Religion in the Renaissance

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Before the fifteenth century

With the establishment of the Benedictine Rule in 480 it seems fairly safe to state that the Christian faith, particularly as taught by the Catholic church, was becoming the most widely-held belief across Europe. The Catholic church would maintain its supremacy as the spiritual authority until the monk, Martin Luther, rebelled against practices and teachings which he believed were not in agreement with biblical doctrine.

The church masses were conducted in latin, a language not known to the common people, who relied on the priests to provide spiritual counsel. The majority of peasant folk and less well-educated people probably believed a mixture of Christian doctrine and older pre-Christian ideas.

New beginnings

During the twelfth century thinking men began exploring the written knowledge that had been preserved in monastic libraries, but which had not been actively disseminated. One of the goals of these intellectual explorers seems to have been to rediscover the culture of the classical, pre-Christian period, perhaps in search of something that they believed had been lost or suppressed by the church.

In the visual arts, the painter Giotto Bondone worked to develop a more natural style of visual representation than the stylised images which had become the norm.

As the intellectual climate of Europe changed, fuelled by the development of printing with movable type and a printing press, Martin Luther worked to make available translations in the language of his own people, the Germans, of the Bible, the mass and other texts for doctrinal instruction.

With the spread of the reformatory ideas promoted by Luther, a new movement of protestation against the Catholic church became established. Fundamental principles of the protestant movement included rejection of papal authority, that all Christian believers have direct communion with God obviating the need for an intermediate priesthood, and that a Christian believer is absolved from sin by belief without the need for post-mortem purification in purgatory.