Tag Archives: the Renaissance

Christian humanism as foundation for the faith and work conversation, part IV (final part)


Protestant Reformers, unknown artist (18th c.), Wikimedia Commons

Social dimensions of Christian humanism – scholastic, renaissance, and Reformation developments

This article continues from part III.

The theology of the world operative within Christian humanism has been not just a theology of material creation or nature. It has also been a theology of the human, social world in which we live, and which Christian humanism navigated through the culture-creating development of such areas of our life together as ethics, law, and both political and economic theory and practice.

Scholastic humanism and the social world

For example, in parallel to the scholastic humanists’ pursuit of natural philosophy (as science was then called), and at first surpassing it in its power to bring order and peace to the world, was the study and systematization of law. Of course in that Christendom age, that law was religious, or “canon” law. This connection had deep historical roots – when in the 4th century the Benedictine monk Gratian had combined “the theoretical principles and legal procedures of the existing Roman law code with the content of ecclesial canon law,” he was providing “the first basic, universal textbook in response to the growing need for the legal administration of emerging Christendom” – and not surprisingly, it was the papal courts that became the ultimate recourse for most matters, fatefully cementing the church’s political as well as spiritual power.[1]

The scholars whose trust in human reason underwrote their approach to these social dimensions of flourishing (and science too could certainly be included as having a strong social dimension) grounded this trust not only in the doctrine of creation, but also – not surprisingly – in “the concept of the incarnation as God’s reconciliation with creation and his most intimate fellowship with humanity.” The resulting “medieval synthesis” “wove nature, humanity, reason and religion into a meaningful tapestry of ennobling purpose that was central to medieval theology from the twelfth century onward.”[2]

In sum, the three powerful legs of this great platform of scholastic humanism were “[the assurance of] God’s love, the intelligibility of creation and the trustworthiness of human reason.” And on this platform, medieval Christians built the foundational institutions of Western societies—the hospital, the university, a nascent scientific establishment, a growing artistic establishment, the superstructure of European law, and more.[3]

Continue reading

How Stephen Greenblatt talked ABSOLUTE NONSENSE about the Middle Ages in his book The Swerve


Stephen Jay GreenblattSomething very, very good just came out of L.A.–to be specific, out of the L.A. Review of Books.

EVERYONE needs to read Jim Hinch’s reflection on Stephen Greenblatt‘s award-winning screed against medieval culture’s supposed religiously motivated destruction of the human pursuit of knowledge.

I haven’t read Greenblatt’s book, but Hinch’s account, and the quotations he provides, convinces me that its portrayal of the Middle Ages is just as nonsensical and intellectually corrosive (yes, readers will be stupider about things medieval after they read it) as William Manchester‘s steaming pile of dog crap, A World Lit Only By Fire. [Yes, this is the “worst book on the medieval period I hope you’ll never read.“]

Here’s how Hinch begins. PLEASE click the link below and finish reading this excellent dismantling of an unfortunate, and unfortunately prize-winning, book:

Jim Hinch on The Swerve

Why Stephen Greenblatt is Wrong — and Why It Matters

December 1st, 2012

ONE YEAR AGO THIS MONTH, Harvard Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt stepped to the podium at the Cipriani Club in New York City to accept the National Book Award for non-fiction. Greenblatt won for The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, a 356-page study of the transformative cultural power wielded by an ancient Latin poem called De Rerum Natura by a first-century BC Epicurean philosopher named Titus Lucretius Caro. Holding back tears, Greenblatt thanked, among other people, his publishers at W.W. Norton for committing to “the insane idea that they could sell a book about the discovery of an ancient poem by a Renaissance humanist to more than a handful of people.” In fact, by the time Greenblatt addressed the Cipriani Club’s gold-domed ballroom, The Swerve already had spent more than a month on the New York Times bestseller list, just as had Greenblatt’s previous book, Will in the World, a Shakespeare biography that came close to winning its own National Book Award (it was a finalist). Five months later, The Swerve won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction. The book remains a strong seller on Amazon. Continue reading

Re-rooting our understanding of the Reformation in medieval and classical thought: A website worth visiting


Tim Enloe is “a professional educator involved in the classical Christian school movement.” This already warms my heart, as several of our children have been going to a classical charter school for a number of years. Yup, learning Latin and the whole nine yards. What warms my heart even more is that Enloe is convinced, as I am, that to be a good Protestant one must recover the goodness from which the Reformers drew: the goodness of the medieval and classical traditions.

Enloe works this theme out on his website The Discarded Image, which is well worth visiting, though right now it contains only a few articles and a number of audio talks–check out his “Setting our Minds To the Track” talk. The Discarded Image is a continuation, in a different format, of his now inactive WordPress blog Societas Christiana: Adventures in Medieval Protestantism–also worth browsing.

Moreover Enloe, who is completing an M.A. in Humanities at the University of Dallas, is also interested, as I am, in the work of those great scholars of the medieval period C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. He has (self-)published a book on Lewis & Tolkien and the uses of the imagination in Christianity (as well as another book on the impact of medieval Catholic conciliarism on the Reformation). Descriptions of the two books may be found here.

Here is Enloe on the mission of his website (the site’s name comes from the title of C. S. Lewis’s book of Cambridge lectures on the medieval worldview):

The “image” that we as Modern Protestants have “discarded,” then, is the full-orbed view of the Christian life as being aimed at salvation, but as encompassing the whole of the world as well.  One excellent way to do this is to become acquainted with the cultural context of the Reformers, to learn about the things that made them the kinds of men they were, the things that helped them to do the world-changing deeds that they did.

While it is possible to gain a generalized familiarity with the outlines of the thought of the Reformers as it appears “in black and white” on the pages that they wrote,  I do not believe it is possible to appreciate their work in a full-orbed sense without also understanding the roots of their thought.  This necessitates gaining familiarity with the Renaissance, and behind the Renaissance, with Medieval Christendom, and behind Medieval Christendom, with the classical heritage upon which the Christian society which the Reformers ultimately sought to reform had been built.

What does Cicero have to do with Calvinism? Why should Reformed people be interested in Plutarch’s Lives and Herodotus’ Histories? Who were Wessel Gansfort and Nicholas of Cusa? What was Nominalism, and how did it affect Luther’s and Calvin’s approach to the Bible? What do Medieval canon law, Petrarch, conciliarism, and the Devotio Moderna have to do with the Protestant Reformation?  Why shouldn’t we just stick with our traditional heroes, Gottschalk, Wycliffe, Huss, Luther, Calvin, the Puritans, and the like? Why should we bother learning about Peter Martyr Vermigli or about complicated issues like Natural Law theory and the rather Medieval dualist political theory that was enshrined in the Reformed Confessions? Why can’t the “the five solas,” “the doctrines of grace,” and traditional polemics against Romanists and Arminians be enough for us?  Why can’t we just “preach the Gospel” and let everything else fall into desuetude?

The answer is because this is not what the Reformers themselves did.  Since Protestants today frequently debate the question of how far we should follow the Reformers’ own examples, this website aims to help the debate along by means of closely interacting with the sources and context of the Reformation.  Whatever your own position on how far we ought to follow the Reformers’ own examples, this website aims to increase your appreciation for what is too often simply discarded in Protestant talk about the Reformation.