Critical Overview

(Literary Movements for Students)

The early humanists were attacked by the Schoolmen (scholastics) and other clergy as lacking true faith. They were denounced as pagans and were considered heretical. However, the humanists in fact were quite devout. Indeed, leaders, such as Erasmus, never deviated from Catholicism, even though they disparaged Church corruption. These humanists are known as Christian humanists, for they did not question faith itself. Nevertheless, Erasmus was vilified by traditional churchmen throughout his life. Businessmen were skeptical of the humanist curriculum and did not want their sons to waste time studying nonessential topics such as poetry and philosophy. The humanist commitment to public service eventually won over those who feared that humanist study was impractical. Another means of defense happened accidentally. Many humanists found employment with the new print shops, setting type and proofreading copies. They soon discovered that they could carry out their disputes over points of philosophy quite effectively through this new medium instead of staging a formal public debate. Ultimately, their participation in the fledgling industry spurred its success, and in turn, the humanists benefited by reaching a wider audience through their printed essays, tracts, and letters.

During the eighteenth century, humanist thinkers tended to embrace the idea of empirical science developed during the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. At the same time,...

(The entire section is 499 words.)