The Morning Dawn: The Renaissance
“He who prays must speak to God as though he were in God’s very presence, for the Lord is everywhere, in every place, in every person, and especially in the soul of the righteous…This shows the great error of those who tell us to work our way through a set number of spoken prayers. The Lord takes no joy in a multitude of words, but in a fervent spirit. No doubt those whose only concern is to defend the Church’s ceremonies and outward rituals will attack me for saying this.”
- Girolamo Savonarola, Concerning Mental Prayer, He would later be burned alive and his ashes would be thrown into the River Arno
In the King James Version of the Bible you will find the following verse in Psalms 4:2, “O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah.” Quiz time? What does the word “leasing” mean? Chances are your mind brought up a scene of a car dealership with a salesman trying to persuade you into leasing a vehicle. But that is not what the word meant in the 17th century, it means “lying”; ‘how long will you love vanity, and seek after lying. This is by no means a knock on the KJV, but I bring it up simply to express how language evolves over time. For example, when was the last time you asked someone to not halt between two options (meaning “to limp” or “limping” as seen in 1 Kings 18:21 and Luke 14:21). Now what does this have to do with the Protestant Reformation? I bring it up because, as we read in the first article of this 4-part series, the world was very different in the three to four centuries leading up to Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Thesis. It was a world that was in the “dark ages” but light was beginning to dawn, the Renaissance.
When we think of the Renaissance, we typically think of the ninja turtle artist—Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo. But the Renaissance was so much more than just a cultural movement. It was also a time of great intellectual and moral development as the minds and values and outlooks on life began to shift. And this aspect of the Renaissance is what I want us to briefly consider. There was a rediscovery of the classical literature of the day and studies in humanities began to boom. In 2019, we think of humanistic studies as very much anti-God, treating this earthly life as the only life there is. But remember language was very different in those days than it is now. In those days, humanists were actually pro-Christian and had a firm commitment to trying to understand how God had given meaning and purpose in this present life. During the dark ages, emphasis was placed on spiritual things with the general belief being that monkery was the path towards spiritual “enlightenment”. However, during the Renaissance, there was a shift towards seeing how “secular” affairs were godly activities and withdrawal was not the correct response to living a God-pleasing life.
Without this shift in thinking, the Reformation would not have been possible because the divide between the secular and the sacred would still be in place. Renaissance thinking brought people to understand that a poverty filled, ascetic lifestyle in a monastery was not the ideal; rather, we should live a productive life in the “secular” world. Probably, the biggest contribution of the Renaissance towards the Reformation was a return to the classical writings. Not just to that of Plato or Aristotle, but also to the Greek New Testament and early Christian writers. They would read, reflect, and meditate on the writings of the early church as the spiritual “golden age” and it was this sort of critique and analysis that brought a more vocal critique and analysis on the Latin Vulgate New Testament authorized by the Roman Catholic Church. The result of this would eventually lead to the translation of a newer, better Greek New Testament by Erasmus, Prince of the Humanists (a figure we will consider in our next article). And as many of you know, had a copy of the Greek New Testament and the printing press not been developed (another invention during the Renaissance period), the spark that was ignited by Martin Luther would not have been as widespread or effective as it was in leading to the Reformation.
And so, we can marvel at how God works so wonderfully throughout history in order to accomplish His perfect will and plan. Praise God for the Renaissance and the work He did in the lives of many men and women during this time.
Grace and Peace,
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