In what ways was the Renaissance a break from Medieval Europe?

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The Renaissance represented a major break from Medieval Europe and its traditions in that it was able to achieve knowledge in a variety of disciplines that challenged the dominant worldview of the Church.

At that time, the Church was the main sponsor of learning in Christendom. In practical terms, this...

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The Renaissance represented a major break from Medieval Europe and its traditions in that it was able to achieve knowledge in a variety of disciplines that challenged the dominant worldview of the Church.

At that time, the Church was the main sponsor of learning in Christendom. In practical terms, this meant that whatever intellectual disciplines men pursued—be they science, philosophy, or rhetoric—there was always a limit to the conclusions to which such activity would lead. Scholars always had to make sure that they strictly adhered to Church teachings in carrying out their research; otherwise they could find themselves in serious trouble.

Contrary to a popular misconception, the Middle Ages did see advances across a whole of range of academic disciplines. But there was always a limit as to how far they could go. All knowledge, be it scientific, theological, or philosophical, was fine, just so long as it didn't contradict Christian orthodoxy as defined by the Church.

Renaissance scholars were different in that they derived their authority not from the Church but from antiquity. The revival of ancient learning, the learning of Greece and Rome, gradually freed the intellectual pursuits of Western man from control by the Church. Although Renaissance man still paid lip-service to the Church's teachings, he was no longer as concerned as his scholastic forebears with ensuring that his ideas corresponded closely to what the Church said was acceptable. To be sure, Renaissance man was still very much in thrall to authority, but it was the authority of ancient pagans, not the authority of the Church.

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The Renaissance, a French word which means "rebirth," was a revival of Classical values, particularly in the visual arts. 

Rome was at the center of the movement—a city replete with the ruins of a great, bygone civilization whose principles and practices had been demonized by the Catholic Church throughout the Middle Ages.

During the Middle Ages, the only permissible visual art was that which portrayed Christ—usually Christ as an infant in the arms of his mother, Mary, or paintings and sculptures depicting the Crucifixion. By the early Renaissance, painters and sculptors began to depict other themes, such as those from the Classical world.

Paintings during the Middle Ages were crudely executed compared to what came later. Vanishing point perspective and a more natural-looking light were techniques introduced during the Renaissance. The humanist philosophy of the Renaissance allowed for more individual ideas and approaches to technique to emerge, whereas artistic work from the Middle Ages was more uniform and formulaic.

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The Renaissance was a break from Medieval Europe in the sense that secularism became popularized.  Instead of looking to God for all answers, people started to look at cause and effect relationships in nature and in other people.  One big reason for this was the invention of movable type, which placed books into the hands of more people.  The first book ever mass printed was the Bible, and this led to the Reformation as people started to openly question the role and direction of the Catholic Church.  This also led to the popularization of languages such as English, French, and German; before this time, Latin was the common language among scholars and the Church.  Languages and monarchs claiming their own realms outside of the Church led to the rise of the nation-state.  There were also new developments in military theory as monarchs looked to professional soldiers to expand or defend their holdings.  

As people began to read more, they came into contact with ancient Greek and Roman works.  While the Church had previously banned many of these works because the Church saw the authors as unbelievers, people now thirsted for the knowledge of these classical authors.  This led to the growth of the study of philosophy, medicine, and math.  This was the heart of the Renaissance; it was a return to the classical ways of thinking.  

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The primary difference between the two, and the major break between Medieval and Renaissance thought. was the concept of the worth of the individual, a school of thought known as humanism. At the same time scientific experimentation and speculation became popular in the Renaissance period; previously they had been discouraged.

During the Medieval period, the prevailing school of thought was that humans were imperfect, depraved creatures struggling through a veil of tears in hopes of a better life beyond the grave. They were believed to be constantly subject to temptation from evil forces, including witches. For that reason, authority, in this case the authority of the church, was to be accepted without question. The prevailing educational theory was scholasticism which relied on two primary sources: the Bible and Aristotle, the latter only because it was believed that Aristotle's teachings harmonized with those of Scripture. Experimentation was dangerous as it might lead one into error, and error into sin, and sin into damnation.

With the birth of the Renaissance, scholasticism fell out of favor.  Prevailing thought was that human beings were God's greatest creation and should be celebrated as such. This line of thought is illustrated in Renaissance art, which depicts human beings in realistic terms. Medieval art had been only symbolic, with people appearing similar to stick figures. Humanist scholars read the Bible and other classical texts in the original languages, thus developing a deeper understanding of its true meaning. Science which had been considered indistinguishable from religion was seen as an independent discipline and experimentation an avenue to truth.

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