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  • Renaissance
    Part 1 of 4: The Term Renaissance

    By the term Renaissance is generally understood the vast intellectual movement of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This movement manifested itself first in Italy, afterwards successively in the other countries of Western Europe. It was marked by a wider and deeper knowledge of Greco-Roman antiquity, and a passionate love for its literature and art. The scholars who devoted themselves to the study of the Greco-Roman civilization were called Humanists, and the epoch in which they lived is known as the Renaissance. The term Renaissance or re-birth, as applied to the above mentioned intellectual movement, is a misnomer. It wrongly implies that the knowledge of the literature and art of Greece and Rome had been dead and buried for centuries and that suddenly it was born again and developed during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Against this false contention is the fact that Humanism was but the natural development of the learning of the Middle Ages, a flowering out of the knowledge of the preceding centuries.

    Already in the time of Charlemagne we note a widespread revival of classical learning. Everyone recalls how this powerful patron of letters, notwithstanding continual wars, established schools throughout his empire, how he invited from England the celebrated Alcuin, a distinguished scholar and disciple of the Venerable Bede, under whose direction academies were established where the sons of the more wealthy were taught Latin, Greek, Hebrew, philosophy, theology and mathematics. This new impulse thus given to letters was continued by the successors of Charlemagne and stimulated anew, successively, by such scholars and apostles of learning as Dante (1265-1321), Petrarch (1304-1474), Pope Nicholas V (1397-1455). During the centuries which separated the Humanists from Charlemagne, scholarly monks had been preserving, copying, studying, teaching the writings of the ancient Roman and Greek poets, historians, and philosophers. Alongside the scientific language which the modern tongues had developed, popular poetry had come into being, the great epics had seen the light of day, the unprecedented philosophical and theological progress of the twelfth century had astounded the world, and experimental science had appeared on the scene of history with the English philosopher, Roger Bacon (1214-94). The Crusades had given a new impulse to learning, the first encyclopedias had summarized the knowledge of their times, the splendor of plastic arts had covered Europe with monuments which are the admiration no less than the despair of our age, voyages of exploration had extended the geographical knowledge of the learned, and basic inventions had made further discoveries possible to mankind.

    Part 2: The Leading Characteristic of the Renaissance

    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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