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Middle Ages Vs. The Renaissance Essay, Research Paper

There are many contrasts in the beliefs and values of the Renaissance and the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages was a time of great suffering, including famine and widespread disease. The Renaissance, however, was a revival of art, learning, and literature. Their views of the purpose of life in the present world and man’s place in the world was, perhaps, the greatest contrast. However, their views on politics, religion, and education were very different as well.

The purpose of life and man’s place in the world was viewed differently during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. During the Middle Ages, also known as "The Age of Faith," man’s purpose was to serve God. Life was looked upon as a journey. The focus of life was on the afterlife because there were no guarantees in the present life. The life of highest value was the contemplative life, one devoted to God. The passive virtues such as compassion, suffering, and humility were highly regarded. God was the center of man’s world during the Middle Ages. On the Great Chain of Being, man was below God and the angels and above the animals, plants, and inanimate objects.

In sharp contrast, man’s purpose during the Renaissance was to exercise one’s virtu, or one’s excellence as a man. People believed that life should be lived for itself, and the beauty of this world should be appreciated in the here and now. The focus of life was on the secular world of the here and now. Active virtues such as courage, intelligence, and a skill in many fields were highly valued during this time. The greatest virtu of the Renaissance was action. There was a zest for living, and man began to love the rich, ornate, and lavish lifestyle. The concept of hard work to obtain secular goals was conceived during the Renaissance. Man strongly agreed with the Greek view, "Man is the measure of all things," and was viewed as the center of the world.

Another contrasting view was that of politics. During the Middle Ages, the political structure consisted of a monarchy, where one person ruled over the people. Feudalism was the law of the land. Therefore, the common man was a serf and would die poor just as he was born poor. On the other hand, Republicanism was considered to be the best form of government during the Renaissance because the individual could realize his fullest potential by serving the state. According to Leonardo Bruni, the rule of one person was harmful to the common good. Thus, the republican government was considered to be stronger than the monarchy.

Religion was also viewed differently. The Catholic Church was the one universal church during the Middle Ages. People believed that only church officials could interpret the scriptures. People also believed in the absolute authority of the church. During the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation led to the development of many churches. People believed that each individual could interpret the Bible for himself. The church no longer had absolute authority as it did during the Middle Ages.

Education was approached differently as well. During the Middle Ages, the focus of education was on studying the Bible and debating spiritual questions. Since the common people were not allowed to read the Bible, they were told what to think. The purpose of education in the Middle Ages was to pass the Moral Test and be rewarded with eternal joy in the afterlife. However, during the Renaissance, the focus of education was on learning from past history and experience and observations of the present world. There was a scientific and rationalistic attitude toward viewing the world. Humanism, an intellectual and cultural movement based on the study of classical works, was highly regarded during the Renaissance. Characteristics of humanism include: (1) scientific attitude, (2) a love of beauty, (3) the practice of human virtu, (4) love of proportion, (5) celebration of man, and (6) action. Humanists were strong believers in ethics, and they believed that eloquence was a representation of ethics. Thus, humanists valued learning to speak well.

As evidenced by the various contrasts, the Middle Ages was extremely different from the Renaissance. However, it is important to understand the differences between the two in order to understand how present-day values and political views were established. In order to completely understand the present, it is important to first understand the past.


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