The Renaissance, which began in the 1300s in Italy and spread throughout Europe by the 1600s, was a cultural, political and religious turning point in world history. The movement began in the city of Florence, Italy, which was influenced by Greek philosophies of humanism (Bauer 33). Humanism is a type of philosophy that celebrated free will and human achievement, instead of believing that all aspects of human life are controlled by God. This eventually led to the Reformation, which was a religious and political movement that opposed the amount of control the Catholic Church had over the people of Europe (Bauer 68). The Renaissance is seen as a period of great cultural and scientific advancement, while the Reformation is seen as a period of religious and political reform.
The main impact of humanism as a popularly accepted philosophical belief was that human achievements began to be celebrated (Johnson 12). This included new achievements in science that gave rise to the scientific method, which continues to be used today by scholars. There was also growth in the arts, with a main focus on realism. Famous Renaissance figures include Michelangelo, who painted the Sistine Chapel, and Leonardo Da Vinci, who was a painter, inventor, and scientist in the fields of astronomy and biology, among others. Important inventions during this time include the printing press, which greatly increased the number of people who had access to books, including the Bible, and early versions of both the microscope and telescope, which greatly expanded scientific knowledge (Johnson 27).
With advancements in both printing and science, there was more cultural emphasis on education throughout Europe. Before the Renaissance, the majority of people were uneducated and illiterate. Because technology now existed that made the pursuit of knowledge more commonplace, there was a growth in scientific knowledge. Many new scientific areas of study, such as botany, biology and chemistry began to be studied by scholars (Johnson 51).
The Reformation began as a result of the Renaissance, and was largely considered a moment of great religious and political reform. Before the Reformation, the Catholic Church was seen to have political control over many European countries. Many local branches of the Catholic Church became corrupt, as people could literally purchase forgiveness from the Church in the form of indulgences (Spitz 26). Because people could not read, they could also not check to see if a sermon given by a priest followed what was printed in the Bible. The Reformation began in earnest when Martin Luther famously protested these corrupt practices and called for individuals to have a personal relationship with God, rather than one that was controlled by the Church. This led to the rise of Protestantism, which is a form of Christianity that maintained a belief in Christian values, but without the control of a central church (Spitz 54). Because the Catholic Church had political influence throughout Europe, this was also seen as a political reformation that gave power back to individual nations, and lowered the amount of political influence from the Vatican.
Together, the Renaissance and Reformation are seen as the bridge between the Middle Ages, which was a period that did not see much scientific or social progress, and the modern ages, which place emphasis on knowledge and research. Both the political and cultural influence of this period can still be seen today, as many modern day governments, including the United States, have constitutions based on Renaissance-era ideas such as liberty; and the modern higher education system, including the ways research is conducted, also continues to be structured similar to Renaissance education systems. This period is therefore one of the most significant periods of human history, as it resulted in an increase in scientific knowledge, social progress, and technological advancement.
- Bauer, Susan. The History of the Renaissance World. W. W. Norton, 2013.
- Johnson, Paul. The Renaissance: A Short History. Modern Library, 2002.
- Spitz, Lewis William. The Protestant Reformation, 1517-1559. Harper Collins, 2005.