*

De Lamar Jensen, “Renaissance: The start of spiritual Reform,” inWindow of Faith: Latter-day Saint Perspectives on world History, ed. Roy A. Prete (Provo, UT: spiritual Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2005), 251–75.

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Renaissance is a term used in countless ways, each v its own justification and also purpose. In the broadest feeling it is a duration of background covering approximately the two centuries from around 1350 come 1550, a time displaying a exceptional spirit that self-discovery and fulfillment, a recognition of human worth, and also a dynamic outpouring of intellectual, artistic, and literary activity. In some means it featured a cultural break v the principles of the middle Ages, however in rather it to be a extension or culmination the them. This must not it is in surprising due to the fact that all background contains both continuity and also change, congruity and also contrast. Over all, we must recognize it as a dynamic age, a time when new ideas, institutions, and beliefs were becoming popular while many old trends of assumed and task continued in force. Words renaissance means “rebirth,” applied particularly to the renewal of classic thought, literature, art, and also style, yet as commonly used it implies much an ext than that. It also refers to the quick social and also economic changes, new ideas and applications that political and international organization, and also the abroad discoveries and expansion of Europe that were following in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

For this essay i intend come focus much more on the devotional, ideological, and also moral aspects of the period, in what deserve to be called the spiritual Renaissance, with attributes that most likely primed and led come the reformation of the sixteenth century and revealed new insights into human-divine relations. The strikes me that few of these insights were no only brand-new but perhaps even revelatory, precursory come a later on day as soon as divine communication would again it is in known. We have the right to see at times similarities between the intuitive penetration and also perceptivity of some of these Renaissance personalities and the divine disclosures of modern-day prophets.


Italian Humanism

The transition from medieval to Renaissance life and thought was never an accurate nor strictly in accord through a pattern. It to be a time the devastation and recovery, of upheaval and reconciliation. The underlying feature of beforehand humanism was an explicit acceptance of the precious of human being existence, that life has actually intrinsic value and meaning, and that the promo of many worldly quests was both justifiable and meritorious. For this reason the early Renaissance humanists challenged and also opposed the middle ages depreciation the mortal life.

But the was much more than just an attitude around human existence and also purpose that separated Renaissance humanists from medieval scholastics. The humanists believed in and promoted a specific program the study and thought. They referred to as it the studia humanitatis, what we would certainly today call the free arts. To the early on humanists this meant a meeting to such scholarly self-controls as history, poetry, grammar and rhetoric—including both literature criticism and also philology—and the course ethical philosophy, for the humanists were usually committed come religion and also to the Christian church. It additionally meant looking back to classical Greece and also Rome for models and also guides to expertise the best expression of ideas and also values. Hence they do vigorous initiatives to recreation the cultural ideals that antiquity and also reconcile these with their very own preferences. Uneven their middle ages predecessors, who were attracted much more to metaphysics, logic, and also theology, the Renaissance humanists desired an educational routine that emphasized literature and background in order to boost both writing, speaking, and thinking. Pier Paolo Vergerio (1370–1444) expressed this right of free arts education and learning when the wrote:

We speak to those researches liberal which room worthy that a totally free man; those studies by which we attain and practice virtue and also wisdom; that education and learning which calls forth, trains, and also develops those highest presents of body and mind which ennoble men and which room rightly judged to rank next in dignity come virtue only. Because that to a vulgar temper gain and pleasure are the one aim of existence, to a lofty nature, moral worth and also fame. <1>

Fifteenth-century writers emphasized exact scholarship and also the breakthrough of character as the ultimate goals of education. Humanist education likewise prepared students because that a life of public activity. Numerous humanists to be themselves teachers, consisting of the gifted Vittorino da Feltre (1378–1446), who taught where he met teachable students. Vittorino introduced timeless humanist ideals into his to teach in Mantua, i m sorry soon ended up being the foremost grammar college of Italy. Combining the ideal of medieval mental discipline with ancient studies, and the characteristics harmonizing of humanistic learning with the education of body, spirit, and also character, he was able to assemble a favorable learning combination with traditional Christian values. The affect of humanist education and learning was felt where the intention to be to produce an excellent citizens as well as learned minds.

But i am gaining ahead of my story. The an initial representative of the humanist heritage was Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch, 1304–1374), who started the renewal of timeless learning. As for himself, Petrarch disclaimed the praise heaped on him by his contemporaries, claiming the he was yet a male “who is roaming roughly through the lofty beech trees all alone, humming come himself part silly small tune, and—the very peak the presumption and assurance—dipping his shaky pen into his inkstand while sit under a bitterness laurel tree.” <2>

Petrarch was the very first of the great Italian writers to give up the methods and also goals of middle ages scholasticism in favor of Latin classics, because that these not just made him more aware that the values of life, that said, but were also sources of morality and virtue. Petrarch witnessed the problem implicit amongst the dialecticians and also metaphysicians, who enthusiasm for natural philosophy drew them away from sympathy or cultivate in classical literature. Among other things, Petrarch thought this neglect of communication and also style resulted in a lack of concern about immediate human being life. “What is the use . . . Of discovering the nature that quadrupeds, fowls, fishes, and serpents,” that asked, “and not learning or even neglecting the nature that man, the function for which us were born . . . ?” <3> for Petrarch genuine moral philosophy to be the most crucial goal of person thought because it led not just to reality but an ext importantly to goodness.

Yet there to be contradictions in Petrarch’s mind. He had actually a difficult time accepting the dreary job that surrounding him; days that made this one of the most depressing periods in history, a time of extensive war, disruption, and institutional crisis. The Black fatality of 1348–50 delete everything out more than one third of the population of Europe, and was only one of the catastrophes that plagued the stormy fourteenth century.” plague was add by war, taxes, brigandage, bad government, insurrection, and also schism in the church. Few of the conflict between Petrarch’s ideals and also his life space revealed in his “Ascent that Mont Ventoux,” a prolonged letter come his friend Dionigi da Borgo san Sepolcro, professor that theology in ~ Paris. ~ a vigorous climb through his brothers to the top of mount Ventoux, in southeastern France, Petrarch reflect on his effective ascent, however at the same time that confessed, “I wept end my imperfection and also was grieved through the fickleness of every that men do.” Then, shaking himself from his languor, he began looking about to view what that had involved see.

Like a man aroused indigenous sleep, ns turned back and looked toward the west. The boundary wall surface between France and Spain, the ridge the the Pyrenees, is not visible from there, though over there is no problem of which ns knew, and also nothing however the weak of the mortal eye is the cause. However, one could see many distinctly the hills of the province of Lyons come the right and, to the left the sea near Marseilles as well as the waves that break versus Aigues Mortes. . . .

I admired every detail, now relishing earthly enjoyment, currently lifting up mine mind to hither spheres after the example of mine body, and also I believed it fit to look into the volume the Augustine’s Confessions. I opened it through the intention of reading whatever can occur to me first. . . . Where I resolved my eye first, it was written: “And men go to excellent the high mountains, the substantial floods that the sea, the substantial streams the the rivers, the one of the oceans, and also the transformations of the stars—and desert themselves.” <4>

Another translate into continues:

I was ashamed, and also asking mine brother, that was anxious to hear more, no to bother me, i closed the book, angry v myself for proceeding to excellent the points of this civilization when ns should have actually learned a lengthy time ago . . . That nothing is admirable however the soul. Then, having seen sufficient of the hill I rotate an inward eye upon myself, and also from that minute on not a valuation passed mine lips until we reached the bottom. <5>

Petrarch’s continuing struggle between his commitment come Christianity and also his search for an individual achievement, the conflict between his spiritual vision and the pleasures of cultivated literary fame, are revealed in his imaginary dialogue through St. Augustine.

S. Augustine: . . . Yet let united state take because that granted (what is fairly impossible) that the duration of life will be long and assured: still, perform you not find it is the height of madness come squander the critical years and also the last components of your presence on pleasing just the eyes of others and tickling various other men’s ear . . . ?

Petrarch: . . . I carry out not think my way of looking in ~ it is for this reason unreasonable as you imagine. My rule is that, as concerning the glory i m sorry we may hope for here below, that is best for united state to seek while us are here below. . . .

S. Augustine: O man, small in yourself, and also of small wisdom! do you, then, dream that you shall reap every satisfied in heaven and also earth, and also everything will turn out fortunate and prosperous because that you constantly and everywhere? . . .

Though divine Mercy may deliver a guy from his folly, yet it will certainly not forgive it. . . .

Petrarch: yet I have actually yet a last request to make, i m sorry is the you will offer me your definite judgment on this point. Is it your wish the I have to put all my researches on one side and renounce every ambition, or would you advise some center course?

S. Augustine: ns will never advise you to live without ambition; but I would constantly urge you to put virtue before glory. . . . Monitor after virtue, and let glory take treatment of itself. . . .

Petrarch: What must I do, then? abandon my loose works? Or would it be much better to hasten lock on, and, if God gives me grace, placed the finishing touches on them? . . .

S. Augustine: i beg your pardon foot you median to hobble on, I do not know. Girlfriend seem skinny to leave yourself derelict, fairly than your books. . . . “A way man’s life is every one ready for death.”

This saying will certainly teach you to think little of what concerns earthly things, and collection before her eyes a much better path of life on which come enter. . . .

Petrarch: Ah! would that you had actually told me all this prior to I had surrendered myself end to these studies! . . .

S. Augustine: You may count her prayer already granted, if you will only to you yourself be true: for just how shall everyone be consistent to him who is inconstant to himself?

Petrarch: I will be true come myself, so far as in me lies. I will certainly pull myself together and collect my scattered wits, and also make a great endeavor to own my soul in patience. However even while us speak, a crowd of crucial affairs, though only of the world, is waiting my attention. <6>

Petrarch’s self-evaluation is said in the final paragraph in “On His own Ignorance, and also That of plenty of Others,” whereby he pleads the he be appreciated not as a man of letters, however as a great man, deserving the name of a friend and a benevolent and loving soul. Would that we all can deserve together an accolade.

Most significant in the spread of humanism transparent Italy was Coluccio Salutati (1330–1406), a celebrated Florentine scholar, lawyer, and also public main who served as chancellor of the Florentine Signoria because that the last thirty years of his life. His chancery letters were created in fluid yet dignified Latin, and also he added much to the Renaissance growing of eloquence. The was also a an excellent collector the Latin manuscripts and brought the top Greek scholar the the east Empire, Manuel Chrysoloras, come teach at Florence. Start with Salutati, the Italian humanists paid enhancing attention to attributes such as human dignity, liberty of the will, and also the immortality the the soul. Theologians were still debating the inquiry of predestination versus man’s capacity to control or in ~ least influence his salvation. The layman Salutati likewise grappled v this issue. That reasoned in favor of both oh my god providential power and also man’s freedom. God comprehends masculine fate, he argued, yet does not pressure him come comply with it. Salutati rejected mainly determination, i beg your pardon was well-known at that time, because it left no location for human choice nor magnificent will. God, the argued, always leaves man some level of choice.

In comparable manner, Lorenzo Valla (1407–1457) suggested in his De libero arbitrio (On cost-free Will) in favor of the necessity and also importance of male will, proclaiming that due to the fact that God created human nature then the nature had to it is in good. But Valla was an extremely different native Petrarch in both his method to life and his watch of the hereafter. He to be self-confident and also bold vice versa, Petrarch was restrained and also cautious. Possibly this might be early out in component to the time in which they lived—Petrarch in the destructive fourteenth century and also Valla in the fix up fifteenth. Every little thing the cause, Valla was moved to recoup the historical truths the the old world and also distinguish them from middle ages errors. This can be depicted in many of his works however in no one more plainly than in his “Oration on the False Donation of Constantine.” The so-called Donation to be a medieval file purported to it is in the deed indigenous Emperor Constantine providing the pope secular strength as head of the roman inn Church. Valla was no the an initial to inquiry the Donation’s authenticity, but he to be the first to view it together a significant forgery, a foolish effort to combine the papal hold on the church.

Valla also took problem with the old Stoics. The did not disagree with their see that just virtue was capable of bringing happiness, yet he thought more fully with the Epicureans that what carried true and also continuing pleasure was pleasure—not the fleeting pleasures that hedonism, however the delight of a life the justice and morality. This appealed most to Valla due to the fact that it did no assume the man could find happiness by himself, but rather through the treatment of Christ. Christianity not just taught the virtue was its very own reward, yet that it should be followed since it leader to the higher pleasure of a truly heavenly life. Valla explained in the preface to his On the True Good the he intended to discredit not only the middle ages logicians and also natural thinkers but old philosophy also because it esteemed to discover appropriate standards of actions in human speculation. Because that Valla over there were 2 legitimate sources of moral determination: Christianity and also common sense. His Christianity was a layman’s religion, not the sacerdotal notions the the clergy, i m sorry he commonly criticized. His other standard of thought and also behavior was practicality. For this reason his moral standards were based upon common sense, the technique that he believed came closestly to actual Christian belief. Agree the constraints of person life, Valla thought that those limitations might be transcended by the intervention of God, not by the speculations of philosophy. <7>

At around the very same time, Giannozzo Manetti (1396–1459), a learned scholar in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, supported the idea that male possessed complimentary will and dignity regardless of his fallen state. In his On the Dignity and also Excellence that Man, Manetti tried to show that the gifts of God, such together dignity and superior senses, were creations of divine origin and culminated in the immortality the the soul. The an excellent Leon Battista Alberti echoed his conviction that male is grasp of his very own fate and also that through the practice of will, effort, and self-discipline, he can largely form his very own destiny.

Another crucial contributor to the idea of human being worth to be the precocious Marcilio Ficino (1433–99), a remarkably cognizant human in a time of superior thinkers. Native his faster works, Ficino prove the range and depth the his active mind through interests in music and also music theory, poetry, and also Greek. While still in his youth, he ended up being intimately acquainted through Plato and began a lifetime of editing, translating, commentating on, and also teaching Plato. The greatest stimulant come his examine came v the facility of the Platonic Academy in Florence v a circle of interested civilization led by Ficino. The main objective that the group was to accomplish a synthesis of religion and philosophy. It not only served to help reconcile religion with separation, personal, instance truth, goodness, and also beauty, yet also supported and provided direction come the basic outburst the artistic task in the Renaissance. Ficino wrote, “Our century, like a golden age restored to light the liberal arts that were practically extinct. . . . It joined wisdom with eloquence. . . . And in Florence it restored the Platonic doctrine from darkness to light.” <8> He also wrote an essential synthesis on Platonic theology, licensed has been granted Theologia platonica, which emphasized Platonic love, the dignity that man, and also freedom of the will, every one of which are way of attaining “universal truth and goodness” and binding civilization together in binding of typical humanity.

Man is yes, really the vicar the God, due to the fact that he inhabits and cultivates all elements and also is current on earth without being lacking from the ether. He supplies not only the elements, but likewise all the animals which belong to the elements. . . . Finally he is the god of all materials, for he handles, changes, and also shapes all of them. He that governs the body in so many and so important ways, . . . The is no doubt immortal. the soul desires, endeavours, and begins to end up being God, and also makes progression every day. Every motion directed towards a identify end first begins, climate proceeds, then slowly increases and also makes progress, and also is lastly perfected . . . With the exact same power with which that made progress. Hence our spirit will sometime have the ability to become in a feeling all things and even to end up being God. <9>

The many emphatic declare on man’s dignity and also destiny come from the pen the young Giovanni Pico, count of Mirandola (1463–1494). At the age of twenty-four, Pico checked out Rome, where he compiled a an overview of ripe hundred theses top top theological matters that he had attracted from all ages and also places and offered to debate them v anyone. The papacy was not so impressed v Pico’s scholarship, finding number of of his theses to it is in heretical. That fled come France because that safety yet was arrested there and imprisoned in Vincennes castle, exterior of Paris. Through influential friends that escaped and also returned to Florence, wherein he came to be interested in the article of the zealous Dominican monk Savonarola. In the meantime, Pico had actually written an arrival to his nine hundred theses, i beg your pardon he called Oration on the Dignity the Man. The true distinction of man, that wrote, was the he had actually no solved properties like various other creatures, however due come his free will, has actually the strength to share in and also even exceed the properties of others. Guy is the only being whose life is determined by his own choice to end up being whatever that desires. All other beings are minimal within the limit prescribed by God, yet man has no limits, other than those prescribed by himself.

O supreme generosity that God the Father, O highest and most marvelous felicity that man! come him it is granted come have every little thing he chooses, come be everything he wills. Beasts as soon as they are born carry (so states Lucius) through them from your mother’s womb all they will ever before possess. Spirituality beings, one of two people from the start or soon thereafter, become what they are to be because that ever and ever. On guy when the came into life the father conferred the seed of all kinds and the germs of every method of life. Everything seeds each man cultivates will flourish to maturity and bear in him their very own fruit. If they be vegetative, he will certainly be like a plant. If sensitive, that will become brutish. If rational, that will flourish into a heavenly being. If intellectual, he will certainly be an angel and the kid of God. <10>

The continuing contribution of the humanists to religious thought to be the emancipation of human being personality and also the recognition of person worth, even though the developed church ongoing to seek a course inconsistent to the moral philosophy the the Italian humanists. The humanists to be Catholics too, yet they assumed differently and did not talk around the very same things most of the time. V some exception the church was more involved through ecclesiastical and also jurisdictional matters than through morality. But as us shall see, also within the church there were civilization longing for institutional, doctrinal, and also moral changes.

Mysticism and the modern Devotion

Elsewhere in Europe over there were assorted movements within the church struggling for much more fulfilling experience and an ext realistic beliefs around human-divine relations. Amongst the much more effective of these were the Christian mystics, a heritage extending back to the beforehand years that the church. The essence of mysticism was the longing of separation, personal, instance souls because that some sort of identity or direct union through God. The emotional toughness of Christian mysticism was acquired from a passionate love the God and a desire to be united with Him. The took numerous forms in various manifestations transparent Europe, many notably in the fourteenth-century Rhineland, whereby inspirational males like Meister Eckhart that Cologne, Johann Tauler that Strassburg, the ascetic Heinrich Suso that the Lake Constance region, and specifically Jan Ruysbroeck the Brussels, taught and also practiced unity in their spiritual communication.

Another innovative figure who turned the focus of the movement away from the asceticism and also austerity of previously mystics to a wider interest in moral virtue, service, and also education, was the netherlands patrician Gerard Groote (1340–1384). Groote was born in ~ Deventer, whereby his father to be a significant official in the local government, but died, in addition to his wife, of the dreaded plague in 1350. Gerard discovered stability in the home of one uncle, who noted for his youthful needs: major school in ~ St. Lebwin and also later more advanced studies at Aachen, Cologne, and finally at the college of Paris, whereby he obtained the grasp of arts degree in 1358 once he was only eighteen. After that he studied regulation in Paris and also traveled for numerous years prior to finally returning to Deventer. Groote’s carefree life was seriously changed when he had actually several life-changing experiences that persuaded him the the need to replace his vices and also sins v repentance and virtue. For five years he struggled to clean his soul, security the last 2 at the Carthusian monastery the Monnikhuizen.

In 1379 Groote left the cherished brothers and began a career of preaching, not only throughout the IJssel valley of his boyhood but past to the cities of Amsterdam, Haarlem, Leiden, Utrecht, Gouda, and Delft. Because of his zeal and friendly personality, the had good success where he preached. He to be concerned about the people he taught, specifically those there is no leaders. He advised them to follow your consciences, come love and also obey oh my god commandments, and to emulate Christ’s life. He pleaded with them likewise to abandon your vices and also replace them through virtue and kindness because, he told them, “we human beings, having been endowed through a spark the divinity, are not totally depraved.” <11> Many world were moved by Groote’s words together they actors off their encumbering burdens and followed his appeal. It to be the beginning of the important religious movement known as the Devotio Moderna (Modern, or New, Devotion).

Groote feel the have to stay in touch through God. Such contact could be sought through straightforward obedience and conformity come God’s commandments and also laws. Conformity is strengthened by serving one’s neighbor and by constantly renewing call by reading an excellent books, by personal meditation, and also through prayer. The an essential factor in uniting man with God is love. “Try come love,” that taught, “for in loving you shall discover the kingdom the heaven. If once you have found this kingdom, you will reap righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Ghost. Without this three gifts all outward display of piety, such together fasting, and mortification the the flesh, will certainly be of no avail.” how then deserve to this love it is in expressed? no by staying sequestered in one’s cell, separate from the exterior world, but by express love for every God’s creations, “for he that really loves God, loves every one of God’s creatures.” <12> Groote urged his followers to return sympathy for jealousy, charity for spite, and love because that rancor. “Close her eyes to your neighbor’s defects,” he would certainly counsel, “and try to find his great qualities, i m sorry are always worth considering; nay an ext than that, they are the only side the his character it is well for you come dwell upon. For our soul’s health have the right to only be sustained by think of love.” <13>

Groote was crucial of the form and effects of middle ages scholasticism. “Why must we indulge in those endless conflicts such together are hosted at the universities, and also that about subjects the no moral value whatsoever?” when referring occasionally to part philosopher, that would single out those i that had practical value, or speak that those civilization who had tried to resolve some systematic moral problems. In similar manner he opposed indolence in every form, urging anyone that is maybe to occupational to acquire their livelihood by ethical labor and also not resign to begging. “This ns say,” that explained, “because job is necessary for the health of mankind.” <14>

The significance of Groote’s teachings to be Christianity, pure and also simple. Monitor the footsteps that Christ, that urged, satisfy His teachings, and bear His cross. Groote do the efforts to monitor his very own advice, come return great for evil and also to treat enduring with sympathy. He labored for practically five year teaching against deceitfulness, dishonesty, and dishonor. He did not attack the monastic system, only those monks that treated it choose a an individual prebend; he did no oppose the church, only those priests and bishops that violated that precepts and dishonored the name. The treasured being a Christian, and the activity he began was a virtual Christian Renaissance.

As a reformer, Gerard Groote was deeply concerned around the church of his day. He to be embarrassed by the decline in criter at every level and also was offended by the absence of moral leadership in the upper levels that church government. But he to be a reformer, not a revolutionary. That supplemented his objections with constructive ideas. That did not attack the doctrines of the church, just its morals. “Everything I have actually preached is in complete accordance with the teachings of the Church,” that maintained, “wherever I have actually been wrong i shall gladly retract. Ns submit myself come the authority of the Church.” <15> What he wanted most was to maintain the spirit and also authority of the church by reproving the angry words and also deeds the were manifested by many of that is member and leaders.

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Despite his straightforward life, there is no of countless accouterments, he was a happy person, satisfied through what the Lord noted and content v his lot. He delighted in reading the scriptures; in fact, he loved publications of every kind. Though he lived before the development of printing, he had actually an impressive variety of books in his personal library, and he employed up to five copyists at a time copy manuscripts because that him. He likewise borrowed publications from his friends, who tried eagerly to appease his good thirst. But he read not just for his own satisfaction. He encouraged others to read and to learn from one another. Cursed to education, he did his greatest company in providing schooling and experience for the scores of young world who adhered to him. He started helping boys and girls in and around Deventer who had tiny money and couple of friends. That arranged for them to stay with trusted matrons—many lodged in ~ his own home—and he provided food and also clothing because that those who needed it. To accomplish maximum results from his ar effort the searched for qualified teachers come train his young fees in all of the most suitable studies. The result was his establishing of the Brotherhood the the usual Life in 1374.