humanism

Latin: humanus, human

Name given to the intellectual, literary, and scientific movement from the 14th to the 16th centuries, which aimed at basing every branch of learning on the literature and culture of classical antiquity. It had both a pagan and a Christian aspect. On one side, it dignified a pagan conception of life, as extolled by classical writers, which consisted in the full development of man, towards a better enjoyment of life and nature and in a consequent rejection of the supernatural and unworldly ideals of the Scholastics. In opposition to this spirit, the Christian humanists encouraged the free use of the treasures of antiquity without sacrificing Christian principles. The history of humanism begins with Dante Alighieri, who, with true genius, combined classical materials with Christian ideals, and Petrarch, who represents the pagan side of the movement. It extended through Italy, where it reached its height, receiving the support of the popes, notably Pius II, Sixtus IV, and Leo X, and the Medici. From Italy the movement spread throughout Europe; into Germany under Reuchlin and Erasmus, who both exemplified its Christian spirit; into England where Sir Thomas More was its chief exponent; into the French universities. The extreme humanistic spirit rebelled against theology and the Church, and the moral and religious views of pagan antiquity led many humanists to live dissolutely.