Renaissance: Moving Toward the Modern State
History has shown us how civilizations evolve over time.
Broadly interpreted, the age of Diocletian marked a
decisive stage in the transition from the classical, the
Greco-Roman, civilization of the ancient Roman Empire to
the Christian-Germanic civilization of the early Middle
Ages. Similarly interpreted, "the age of the Renaissance
marked the transition from the civilization of the Middle
Ages to the modern world"(Ferguson 1). Therefore, the
Renaissance is the beginning of the modern world and modern
In law the tendency was to challenge the abstract
dialectical method of the medieval jurists with a
philological and historical interpretation of the sources
of Roman Law. As for political thought, the medieval
proposition that the preservation of liberty, law, and
justice constitutes the central aim of political life was
challenged but not overthrown by Renaissance theorists.
They contended that the central task of government was to
maintain security and peace. Machiavelli maintained that
the creative force (virtj) of the ruler was the key to the
preservation of both his own position and the well-being of
his subjects, an idea consonant with contemporary politics.
Italian city-states were transformed during the Renaissance
from communes to territorial states, each of which sought
to expand at the expense of the others. Territorial
unification also took place in Spain, France, and England.
The process was aided by modern diplomacy, which took its
place beside the new warfare when the Italian city-states
established resident embassies at foreign courts. By the
16th century, the institution of permanent embassies spread
northward to France, England, and the Holy Roman Empire.
Renaissance churchmen, particularly in the higher echelons,
patterned their behavior after the mores and ethics of lay
society. The activities of popes, cardinals, and bishops
were scarcely distinguishable from those of secular
merchants and political figures. At the same time,
Christianity remained a vital and essential element of
Renaissance culture. Preachers, such as San Bernardino of
Siena, and theologians and prelates, such as Sant'Antonino
of Florence, attracted large audiences and were revered.
Moreover, many humanists were concerned with theological
questions and applied the new philological and historical
scholarship to the study and interpretation of the early
church fathers. The humanist approach to theology and
scripture may be traced from the Italian scholar Petrarch
to the Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus; it made a powerful
impact on Roman Catholics and Protestants.
Some medievalists contend that the inflated eloquence and
dull neoclassicism of much humanist writing undermine the
claim that the Renaissance was a turning point in Western
civilization. Although these contentions are valid to some
degree, the Renaissance clearly was a time in which
long-standing beliefs were tested; it was a period of
intellectual ferment, preparing the ground for the thinkers
and scientists of the 17th century, who were far more
original than the Renaissance humanists. The Renaissance
idea that humankind rules nature is akin to Sir Francis
Bacon's concept of human dominance over nature's elements,
which initiated the development of modern science and
technology. Medieval notions of republicanism and liberty,
preserved and defended with classical precedents by
Renaissance thinkers, had an indelible impact on the course
of English constitutional theory and may have been a source
for the conception of government espoused by the Founding
Fathers of American constitutionalism. Above all, however,
"the age of the Renaissance marked a decisive stage in the
transition from Middle Ages to the modern world"(Ferguson
Morgan, Michael. Classics of Moral and Political Theory.
Hacket Publishing Company, 1992. 417-419.
Ferguson, Wallace. The Renaisance. New York: Harper & Row