Seeking the Wisdom of the Ancients

The great intellectual movement of Renaissance Italy was humanism. The humanists believed that the Greek and Latin classics contained both all the lessons one needed to lead a moral and effective life and the best models for a powerful Latin style. They developed a new, rigorous kind of classical scholarship, with which they corrected and tried to understand the works of the Greeks and Romans, which seemed so vital to them. Both the republican elites of Florence and Venice and the ruling families of Milan, Ferrara, and Urbino hired humanists to teach their children classical morality and to write elegant, classical letters, histories, and propaganda.

In the course of the fifteenth century, the humanists also convinced most of the popes that the papacy needed their skills. Sophisticated classical scholars were hired to write official correspondence and propaganda; to create an image of the popes as powerful, enlightened, modern rulers of the Church; and to apply their scholarly tools to the church's needs, including writing a more classical form of the Mass.

The relation between popes and scholars was never simple, for the humanists evolved their own views on theology. Some argued that pagan philosophers like Plato basically agreed with Christian revelation. Others criticized important Church doctrines or institutions that lacked biblical or historical support. Some even seemed in danger of becoming pagans. The real confrontation came in the later sixteenth century, as the church faced the radical challenge of Protestantism. Some Roman scholars used the methods of humanist scholarship to defend the Church against Protestant attacks, but others collaborated in the imposition of censorship. Classical scholarship, in the end, could not reform the Church which it both supported and challenged.

From here there are exits to rooms with: You can also walk back to the Main Hall.