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What Was the Renaissance?

A new spirit began to sweep through Europe in the later part of the Middle Ages. This spirit was “nothing less than an intellectual revolution, a whole new way of looking at God, the world, and oneself.” This new spirit eventually got a name: Renaissance. Renaissance means “rebirth.” The name says a lot about how the Middle Ages were viewed: a dark tunnel from which humans had escaped. Several different factors, like the rise of cities and commerce and increase in general traffic, meant that people and ideas were exchanging at faster rates. This included the rediscovery of ancient texts and artwork, especially from the classical Greek and Roman eras. What resulted was a buzz of ideas, projects, and discoveries. (The names of some of the people behind these may sound familiar: Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton.) All this buzz centered around one main object: humans. “Christendom” was the name of the medieval attempt—however fumbled—through the papacy, the crusades, and the cathedrals to reach up toward the kingdom of heaven, toward God. But the Renaissance turned its gaze back to what was now considered to be the real star of the universe: us.

How Was the Renaissance Related to the Reformation?

The Renaissance and the Reformation—the movement to overhaul abuses in the Catholic Church, which we’ll look at next week—weren’t the same movements, but they were intertwined. Today we’ll look at the ways they overlapped. Tomorrow we’ll tease out their important differences. As the church in the twenty- first century, we still live in the wake of both their similarities and differences. Observing them will help us as we consider how we can follow Christ more faithfully today.

A revolutionary invention shook the Western world in 1450. It served as a catalyst for both the Renaissance and the Reformation. Today, you probably have your very own in your home or in your office. To us a printer isn’t that big a deal, but when Johannes Gutenberg invented the mechanized printing press it would forever change how texts—and the ideas they carry—were spread. It allowed for mass communication. Before 1450, every copy of a work had to be painstakingly created by hand. Publishing a work was an expensive a air, and access to texts was a luxury mostly reserved for either scholars or the rich. But now, a book could be copied multiple times in a matter of hours and days rather than months and years. And what’s more, the copies would be just that: copies. There wasn’t as much of a risk of human error creeping into texts and getting passed down through time.

While eventually the printing press would mean that current ideas (such as Luther’s views that helped launch the Reformation) could be disseminated faster, it initially caused a resurging interest in preserving and perusing ancient texts. People in the Renaissance were tired of the medieval emphasis on tradition; instead, they wanted the “freshness” of ancient, forgotten authorities. The Reformation picked up this sentiment too. Instead of the stifling authority of the pope, its proponents wanted to bring back the emphasis on the authority of Scripture: God’s Word. And now, thanks to the printing press, the Bible could be placed into the hands of everyday Christians instead of remaining the sole property of the priest. Equipped with the Renaissance spirit that was encouraging people to think for themselves instead of depending on traditional institutions, Christians were more ready to question the authority of the pope instead of blindly following him.

What aspects of your Christian life are more based on tradition than on God’s Word? Do you know why you do all the things you do in the name of Christianity? Or do you know why you believe all the things you believe? If a nonbeliever were to ask you about your faith, would you be able to defend your Christian practices and worldview from the Bible? If not, what can you do to change that?


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Are there aspects of our life and times today that you see God using to invite His people to renew their relationship to Him?

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