The Renaissance's Challenges to Church Authority and Influence on the ReformationHistorians in the News
tags: Renaissance, Catholic Church, medieval history
The Renaissance, roughly spanning the 14th to 17th centuries, marked a time of cultural, intellectual and scientific advances. From European discoveries of continents and shipping routes to new views of mathematics and astronomy to the advent of the printing press, the period of "rebirth" following the Middle Ages was marked by changing ideas, enduring masterpieces of architecture, art and literature (it was the time of Shakespeare, Galileo, da Vinci and Machiavelli)—and a movement toward political and religious freedoms.
The shift toward political and religious freedom in turn, helped spawn the Reformation movement, which caused a divide within the powerful Catholic Church, leading many Europeans to turn to then-new Protestant faith.
Stefania Tutino, a history professor at UCLA and intellectual and cultural historian of post-Reformation Catholicism, says the Reformation and Renaissance were two parallel but intertwined movements.
“The former concerned the theological nature and ecclesiological structure of the true Church of Christ,” she says. “The latter concerned the renewal of some key cultural, intellectual and artistic principles in light of the fact that what used to make sense in the Middle Ages was now no longer appropriate or useful or inspiring for a society that had seen many fundamental changes.”
According to Tutino, scientific advancements, including 15th- and 16th-century alternatives to the traditional Aristotelian physics and cosmology, and technological innovations such as the printing press, were important factors of novelty.
“Both Renaissance and Reformation were born out of the realization that the 'old' Medieval order was no longer sustainable, and scientific discoveries and technological innovations were some of the elements that made it clear just how inadequate the old structures were,” she says.
The Renaissance included an intellectual movement known as Humanism. Among its many principles, humanism promoted the idea that humans are at the center of their own universe and should embrace human achievements in education, classical arts, literature and science. As part of this philosophy, scholars, authors, political leaders and others sought to revive the study of Greek and Latin classics.
“Many humanists began applying these principles to the study of the Bible and consequently to the political, cultural, liturgical and theological principles according to which the hierarchy of the Catholic Church governed its flock,” Tutino says. “In the process, a few humanists found much to criticize, and some of their criticisms echoed those of (Martin) Luther and other early Protestant leaders.”
However, she adds, while the aims and goals of the Humanist and Reformation movements were fundamentally different, “there were also areas in which the two of them met.”