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  • Renaissance
    Part 2 of 4: The Leading Characteristic of the Renaissance

    Since the wider diffusion of classical learning in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is but the gradual outgrowth of the learning of the Middle Ages, how unscholarly is the gratuitous assertion of many writers that the Renaissance sprang into existence over night with the arrival in Europe of some Greek professors driven from the Orient by the advancing Turk. These professors, they claim, brought to Western Europe the knowledge and love of the literary masterpieces of antiquity. But the fact is that, when these professors appeared, the monks of the Middle Ages had for a thousand years been spending themselves to preserve and make known many of these treasures of mankind. Whatever additional writings Western Europe received at that time it had learned to appreciate by its own centuries-long literary studies.

    The leading characteristic of the Renaissance was a general infatuation with the writings and the art of pagan antiquity. From the admiration of the ancient literary and artistic forms there was, with some of the Humanists, but one step to the imitation of pagan morals and manners, and but another step to the consequent contempt of Christianity and the further attempt to paganize the modern world. This extreme led some well-meaning but narrow-minded persons to the opposite, perhaps not less dangerous, extreme. Seeing that the study of pagan art, pagan literature, and ancient science led to the rejection of the Christian faith and Christian morals, these extremists contended that this study should be abandoned and that Christians should confine themselves to the acquisition of the divine sciences. But this extreme runs counter to the ancient axiom, Propter abusus non tollitur usus, the abuse of a thing does not do away with its use. Again, others, the rigorists of the moral order, attributed the corruption of their time to luxury, and dreamed of forcing people back into the simple living of former times, at the expense of man's noblest prerogative, his individual liberty, as later happened in the cases of the Puritans in America, and of Calvin in the Commune of Geneva. These, too, were extremists, because Christianity does not condemn any human faculty, not even the faculty of lawful enjoyment, nor demand of civilization the surrender of any of its legitimate conquests.

    Part 3: Catholic Church's Stand

    Part 1: The Term Renaissance
    Part 2: The Leading Characteristic of the Renaissance
    Part 3: Catholic Church's Stand
    Part 4: The Renaissance an Auxiliary of Christianity

    Publication Information:

    The Catholic Encyclopedia: an International Work of Reference on the Constitution, Doctrine, Discipline, and History of the Catholic Church, Volume XVII - Supplement I. New York: The Encyclopedia Press, Inc., 1922.


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