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Ages was St Thomas Aquinas, who died in 1272. The disputations, which gave zest to Academic life for centuries before and after St Thomas, contained, many of them, grave issues; but they were all within certain recognized authoritative lines. And even where they raised questions that might have called forth answers fatal to the prevalent theological system, these were often discussed as matters purely intellectual, which, however they might be settled in the dialectical arena, could not disturb the dogmas of Faith. Even after the Revival was in full swing, doctors had, not seldom, one opinion for philosophic schools, another for the Church and the world outside. They were scarcely honest, as we now count honesty; but intellectual honesty is in these days a cheap virtue; and yet, spite of this, a good many think it even now too dear at the price to be paid for it.
The House which mediaeval faith, scholastic philosophy and ecclesiastical administrative genius had built for itself, was, because of its very completeness, a prison. Perhaps it may safely be said that there is no possible organized system of thought and life, which could sustain for long its despotism over the mind of the higher races of men. Reason is in its essence free, and will always react against uniformity of opinion and custom. It is a disruptive force. The laying of the last stone of a temple is the beginning of its decay.
At the same time let us note this fact, that had it not been for the freedom of discussion inevitably connected with the mediaeval Universities from the 11th century onwards, the mind of Europe would not have been prepared for any new advance. The scholastic disputations and the revival of Hellenic abstract thought, while they gave form and stability to Catholic doctrine, yet stirred a speculative spirit which went far beyond the limits which the Church would have prescribed. We see this spirit operating as early as Abelard. The Hellenic literature and attitude to life was the great intellectual foe of the Church in the early centuries of the Christian era : again it intruded itself, and the conflict had to be renewed and is still progressing. It is, at bottom, a struggle between Naturalism in the broad Hellenic sense of that term and Supernaturalism. The former, while necessarily unstable, lends itself to progress; the latter is, as authoritative, stable, and suspicious of all movement.
But there were other precursors of the Renaissance. The Crusades had disturbed the mind of Europe and brought nations into contact with each other. Above all, they had brought the more thoughtful and inquiring minds into touch with Byzantine and Arabic learning, which was itself in the direct line of Hellenic tradition. Secondly, the general rise of nationalities and the beginnings of national vernacular literatures were indications of a stirring of the mind of Europe of which it would be difficult to find an explanation. The national songs and poems which formed the basis of the Romance of the Cid in Spain (from 1180 A.D. onward), the Chansons de Geste of a still earlier date, the Provençal poets, the Niebelunglied in Germany (13th century), the Scandinavian Sagas (from ninth century onwards), the Romance of Arthur among the Celts of England and its translation into English, the Romances (chief of which was Amadis of Gaul) were all unmistakable signs of the beginning of a way of looking at human life and of a free enjoyment of the human intellect in its own creations, which had little in common with the ecclesiasticism and monasticism of the ages prior to the 13th century'. It is probable, however, that the supreme agent in reinstating in man a belief in his natural powers was the intense intellectual activity at all University centres to which I have referred above, and which led to the raising of many questions which had been held to be finally settled. And
| We get a very instructive account of the pre-Renaissance literary activity in Warton's History of English Poetry.
to this we may add the order of Chivalry so closely associated with individual prowess and character. Thus Europe passed out of a period of dogmatic and ecclesiastical bondage into the freer life of the modern world by very gradual steps, and found itself unawares in a new intellectual attitude to life and possessed by a higher faith in human capacities and possibilities. This advance is correctly enough called the Renaissance.
The new movement ran in three main streams which had a common source, and that common source was simply Reason itself as a free, and even rebellious, activity. These streams were Art, Religion, and Science, or, to put it otherwise, life in life itself and nature-impelled by its fulness to seek the satisfaction of utterance in beautiful forms through the medium of language and the other materials and vehicles of artistic expression; a new and deeper sense of the personal and immediate relation of the spirit of man to the moral order and to God; and a pursuit of truth for its own sake. An immediate and fresh looking at man and human experience may be said to sum up the Revival. Thus we find living in the first period, Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Chaucer; and also Wykliffe, Huss, and Jerome of Prag. When we consider the achievements of these men,
and the still earlier vernacular literatures to which we have referred above, it is evident that the Renaissance was not dependent on the revival of Latin and Greek literature for its origin or its permanence.
It was, however, inevitable that in seeking for an expression of Life and Art, the more active minds should be drawn to what was ready-made, but had been forgotten. Latin literature and, subsequently, the study of Greek, accordingly, were the two great occupations of the Humanists. In the middle of the 15th century, says Hallam, "The spirit of ancient learning was diffused," on the Italian side of the Alps. “ The Greek language might then be learned in four or five cities, and an acquaintance with it was a recommendation to the favour of the great; while the establishment of Universities at Pavia, Turin, Ferrara and Florence" (during the preceding generation) “bore witness to the generous emulation which they served to redouble and concentrate.”—Hallam, I. pt. i. ch. 2. Ambitious scholars from Northern lands visited Italy to participate in the new learning. Wessel was there in 1470, Rudolf Agricola in 1476.
It is correct to say that the first period of what is commonly known as the Renaissance was, to begin with, solely, and till towards the end of the 15th century chiefly, Italian, whether we regard vernacular writings, the revived study of Latin and Greek literature, the growth of Art, or the reaction against mediaeval theology. Unfortunately, the new delight in literature, art, and a natural life, and the total breach with religious tradition, led to wide-spread scepticism and to a loosening of moral bonds. A life of pleasure and even of licence was characteristic of the time. Impatience with the theological conception of life took a negative character, and Christianity was nowhere at such a low ebb as in Rome and the other cities of Northern Italy.
The second period of the Revival may be dated from the fall of the Eastern capital (1453), and the consequent dispersion
, of Greek scholars. This gave fresh life to the pursuit of ancient learning, just as Hellenic studies received a great impulse in ancient Rome after the fall of Corinth. The invention of printing also was a vital factor in securing the diffusion and permanence of Humanism, while the invention of the mariner's compass had a potent effect in extending the world-view. For more than a century, before and after the above date, men occupied themselves chiefly with Hellenic and Roman literature. Thereafter, the slowly growing vernacular and original literatures of Europe began to take form, and gradually to oust the ancients from exclusive possession. These continued to hold the field only in the schools. Art in painting and architecture continued to share in the general reawakening.
The second stream of the rebirth, anticipated by Wykliffe,
Huss, and Jerome of Prag, was the Religious. In this field of thought, man longed to see through form, dogma and ritual into the realities of the life of the soul. The Humanistic movement was thus closely allied with the theological, north of the Alps. In Italy, theology had been abjured and moral laxity had been the result. North of the Alps, however, there was always present a genuine feeling for the spiritual life, although the Courts of Princes had been largely Italianized. A longing for 'reality'in divine things, as opposed to mere dogmatic form, was conspicuous in the Mystics and in such men as Wessel, of whom both Erasmus and Luther speak in laudatory terms. But prior to him, Florentius Radewin, with the consent of his master, Gerard Groote", had founded the “Brothers of the Common Life” (Hieronymians), whose governing idea was life rather than doctrine, and who allied their religious aims with a restricted humanistic study. Florentius died in 1400, Wessel in 1489, and Thomas à Kempis in 1471. I name these men because the great intellectual and moral forces operating during the earlier portion of the second period are to be found chiefly north of the Alps, if we are to take a large view of the Renaissance. The pagan and unbelieving spirit among the Humanists of Italy was not shared by the Northern
With them, Humanism and a reformed Theology based on the original Gospels went hand in hand. There was no separation of the Humanistic and the Religious revivals; nor indeed, when Humanism at its first dawn was recognized by Catholic prelates in Italy, was it ever imagined that there could be any necessary antagonism.
The houses and schools of the “brethren of the common life” spread throughout the Netherlands, Germany and France. The central motive-force was a religious one—an attempt to return to a simple New Testament life. They had, as I have said above, a tendency to Mysticism. They were in fact Mystics, in so far as subjective feeling and an intense personal experience
1 Born at Deventer 1340.