On the Renaissance

In began with a sense of godlike freedom, but led to a sense of misery and weakness

This is part 3 of my notes on the thoughts and ideas of Christopher Dawson. (In brackets the page numbers of each quote from TRBRAC, unless another book mentioned. “PwG” refers to my own thoughts.)     

“In Southern Europe, the Renaissance developed as a reaction against medieval culture. On this point Dawson says:

              It was a true national awakening. Men saw the revival of classical learning as a recovery of a lost inheritance. They revolted against the mediaeval culture not on religious grounds but because it was alien and uncivilized. They entered on a crusade to free the Latin world from the yoke of Gothic barbarism.” (p. 200)

Dawson quote: “[In the Renaissance] Life was regarded not as a pilgrimage towards eternity, but as a fine art in which every opportunity for knowledge and enjoyment was to be cultivated.” (p. 200)

Dawson quote: “The men of the Renaissance . . . turned away from the eternal and the absolute to the world of nature and human experience. They rejected their dependence on the supernatural, and vindicated their independence and supremacy in the temporal order . . . So we have the paradox that at the beginning of the Renaissance, when the conquest of nature and the creation of modern science are still unrealized, man appears in godlike freedom with a sense of unbounded power and greatness; while at the end of the nineteenth century, when nature has been conquered and there seem no limits to the powers of science, man is once more conscious of his misery and weakness and the slave of material circumstances and physical appetite and death.” (p. 201, my emphases)

(PwG:) In other words, the Renaissance continued and enhanced the trend which began after the Papacy lost some of its moral high ground in its disputes with worldly powers during the second half of the 13th century. I’ve heard that the Renaissance was a reaction, among other things, against the moral failure of the church during the Black Death (1346 to 1353), with priests and other clergy fleeing the towns and villages instead of ministering to the sick and dying. This is worth some further investigation.