Humanism was a social movement that started during the Renaissance in Italy, by a man named Petrarch, and focused on the power of the individual and the study of the classics that led people to have a different view of the world and themselves. Humanism quickly spread to the rest of Europe and continued to influence individuals even after the Renaissance. This essay will explain the impact of humanism on the culture and art of the Renaissance, on Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, and on the scientists of the Scientific Revolution.
Humanism created the new mindset that was the bases for the Western Civilization and the Modern World; this mindset believed there was more importance and power in an individual than before and the way to access that power would be through the study of the liberal arts and the classics. The Southern Renaissance was a period of rebirth of arts and culture from 1300-1600 in Italy that was greatly influenced by the humanist emphasis of the power of the individual. For example, the power of the individual was the focal point of Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man.
The oration stated that man, “with freedom of choice and with honor… mayest fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer,” meaning that men could become anything they wanted to be. It was new way of perceiving man by having an emphasis on the power of people, and it changed the way people thought about themselves that influenced many other aspects of the modern world. In addition, the establishment of humanist schools also put an emphasis on the capabilities of an individual. The schools stressed the importance of studying the liberal arts, such as grammar, history, math, science, physical education, and music.
They believed that the liberal arts were what you needed to reach your full potential and shape your own destiny. The purpose of these schools were to produce individuals with a well-rounded education who are able to follow a path of virtue and wisdom. This new education system provided a way for individuals to fulfill Mirandola’s idea of self-determination and eventually became the basis of modern education. The focus of individuals also had an enormous impact on Renaissance artists, especially, Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Michelangelo. The Harvesters, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, was a painting that depicted the lives of ordinary people.
This was a major shift in the subject matter of artworks that was influenced by the humanist concept that emphasized the power of each individual to mirror their aspirations in life. By making a painting focused on everyday people, such as harvesters, Pieter created a sense of importance to those individuals and a sense of equality in relation to people in power, who were originally the only people illustrated in paintings. In addition, Michelangelo, one of the most famous Renaissance artist, became known for his incredible attention to detail of the human body in his artwork, particularly, his statue of David.
With the use of anatomical realism, Michelangelo created a image of ideal beauty within this statue. Humanism’s focus on the individual influenced Michelangelo to focus on the defined muscles and accurate proportions to express the beauty of the human body and the power of human beings. Both these pieces created a standard for Renaissance art and were influenced by humanism becuase it changed how the human mind viewed people. In conclusion, humanism influenced the new culture and art that arose during the Southern Renaissance because it changed how people viewed the importance of individuals.
Mirandola’s philosophy that humans have the power to create their own destiny greatly influenced Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant Reformation, by changing his view of himself in relation to God. Through his study of the Bible at the University of Wittenberg, Martin Luther came to the conclusion that only faith is needed to reach salvation. He came to believe that salvation could not be achieved through good works, no matter the amount, because humans are so powerless in comparison to God. So, the only way to achieve salvation would be through faith alone.
This new concept was the focal point that created the Reformation. The idea of justification through faith alone is a powerful example of the humanist ideal of focusing on the individual because it stated that a person only needs themselves and their faith to have an intimate connection with God. Since Martin Luther came to this conclusion from only studying the Bible, and he wanted others to reach the same conclusion, he encouraged the translation of the Bible into vernacular languages. This would allow ordinary individuals to have access to the Bible, unlike before when only people who spoke Latin could read it.
This was another way for people to create a personal connection with God thus reflecting the humanist idea of focusing on the individual. In addition, Martin Luther rejected the idea of good works such as indulgences and sacraments. In 1517, Martin Luther wrote his famous 95-Theses which stated his concern of the usage of indulgences. He believed that buying indulgences cheated at salvation and gave the false impression to people that they had fully achieved salvation; it was not a true connection with God.
If an individual wanted to truly achieve salvation and truly believed in God, there would be no need to pay their way to salvation. Luther also believed that the sacraments of the church corrupted the idea of salvation and banned them all except two, baptism and The Lord’s Supper. Martin Luther rejected both indulgences and most sacraments because he believed individuals didn’t need them to show God their loyalty; only their faith would be needed. This emphasized the impact of humanism and how it accentuated an individual’s power because people didn’t need the church to reach their own salvation.
In conclusion, Martin Luther’s main idea that ignited the Reformation, grew from the humanist ideal that individuals have the power to shape their own destiny because it changed the way he thought about himself. The humanist idea to study the classics led to the rebirth of ideas of ancient thinkers that contradicted previous works and made scientists of the Scientific Revolution curious to find the truth about the material world. The scientific revolution was a radical shift in ideas pertaining to science that started in the 16th century in Europe. Such as, the heliocentric concept overtaking the geocentric concept.
In May 1543, Copernicus published a book that contained his famous heliocentric concept of the universe that stated the sun was the center of the universe, not the Earth. Copernicus came to this conclusion because he questioned the geocentric, or Ptolemaic, system; the previously accepted system which developed during the Middle Ages based off the works of Ptolemy and Aristotle and stated that the Earth was in the center of the universe, heavenly planets orbited around earth in a circular motion, and that those heavenly planets were made of pure orbs of light.
Copernicus believed it was too complicated and that it wasn’t correct. While he rejected the theory that the Earth was in the center of the universe, he agreed with the idea that the heavenly spheres orbited around the sun in a circular motion. Humanist during the Renaissance believed the classics would be the bases for understanding the world and the scientists of the Scientific Revolution continued with that mindset. Without studying the classical works of Aristotle and Ptolemy, Copernicus would have never come to the conclusion of heliocentrism that dominates what we know about the universe today.
Another scientist to disagree with the geocentric system was Galileo Galilei. Galileo was the first European to study the heavens with the use of a telescope. His observations allowed him to conclude that the heavenly objects were not in fact shiny orbs of light, but rather made of material substances like Earth. This completely destroyed the Ptolemaic system and even received resistance from the church because it stated that the heavens were no longer a spiritual world and that God didn’t have a specific place in the universe.
The Renaissance artists and their new standard of observing natural objects to accurately depict them in their artwork immensely influenced Galileo to observe the heavens. The impact of humanism in the Renaissance influenced the formation of observation as a crucial value which Galileo used to conclude that the heavens were material. While the works of Galileo and Copernicus might have answered some questions about how the universe worked, scientists still had many unanswered questions and needed a way to answer them; to do this, they developed the scientific method.
The scientific method was largely based on the ideas of reason and observation, and was created by a lawyer named, Francis Bacon. It relied on careful observations through planned experiments to come to conclusions about the universe. Humanism led to the use of observation and reason by emphasizing that humans have to power to understand the world around them, and scientists found that the way to untap that power was through observations and using logic. Without humanism, the ideas of Copernicus, Galileo, Bacon, and many others of the scientific revolution would never have surfaced to form the basis of what we know about the universe today.