Religion Art: Adam and Eve After the Expulsion from Paradise
The Renaissance, in the largest sense of the term, is the whole process of transition in Europe from the medieval to the modern order. The Revival of Learning, by which is meant more especially the resuscitated knowledge of classical antiquity, is the most potent and characteristic of the forces which operated in the Renaissance. That revival has two aspects.
In one, it is the recovery of a lost culture; in another, of even higher and wider significance, it is the renewed diffusion of a liberal spirit which for centuries had been dead or sleeping. The conception which dominated the Middle Ages was that of the Universal Empire and the Universal Church. A gradual decadence of that idea, from the second half of the thirteenth century to the end of the fifteenth, was the clearest outward sign that a great change was beginning to pass over the world.
From the twelfth century onwards there was a new stirring of minds, a growing desire of light; and the first large result was the Scholastic Philosophy. That was an attempt to codify all existing knowledge under certain laws and formulas, and so to reconcile it logically with the one Truth; just as all rights are referable to the one Right, that is, to certain general principles of justice. No revolt was implied there, no break with the reigning tendencies of thought. The direct aim of the Schoolmen was not, indeed, to bind all knowledge to the rock of St Peter; but the truth which they took as their standard was that to which the Church had given her sanction.
In the middle of the fourteenth century, when Scholasticism was already waning, another intellectual movement set in. This was Humanism, born in Italy of a new feeling for the past greatness of Rome. And now the barriers so long imposed on the exercise of the reason were broken down; not all at once, but by degrees. It was recognised that there had been a time when men had used all their faculties of mind and imagination without fear or reproof; not restricted to certain paths or bound by formulas, but freely seeking for knowledge in every field of speculation, and for beauty in all the realms of fancy.
Those men had bequeathed to posterity a literature different in quality and range from anything that had been written for at housand years. They had left, too, works of architecture such that even the mutilated remains had been regarded by legend as the work of supernatural beings whom heathen poets had constrained by spells.
The pagan view was now once more proclaimed, that man was made, not only to toil and suffer, but to enjoy. And naturally enough, in the first reaction from a more ascetic ideal, the lower side of ancient life obscured, with many men, its better aspects. It was thus that Humanism first appeared, bringing a claim for the mental freedom of man, and for the full development of his being. But, in order to see the point of departure, it is necessary to trace in outline the general course of literary tradition in Europe from the fifth century to the fourteenth.