How Should We Then Live? Chapter 3: The Renaissance
Michelangelo's "Unfinished" Sculptures
I would like to start off discussing Chapter 3 by presenting pictures of some of Michelangelo's sculptures. This is helpful for two reasons. First, Schaeffer uses art prominently to explain the course of thought during the Renaissance. Second, these two pictures display vividly the course itself, at least the points Schaeffer wants to raise.
Chapter 3 was much more straightforward than Chapter 2. That might be because the Renaissance was more simple than the Middle Ages. Or it may be that the Middle Ages lasted 900 years while the Renaissance lasted only 200 years, roughly 1400-1600. Or maybe it was because Schaeffer focused on just one aspect of the era to push forward his narrative about the progression of thought in Western Culture.
In the big picture, the Renaissance was all about exploring how far mankind's greatness could go. Out of Aquinas' emphasis on particulars modern individualism was born. Particulars are individual examples of things on the earth. They are the opposite of universals which are ideas, ideals, or theories existing in a spiritual realm. For example, there is a universal ideal of what a tree is and then there are particular trees which exist in the world. I consider myself an individualist, but individualism doesn't work in a vacuum, as I have written in the articles linked below.
Individualism only works if there is a structure within which to fit each person and an overall purpose that an individual can participate in. But the individualism of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and 21st century Post-modernism works to separate each thing from all others. It is isolated and sterile. There is no life in it. As much as we can see the secular individualism played out today it looks like a path leading to death. There has always been death and destruction in our world since the fall, but logical connections can be made from isolated individualism to the murder in the streets in 2020 and deaths from drug overdose and suicide. People who feel alone kill themselves or others even though there are many more factors and motivations at play.
At the start of the 15th century the great minds of the Renaissance were trying to bring the world back to what they thought was a glorious era in human history, the Greek and Roman ages. Go back and read about Chapter 1 of this book. The Roman Empire died because it was weak. It was wicked and sinful. The artists and the philosophers were trying to bring this age back thinking it meant a great leap forward in human prosperity. One other thing to point out is that the philosophers were the artists, scientists, mathematicians, and writers. To be a Renaissance man means to be skilled in multiple areas of life. For the details of the Renaissance I will focus on the lives of 3 men.Dante
However this practice did have an effect on the way people lived their lives. It was common in Rome for prominent men to have mistresses. The wife birthed the kids. She did all the work to keep the family well. Yet, the marriage was made for societal status and out of professional obligation. The mistress was for romance and passion. Dante had a true love Beatrice. His love for her was of the highest ideal. He wrote about her in his poems, "Seeing her face is so fair to see... love sheds such perfect sweetness over me." However, he only saw her several times in his life. Dante had a wife he never named. He never lifted her up and showed her value after all the things she did for him. This is straight out of the pagan idea that there is a distinct split between the spiritual and material realm.
During the Renaissance, we see the positive and the negative aspects of emphasizing the particulars in art. On one hand, the artists portrayed real life beautifully. For example, Masaccio painted humans realistically. He drew feet to look like actual feet. He included faces of people he knew in his art. That was an innovation. He was also the first to use central perspective. Van Eyck, a Flemish artist, was the first great landscape painter. Another innovation.
Leonardo Da Vinci