Why was the Renaissance considered the beginning of the modern age?
The modern age burst into full flower during the late 17th and 18th century period known as the Enlightenment, but the seeds were planted during the Renaissance. The term Renaissance or rebirth refers to the rebirth of interest in Classical Greek and Roman culture that began in the 14th century as the Crusades and other contact with the Arab world brought ancient Greek texts into Western Europe. However, this process of bringing in new texts and trains of thought challenged the hegemony of Christian theology: in some ways, thinkers such as Aristotle seemed to differ from the Church in their understanding of the universe. As the historian Norman Davies wrote in his book Europe: A History,
The essence of the Renaissance lay ... in the use which was made of classical models to test the authority underlying conventional taste and wisdom.
While the Middle Ages is typically understood as a time dominated by received authority passed down from past ages, the Renaissance, though still relying on the superior knowledge of long ago, began to question that wisdom.
Modernity rejects received authority in favor of empiricism and the rational testing of hypotheses. God, central to the medieval worldview, was pushed out of the modern scientific equation. The Renaissance, by encouraging thinkers to reach beyond the received wisdom of the church, created a spirit of inquiry that led to the modern age.
The Renaissance was a revolution of ideas. The revolution of ideas is the origin the modern age. At the heart of the movement was the importance of the individual. During the Renaissance period, Europeans came to believe that individuals have vast potential for greatness. This view is known as humanism, and it drove the amazing works of arts and science of the period. Individualism was a Greek idea that was revitalized because of the study of Greek and Roman classics that occurred in Western Europe.
Humanism as a social philosophy also brought an end to the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church over Western Europe. People came to see themselves as more than servants of God. Even their concept of the relationship with God was changed during the Protestant Reformation. This led to an explosion of thoughts and tools that greatly modernized the world. Inventions like the printing press, the microscope, and telescope modernized the fields of medicine and science. Innovative improvements in the field of navigation allowed explorers to travel faster and further.
The secularization of Europe that occurred during the Renaissance allowed Europeans to have extreme confidence in human potential. This led to the Age of Reason, the scientific revolution, and the Enlightenment. These achievements ushered in the modern era for the West.