Erasmus, Utopia, and the Jesuits: Essays on the Outreach of Humanism

By John C. Olin | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION

THE ESSAYS IN THIS VOLUME stem from my particular interests in the Renaissance and Reformation, specifically in the early decades of the sixteenth century which witnessed the juncture of those two movements. The terms are conventional, but they do signify historical events that can readily be defined, especially if our definitions are selective and reflect our own focus and point of view. By the Renaissance I mean the great interest in and study of the languages and literature of classical antiquity which characterized the period. There are other more specific names for this development -- the New Learning, for example. That term distinguishes this important feature from the scholasticism of the Middle Ages and calls attention to a significant cultural shift or break with the past. Humanism is another term and has greater validity, being more closely associated with the actual event itself. The term derives from the Latin humanitas, one of whose meanings is the learning or intellectual cultivation that befits our humanity. In the Renaissance this was perceived as the result of an education based on the ancient classics, the studia humanitatis, as it was called, the studies most appropriate and beneficial in view of our human qualities and potential.

By virtue of all that it was, Renaissance humanism had a reform thrust. It stimulated intellectual ferment and cultural change. It put a new emphasis on man and his dignity. It believed that the revival of classical letters, the litterae humaniores, and an education based thereon would produce a better and more enlightened person. Moral as well as intellectual reform was a goal; religious and social reform would inevitably follow. This reform thrust is all the more understandable when one realizes that a scriptural and patristic revival was an integral part of Renaissance humanism. The latter embraced the languages and literature of Christian as well as

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