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The Renaissance Revolution

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
January 7, 2022 12:01 am

The Renaissance Revolution

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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January 7, 2022 12:01 am

In our day, many people choose the authority of science over that of theology. But this is hardly a new practice. Today, R.C. Sproul surveys the "new science" of the Renaissance.

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During the Renaissance, the motto was ad fontes, or back to the sources. But that brought a problem for the church. After a while, there were those who saw a radical dichotomy between what they were reading in the original sources of Scripture and what had developed historically in the institutional church that was based more on tradition than on the original sources. Since people couldn't read the Bible for themselves, they assumed the church was teaching truth. By returning to the original sources, the church and society experienced massive upheaval.

Today on Renewing Your Mind, Dr. R.C. Sproul helps us understand the changes that came during the Renaissance and the consequences of those ideas today. Today we're going to move into a transition from the Middle Ages, or the medieval period, to the beginning of the modern age in the history of philosophy. And I don't want to leave you with the impression that no significant philosophical thought was done between St. Thomas Aquinas and Rene Descartes, for example, in the 17th century. There were many very important philosophers who stepped to the plate during that period, Bonaventure, Donscotus, Occam, for example, Avalor, and others. But what happens later on in Western history is so significant for the shaping of modern philosophy that I would like to spend the time on those things. Not everyone was simply falling dead at the feet of St. Thomas Aquinas.

There was still some original thinking going on. But Thomas did dominate the Middle Ages, and so we're going to move beyond that to the Renaissance that began in the 13th century, at least in the Western world. As I've already mentioned, there was already a Renaissance going on in the Muslim world where attempts had been made by the Islamic philosophers to create a synthesis between Muslim theology and Aristotelian thought. But when we talk about the Renaissance in the Western world, we're talking about that movement that began in Florence in Italy in the 13th century and made significant strides forward in the 14th century. Initially, the Renaissance, which means rebirth, was a reawakening to ancient culture and thought, a rediscovery of the ancient poets and dramatists and particularly the ancient philosophers. And there was a renewed interest both in the ancient Romans, particularly Cicero, and the ancient Greeks, the rediscovery of Plato and Aristotle and so on. Now, in the 14th century, Cosimo de' Medici, and you've heard of the Medicis, a very fabulously wealthy Italian family, ruled more or less as king of Florence, and Cosimo de' Medici founded the new Platonic Republic. Now, he himself represents something of a transitional figure, because in the 13th century, much of the impetus for the rebirth of ancient culture was directed not only out of an interest in antiquity, but also there was a growing climate of turning the attention of the people away from the major concerns of the church, which tended to fix people's attention on heavenly things, to a new concern for humanity and for life here and now.

So the earlier thinkers in the Renaissance in the 13th century were either indifferent towards the church and to the Christian faith, but were positively hostile towards them. But in the 14th century, with the Medici family's love of antiquity, there was still a commitment to the church, and there was an attempt to marry some of these rediscoveries from antiquity to the contemporary church situation. And you know the Medici family was a family that was intimately involved with the Roman Catholic Church of that time. For example, Cosimo's great-grandson was perhaps the most famed of the Medicis. His name was Lorenzo the Magnificent, and Lorenzo the Magnificent was the one who first took Michelangelo under his wing, even invited him into his home where he lived with the family and so on until the early death of Lorenzo the Magnificent.

One of Lorenzo's sons became Pope Alexander VI, and I'll talk about that more later. But in any case, the basic impetus of the Renaissance at first seemed to work against classical Christianity, but then after a time began to work as a support system to historic Christianity. The motto of the Renaissance was the phrase ad fontes, to the sources, to the sources, or to the fountain, if you will.

The word font means fountain or source. And so what that meant was go back to the earliest sources of Western civilization, recover the thinking of Aristotle and Plato and so on. And so a new effort was made to learn the Greek language and the Latin language.

And in addition to that, however, came the Christian humanists of whom Erasmus of Rotterdam was the most famous who lived in the 16th century. And in their effort to recover the greatness of antiquity, one of the sources that they were concerned about studying afresh was the Scripture, particularly the New Testament. And so there was a whole new accent on mastering the biblical languages, which brought in its wake a new investigation of the original sources of Christian thought.

And at first that was somewhat tame, but after a while there were those who saw a radical dichotomy between what they were reading in the original sources of Scripture and what had developed historically in the institutional church that was based more on tradition than on the original sources. So the first challenge really that came to the medieval synthesis, or what we call the classical synthesis, was the challenge brought by the Renaissance. In this were the initial movements that were going sooner or later to displace the medieval structure of the university, where it was commonplace to think in the university that the queen of all of the sciences was theology, and philosophy was called her handmaiden, so that the queen so that the theological faculty would be the dominant faculty of the entire university. And then second perhaps in command was the department of philosophy. Well, as you know today, that's not the way it is, and some radical changes were already starting to take place as a result of the impetus of the Renaissance. Also at this time, as part of the Renaissance mindset, was a challenge to teleology. I remember when I was a senior in college, I still had not yet taken my required course in freshman biology.

The reason for that was scheduling. When I was a freshman, I took Greek, and the only time I could take Greek conflicted when the courses were offered for what they called bonehead biology, Biology 101. And so I didn't take it until I was a senior. I'd been a philosophy major and all of that sort of thing. And I remember the first day in class, the biology professor said something that disturbed me greatly. In her opening lecture, she said, you must learn if you're going to be scientific and to engage in the pursuit of the knowledge of living things, as we're doing in biology, is that you have to set aside any concerns of teleology.

You know, I said, wait a minute. That's like telling me I can never ask the question, what is the purpose of these things that we're studying? And I had real problems with that, philosophical problems and theological problems. What I didn't realize was that she was merely reflecting an attitude towards the science that had been deeply rooted already in the Renaissance. The Renaissance reacted against the medieval education's fixation, they believed, on trying to interpret everything that we learn in this world according to how it fit with the divine plan and the divine purpose. You think God was banished from the schoolroom only in the 20th century, but this challenge was that we are to study things for their own sake and not to be concerned about how they fit in with the ultimate purposes of God and so on.

This was a serious challenge to Christian thinking because the Christian worldview was such that it wanted to understand everything that we learn in light of its relationship to the purposes of God. Now, a second major challenge to the medieval realm was the scientific revolution that came in the 15th and 16th century, particularly, as you've all heard, the Copernican revolution, where the astronomer Copernicus wrote a theory that attacked the traditional theory of the Ptolemaic view of the universe, where the ancient Ptolemy taught, in the Aristotelian tradition, that the earth is the center of the universe and the center of our solar system. That was called geocentricity. And over against geocentricity, geo is the Greek word that we get from gase, which means earth. The earth is the center of the solar system. Copernicus, arguing from mathematics and so on, argued for heliocentricity.

He did this basically on the research of Kepler and others and the mathematical considerations to save the phenomena as Plato had urged. And he just said that the whole paradigm of considering the sun as being the center of the solar system rather than the earth just made a whole lot more sense. Well, this created a major controversy in the 16th century over the authority of the church. The authority of the church was being challenged because the church had embraced the Ptolemaic view of the universe, believing that the Bible taught that the earth was the center of the universe. We know the famous Galileo episode where Galileo was condemned when the bishops of the church refused to even look through his telescope to see if there would be corroborative confirming evidence of heliocentricity.

If you read the writings of Luther and Calvin on the Protestant side, both Luther and Calvin vehemently castigated the thinking of Copernicus. Just about everybody in the church, Protestant, Catholic alike at that time, saw a significant challenge to historic Christianity by the new science. Now, the new science came being born on the wings of two important developments. One was a new scientific method, the scientific method that you learned when you went to grade school, the scientific method that is based upon two elements, the element of induction, induction, and the element of deduction.

Induction is when you gather data, when you collect samples, when you conduct experiments, and then deduction has to do with the reasoning from the data that you have collected. And so the scientific method was not satisfied with discovering truth simply by philosophical reflection or by theological dogma, but rather they wanted to look at the facts. They wanted to examine the earth as it is discoverable to whatever level it is and so on. But in addition to this method, and we also add that in the deduction side, math and mathematicians were growing in importance in this period, as we will see. But in addition to this, there was an explosion of technology. There was a real technological revolution that took place at this time, and it was an explosion of technology of instruments, particularly instruments of measurement, the development of the microscope, the development of the telescope, two very important historical discoveries, because now our ability to see and perceive the external world was enhanced by a virtual quantum leap, where the telescope means to look across or look far, and greatly enhanced our ability to see into the far distances of the heavens.

In addition, that which was tiny, so small that could not be perceived by the naked eye, was now suddenly opened to our vista by virtue of the microscope. And people were discovering microorganisms and molecules and bacteria and all that sort of thing, which just radically revolutionized the entire scientific world. Now, in addition to the changes and advances in science, one of the things that came in its wake was the age of exploration. And this was enhanced by these new instruments.

This was the period of vast worldwide exploration by Vasco da Gama and Magellan and Christopher Columbus in the 15th century and so on. In fact, Columbus's discovery of America was a discovery of a new world, which changed the whole dynamic of commerce, of business, and the like in this time. And so on the heels of these things came a new economic system.

That is, as the scientific changes were taking place, there were also changes in business and commerce, and as the changes came in business and commerce came changes in economics. In fact, probably the most significant single change in the realm of economics was with the use of money. Now, there's always been money.

There's been some medium of exchange. But still, the guilds and the economic system of the Middle Ages functioned basically on the basis of exchange of goods and services, where money was not conceived of as a commodity. But with the birth of what we call capitalism, everything changed, because now money was seen as something that had inherent value and could grow and make a person wealthy by investment. And one of the most favorable investments that came about at this time was the investment in exploration ventures. Remember when you were in junior high school about Columbus trying desperately to get finances to test his theories of finding a shorter way to the East Indies for commercial reasons? And he goes to Ferdinand and Isabella and tries to get somebody to finance his expedition. And in those days, the wealthy people who had acquired a lot of money or capital were looking for ways to invest it, and one of the things that they did would be to invest in exploration ventures, just like people do today with drilling for gasoline or oil or whatever.

And the way it went was this. If the investor gave Christopher Columbus X number of dollars to finance his exploratory voyage, any goods that were brought back, 75% of them went to the investor and the other 25% to the adventurer who had to share those profits by paying wages to his sailors and so on. But then the sailor would now have capital that he could reinvest in further explorations, and so this is the way the thing went. Now, part again of what came in the new economics was a moral crisis, and it was a moral crisis that the United States had to deal with. And an ecclesiastical crisis with respect to interest. The Bible historically condemns usury, which in its most naked form involves the charging of interest for loans.

And throughout the Middle Ages, all interest was disallowed. But because it required borrowing and financing, interest now became allowable as long as it wasn't too exploitive. And the very word usury became redefined, both in the commercial world and in the church. It's interesting for us when we read Luther in the 16th century, how much he's given to the ethical question of usury.

But usury now became defined as excessive interest rather than the use of interest at all. So, this is another vast change that was coming to pass in the world. Now, in addition to this, we also encounter in the 16th century the greatest upheaval of the classical synthesis that took place at all, and that was the impact of the Protestant Reformation. And there were all kinds of reasons for that, not just theological, but there were issues of a rising sense of nationalism and great resentment that had been accumulating over the centuries against Roman rule because the church was powerful, not only ecclesiastically, but militarily and politically. The pope was the most powerful political person in the world during the Middle Ages.

And so, there were countries such as Germany and others that were sick and tired of what they called ultramontanism being ruled from over the mountains, and there was this yearning for national independence. In addition to this, there was the moral decay of the church, which the humanists, the Christian humanists, even Erasmus, were calling for radical reforms. It focused principally on the behavior of priests and chiefly the behavior of certain medieval popes. The two great sins, as it were, or points of corruption that had infected the church of this time were the sins of simony and nepotism.

Simony gets its name from the New Testament book of Acts when Simon Magus, you know, Simon the Magician, tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit from Peter, and Peter said, may your money perish with you. And so, simony came to describe that practice by which the church sold church offices because they were lucrative. So, people were buying the bishop's hat or the cardinal's hat, whether they had any moral or spiritual integrity at all. If they had the money, they could become bishops or cardinals. There were several occasions in there where we had teenage cardinals and at least two teenage popes, because even the papacy was being purchased by rich and powerful families like the Borgias and the Medicis. And this is a matter of record, and the Roman Catholic Church today acknowledges this because they've since reformed the process but at the time the church was in great moral corruption. Nepotism was the granting of church offices, not simply by virtue of payment, but to keep it in the family.

I always say nepotism is alright as long as you keep it in the family. But they were getting nephews and nieces and sons and daughters and putting them in strategic places of ecclesiastical power. So, this brought forth a great grassroots reaction, and even a reaction in the church. In the 15th century, the church attempted conciliarism, whereby the church voted that church councils would be the supreme authority, and even the pope would have to obey the decisions of the council. It was like the Magna Carta of the church, whereby kings would have to pay attention to a constitution or a parliament. Unfortunately, the popes rejected it, and it failed at that time.

And so, as we move into the 16th century, the corruption is at perhaps its worst stage with the so-called worldly popes of that era. Thank you for joining us for Renewing Your Mind on this Friday. I'm Lee Webb, and all week, we have been studying the ideas that literally changed the world. We feature Dr. R.C. Sproul's series, The Consequences of Ideas. Watching the 35 video messages in this series will help you recognize the origins of many of the ideas that we encounter every day. We'd like to send you the lessons on nine DVDs when you contact us with a donation of any amount.

You can find us online at, or you can call us with your gift at 800-435-4343. Well, our president and CEO, Chris Larson, is here. And Chris, I know that you emphasize that we don't consider our study of these weighty theological issues a dry academic pursuit. We run to the hard questions, not because we have wisdom in and of ourselves, but because we stand upon the Word of God. And God speaks to all of life. And our listeners are going to hear that through this next testimony. It comes from Jennifer up in Virginia. And you'll hear how good theology has made all the difference.

My name is Jennifer Rice, and I'm from Blackstone, Virginia. My husband has traumatic brain injury. And the holiness of God, the book of Acts, I've done Job with Derek Thomas, and all of that has just really helped me through the seven years since my husband's accident. Totally has changed my theology. Learning about the sovereignty of God has really helped me in this trauma with my husband. Difficult at first, but learning the sovereignty of God has helped me to know that He is there. He has held me and my husband through all this difficult path that we've been walking. But God has shown His faithfulness over and over to me. And when I was desperate, He's provided teaching, a lot of it from Ligonier that has challenged me, but in such a way that has helped me to stand strong and has sent me to the Bible to really try to dig deeper.

And that's really been through the ministry of Ligonier. Well, that's such an encouragement to hear Virginia's story. And, Chris, thank you for sharing that with us. She talked about digging deeper, and next week we will dig deeper into the parables of Jesus. Why did He tell so many stories about the kingdom of God, and what are we to learn from them? I hope you'll join us beginning Monday for Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-01 05:43:59 / 2023-07-01 05:52:25 / 8

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