As was said, the Reformation was a movement that exalted the Bible as the sole infallible source of doctrine. According to the literal meaning of the word, the Renaissance was a re-birth. It denoted that new zeal for pagan literature, learning and art, which sprang up in Italy toward the close of the Middle Ages. But in its broadest sense the Renaissance must be regarded as a function of that energy that brought this modern civilization with its new and pagan conception of religion and science, and with its manifold inventions and discoveries. Of this movement the Reformation was neither a phase nor a product. The two movements, it was affirmed, differed. They differed as to the time which each occupied. Each had its forerunners and birth-place. This has been shown. They also differed as to principle, essence, nature, and aim. This last proposition still needs to be proved.
The subjective principle of the Reformation was the life of regeneration, the true faith and love of the men of God by which this movement was represented. The objective principle of the Reformation was the truth as God’s believing people possess it in Christ Jesus. But this is expressing the matter in language too general. There were certain definite principles of truth upon the foundation of which the Reformation as a movement proceeded. They are:
1) The Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God and whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein; this being true, these Scriptures are the sole source of man’s knowledge of God and salvation.
2) The Scriptures being the very word of God are the sole infallible rule of faith and walk of life.
3) The believers have received the anointing and it abideth in them. Thus they all know and need not that any man teach them.
4) The foundation of God standeth firm, having this seal: The Lord knoweth them that are His; and, He that calleth upon the name of the Lord, let him desist from unrighteousness.
All the theses of Luther—of which there were ninety and five—were the product of the application, by this reformer, of these principles of truth to the false doctrines and the corrupt practices of the Roman Church. It was as acting upon these principles that he placed this word in the hands of the common believers, and bade them read that they might experience in their own souls that through this Word as made to dwell in them by Christ’s Spirit, God speaks to His children, that not by any pronouncement of the priest but by this Word alone He justifies them in their hearts so that they have peace toward Him, that by this Word, finally, He does certainly transport them out of the darkness of sin into the light of His presence.
But these certainly were not the principles of the Renaissance and the doings of the men who set this movement on foot and by whom it was represented.
The subjective principle of the Renaissance was unbelief, hatred of God and His Word and positively, the love of the world, of the things in it—the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes and the pride of life. Its objective principle was the lie, in particular this lie that the world passeth not away but abideth everlastingly, that this life is all and that therefore the thing to do for man is to make the most of this life by improving it to the best of his abilities and by drinking deeply of its pleasures. And this verily was the theory of knowledge of the Renaissance, namely, that the source and criterion of man’s knowledge of man, of God and of all things is man himself—his mind, reason, (rationalism); his feeling, experience (mysticism); or his will (moralism), and that therefore the sole rule of life and all conduct is the will of this same man.
As acting upon these principles, the men of the Renaissance seated man in God’s throne and God at man’s feet, lived by the word that proceedeth out of man’s mouth and made their belly their God. Thus the Renaissance was a movement that originated in the flesh, was sustained by sinful flesh, and was expressive of all its aims and strivings. Rightly considered, the Renaissance is so old as the human family. Its very first forerunners are the first parents of this family—Adam and Eve. It was in their disobedience, —in their acting upon the lie of the devil that eating of the forbidden tree they would be as God—that this movement originated. And it is in the seed of the serpent that through the ages it takes on flesh and blood and can be seen and heard and handled.
Let us show now that this appraisal of the movement under consideration is correct. That learning, culture, imported by Greek scholars into Italy—what was it? The land of its nativity was ancient Greece and Rome. It was thus Pagan. It was man’s word. This is equivalent to saying that it was the wisdom of the world—the wisdom of which the apostle James says that it is devilish. Indeed it was culture. Rut it was the culture not of God but of the Graeco-Roman world, of Athens. Once more, then, what is this culture, learning? Properly, it is not, as some imagine, the earth and its fullness as counted, weighed, and measured by Athens, by the world. It is not such learning as that the frame of a dog and a cat and a human and of whatever creature you may name is formed of so many bones; that the sun is the center of our solar system; that the forces which attract material bodies to each other are so and so great. These things, the cat and dog, the stars and planets, numbers, distances and weights, in a word, the earth and its fullness, are God’s things. And these things Athens’, her men of science, weighs, measures, and counts. And Athens’ computations, in so far as they are correct, together with Athens skill and accuracy as a computer, are also of God. However, having appropriated this learning, one has not Athens’ wisdom, culture, but God’s things. The things of Athens, Athens’ culture, wisdom, is the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, as rationalized by Athens’ wise men, extolled by Athens’ poets, and immortalized in stone by Athens’ sculptors. Athens’ wisdom is the glory of God changed into an image made like unto corruptible man, is thus man deified. Anyone at all acquainted with this wisdom, learning, knows that the Greek poets put a devilish element in their gods, that in the Greek and Roman deities they saw and worshiped the weaknesses and vices of the Grecian character; that the noblest (?) of the Greeks—Plato and Socrates—gave to the most revolting of all vices the sanction of his great authority.
This is the truth about Athens’ learning and culture. Now the place that the Holy Scriptures occupied in the lives of Luther and his spiritual kin, this pagan learning held in the lives of the men of the Renaissance. They gloried in it. It formed their food and drink. As steeped in this learning, and under the impulse of the inspiration which they derived from it, the thinkers and the dreamers among these men, reared their thought-structures and produced their poetry. And it is in turn this literary output, that forms the great wisdom literature upon which the world of this modern era feeds and from which it derives its inspiration.
The Reformation, it ought to be plain, was not a product of the Renaissance. Yet the two movements are being identified the one with the other. It can be expected that the Modernist student of history insists that at bottom the two are one and the same. The Modernists deny that there is a people—God’s believing people—in whose essence and energy there operates a new and holy principle of life and that there are movements in history of which the only tenable explanation is that they are the function of this sanctified energy, and that the Reformation in distinction from the Renaissance was such a movement. In opposition to this denial, the believing student of history must certainly affirm that the Reformation was the working of true faith. For such it was. He must not allow himself to be misled by the circumstance that apparently there is something to say in favor of the view that at least in Germany, the Lowlands and England the Reformation was a product of the Renaissance.
What then is there to say in favor for this view? Let us consider the following. As was said, if taken within its narrowest limits, the Reformation is to be regarded as commencing in the year 1517—the year in which Luther, through his publication of his 95 theses, initiated that direct and open renunciation of medieval heretical doctrine of the Roman Church. It was also pointed out that the date to be selected for the beginning of the Renaissance is the year 1453—the year in which Constantinople fell into the hands of the Turks. The fall of this city caused a great migration of Greek scholars to Western Europe and in particular to Italy. The pagan learning of Greece and Rome which these fugitives brought with them was gladly received by secular and spiritual potentates alike; and the revival of that intellectual activity, that was stimulated by this pagan learning and that was known as the Renaissance or Humanism, began.
Thus the Renaissance preceded the Reformation approximately by some 60 years. During these years several of the humanists inveighed with special force against the very heretical doctrines and corrupt practices of the church, the open renunciation of which Luther initiated through his publication of his theses. As Luther later on, so these humanists, uttered severe denunciation against the doctrines of indulgence, veneration of saints, and purgatory. They opposed the existing church-system, and they rejected both popes and councils as the ultimate and supreme authorities in matters of faith. Erasmus, who acquired the title of “Prince of humanists” interested himself deeply in the Scriptures and in the writings of the church fathers. He published an edition of the Greek Testament, wrote several commentaries, and edited the principal church fathers. These German humanists expressed by the written and spoken word great discontent with the prevailing corruption and misgovernment in the church and with papal interference in civil affairs. They protested against the growing paganizing of the papacy and the superstitious and magical uses of the sacraments. Apparently the humanists in Germany were reformers before the Reformation. Seemingly the Renaissance, too, like the Reformation was a movement in the sphere of religion.
Yet, let us not be deceived. The question of motive and aim enters in here. True, Humanism, the Renaissance, inveighed against both popes and councils as the ultimate authorities in matters of faith. But in doing so it was moved by a hatred of all authority, whether as expressed in the decrees of councils, in the pronouncements of the popes, or in the doctrine of the Scriptures. Thus its aim was to emancipate the mind of man from the reign not merely of tradition and the dogma of the church but of the scriptures as well. If the priests had subordinated the Bible to tradition and dogma, humanism subordinated it to individual and private judgment. Humanism, therefore, was skeptical, rationalistic. The quarrel of Humanism with Rome was that it had shackled human reason. Erasmus wrote commentaries on the Scriptures. But he did not submit himself to their authority. Were he living today, he would be a rationalist.
On the other hand, the aim of the Reformation was to emancipate the Scriptures from the reign of tradition and dogma and to subject human reason to the reign of the Scriptures. The Reformation loved the Bible. To the Bible it went back in the original languages. The Renaissance, also in Germany, went back to the ancient classics and revived the spirit of Greek and Roman paganism. Assuredly, the two movements differed materially. The Reformation was not a scion of the Renaissance.
It should also be born in mind that in Germany several of those who cultivated the new learning were not humanist at heart but sincere and devout Christians. A case at point is the theologian and scholar John Wessel, who was born at Groningen in 1421, and who died in 1489 with the confession on his lips, “l know only Jesus, the Crucified.” A desire to know more about humanism sent him to Rome, where he was found the intimate friend of Italian scholars.
But if all things work together for’ good to them that love God, must the stand not be taken that in some ways the Reformation was benefited by the Renaissance? It was benefited, but only negatively, thus in the same sense that Moses was helped by the pleasures of sin which he encountered at the Court of Pharaoh. The sight of these pleasures turned him consciously and intensely against them. No true believer can revel in paganism.