Humanism: Renaissance and Merchant Class

1743 Words7 Pages
Essay on Humanism

The Renaissance is the label we put upon the emergence of a new perspective and set of ideals in Europe. This does not mean that it was sudden, neat and clean. It was gradual, inconsistent, and variable from place to place. The Renaissance had its origins in Italy because a powerful merchant class arose in its cities that replaced the landed aristocracy and clergy as the leaders of society. This new class, along with many aristocrats and clergy, embraced humanist ideals. Generally speaking, humanism was a new worldly ideal to replace the medieval focus on eternal life. Humanism was founded on the idea that humanity is capable of greatness by its own means--through wealth, knowledge, art--and does
…show more content…
Medieval scholars had long studied ancient Greek and Roman authors, but had, like St. Thomas, devoted themselves to integrating the ancient ideas into the theology of the church. Starting with Petrarch in the early 1300s, however, humanists became interested in the ancient writers on their own terms. Humanists came to admire the more worldly wisdom of values of ancient Greece and Rome, and eagerly sought out new texts in an effort to recover as much of the ancient knowledge and spirit as possible. Why such enthusiasm for the ancients? The worldly spirit of the ancients seemed more suitable to the prosperous merchant class, and they provided an important foundation of prestige and authority for a new class of men as they asserted their right to rule.

The writings of Nicolo Machiavelli are the single most important example of this new humanist thought. Drawing from ancient Roman writers, Machiavelli developed a worldly concept of politics, and was one of the first in the modern period to discuss the virtues of republican government and a system of checks and balances. He is perhaps most famous for his rejection of Christian idealism in politics. Princes and other leaders, he argued, must view human affairs must as they really are, not as we hope ideally they should be. The rules of worldly power (best understood by the
Get Access