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How did the Renaissance worldview differ from the medieval worldview?

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The Medieval worldview was drastically different than that of the Renaissance era. 

In the Medieval period, feudalism was a way of life: there was no middle class. Instead, feudal lords controlled the land, which was worked by peasants that were kept in poverty with no hope of owning anything or slipping away from the oppressive control of the nobility. 

This was also a time of several plagues, which began in the fourteenth century. The Black Death, otherwise known as the Bubonic Plague, ravaged Europe several times. Perhaps this was the most devastating catastrophe that afflicted medieval society. In the span of three years, the Black Death killed one third of all the people in Europe.

This traumatic population change coming into the Late Middle Ages caused great changes in European culture and lifestyle. 

It can be argued that the most important element of the time was the Roman Catholic Church, which dominated everyday facet of life in medieval times (which was also known as the Middle Ages). It was all things to all people. The Church provided care for the sick and the poor. In a time when education was limited to the wealthy, the Church was responsible for educating the peasant class. This education consisted of mostly information about religious themes, which were presented in the form of miracle and morality plays. The monks were also the keepers of history, and monasteries often housed libraries. Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales tells of fictional characters going on a pilgrimage to a holy place, a common occurrence of the time. These trips allowed many (especially those with financial wherewithal) to travel to a shrine in order to atone for their sins. Knights joined the Crusades for the same reason.

Ultimately, the Church became a world power because there was no separation of church and state, its control stretched from Italy to England. The influence of Catholicism shaped how people perceived their world and their place in the universe. The people's ignorance allowed them to be led without question by clerics, and the era was dark and hopeless. 

During these crises, the Church told the people that the Black Death was a punishment from God—that it was God's vengeance on sinners. This was a belief that servants of the Church perpetuated, creating an omnipresent sense of doom and human destruction.

Several things took place that closed the door on the Middle Ages and prepared the way for the Renaissance.

The plague's destruction of a third of Europe's population decimated the work force. Without people to work the land, feudalism began to crumble. The introduction of the crossbow, which could pierce a knight's armor from great distances, was also a blow to the way of life for the nobility in medieval times. 

The presence of the Church diminished, especially as it was challenged by Protestantism (see Martin Luther).

Attempts to reform the Catholic Church and the development of Protestant Churches in western Europe are known as the Reformation.

Ultimately, Henry VIII, the King of England would cripple the power of the Roman Catholic Church in England, creating the Anglican Church over which he presided because he wanted a divorce that Rome would not grant him. His daughter Elizabeth I, would eventually strongly encourage and support the Renaissance in England.

The Renaissance (meaning "renewal") ushered in a new era of prosperity; education became more widely available, and interest in and production of new forms of the arts (drama, poetry, music, painting, and so on) were reborn and flourished. It began in Italy, taking approximately a hundred years to spread to England.

The Renaissance started in Italy, then spread slowly to other European countries, most notably France, Spain, and finally, England.

Scientists made world-altering discoveries.

Spanning approximately two hundred years, beginning midway into the fifteenth century, the [Renaissance scientific] movement saw the university-dominated theological stance begin to yield to the secularization of knowledge.

Philosophers and writers challenged the ideas of the Church and presented new theories of the world and man's place in it. With the passing of feudalism, a middle class was born, which consisted of merchants who made a great deal of money and changed the face of Europe. A poor man could now make a small profit and turn it into a fortune.

Having put the plagues and the Church's messages of doom and destruction behind them, those living during the Renaissance found hope in the transformation from the limited and controlled world they had once known, to a new age that promised opportunities and lifestyles never seen or experienced before.


Additional Sources:

Adventures in English Literature, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers: Orlando, 1985.

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During Medieval times in Europe (or as it is often referred to, the Dark Ages) there was a general lack of learning and frankly understanding of many issues and ideas.  During the medieval period in Europe, what little learning and knowledge that was on hand was dominated by the Catholic church.  Therefore, questions of worldly manners, were naturally given a religious minded answer.  On the flip side of the coin, during the Renaissance there was a re-birth or return of knowledge and learning that had not been seen in Europe since the days of the ancient Roman and Greek empires.  In short, the world view of the Renaissance shifted (slowly but surely) away from religious explanations and more toward that of scientific explanations.  A prime example might be the stories of men like Galileo and da Vinci... both of whom challenged widely held religous ideas with scientific notions, and both of whom were scorned by certain aspects of European society for doing so.

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