The Renaissance and Enlightenment: Two Periods of Worldviews

The Renaissance and Enlightenment: Two periods of worldviews

Resource:  History Through the Eyes of Faith

By Hudson Farrell on 6/7/13


            Every person has a way of viewing the world. Each time period has a group of predominant philosophers. Thus we can conclude that most time periods have a predominant worldview. In this paper I will discuss four topics: God, man, ethics and suffering. Each will be discussed in a way that will attempt to address each issue from the viewpoint of the time period selected. I will discuss the topics from a Renaissance point of view and also from an Enlightenment standpoint. In doing so, I hope to unwrap certain characteristics of the worldview of each time period. God is a good starting point for this paper. Seeing that He is the center of everything (John 1:1-4) I think that by starting with Him we will be able to set a foundation for each worldview, and then the other main topics will flow soundly from it.

During the Renaissance period, roughly the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, God was still predominately perceived to be at the center of life. God would have been seen as fully just and also as fully love, infinite and personal. He would have been seen as mostly mysterious, but also somewhat predictable. In the Renaissance period we begin to see a small spark of humanism. However, this humanism, for the most part, was not “man” centric but on valuing human worth and human knowing in a way that glorified God. Contrary to the popular belief that the Renaissance was a time of rebelling against Christianity, the Renaissance was a time of “rebelling” to do Christianity better. This is shown by the many Christians who sought to reconcile the best of pagan antiquity to the Christian gospel.

The Enlightenment (roughly the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) “dulled” God down into a predictable entity who could eventually be understood by humans. God created the universe, and placed humans onto planet earth and endowed them with inalienable rights.  Human education was emphasized greatly during the Enlightenment (and to this day). People believed that God created the physical (and maybe spiritual) world with certain laws which humans could discover. The world was seen as mathematically predictable. Presumably humans could then learn all the laws of this world. God also subjected Himself to these laws; therefore humans could predict his ways. What humanism was not in the Renaissance, it became in the Enlightenment. Humanism turned from being primarily religious to being predominantly secular, from God centric to man centered.

The human individual became the central focus of society during the Enlightenment. Much emphasis was placed on the individual and his merits. The more that humans could understand the world and the laws that rule the world, the better human advancement would become. Also, the more people utilized education and knowledge, the more peaceful the world would become. However, we in the modern era see that this isn’t true.

In the Renaissance era, the individual was not placed at the center of society, but rather part of the corporate body of which society was composed. Education and human learning was seen as an opportunity to learn about God’s world and to explore it. Man was not the “measure of all things”; God was.

Since God was seen as the nucleus of life during the Renaissance, He would have been the standard for the ethical code. Many of the humanists of the time would have wanted to “rebel” against, what they considered as, “not so good” ethical codes, and replace them with better standards based on what God’s desires were. The ethics and laws of society would also have been determined by whether or not the code in question was beneficial to protecting society.

During the Enlightenment more emphasis was placed on the individual, and therefore ethics and laws would have been determined more by what was good for an individual rather than for the common good of a group of individuals. Many secular humanists of the time pushed for complete freedom from all tyrannies over the mind and spirit. One tyranny that they could not push out was the tyranny of suffering and hardships.

I don’t think that during the Enlightenment scholars would have had an answer for why there is evil and suffering. It was a time of reason and understanding, and suffering cannot be rationally explained when man is the center of everything. Because when man is the center of all, he sees himself as good; evil cannot come from good. Therefore, man would be living in a world that was defined by perfect laws, and no evil should be present in a perfect world. Yet, there was evil and suffering. I don’t think the Enlightenment scholars had an answer for this difficulty.

Scholars during the Renaissance probably would have been disturbed by evil and suffering, and some probably would have had a similar response to the scholars of the Enlightenment. They probably would have attributed it to the likelihood that the laws of society were not perfect and needed perfecting to eliminate the blemishes. However, I think most would have considered suffering as a part of life. They would have viewed it as a consequence of man’s inherited imperfection. They probably viewed hardships as part of their daily lives.

By discussing important topics such as the places given to God and man, ethics and the cause of evil and suffering, we have been able to explore the worldviews of two important time periods. The Renaissance period was a time when worldviews were based mostly on Biblical values. The Enlightenment however, was a more secular period, but did have many influential Christian leaders. In short, God was the center of everything during the Renaissance and man became the nucleus of all during the Enlightenment. Both time periods have affected the way we shape our worldviews today. It would be useful for each of us to compare the worldviews discussed in this paper with our own.

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About Hudson

I live in Indiana. I enjoyed playing soccer all four years of high school. I co-captained and won the MVP award my senior year. I also have created many film projects, the most extensive of which won a film festival award for Best Cinematography during my senior year. It is a 10-minute short film called Café Encounter and can be watched on YouTube. I have been actively involved in my youth group and am a leader for a middle school boys group on Sunday mornings. I was also blessed to go on two mission trips to Belize and Ecuador respectively. Belize really awakened my faith in Christ and pushed me towards active obedience and love for God. Ecuador gave me a life-changing perspective on missionary work and has helped me to view myself as a missionary in my every day life, but especially with the intent of being a missionary to my work industry.

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