Christian humanism

Christian humanism

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Christian humanism is the position that universal human dignity and individual
Individualism is the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, or social outlook that stresses "the moral worth of the individual". Individualists promote the exercise of one's goals and desires and so value independence and self-reliance while opposing most external interference upon one's own...

 freedom are essential and principal components of, or are at least compatible with, Christian
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 doctrine and practice. It is a philosophical
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 union of Christian and humanist
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....



Christian humanism may have begun as early as the 2nd century, with the writings of St. Justin Martyr, an early theologian-apologist of the early Christian Church. While far from radical, Justin suggested a value in the achievements of Classical culture in his Apology Influential letters by Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa confirmed the commitment to using pre-Christian knowledge, particularly as it touched the material world and not metaphysical beliefs. Already the formal aspects of Greek philosophy, namely syllogistic reasoning, arose in both the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 and Western European circles in the eleventh century to inform the process of theology. However, the Byzantine hierarchy during the reign of Alexios I Komnenos
Alexios I Komnenos
Alexios I Komnenos, Latinized as Alexius I Comnenus , was Byzantine emperor from 1081 to 1118, and although he was not the founder of the Komnenian dynasty, it was during his reign that the Komnenos family came to full power. The title 'Nobilissimus' was given to senior army commanders,...

 (1081–1118) convicted several thinkers of applying "human" logic to "divine" matters. Peter Abelard
Peter Abelard
Peter Abelard was a medieval French scholastic philosopher, theologian and preeminent logician. The story of his affair with and love for Héloïse has become legendary...

's work encountered similar ecclesiastical resistance in the West in the same period. Petrarch
Francesco Petrarca , known in English as Petrarch, was an Italian scholar, poet and one of the earliest humanists. Petrarch is often called the "Father of Humanism"...

 (1304–1374) is also considered a father of humanism. The traditional teaching that humans are made in the image of God, or in Latin the Imago Dei
Imago Dei
The Image of God is a concept and theological doctrine within the Abrahamic religions which asserts that human beings are created in God's image and therefore have inherent value independent of their utility or function.-Biblical description:...

, also supports individual worth and personal dignity.


Humanists were involved with studia humanitatis and placed great importance on studying ancient languages, namely Greek and Latin, eloquence, classical authors, and rhetoric. All were important for educational curriculum. Christian humanists also cared about scriptural and patristic writings, Hebrew, ecclesiastical reform, clerical education, and preaching.

During the Renaissance

Christian humanism saw an explosion in the Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

, emanating from an increased faith in the capabilities of Man, married with a still-firm devotion to Christianity. Plain Humanism might value earthly existence as something worthy in itself, where as Christian humanism would value such existence, so long as it were combined with the Christian faith.
One of the first texts regarding Christian humanism was Giovanni Pico della Mirandola
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola
Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola was an Italian Renaissance philosopher. He is famed for the events of 1486, when at the age of 23, he proposed to defend 900 theses on religion, philosophy, natural philosophy and magic against all comers, for which he wrote the famous Oration on the Dignity of...

's Oration on the Dignity of Man
Oration on the Dignity of Man
The Oration on the Dignity of Man is a famous public discourse pronounced in 1486 by Pico della Mirandola, a philosopher of the Renaissance. It has been called the "Manifesto of the Renaissance"....

, in which he stressed that Men had the free will to travel up and down a moral scale, with God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

 and angels being at the top, and Satan
Satan , "the opposer", is the title of various entities, both human and divine, who challenge the faith of humans in the Hebrew Bible...

 being at the bottom. Christian principles took effect in places other than Italy, during what is now called the Northern Renaissance
Northern Renaissance
The Northern Renaissance is the term used to describe the Renaissance in northern Europe, or more broadly in Europe outside Italy. Before 1450 Italian Renaissance humanism had little influence outside Italy. From the late 15th century the ideas spread around Europe...

. Italian universities and academia stressed Classical mythology and writings as a source of knowledge, whereas universities in the Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

 and France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 based their teachings on the Church Fathers.

Sparks of Christian humanism

After the fall of the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 and the civilization of barbarians, there were thoughts of a more Christianized humanity for society. Western Christian clerics controlled education, since only the monasteries remained as seats of learning. Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

 requested that scholars set up places of learning that would become universities in the twelfth century. Eastern Christians meanwhile continued the late Antique practice of studying in the homes of secular masters, studying the same curriculum of "classical" Greek authors as their predecessors in the Roman period: Homer's Iliad, Plato's dialogues, Aristotle's Categories, Demosthenes' speeches, Galen, Dioscurides, Strabo and others. Christian education in the East largely was relegated to learning to read the Bible at the knees of one's parents and the rudiments of grammar in the letters of Basil or the homilies of Gregory Nazianzus. Western universities including Padua and Bologna, Paris and Oxford resulted from the so-called Gregorian Reform
Gregorian Reform
The Gregorian Reforms were a series of reforms initiated by Pope Gregory VII and the circle he formed in the papal curia, circa 1050–80, which dealt with the moral integrity and independence of the clergy...

, which encouraged a new kind of cleric clustered around cathedrals, the secular canon. The cathedral schools meant to train clerics for the growing clerical bureaucracy soon served as training grounds for talented young men to train in medicine, law, and the liberal arts of the quadrivium
The quadrivium comprised the four subjects, or arts, taught in medieval universities, after teaching the trivium. The word is Latin, meaning "the four ways" , and its use for the 4 subjects has been attributed to Boethius or Cassiodorus in the 6th century...

 and trivium, in addition to Christian theology. Classical Latin texts and translations of Greek texts served as the basis of non-theological education. A primitive humanism actually started when the papacy began protecting the Northern Cluniacs and Cistercians and the Church formed a unifying bond. Monks and friars went on crusades and St. Bernard counseled kings. Priests were frequently Lord Chancellors in England and in France.
Christian views became present in all aspects of society. There was a stressed importance that one must serve God and others. Furthermore, there was a view of human nature that was both hopeful and Christian. All offices, civil, and academic works had religious elements. For example, during the Middle Ages, guilds or livery companies resembled modern-day trade unions. In addition, religion influenced medicine with the Good Samaritan of the Gospels and St. Luke. The idea of free people under God came from this time and spread from the West to other areas of the world.

Current Use

As there are no notable organizations of Christian humanists, claimants of the title are not easily generalized: prominent web pages include both The Christian Humanist: Religion, Politics, and Ethics for the 21st Century, which claims that it is possible to be a Christian without a belief in God, and Teaching Christian Humanism, First Things, which ignores the current use of the term "humanism" in favor of humanities
The humanities are academic disciplines that study the human condition, using methods that are primarily analytical, critical, or speculative, as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences....

 studies. The term is also used sometimes to indicate Renaissance humanists
Renaissance humanism
Renaissance humanism was an activity of cultural and educational reform engaged by scholars, writers, and civic leaders who are today known as Renaissance humanists. It developed during the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries, and was a response to the challenge of Mediæval...

 that supported the Catholic Church, such as Thomas More
Thomas More
Sir Thomas More , also known by Catholics as Saint Thomas More, was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman and noted Renaissance humanist. He was an important councillor to Henry VIII of England and, for three years toward the end of his life, Lord Chancellor...

, Johann Reuchlin
Johann Reuchlin
Johann Reuchlin was a German humanist and a scholar of Greek and Hebrew. For much of his life, he was the real centre of all Greek and Hebrew teaching in Germany.-Early life:...

 and John Colet
John Colet
John Colet was an English churchman and educational pioneer.Colet was an English scholar, Renaissance humanist, theologian, and Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. Colet wanted people to see the scripture as their guide through life. Furthermore, he wanted to restore theology and rejuvenate...

, as opposed to those known primarily for their secular contributions to Renaissance philosophy, like Giordano Bruno
Giordano Bruno
Giordano Bruno , born Filippo Bruno, was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. His cosmological theories went beyond the Copernican model in proposing that the Sun was essentially a star, and moreover, that the universe contained an infinite number of inhabited...

 or Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Albans, KC was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, author and pioneer of the scientific method. He served both as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England...

It also applies to more ambivalent thinkers like Desiderius Erasmus
Desiderius Erasmus
Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus , known as Erasmus of Rotterdam, was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, and a theologian....

 whose equivocal position with respect to the Catholic Church and worship appears in works like the Colloquies
Colloquies is one of the many works of the "Prince of Christian Humanists", Desiderius Erasmus. Published in 1518, the pages "...held up contemporary religious practices for examination in a more serious but still pervasively ironic tone". Christian Humanists viewed Erasmus as their leader in the...

, but also in his famous "I'll put up with this church until I see a better one."

Literary criticism

Christian humanism finally blossomed out of the Renaissance and was brought by devoted Christians to the study of the philological sources of the Greek New Testament and Hebrew Bible. The confluence of moveable type, new inks and widespread paper-making put potentially the whole of human knowledge at the hands of the scholarly community in a new way, beginning with the publication of critical editions of the Bible and Church Fathers and later encompassing other disciplines. This project was undertaken at the time of the Reformation in the work of Erasmus of Rotterdam (who remained a Catholic), Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

 (who was an Augustinian priest and led the Reformation, translating the Scriptures into his native German), and John Calvin
John Calvin
John Calvin was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism. Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church around 1530...

 (who was a student of law and theology at the Sorbonne where he became acquainted with the Reformation, and began studying Scripture in the original languages, eventually writing a text-based commentary upon the entire Christian Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

 and New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 except the Book of Revelation
Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation is the final book of the New Testament. The title came into usage from the first word of the book in Koine Greek: apokalupsis, meaning "unveiling" or "revelation"...

). John Calvin was the most prominent of the many figures associated with Reformed Churches that proliferated in Switzerland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and portions of Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, and Poland. Each of the candidates for ordained ministry in these churches had to study the Christian Old Testament in Hebrew and the New in Greek in order to qualify. This continued the tradition of Christian humanism.

Armed with new technologies, Christians from the time of Justin Martyr onwards continued to the present to engage the historical and cultural bases of Christian belief, leading to a spectrum of philosophical and religious stances on the nature of human knowledge and divine revelation. The Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

 of the mid-eighteenth century in Europe brought a separation of religious and secular institutions that exemplified a growing rift between Christianity and humanism. The declining dependence of philosophers upon religious foundations have led to experiments in various political and social arrangements of the past few centuries around the world, including Internationalist Communism, National Socialism, Fascism
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

, Anarchism
Anarchism is generally defined as the political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, or alternatively as opposing authority in the conduct of human relations...

, Theocracy
Theocracy is a form of organization in which the official policy is to be governed by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided, or simply pursuant to the doctrine of a particular religious sect or religion....

, Caesaropapism
Caesaropapism is the idea of combining the power of secular government with, or making it superior to, the spiritual authority of the Church; especially concerning the connection of the Church with government. The term caesaropapism was coined by Max Weber, who defined it as follows: “a secular,...

 and various utopian communities. Christians have participated in all of these movements to varying degrees as individuals and institutionally, as have a variety of Deists and Materialists. The broader tradition extends the zone of usage of the term "Christian humanism" and continues to be used widely to describe the vocations of Christians such as Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams
Charles Williams (UK writer)
Charles Walter Stansby Williams was a British poet, novelist, theologian, literary critic, and member of the Inklings.- Biography :...

, G. K. Chesterton
G. K. Chesterton
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, KC*SG was an English writer. His prolific and diverse output included philosophy, ontology, poetry, plays, journalism, public lectures and debates, literary and art criticism, biography, Christian apologetics, and fiction, including fantasy and detective fiction....

, Flannery O'Connor
Flannery O'Connor
Mary Flannery O'Connor was an American novelist, short-story writer and essayist. An important voice in American literature, O'Connor wrote two novels and 32 short stories, as well as a number of reviews and commentaries...

, Henri-Irénée Marrou
Henri-Irénée Marrou
Henri-Irénée Marrou was a leading French historian of the mid-twentieth century. A Christian humanist in outlook, his work was primarily in the spheres of Late Antiquity and the history of education...

, Dostoevsky, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn was aRussian and Soviet novelist, dramatist, and historian. Through his often-suppressed writings, he helped to raise global awareness of the Gulag, the Soviet Union's forced labor camp system – particularly in The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of...


Prominent Christian humanists

  • A. J. Cronin
    A. J. Cronin
    Archibald Joseph Cronin was a Scottish physician and novelist. His best-known works are Hatter's Castle, The Stars Look Down, The Citadel, The Keys of the Kingdom and The Green Years, all of which were adapted to film. He also created the Dr...

  • Blaise Pascal
    Blaise Pascal
    Blaise Pascal , was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic philosopher. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father, a tax collector in Rouen...

  • Boris Pahor
    Boris Pahor
    Boris Pahor is a Slovene writer from Italy. He is considered to be one of the most influential living authors in the Slovene language and has been nominated for the Nobel prize for literature by the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts...

  • Charles Péguy
    Charles Péguy
    Charles Péguy was a noted French poet, essayist, and editor. His two main philosophies were socialism and nationalism, but by 1908 at the latest, after years of uneasy agnosticism, he had become a devout but non-practicing Roman Catholic.From that time, Catholicism strongly influenced his...

  • Christopher Dawson
    Christopher Dawson
    Christopher Henry Dawson was a British independent scholar, who wrote many books on cultural history and Christendom. Christopher H. Dawson has been called "the greatest English-speaking Catholic historian of the twentieth century".-Life:...

  • Christopher Fry
    Christopher Fry
    Christopher Fry was an English playwright. He is best known for his verse dramas, notably The Lady's Not for Burning, which made him a major force in theatre in the 1940s and 1950s.-Early life:...

  • Desiderius Erasmus
    Desiderius Erasmus
    Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus , known as Erasmus of Rotterdam, was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, and a theologian....

  • Dietrich von Hildebrand
    Dietrich von Hildebrand
    Dietrich von Hildebrand was a German Catholic philosopher and theologian who was called by Pope Pius XII "the 20th Century Doctor of the Church."...

  • Dorothy L. Sayers
    Dorothy L. Sayers
    Dorothy Leigh Sayers was a renowned English crime writer, poet, playwright, essayist, translator and Christian humanist. She was also a student of classical and modern languages...

  • Emmanuel Mounier
    Emmanuel Mounier
    Emmanuel Mounier was a French philosopher.Mounier was the guiding spirit in the French Personalist movement, and founder and director of Esprit, the magazine which was the organ of the movement. Mounier, who was the child of peasants, was a brilliant scholar at the Sorbonne...

  • H. Richard Niebuhr
    H. Richard Niebuhr
    Helmut Richard Niebuhr was one of the most important Christian theological-ethicists in 20th century America, most known for his 1951 book Christ and Culture and his posthumously published book The Responsible Self. The younger brother of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, Richard Niebuhr taught for...

  • Immanuel Kant
    Immanuel Kant
    Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher from Königsberg , researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy and anthropology at the end of the 18th Century Enlightenment....

  • Jacques Maritain
    Jacques Maritain
    Jacques Maritain was a French Catholic philosopher. Raised as a Protestant, he converted to Catholicism in 1906. An author of more than 60 books, he helped to revive St. Thomas Aquinas for modern times and is a prominent drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights...

  • John Henry Newman
  • Jim Wallis
    Jim Wallis
    Jim Wallis is an American evangelical Christian writer and political activist. He is best known as the founder and editor of Sojourners magazine, and of the Washington, D.C.-based Christian community of the same name....

  • Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II)
  • Paul Tillich
    Paul Tillich
    Paul Johannes Tillich was a German-American theologian and Christian existentialist philosopher. Tillich was one of the most influential Protestant theologians of the 20th century...

  • Reinhold Niebuhr
    Reinhold Niebuhr
    Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr was an American theologian and commentator on public affairs. Starting as a leftist minister in the 1920s indebted to theological liberalism, he shifted to the new Neo-Orthodox theology in the 1930s, explaining how the sin of pride created evil in the world...

  • Søren Kierkegaard
    Søren Kierkegaard
    Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was a Danish Christian philosopher, theologian and religious author. He was a critic of idealist intellectuals and philosophers of his time, such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel...

  • Thomas Merton
    Thomas Merton
    Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O. was a 20th century Anglo-American Catholic writer and mystic. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, he was a poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion...

  • Thomas More
    Thomas More
    Sir Thomas More , also known by Catholics as Saint Thomas More, was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman and noted Renaissance humanist. He was an important councillor to Henry VIII of England and, for three years toward the end of his life, Lord Chancellor...

  • Tony Campolo
    Tony Campolo
    Dr. Anthony "Tony" Campolo is an American pastor, author, sociologist, and public speaker known for challenging evangelical Christians by illustrating how their faith can offer solutions in a world of complexity. With his liberal political and social attitudes, he has been a major proponent for...

  • T. S. Eliot
    T. S. Eliot
    Thomas Stearns "T. S." Eliot OM was a playwright, literary critic, and arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century. Although he was born an American he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39.The poem that made his...

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