Humanism is the concept that centers around the human values, potential, and intrinsic worth of humans. It revolves around the welfare of human beings and sees humans as moral and rational agents responsible for their destiny. Humanism teaches individualism, liberty, intellectual freedom, and consciousness, and as the Bible itself promotes human fulfillment, these values are compatible with Christian humanism.
There are various types of humanism: classical humanism and secular humanism. Classical humanism has its roots in the Renaissance and emphasizes the importance of education and learning of literature, art, and philosophies. Secular humanism, on the contrary, emphasizes the importance of human liberalism to the point of eliminating the need for God.
Christian humanism approaches a middle road between these schools of thought and believes that every human achievement and endeavor should revolve around the truth. It teaches liberty, individual conscience, and intellectual freedom are compatible with Christian principles and are subject to God’s sovereign control of the universe.
Christian humanism was a catalyst to the Protestant Reformation in Europe. It accelerated the birth of Greco-Roman culture and lays stress that humans were created with an image of God and the talents and skills he has provided to human beings. This personifies the dignity and value of humans as their autonomy and rationality reflect that of God.
Well Known Christian Humanists
During the era of rebirth, Christian humanism revived this classical antiquity in Italy and later spread all around Europe. It became one of the major intellectual movements of the Renaissance, mainly protesting against the abusive and immoral legacies of the Church. Below is the description of some leading and well-known Christian Humanists that taught people the moral and divine value of Jesus and human beings.
Lorenzo Valla, the original intellectual, was the great provocateur of humanism in Italy. His integrated Human philology with New Testament led to modern Biblical scholarship. He was an ardent spokesman who sought to reform not only the Church but also Greek and Latin language and education.
He went one step further. Since only Classical language was accepted as the language for humanists, he heavily criticized modern scholars for defacing classic Latin and exposed all the errors in the linguistic basis of law, theology, and philosophy.
Valla’s aggressive and provocative nature always led him into deep controversies with intellectual gladiators of that age. He challenged the works of Aristotle, Boethius and refused to believe the Apostle Creed.
In his book Repastinatio, he aimed to shred the foundations of Aristotle’s metaphysics and replaced all the abstruse metaphysics jargon with a common worldview. According to him, these technical errors do not enlighten the world. Instead, it complicates and confuses the vision of our world.
His challenge to the document’s authenticity that granted the Church absolute powers led him to the Neapolitan inquisition.
The same critical spirit infuses in his work on moral philosophy. He reduced the four traditional Christian virtues into Epicureanism and fortitude in his works and equated them with love and charity. He believed Epicureanism was the stepping stone for establishing Christian morality.
Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, popularly known as Erasmus of Rotterdam, was a classical Dutch humanist in the Renaissance era. He was the most influential humanist in Italy and advocated for simple Christianity free of superstition.
A catholic priest, theologian, and teacher, Erasmus founded his ideas on the books of ancient Roman. Although he served his whole life in Roman Catholic Church, he never associated himself with the deception and corrupt practices of the sect.
Like other scholars, he considered Latin as the language of civilization and wrote many books in pure Latin. Living in the backdrop of the Renaissance, Erasmus was against the secular ideas of the reformation and the idea of Enlightenment that other prolific scholars were pursuing.
Although he was against the Church’s abuse of power at that time and called for religious reformation in Church, he firmly believed in the authority of the Pope, the traditional faith, and the Chuch’s doctrine of free will. Unlike Martin Luther, he was not a rebel. Instead, he insisted that people need to renew their engagement with God and His original text.
He supported his vision of reformation with the New Testament. He was a precursor of both Liberal Catholicism and Protestantism, and his middle approach angered the scholars in both schools of thought.
His beliefs and writings exposed Erasmus to criticism from Renaissance adherents and counter Catholic reformation.
Martin Luther set on the path of humanism after attending Erfurt and reading the original texts. However, his role as humanism has been controversial in history, and many scholars believe that he did not embrace humanism’s core ideals.
Two major humanist groups existed after the mid-15th century. Both provide unique and distinct solutions to humanity: the rhetorical humanists, embodied by Valla, and Neoplatonic humanism, epitomized by Ficino and Pico.
Martin Luther was an adamant believer of rhetorical humanism. Martin Luther set on the path of humanism after attending Erfurt and reading the original texts from the Bible and the classical works of Plato and Aristotle.
Luther never envisioned the Protestant reformation. Instead, he intended to reform and revitalize the Church than destroy it. He vehemently opposed the corruption amidst the Church, who were killing people in the name of Christian humanism.
He believed these arrogant and immoral acts would prevent authentic Christian humanism from flourishing and impacting the lives of humanity.
However, scholars consider his label as humanist controversial because he didn’t believe in the freedom of will, which was the heart of the Humanist movements in Europe.
He claimed that men are inherently evil, and individualism will set them on the path of sin and darkness. He encumbered that “only God can improve man.”
Our Final Thoughts
The leading thinkers of Christian Humanism derive their concept from classical humanism, emphasizing the relation between God and humans. It emphasizes the importance of education, art, theology, and philosophy and its simultaneous pursuit of the path of truth and righteousness. Combined with Christianity, it provided a model education system for Europe.
However, by the 16th century, Christian humanism lost its power to wars over the nature of Christianity. But the works of these well-known Christian Humanists live on to this day. The works of these three humanists laid the foundation of modern secular states in Europe and natural sciences.