of the rule of councils of bishops.

27 PROBLEM : WHAT SHOULD HISTORIANS ACTUALLY DO WITH CRITICISM? Danger of lazy thinking: Assuming that criticism was: a) typical of popular conceptions of the Church b) a sign of weakness, and c) indicative of a Church that ripe for reform or schism. Very careful in thinking about what we do with criticism as historians : Who is criticising, Why? And in what context?




31 Erasmus, In Praise of Folly (1509): ‘Yet if any of these were to reflect on the meaning of his linen vestment, snow-white in colour to indicate a pure and spotless life; or of his two-horned mitre, both peaks held together by a single knot, signifying perfect knowledge of both Old and New Testaments; of his hands, protected by gloves, symbolic of purity, untainted by any contact with human affairs, for administering the sacrament; of his crozier, a reminder of his watchful care of the flock entrusted to his keeping, or the cross carried before him as a symbol of his victory over all human persons – if, I say, any of them were reflect on these and many kindred matters, wouldn’t his life be full of care and many kindred matters, wouldn’t his life be full of care and trouble? But as things are, they think they do well when they’re looking after themselves, and responsibility for their sheep they either trust to Christ himself or delegate to their vicars and those they call brethren’.

32 A ‘Prequel’ to Reform?  Embodied the Church’s ambiguities:  For all his criticisms of the Church as an institution, and its practices, he was heavily reliant upon it for his livelihood.  Happy to accept patronage from bishops and those who directly profited from the practices he debunked  Archbishop of Canterbury, William Warham, provided pension  Money in question should have sustained pastoral duties in Aldington, Kent  Town which produced Elizabeth Barton, the Maid of Kent – ecstatic visions became source of revenue.  Even during the reformation when Warham replaced as Archbishop of Canterbury by Thomas Cranmer, Erasmus concerned that his pension kept coming.

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