What are the similarities between the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation?

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Both the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation were social and cultural movements that took place primarily in Western Europe but also had a broader influence. Their religious bases were in Christianity. While the Renaissance is often associated with southern Europe, especially Italy, it also played key roles in Northern Europe,...

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Both the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation were social and cultural movements that took place primarily in Western Europe but also had a broader influence. Their religious bases were in Christianity. While the Renaissance is often associated with southern Europe, especially Italy, it also played key roles in Northern Europe, where the Reformation gained an even stronger hold through Martin Luther’s contributions. During both movements, the individual's relationship with the cosmos was fundamentally rethought, especially through changes in religious ideas and the rise of science. The Renaissance's emphasis on humanism, with origins in classical civilizations, is generally considered a direct antecedent of Protestantism. Changes in the arts are also important components of both movements, with increasing focus on secular rather than solely sacred themes.

Renaissance-era inventions strongly influenced some Reformation tendencies; notably among these is Johannes Gutenberg’s moveable-type printing press, which expanded literacy and the direct consumption of information. Monarchy was the dominant form of state control, as the consolidation of feudal holdings advanced through Europe. The Reformation did not begin as a rejection of Roman Catholicism, but it did ultimately lead to a break with the Roman Catholic Church; this cleavage is closely associated with the increasing emphasis on the human, including concepts of autonomy and free will.

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Most historians believe the Renaissance was an ideological precursor to the Protestant Reformation. Consequently, the two movements bear many similarities. Two major similarities are the emphasis on the individual person and classical languages.

First, the Renaissance became the first major Western movement to emphasize the individual self. Most previous eras had emphasized the individual's role within an ethnic, national, or religious group. Renaissance thinkers and artists, however, celebrated the individual apart from his community. This influenced the Protestants, who asserted that salvation was found through one's personal relationship with God, rather than within the Catholic Church.

Second, both movements placed a high value on the classical languages. Latin had served as the primary language for educated people throughout the Middle Ages; however, the language had become convoluted over time. Renaissance linguists sought to return Latin to its classical Roman form. They also placed a renewed emphasis on the Greek language and culture. Likewise, the Protestant Reformers sought to read the Bible in its original languages (Hebrew and Greek) rather than in the Latin translation used by the Catholic Church--the Vulgate. This caused them to reach different theological conclusions (specifically about salvation) from the Church.

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