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INTRODUCTION

Before the Renaissance, the intellectual history of Europe was merely a chapter of the history of the Church. There was so little secular thought that even those who contended against the Church were entirely dominated by it, and thought only of transforming it. They were not freethinkers but hererics. With the Renaissance the supremacy of the Church in the domain of thought was quesrioned. The cleric no longer had the monopoly of learning. Spiritual life, in its turn, became secularized; philosophy ceased to be the servant of theology, and art, like literature, emancipated itself from the tutelage which had been imposed upon it ever since the 8th century. The ascetic ideal was replaced by a purely human ideal, and of this ideal the highest expression was to be found in antiquity. The humanist replaced the cleric, as virtue (virtus) replaced piety. Of course, although we can say, truthfully enough, that the Renaissance replaced the Christian by the man, it was not anti-religious. Were there not many Popes amongst its most enthusiastic promoters? But it is perfectly true to say that it was anticlerical. Not only for the Italian humanists, but also for Christians as convinced as Erasmus or Thomas More, the claim of the theo logian to domineer over learning and letters, and even morality, was as ridiculous as it was harmful. They dreamed of reconciling religion with the world. They were tolerant, not unduly dogmatic, and extremely hostile to the secular studies which Scholasticism had superimposed upon the Bible. They were interested above all in moral questions. Their programme, which we find in Enchiridion militis Christiani and the Utopia, is that of a broad, rational Christianity, entirely devoid of mysticism, which would make the Church, not the Bride of Christ and the source of salvation, but an institution for moralization and education in the highest sense of the word. They felt very strongly that if the Church was to be this it must be reformed. But they were optimists, and they hoped that it would be possible to induce it, by gentle pressure, to enter upon the new path.