T HE Renaissance has been described as the transition from the age of Faith to the age of Reason, as the reaction of the individual against the universal, as the victory of a spirit of criticism over a spirit of acceptance. All these definitions are good and all make clear the essential fact that the Renaissance was not an event but a process. It owed something to the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, no doubt, and certainly it owed much to a rediscovery of Greek thought. But Manuel Chrysoloras had taught Greek in Italy before the fourteenth century was ended, and even remote Oxford had Decembrio's translation of Plato's Republic by 1443 at latest.1 Birth is not really a sudden affair: it is the result of long silent processes, and the Renaissance was carried in the womb of the middle ages for centuries. It did not spring to life like Athene in full panoply: like most other births it moved from infancy to splendour and to decay. It did not come to all the countries of Europe at the same time, and it did not develop in the same way and at the same rate in different atmospheres. The Italian Renaissance in art was decadent before the English Renaissance in letters reached its full glory. Yet wherever it was felt, and whatever form it took it represented the same thing. It was a rebellion of the facts against the theories.
To regard the thought and the institutions of the middle ages as static and uniform is absurd: there was progress and there was variety. But none the less, the basic theories of church, of state, of economics, of philosophy, of life generally were set in the frame of that universalism which survived amongst the ruins of the Roman empire. The world was the special creation of God and the centre of the universe. It was an ordered unity, reflecting the divine harmony of the New Jerusalem where Christ presided over the holy angels. Every individual, man or institution or idea, had being as part of the great whole from which it was derived. This great whole had several aspects, and____________________