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date: 29 April 2017

The Influence of Renaissance Humanism and Skepticism on Martin Luther

Summary and Keywords

When Martin Luther began his academic studies at Erfurt, Renaissance humanism and skepticism had become well entrenched in the German academic world. He also found them at Wittenberg. Starting with Petrarch, humanists appeared in Italy who acquired the skills necessary to find solutions to their needs in the content of ancient pagan classics and Christian writings. Two major groups of humanists existed after the mid-15th century with distinct solutions for the needs they felt: rhetorical humanists epitomized by Valla and Neoplatonic humanists led by Ficino and Pico. Rhetorical humanism appealed to the heart and exempted the truth of Christian teachings from skepticism. Neoplatonic humanism sought to establish absolute truth by synthesizing the wisdom of all religions and philosophies.

It is well-known today that ultramontane Renaissance humanism was imported from Italy by large numbers of students from the north who studied there. German and other northern humanists mostly followed either in the path laid by Valla or that of Ficino and Pico. Luther was a beneficiary of the Christian humanism and biblicism of the rhetorical path, which also led to the development of the loci method of learning and the educational work of Melanchthon. The Neoplatonic path led to further development of logical solutions based on both Plato and Aristotle. This path developed remarkable syntheses of Christianity with ancient and medieval philosophies and religions, mostly meant to improve Christian life. Though familiar with the Neoplatonic path, Luther did not accept its basic views.

Keywords: Martin Luther, Renaissance, humanism, skepticism, rhetoric, philology, Neoplatonism, Kabbalah, scholasticism, formal logic, syllogism

Renaissance Humanism

Renaissance humanism emerged in Italy after 1300 within the growing ranks of aspiring professional writers and bureaucrats with an interest in literature.1 Using grammar and rhetoric in their occupations and with increasing wealth and leisure, over time they and their sons became philologists and students of Latin classical literature. Some also studied the Church fathers and early medieval writers. They gathered classical books and searched for lost writings. Hoping to become great authors for rising urban elites, they learned how to use rhetoric from the ancient masters and adopted Ciceronian Latin in place of the vernacular or medieval Latin. They also adopted genres from ancient literature that appealed to well-off townspeople. Hence, they scorned the theological and ethical pronouncements of scholastics, which were based on syllogistic logic and reason and written in medieval Latin. It was, however, more than simply a literary movement dedicated to the studia humanitatis or part of the history of rhetoric, grammar and moral philosophy.2

Rhetoric was the most important gift of the classical world to the humanists, because it was necessary for attacking their opponents, the scholastics and scholastic syllogistic logic. Rhetoric sought to move the emotions with probable truth, while the formal logic of the scholastics appealed to the mind and claimed to posit absolute truth. Scholasticism dominated in the Church and the universities, even the Italian ones, by the mid-15th century. Hence, scholastics were hostile competitors of humanists pursuing academic careers. Another gift was the knowledge that their culture, both secular and religious, differed from that of ancient times. Religious institutions and teachings had changed as well as worldly ones. These, too, required restoration, for these had involved a “reorganization of consciousness.”3

There was, as John D’Amico stated, a “definite strain of Renaissance humanism that actively sought to discuss both traditional and new theological questions”4 This strain began with Francesco Petrarch (1304–1374), commonly known as the father of Renaissance humanism. In addition to using rhetoric to write prose and poetry inspired by the classics, Petrarch used rhetoric to provide a better understanding of both ethical and theological Christian teachings. Hence, this is called the rhetorical strain of humanism. Petrarch sought to show how Christian teachings could be followed by the laity, not just the clergy. This strain reached its Italian apex with Lorenzo Valla in the mid-15th century. Following the model of St. Augustine and using his specific advice on how to do so, these rhetorical humanists adopted classical ideas only after cleansing them of paganism, so that they were useful for Christians. Meanwhile, they used the Bible and Church fathers to the same effect. They understood that skepticism was a part of rhetoric, but they did not apply skeptical tools to Christian teachings. Rhetoric, they believed, could provide a better, that is, the original, authentic understanding of Christian teachings and move people to live the Christian life. Italian humanism, however, was not monolithic. As will be shown, Luther was familiar with and supportive of Valla’s ideas.

During the mid-15th century, a second distinct strain of humanism emerged, reaching its zenith with Marsiglio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola. These humanists thought that ancient Greek philosophers had revealed the necessary methods for improving the lives of people in their day and time. They soon added Hebrew writings, especially the Kabbalah, to their sources. They thought Plato’s logic could replace that of Aristotle and the scholastics. This method used reason and logic rather than rhetoric. They wanted to synthesize ancient Neoplatonic and Kabbalistic teachings with Christian teachings. This was the Neoplatonic strain of Italian humanism. As a synthesis the humanists in this group produced heterodox Christian teachings, although there is no reason to think that Ficino and Pico thought of their ideas as anything other than Christian.

Most historians today do not view humanism as a movement to secularize Christian society, except in the sense of allowing the laity to practice some aspects of religion and gain entrance into the educational establishment. Renaissance humanists were not intent upon adopting pagan classical religion, values, and culture in place of medieval Christian ones, much less of destroying religious belief. No Italian humanists were atheists or pagans.5 This was true of most later ultramontane humanists, too, although more heterodoxy emerged with the Neoplatonic path. Renaissance humanism was not a part of the humanisms of our world today.6

These two groups will be examined, but because only the more significant figures in these two paths will be covered, many interesting humanists cannot be treated here. However, this should allow a closer examination of Renaissance humanism in the most important examples.

Renaissance Skepticism

Numerous historians have noted the rise of skepticism and doubt during the Renaissance, so that by the early 16th-century, certitude was central to much polemical writing and theological uncertainty was a problem.7 Indeed, Lewis Spitz identified theological uncertainty in Erasmus,8 who has often been seen as the first Christian humanist. Hence, it may be seen as a factor in the origins of the Protestant Reformation. Given these facts, it is important to clearly indicate the two senses in which the terms skepticism and skeptical will be used here:9 first, to doubt that humankind is capable of achieving truth or certain knowledge and second, to a more general doubt and relativism. These terms will not indicate any necessary connection with the ancient schools of skepticism or the rejection of all dogmatic assertions, the suspension of judgement, and the search for ataraxia.

The humanists promoted skepticism through their use and teaching of rhetoric, which was a major source of skepticism. Their favorite ancient writer, Cicero, had promoted academic skepticism as the basis for rhetoric. Rhetoric helped orators move their audiences or writers their publics. Virtually all of the skeptical techniques for producing probable truth were used, including consensus, probability, arguing persuasively for two different answers to any question (in utramque partem), and rejecting all dogmas. These were all humanist tools for defeating their scholastic opponents in the Church and universities. The humanists also promoted skepticism through the gathering and printing of ancient texts of all kinds, including the translation and publication of the works of the Greek skeptical schools.

Humanism, of course, was not the only cause of the rise of skepticism during the Renaissance. One might only offer up some other examples: the attack of Nominalists on the Realists and followers of Thomas Aquinas, the so-called Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy, and later, new discoveries of islands and whole continents along with their inhabitants beginning in the 1470s. The rise of long-distance trade, wealth, larger independent towns, and new social ranking systems all demanded painful changes in the habitual ways people lived and related to one another. The result was anxiety and even despair.

Italian Christian Humanism

The definition of Christian humanism provided by Charles Nauert for the northern humanists fits Petrarch, Valla, and one of the two major paths that humanism took after the 1450s. They applied their classical knowledge to studying and writing about ancient Christian works, including the Bible, and they desired “to bring about a spiritual renewal and institutional reform of Christian society.”10 From Petrarch on, there were humanists who met all of these requirements, although their desires for institutional reform were subtle compared with 16th-century ultramontane writers such as Erasmus of Rotterdam.

Francesco Petrarch, 1304–1374

Petrarch was born in Tuscan Arezzo (1304), but spent most of his childhood and youth, after 1312, in Carpentras (near Avignon), where his father obtained a bureaucratic position with the papacy.11 Hence, he provides an example of those aspiring writers mentioned previously and of the anxiety inherent in the ranks of these writers, notaries, and bureaucrats.12 Simultaneously, Petrarch was a victim of the doubts and cynicism raised by the Avignon “captivity” of the Church. In fact, we know that he was a strong opponent of the Avignon papacy and a supporter of the rebellion led by Cola di Rienzo in 1347 in an effort to restore the Roman Republic.13

Recent scholars writing about Petrarch have focused on religiosity. Alexander Lee, for example, shows Petrarch’s great interest in the content of Augustine’s works.14 Petrarch applied the saint’s theology, particularly his moral theology. Petrarch was not just a great enthusiast for, and imitator of, pagan classical writers. He was not just interested in the experience of conversion in the Confessions. He did not hide the skeptical idea that nothing is certain in Cicero under Augustine’s authority.15 Augustine was his theological and ethical authority. For example, Petrarch took up the issue of predestination, knowing that Augustine promoted it in several of his works.16 Moreover, he used Augustine’s method for using the classics. Indeed, in On His Own Ignorance and That of Many Others (De sui ipsius et multorum ignorantia), 1368, he indicated through his interlocutor in the dialogue that he recognized that Cicero’s works were “marred by fabella about religion.”17 Later in the dialogue, he also indicated that he “certainly was not a Ciceronian or a Platonist, but a Christian.”18 One may also find in this treatise how Petrarch used Augustine as a model of how to criticize Aristotle,19 whose methods Petrarch despised.

We must turn to Petrarch’s most religious writings to better examine his interest in religion and understand his thinking. The Secret or Secretum (1324–1343; revised 1358) shows that Petrarch used classical and Augustinian sources to understand Christian theology and how to live a Christian life. As Prof. Risto Saarinen noted concerning this book: “Petrarch addresses the same problems of human will which had occupied Augustine and medieval scholastics.”20 Demetrius S. Yocum has also made a strong case that in the discussion of solitude in the treatise, one can see how the writing of this treatise constituted a means of finding an inner space for the kind of solitude and religious leisure that Carthusian monks enjoyed in their cells. In writing, Petrarch was making the place “for solitude as the existential dimension in which the self can find inner peace and salvation.”21 This represented the laicizing of a monastic privilege.

The Secret is divided into a prologue and three dialogues representing three separate days. The interlocutors, Franciscus and Augustinus, discuss Petrarch’s despair or “sickness.” The reader ultimately discovers that the interlocutors do not exactly represent Augustine and Petrarch. They are simply voices for the ancient authorities Petrarch thought provided the solution to his pressing anxiety and despair—Ideas of Cicero, Seneca, and Virgil are voiced in addition to those of Augustine. Franciscus represents Petrarch’s alter ego and the later Augustine, while Augustinus represents the early Augustine.

The reader learns that Franciscus has a “dangerous and persistent sickness,” (accidia),22 a “disease” that is bringing death. Augustine can help him because the saint is already his teacher and dear to Franciscus.23 Franciscus is very fearful because he cannot separate himself from worldly passions. So the mouth of Petrarch reveals that he suffers from a severe case of religious anxiety and doubts that he can overcome it on his own volition. This probably indicates a case of melancholy and provides an explanation of the weakness of the will (akrasia) known as the Augustinian variant.24 These admissions all point to Renaissance skepticism. Franciscus rejects Augustinus’s advice because there are many others like him suffering from “this crushing weight of grief,” who are also unable to overcome their worldly passions.25

De otio religioso (On Religious Leisure), c. 1357, provides another example of the religious nature of Petrarch’s work and of his use of Scriptures. It was written about a decade after a visit to the Carthusian monastery that his brother Gherardo had entered. The main theme has to do with the religious leisure that Carthusian monks enjoyed. He defined religious leisure as being liberated for religious purposes from the everyday cares of most men and women.26 Leaving the world is recommended in the book of Matthew.27 Using Scriptures, he affirmed that leisure for religious purposes is good.28 The monks have the leisure to worship, pray, study, and write about Scriptures, all truly more important than worldly work. Hence, they should not be discouraged by temptations and inner struggles, which last until death.

On Religious Leisure also warns against losing hope and faith in God’s promise, or doubting that He will be merciful because one does not merit it. Referring to passages in Psalms, Petrarch declared that such thoughts lead “to desperation, which is the worst of all evils.” “Let nothing terrify us: God’s power is not limited by any natural boundaries.” Moreover, “The mercy of God far transcends human misery and justice …”29 In religious matters, Petrarch explained, we must simply believe because they are beyond human comprehension. They are invisible (that is, not known through the senses). He cited Augustine who had warned against seeking miracles for the same reason.30 This became a central point of Valla’s rhetorical method. Moreover, Luther made this same epistemological point that one cannot have true knowledge of the world because, since the fall, “all of our faculties are leprous.”31

This treatise also reveals how Petrarch’s thinking pointed the way toward new epistemological and metaphysical understandings of Valla and Luther when, for example, he asserted that there are many matters that cannot be grasped by mortal minds or intelligence, “but only by faith.”32 Scholastic logic would not suffice. “If we believe only those things which we see, no one will see the immortal and invisible God, or indeed any spirits, or his own soul, or at length anything eternal because, as it has been written, ‘The things which are not seen are eternal.’” Petrarch continued: “there must be a difference between knowledge and faith.” Faith does not come from the human senses, which would make it “experience, not faith.” For faith, one must look only through the “eyes of the Apostles and the saints …”33 Luther had only sarcasm for scholastic attempts to explain sin. 34

Of course, this does not mean that Christians might not gain faith after hearing the reports of those apostles and saints. Moreover, Petrarch was moving toward understanding that “the mind itself is deformed by sin,” a position important to Luther, as just noted, although Petrarch was not completely consistent.35 Petrarch and later Valla were seeking a way to grasp the differences between the spiritual reality of Christians and the physical reality of the world, because, in their views, the alternative understanding of the scholastics, based on dialectical philosophy and the authority of Aristotle, was not acceptable to Christians.

Analyzing Petrarch’s The Secret, Religious Leisure, and Solitude, Demetrio S. Yocum finds very strong connections between Petrarch and the Carthusians. They share the emphasis on mercy and the interest in those theological issues just discussed. Yocum claims that the distinct solitary ascetic practices of the Carthusians “played a pivotal role in shaping Petrarch’s Christian humanist program of” self-care, self-training, and self-examination.36 Petrarch developed an idea of solitude for laypeople, a place where the laity, even in a noisy urban space, could find an “inner cell,” a place for “his encounter with the mystery of God and validation of his vocation as writer.”37 Petrarch possessed a breviary and practiced daily praying and keeping the monastic liturgies of the hours. Perhaps going beyond what can be proven, Yocum argues that Petrarch was trying to make writing a kind of liturgy for solitude with God.38 Still, Yocum shows that Petrarch shared much with the Carthusians, including the love and use of classics with Augustine correcting their pagan errors. Petrarch was promoting the religious life for those who lived outside of church or monastic walls by justifying a version of religious leisure he had discovered for all his readers to see.

What is found in The Secret and Solitude also shows us that Petrarch was subtly promoting religious and institutional change; namely, granting the practice of many religious acts and responsibilities to the laity. Theology could be studied and discussed by a layperson using rhetoric in one’s private study rather than the dialectic of the scholastics. Moreover, this laicizing of religious practices does represent a kind of secularization promoted by Italian humanism,39 but not the kind demanded by our contemporary humanists discussed previously. It is obvious that Luther’s well-known promotion of the priesthood of all believers and Bible study for the laity represented the fulfillment of Petrarch’s work.

Lorenzo Valla, 1405–1457

The grammarian and philologist Lorenzo Valla was born in Rome but spent most of his adult life wandering from one job or patron to another until gaining a position with the papacy late in life. A brilliant, contentious scholar, he wrote books that were meant to display his knowledge and challenge the prevailing views, even of fellow humanists. On the Elegances of the Latin Language (1440) accomplished this by claiming that Quintilian’s Latin style was superior to that of Cicero, the darling of the humanists. Valla was the beneficiary of the recent availability of a complete copy of Quintilian’s work on rhetoric, which emphasized the idea that a good orator must reveal wisdom or knowledge. In other words, elegant language was not enough: one’s reputation or character also determined whether one could move readers or audiences.

Valla’s treatise On the Donation of Constantine was meant to undermine the monarchical papacy. Valla proved that the so-called Donation of Constantine, which was used by the papacy to justify its temporal and spiritual power, was a forgery. Constantine did not grant power to the pope over the Western half of the Roman Empire. He used his remarkable knowledge of the meanings of words, grammar, and syntax, as well as historical criticism to prove this. An example of the historical criticism was his revelation of an anachronism: the author of the Donation spoke of the emperor’s satraps claiming they were more important than the Senate! There were no satraps and the Senate was second only to the emperor.40 This provides an example of a humanist desiring to change institutions as Petrarch did, but going further.

Perhaps Valla’s most radical book was the Dialecticae disputatio (1438–1439; second revision 1444), as Valla believed,41 because it was an attempt to replace philosophical logic with a kind of rhetorical logic that could be used to deal with matters of Christian faith. Hence, he used skeptical tools employed by the rhetorical method to serve the Christian faith. Because spiritual things (matters of faith) differed greatly from material ones, there must be a separate method for understanding them. Because words are lacking for divine topics, we can only use words for things created by God. Moreover, the common words (of ancient Latin usage) work better than the jargon of logicians. For example, one should speak of God as “essence,” not “substance,” because the latter applies to things known through the senses, such as a piece of wood.42 “So then, what God has willed to be hidden, let it be hidden, let us not be so titanically rash as Aristotle …”43

It is noteworthy that Valla also took aim at some of Aristotle’s ethical conclusions; for example, his teaching that the mean is equivalent to virtue.44 Valla also corrected scholastic theology when it fit into his discussion of method. For example, he touched on the problem of God’s foreknowledge and the freedom of the human will in the criticism of the concepts of contingency versus necessity in Aristotelian logic. God created man, wrote Valla,

by will and grace, not by necessity and contingently. The famous problem of God’s foreknowledge and the freedom of our will depends on this. I have already produced a book on it …45

Indeed, that book, Dialogue on Free Will (1438–1439), was similar to the Dialectical Disputations and also to On Pleasure. Dialogue on Free Will argued that one could not understand the doctrine philosophically or with human reason, because of the unavoidable logical contradiction between providence and free will.46 Valla’s point was that one can only understand such religious teachings in faith and humility, by affection. Valla was advocating a means of disregarding rhetorical skepticism in order to protect the mysteries of faith.

Probably the most important of Valla’s religious works was his first extant book, De Voluptatate, or On Pleasure (1431), which he revised as De vero bono, or On the True and False Good (1433 and 1445) to emphasize its religious purpose. It is a dialogue in which three interlocutors represent Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Christianity, respectively and try to prove their philosophy or religion superior to the others. The Christian interlocutor, who represents Valla’s views, declares that he “disapproves of both” the Stoic and Epicurean philosophies, though the Epicurean one less so.47 The book is, of course, contentious (one should remember that it was a dialogue, a debate).

It has also appeared offensive to those who objected to using the word pleasure or voluptas to describe the Christian’s love for God while in this world. Explaining this understanding of love for God through the Christian interlocutor, Valla stated:

Pleasure itself is love; but because it is God who creates pleasure, he who receives it loves, and what is received is loved. Loving itself is delight, or pleasure, or beatitude, or happiness, or charity, which is the final end goal for which all other things are.48

This understanding, continued Valla, disproved the notion that God should be loved for himself or that God was the “final cause,” a matter of philosophical language, a combination of Aristotelian and Stoic notions. Valla held that only those who had faith in Christ could hope for anything lasting. (Hence, all philosophies and religions prior to Christ failed to provide hope.) With faith and hope comes charity, “which is the love of God and our neighbor.”49

Valla’s interlocutor in section three attacked the neo-Stoic theology held by many humanists and the neo-Aristotelian theology of the scholastics, as Charles Trinkaus noted.50 Valla held that humankind required God’s grace for faith and virtue (honestas), or good character, otherwise he or she would be driven to worldly utility or desires. This belonged with his understanding of humankind as a creature governed by will whose end, with grace, is love and the fruition of love.51 Valla accomplished his goal with rhetorical methods. This work is full of examples of his criticism of the ethics and theology of classical, medieval, and contemporary authors with their “equivocations, reifications, false attributions of transitivity, and tautologies.”52

Valla also undertook a critical translation, Annotations on the New Testament (c. 1442–1443 and 1453–1457), printed later by Erasmus (1505), which proved to be a generative humanist contribution. It is an example of an attack on the Church, which held Jerome’s translation as authoritative. Valla corrected the Vulgate at several crucial passages used to support the Church’s theology and ecclesiology. For example, 1 Corinthians 15:10 supported the idea that “infused grace” equipped humankind to cooperate with God. Beyond showing the difference between the earlier Greek text and the Vulgate, Valla carefully explained the significance in the differences.53 He not only criticized the vulgate rendering of poenitentia and tristitia in 2 Corinthians 7:10, but denied that the “penance” in this passage supported the practice of penance instituted by the Church.54 Valla’s authorities were the Apostle Paul and Augustine.

A few words must be said about a sermon Valla delivered before the Dominicans of Rome in 1457, who were the very guardians and promoters of St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotelian scholastic logic. In what was entitled an encomium, or panegyric (on Thomas), Valla lectured them on how “the new theologians,” that is, Thomas and the Dominicans that followed him, misused language by inventing “new terms” or jargon, as well as terribly technical phrases, such as being, entity, quiddity, individuality, real, and essential.55 Showing how skeptical rhetorical skepticism could be, Valla told these philosophers that there is nothing “indubitable and certain” in philosophy.56

Valla furthered a strain of Christian humanism that began with Petrarch. This group sought to use rhetoric to study and spread a better understanding of Scriptures and early Christian writings. They sought to laicize the practice of Latin Christianity rather than leaving it a mostly clerical concern and privilege. Perhaps in some cases they did so unconsciously, but their writing ensured that the idea would spread to the growing lay reading public in towns. The desire of townspeople for increased religious participation can also be seen in the growth of confraternities during this period.

Luther was familiar with Valla’s works from the beginning of his career and spoke more favorably of him than other Italian humanists.57 Luther already cited Valla in his early work on the Psalms.58 He cited Valla’s Annotations on the New Testament in his own work on it.59 Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 cited Valla’s Dialecticae Disputationes.60 Finally, when Luther wrote his famous treatise on the freedom of the will against Erasmus position on the subject, he used Valla as an authority.61 Indeed, he held Valla on the level of Augustine.

Italian Neoplatonic Humanism

Neoplatonism during the Middle Ages and Renaissance represented an amazing combination of thought systems. Indeed, Renaissance philosophies were so eclectic that one must not exaggerate the differences between such seemingly distinct schools of thought as Neoplatonists, Aristotelians, and Hermeticists.62 The Neoplatonic cosmology and worldview pictured humankind living in a universe consisting of many different but common components, so that it was an interconnected whole. Humankind was a microcosm of that whole. Neoplatonism was dualistic. The dualism in humankind and the cosmos was that of mind (ideas, forms) versus matter (physical things, copies of the forms). The dichotomy of invisible versus visible things was considered equivalent, which presented a temptation to confuse the Platonic and Neoplatonic with the Christian view of reality. Obviously, then, mind was part of the cosmos, not separate or alien to it in any way, even though ideas were invisible to the senses.

Christian Neoplatonists, Aristotelians, and Hermeticists shared many ideas, which separated them from Luther’s Bible-based theology. An important commonality between Neoplatonists and Aristotelians was their belief in the so-called prisca theologia. Knowledge given to Adam before the Fall had been lost. With proper moral cleansing and the use of mystical incantations and Kabbalistic protections (magical formulas), one could regain this original knowledge.63 Because this method of attaining knowledge contradicted the methods of both the scholastics and the rhetorical humanists, it led to an epistemological crisis. Moreover, this mixing and matching of philosophies and religions raised the questions of what or who is the authority and how do we know. A sense of anxiety and doubt arose. Meanwhile, humanists were finding and making available copies of classical authors that taught the thinking of the ancient schools of skepticism, for example, the works of Diogenes Laertes, who revealed the ideas of the ancient skeptical schools and the idea of the prisca theologia.64

In addition to increasing skepticism, the humanists added classical Greek writings and language to their search for classical knowledge as they became available in the mid-15th century. Francesco Filelfo (1398–1481) introduced humanists to the Greek language and literature, and he also encouraged them to study Plato.65 Filelfo brought Greek books back to Italy, including the explanations of skepticism by Sextus Empiricus. Filelfo demonstrated how classical authorities like these could be reconciled with scriptural teachings. Filelfo seems to have been the first of this second strain of humanism.66

The main figure in the rise of Renaissance Neoplatonic humanism, however, was Marsiglio Ficino (1433–1499). Ficino translated Plato’s works, which meant that Platonic ideas were now readily available to the Latin-reading public in Western Europe. Ficino wrote his own books claiming to synthesize Neoplatonism with Christian teaching, however disparate they might seem to some. Still, one should probably say such work represented heterodoxy, not paganism.67 These ideas were all taught and discussed at Ficino’s Florentine Academy. Students came to study at the academy from all over Latin Europe. Ficino’s strain seems to have attracted more people, at least initially. This may have been due to Ficino’s academy, where he welcomed students, and to the political (monetary) support he and it enjoyed at Florence. Most of the ultramontane humanists studied there and took the ideas home with them.

Ficino’s synthesis was attractive at the time when humanists were beginning to realize that they themselves were a major cause of the increasing doubt and anxiety regarding humankind’s ability to know anything for sure. Moreover, the downgrading of logic and reason probably was seen as a threat to many people. Ficino offered certainty to the elite and to common townspeople because he showed that humankind and divinity were connected. As Brian Copenhaver noted, the “genius of Neoplatonism” was that it connected the divine and the world and made humankind the center of it all.68 It was not scholastic, but nevertheless logical and based on ancient authority. Plato replaced the despised Aristotle. This author found no references to Ficino in Luther’s writings.

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494) was another architect of the Neoplatonic humanist strain. Pico believed that the Jewish Kabbalah contained the original divine wisdom conveyed by a secretive oral tradition from Adam. Hence, he added Kabbalistic ideas to Ficino’s synthesis. According to Pico, Christ’s miracles were done using Kabbalistic formulae. Hence, it was the best means of combining the sources of ancient wisdom with Christian thought.69 Luther had very little to say about Pico, except that his heterodox views had been judged heretical by the papacy and that Pico considered Aristotle’s and Plato’s ideas very similar.70

Ultramontane or Northern Humanism

After the 1450s, large numbers of students from ultramontane Europe went to Italy, usually to earn degrees in law or medicine at universities famous for these subjects. There were hundreds of students from Germany alone who studied in Italy.71 As more humanists started gaining positions at these Italian universities, the northerners were attracted to humanist lectures. Becoming devotees of humanism, they made their way to the Florentine Academy, probably the most attractive place to study at that time. The University of Ferrara was also known for a curriculum that emphasized the liberal arts rather than the professions.72 Many students earned their professional degrees and then vented their passions to study classical literature, poetry, and history. Returning home, they spread humanism.

There were already some devotees of the classics in such remote places as Germany and England by the mid-15th century, although they were neither rhetorical humanists as defined above nor Neoplatonists. These early northern humanists promoted elegant rhetoric with poetry and prose modeled on the classics. Like all humanists, they looked to Petrarch as a model, but otherwise they preferred the Italian humanist writings of Boccaccio, Poggio, and Leonardo Bruni.

Rhetorical Humanists, the Path of Valla

Rudolph Agricola (1444–1485) was influenced by Lorenzo Valla, particularly by Valla’s Dialecticae disputationes.73 He did not follow the ideas of the Neoplatonists, Ficino, and Pico.74 A Frisian by birth, he studied in German universities before going to Italy to study law, in 1468, where he acquired a passion for the classical Latin and rhetorical style of Cicero and Quintilian. After beginning study in Italy, Agricola soon entered the University of Ferrara to pursue the humanities, remaining there until 1478. While in Italy, he demonstrated his respect for Petrarch by writing a biography of him. Agricola’s fellow humanists praised him for his “Italian style,” undoubtedly meaning his mastery of rhetoric and classical Latin, as well as his wide reading in Latin and Greek classics. Indeed, Erasmus of Rotterdam compared his style with Quintilian’s, a great compliment.75

Agricola’s great work, De inventione dialectica libri tres (1479), was certainly connected to Valla’s Dialecticae disputationes. Agricola’s famed dialectical method of finding “loci” (topics or commonplaces),76 had already been used by Valla.77 Agricola’s invention was simply the application of rhetoric to logic. The logical instruments were the parts of speech and four kinds of argumentation: syllogism, enumeration, enthymeme, and example.78 Agricola’s De inventione dialectica circulated as a manuscript until it was finally printed in 1515.79 It was widely revered and used during the 16th century. The book was only replaced by the Dialecticiae partitiones (1543) of the French humanist Petrus Ramus.

Agricola’s method, of course, also involved an attack on the scholastics. The rhetoric of Quintilian and Cicero provided the ancient skeptical tools necessary for undermining claims to absolute truth based on syllogistic logic. Agricola, like Valla, sought to replace the logic of the scholastics, based on Aristotle, with a rhetorical logic.80 Valla, however, was more determined to protect ethical and religious subjects than Agricola.81 On the other hand, Agricola did not attack Aristotle as strongly as Valla.82 Sixteenth-century writers noted the connections between Valla and ultramontane rhetorical humanists. Petras Gallandius (1551) identified a connection from Petrus Ramus back to Melanchthon, Agricola, and Valla, in that order, as did scholars at Oxford and Cambridge.83 Luther was indebted to Agricola for his books on dialectic and noted that he embraced necessary principles found in them and adopted by Melanchthon.84 Working with Melanchthon to teach a useful dialectic, Luther used the common points method of writing and teaching to spread the Lutheran message.

As indicated, Luther’s close associate Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560) was among those who followed Valla and Agricola.85 They shared distinct methods and motives. They all practiced “invention,” or the way to find “loci.” They all thought this method provided perspicuous meaning. All were focused on helping their students understand rather than learn how to use syllogistic logic. They wanted the reader to grasp the subject matter as presented by an author, not test its truth value logically. They all sought probable rather than absolute truth. However, only Melanchthon agreed with Valla and Luther that in matters of ethics and religion, the heart must be the focus. Rhetoric was therefore superior to dialectic because it could move the heart while dialectal logic appealed only to the mind. In addition, with Luther, only Melanchthon and Valla rejected the skeptical idea of probable truth in ethical and religious matters.86 Likewise, there were pedagogical and curricular similarities between Valla and the Wittenberg movement.87

Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466?–1536) was influenced by Valla, but he differed from the rhetorical path in important ways. Being more skeptical, he rejected any certain knowledge regarding the great metaphysical questions or the nature of reality. His great contributions to reforming the Church and the practice of Christian piety were The Handbook of the Christian Soldier (1503) and his new critical version of the New Testament (Novum Testamentum, 1516), in later editions, Novum Instrumentum, which added to the skeptical milieu of the period.88 The latter was more useful to all Christians. The former promoted heterodox ideas.

Although Erasmus’s worldview was Neoplatonic,89 it differed from that of Ficino and Pico, and he was also more skeptical. Erasmus considered himself a follower of Clement of Alexandria (150–220), Jerome (c. 348–420), and, especially, Origen (c. 185–254).90 Nevertheless, he held the Neoplatonic conception of a hierarchical cosmos. There were the higher invisible things and the lower visible ones, with people caught in both regions. Christian piety comprised attempting to escape the visible world in favor of the invisible one, where God dwelled “with the blessed minds.”91 Because God was a spirit, piety and worship must be spiritual.92 The Scriptures must also be interpreted spiritually, meaning allegorically.

Composed of spirit, soul, and flesh, humankind suffered a conflict between the upward drive of the spirit against the downward drive of the flesh. Erasmus attempted to synthesize the Apostle Paul’s “inner” and “outer man” with this Platonic dichotomy of reason against the passions. Hence, there was a complex dichotomy of reason, spirit, inner man, and law of the minds against flesh, body, outer man, and law of the members.93 Ultimately, Erasmus made the mind, ideas, and reason synonymous with spiritual things. These views separated him from those in the Neoplatonic path, as well as the rhetorical path and Luther. This may be seen in Luther’s strong attack upon Erasmus’s views, centered on the freedom of the will. From 1524 to 1526, Erasmus and Luther conducted a pamphlet war over freedom of the will.94 Luther continued to accuse Erasmus of being a skeptic years later.95

Neoplatonic Humanists: The Path of Ficino and Pico

Stimulated by the prodigious work of Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, with good Latin translations of ancient Greek and Latin writings, as well as the Kabbalah and Hebrew Scriptures, many ultramontane humanists joined the quest for the so-called prisca theologia. Following Ficino, they promoted religious universalism. All of the ancient prophets and philosophers, such as Plato, Zoroaster (or Spitama Zarathustra), and Pythagoras, were sources of the same divine truth or natural religion.96 The prophets, apostles, and Church fathers were not the only sources of divine truth for Christians.

They tended to share a distinct anthropology. They glorified humankind and considered humankind an ethically free agent. Some thought of humankind as the microcosm of the universe. Neoplatonists spiritualized Christian doctrines and practices because they thought of Christian piety as a struggle of the mind to control the flesh.97 Mysticism and magic floated into the mix with the inclusion of the Kabbalah in the quest for knowledge. While Luther saw religion as a matter of the heart, the Neoplatonists tended to see it as a matter of the mind.

Conrad Celtis (Konrad Bickel, 1459–1508), beginning in Agricola’s camp, became a strong advocate of the Neoplatonic path, and especially Pico’s ideas. After studying at several German universities, he spent a brief two-year period in Italy, where he visited several intellectual centers, including Ficino’s Platonic Academy and the Platonic Academy at Rome. A short period at Cracow studying the natural sciences, astronomy, and mathematics ended because of an adulterous affair with a nobleman’s wife. He then took a position in Ingolstadt and later in Vienna.

For his earliest work, Ars versificandi (The Art of Versification), he was crowned a poet laureate, as Petrarch had been. Basically a wandering poet, Celtis was best known for his poems dedicated to erotic love modeled after the classics. His major work was the Four Books of Love, (c. 1497), which contained undisguised some of the poet’s own affairs; he hypocritically used them to castigate the clergy for such behavior.98 The book also revealed Celtis’s commitment to Kabbalism, involving the use of numbers and geography. He wrote that because he doubted that God worked in or cared for the world, he had turned to committing adultery.99

In addition, Celtis promoted the medieval Neoplatonism of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. Love was the means to rise up to God. Human love was the same as divine love, binding together the entire universe. This view was shared by Reuchlin and Mutian.100 But Celtis doubted truths of the Christian faith and rejected the sacraments, while other Neoplatonic humanists limited their attacks to the externalization of Christianity. Religion should be internal, not so formal, with less concern for the mechanical practice of ceremonies.101 Given the heterodox views and unchristian behavior of Celtis, it should come as no surprise that Luther did not mention or cite him.

Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522) was another admirer of Ficino and Pico. He believed in the idea of the cosmos as a hierarchical chain of being, in which humankind was enthroned at the center. One required only to find the truths of that prisca theologia to tap the power in it. Following Pico and like Giles of Viterbo, Reuchlin used occult means revealed in the Kabbalah. Erasmus severed his connections with Reuchlin over the latter’s commitment to the occult, magic, and Kabbalism.102 Very similar to Pico and Giles of Viterbo, Reuchlin thought that the alphabetical letters in the Books of the Law were connected to powerful celestial-spiritual emanations. One required only to know how to tap into this source of power.103

The theme of doubt can be seen behind Reuchlin’s thinking. One historian has suggested that because Reuchlin saw hidden and double meanings in words and writings, he lacked criteria for establishing truth.104 His belief in a secret oral tradition surely worked against finding criteria by which to judge truth in Scripture. Hence, he claimed that no one could know God or His thoughts, “unless he has the spirit of God within him.”105 Expressing great doubt, Reuchlin held that one could not understand God or His will, except perhaps “spiritually” or magically, through manipulating words and letters: “The more I think of it, the less I understand.”106

Reuchlin was the author of a book on the Hebrew language and a brief vocabulary book. This work was useful to all those who wished to access the Old Testament in its original language. Luther found Reuchlin’s Hebrew grammar and vocabulary books useful. But Luther specifically rejected Reuchlin’s Kabbalist ideas.107

Mutian (Conrad Muth, Mutianus Rufus; 1471–1526) was an influential ultramontane humanist who followed the path of Ficino and Pico. He studied and lectured at Erfurt before going to Italy to study law at Bologna and Ferrara, taking a doctorate in canon law from the latter. He undoubtedly took the time to study and make connections at other intellectual centers before returning to Germany in 1503. After briefly serving as councilor to the Hessian Landgrave, Mutian procured a living as a canon of the Augustinian church at Gotha, where he sought “blessed tranquility,” a motto he emblazoned over the door of his house.108

Mutian was famous in his time for his mastery of classical languages, including Hebrew, and his knowledge of classical literature. He never published a book, but some of his work must have circulated, for Luther consulted some of his translations of the Hebrew Scriptures.109 Mutian was a renowned teacher and “an inspired Pedagogue.”110 His house in Gotha became the center for an intellectual sodality, whence he influenced students and friends face to face and by correspondence.

Mutian was a committed follower of Ficino, a Neoplatonist, for whom religious teachings were the subject matter of philosophy, that is, the love of wisdom and the contemplation of divine things. By contemplating divine things one could rise up to the divine. As a Neoplatonist, Mutian thought the spirit of God was all that mattered. He considered Christianity a matter of ideas and ethics.111 Therefore, Mutian spiritualized or reduced Christian teachings to matters of human ideas and ethics. The spirit of Christianity was love, which allowed one to rise. This spirit was in the human mind, not in the body.

Moreover, Mutian supported the notion of a natural or universal religion, the prisca theologia. In a letter of 1505, he wrote the following:

There is only one god and one goddess (unus deus et una dea), but there are so many divinities (numina) like names (numina): for example: Jupiter, the Sun (Sol), Apollo, Moses, Christ, the moon (Luna), Ceres, Proserpina, the Earth, Maria.112

All philosophers and prophets, even the Qur’an should be consulted in the quest for divine wisdom.113 These Neoplatonic views were heterodox, if not clearly pagan and unchristian. Luther claimed that Mutian did not believe in God or Christ.114

Considering his views, it is not difficult to understand why his correspondence contains criticism of outward things, such as the rites of fasting, practices such as oral confession, use of relics, or overindulgence in food and drink by the clergy. Mutian described his life as a canon as just “murmuring with the murmuring,”115 a reference to the numerous liturgies in which canons were required to participate. He criticized even the donations that common people made to the Church: “God does not want wheat bread, sacrificial cake or animals, candles, cheese, eggs, money, or empty prayers,” but rather “justice, faith, innocence, chastity, abstinence, and the rest of the virtues.”116 Nevertheless, he did not support changing the Church’s theology or practices because, the common folk “must be deceived” in order to keep them in line.117 No wonder Mutian rejected Luther’s reforms. Luther certainly consulted Mutian’s biblical translations, but he could not accept the humanist’s heterodox views. He wrote that Mutian was an Epicurean and doubted the existence of God.118

Review of the Literature

The 19th century viewed Renaissance humanism as a secularizing movement intent upon adopting pagan classical values and culture in place of medieval Christian ones. Georg Voigt (1859) and Jacob Burckhardt were the standard bearers until the mid-20th century.119 Paul O. Kristeller was the first to seriously challenge the older view in the 1940s. Kristeller established the idea that Renaissance humanism was not the same thing as 20th-century humanisms and that few, if any humanists were non-Christians. But he tended to see it as a literary movement transitioning from the medieval to modern times. His views are still well known and held, at least in part, by Ronald Witt and Robert Black in their important recent works.

Witt has traced some of the roots of Renaissance humanism back to the notaries, dictatores, secretaries, and bureaucrats of expanding Italian towns during the 12th and 13th centuries. Black has focused on changes in the educational system, where he points to a continuity in grammatical instruction from the 12th to the 15th century. Witt and Black agree that Renaissance humanism was a literary phenomenon, following Kristeller.

In 1970, Charles Trinkaus published a two-volume study that brought more substantial questioning to the older views. His In Our Image and Likeness revealed the religious nature of much Renaissance humanist thought. Trinkaus strongly challenged the very root of the 19th-century view of the movement as anti-church and anti-religious or an early stage of 20th-century humanisms.

Since that time, two trends have furthered the work of Trinkaus and shown a more detailed understanding of the religious nature of Renaissance humanism. First, there have been a number of studies on individual Italian humanists. Carol E. Quillen has shown that Petrarch was a close follower of Augustine of Hippo.120 Alexander Lee and Demetrio S. Yocum reveal Petrarch as a religious reformer.121 Salvatore I. Camporeale has done much the same in Valla’s case.122

Second, since the late 1970s, excellent studies by Victoria A. Kahn, Lisa Jardine, and Maristella de Panizza Lorch have demonstrated how the methods of ancient skepticism were integral to the rhetoric of Cicero and Quintilian used by the Renaissance humanists. They were simultaneously useful to oratory, writing, and interpretation, but also threatening to Christian faith.

Most work on ultramontane or northern humanism and humanists has been done on the national level. The tendency prior to the mid-20th century was to support national aspirations. The Germans, for example, claimed that humanism was of indigenous origins. Since the 1950s, however, virtually all writers see Renaissance humanism as Italian in origin. In 1963 Lewis W. Spitz provided the best book on northern humanism to date.123 Eckhard Bernstein’s work is also useful.124 Bernstein also recently published a German-language study on Mutian.

In terms of need, much more work should be done on ultramontane humanism. More studies of individual ultramontane humanists is also a major desideratum. Finally, it is to be hoped that much more will appear in English on these individual humanists.

Further Reading

Bernstein, Eckhard. German Humanism. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1983.Find this resource:

Camporeale, Salvatore I., O. P. Christianity, Latinity, and Culture: Two Studies on Lorenzo Valla. Edited by Patrick Baker and Christopher S. Celenza. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2014.Find this resource:

Jardine, Lisa. “Humanism and the Teaching of Logic.” In The Cambridge History of Latin Medieval Philosophy. Edited by N. Kretzman, A. Kenny, and J. Pinborg, 793–807. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1982.Find this resource:

Jardine, Lisa. “Lorenzo Valla: Academic Skepticism and the New Humanist Dialectic.” In The Skeptical Tradition. Edited by Myles Burnyeat, 253–286. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.Find this resource:

Jardine, Lisa. “Humanistic Logic.” In The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy. Edited by C. B. Schmitt, Q. Skinner, and E. Kessler, 173–198. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1988.Find this resource:

Junghans, Helmar. Der junge Luther und die Humanisten. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1985.Find this resource:

Kahn, Victoria. Rhetoric, Prudence, and Skepticism in the Renaissance. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985.Find this resource:

Lee, Alexander. Petrarch and St. Augustine: Classical Scholarship, Christian Theology, and the Origins of the Renaissance in Italy. Leiden, The Netherlands; and Boston: Brill, 2012.Find this resource:

Mazzocco, Angelo, ed. Interpretations of Renaissance Humanism. Leiden, The Netherlands; and Boston: Brill, 2006.Find this resource:

Nauta, Lodi. “Lorenzo Valla and Quattrocento Scepticism.” Vivarium 43 (2006): 375–395.Find this resource:

Petrarch, Francesco. On Religious Leisure (De Otio Religioso). Translated and Edited by Susan S. Schearer. New York: Ithaca Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Seigel, Jerrold E. Rhetoric and Philosophy in Renaissance Humanism: Ciceronian Elements in Early Quattrocento Thought and Their Historical Setting. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968.Find this resource:

Spitz, Lewis William. The Religious Renaissance of the German Humanists. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963.Find this resource:

Trinkaus, Charles. In Our Image and Likeness. 2 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.Find this resource:

Yocum, Demetrio S. Petrarch’s Humanist Writing and Carthusian Monasticism: The Secret Language of the Self. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2012.Find this resource:


(1.) Ronald G. Witt, “Kristeller’s Humanists as Heirs of the Medieval Dictatores,” in Interpretations of Renaissance Humanism, ed. Angelo Mazzocco (Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2006), 22; and Witt, In the Footsteps of the Ancients; The Origins of Humanism from Lovati to Bruni (Leiden, The Netherlands; and Boston: Brill, 2000), passim.

(2.) James Hankins, “Religion and the Modernity of Renaissance Humanism,” in Interpretations, 136.

(3.) See Ronald Witt, “Petrarch and Pre-Petrarchan Humanism: Stylistic Imitation and the Origins of Italian Humanism,” in Humanity and Divinity in Renaissance and Reformation: Essays in Honor of Charles Trinkaus, eds. John W O’Malley, Thomas M. Izbicki, and Gerald Christianson (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1993), 76–77.

(4.) John F. D’Amico, “Humanism and Pre-Reformation Theology,” in Renaissance Humanism: Foundations; Forms and Legacy, ed. Albert Rabil Jr. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988), 3: 351–352.

(5.) Eugene F. Rice Jr., “The Renaissance Idea of Christian Antiquity,” Renaissance Humanism, 1: 17.

(6.) Hankins, “Religion and Modernity,” in Interpretations, 139.

(7.) Schreiner, “‘The Spiritual Man Judges All Things’: Calvin and the Exegetical Debates about Certainty in the Reformation,” in Biblical Interpretation in the Era of the Reformation, eds. Richard A. Muller and John L. Thompson (Grand Rapids, MA: Eerdmans, 1996), 189; Berndt Hamm, “Normative Centering in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries: Observations on Religiosity, Theology, and Iconology,” trans. John M. Frymire, Journal of Early Modern History 3 (1999): 310–313. See also William J. Wright, Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdom: A Response to Skepticism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 45–46 for more bibliography.

(8.) Lewis W. Spitz, The Religious Renaissance of the German Humanists (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966), 278.

(9.) Wright, Luther’s Understanding, 46–47, where the author first established these definitions. See also Lodi Nauta, “Lorenzo Valla and Quattrocento Scepticism,” Vivarium 43 (2006): 375–376.

(10.) Charles G. Nauert, “Rethinking ‘Christian Humanism,’” in Interpretations, 155. Nauert wrote this in an article about northern humanism, but the present author thinks it fits many earlier humanists, too.

(11.) Francesco Petrarch, The Secret with Related Documents, ed. & trans. Carol E. Quillen (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2003), 12.

(12.) See Witt, “Kristeller’s Humanists,” in Interpretations, 25–26 on political involvement of 13th-century notaries.

(13.) Roberto Weiss, The Spread of Italian Humanism (London: Huchinson, 1964), 25–26.

(14.) Alexander Lee, Petrarch and St. Augustine: Classical Scholarship, Christian Theology, and the Origins of the Renaissance in Italy (Leiden, The Netherlands; and Boston: Brill, 2012), 20–21.

(15.) Lee, Petrarch and Augustine, 16.

(16.) Lee, Petrarch and Augustine, 58.

(17.) Lee, Petrarch and Augustine, 53 citing David Marsh, Quattrocento Dialogue: Classical Tradition and Humanist Innovation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), 272.

(18.) Lee, Petrarch and Augustine, 53 citing Marsh, Quattrocento Dialogue, 272; and Francesco Petrarch, “On His Own Ignorance and That of Many Others,” in The Renaissance Philosophy of Man, eds. Ernst Cassirer, Paul Oscar Kristeller, and John Herman Randall Jr. (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1948), 115.

(19.) Petrarch, “On His Own Ignorance,” 75–76.

(20.) Risto Saarinen, Weakness of Will in Renaissance and Reformation Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 44.

(21.) Demetrio S. Yocum, Petrarch’s Humanist Writing and Carthusian Monasticism: The Secret Language of the Self (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2012), 32.

(22.) Petrarch, Secret, 90.60. Editor Quillen indicates Petrarch’s 14th-century Latin word for his condition was accidia or melancholy, hopelessness, apathy. Cassel’s Italian Dictionary defines it as sloth, laziness, and indolence, which is very different.

(23.) Petrarch, Secret, 46–47.

(24.) See Saarinen, Weakness of Will, 46–50.

(25.) Petrarch, Secret, 49–51.

(26.) Francesco Petrarch, Petrarch on Religious Leisure (De otio religioso), ed. & trans. Susan S. Shearer (New York: Italica Press, 2002), 14.

(27.) Petrarch, On Religious Leisure, 19.

(28.) Petrarch, On Religious Leisure, 144.

(29.) Petrarch, On Religious Leisure, 38.

(30.) Petrarch, On Religious Leisure, 76–77; and Charles Trinkaus, In Our Image and Likeness (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1970), 1: 28–30, 38.

(31.) WA 42:49; LW 1:66. See also WA 42:23; LW 1:30; WA 42:43, 3; LW 1:3–4; WA 40/I:445; LW 26:285–286.

(32.) Petrarch, On Religious Leisure, 63.

(33.) Petrarch, On Religious Leisure, 75–76, citing 2 Cor. 4:18; Augustine of Hippo, Of True Religion 3. 3.

(34.) WA 40/II:371–372; LW 26:285–286.

(35.) Petrarch, On Religious Leisure, 99–102; but see the contrast when citing classical writers in this and the previous chapter.

(36.) Yocum, Petrarch’s Humanist Writing, 5.

(37.) Yocum, Petrarch’s Humanist Writing, 30.

(38.) Yocum, Petrarch’s Humanist Writing, 35–36.

(39.) Riccardo Fubini, Humanism and Secularization: From Petrarch to Valla, trans. Martha King (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2003), 3, 43, 45; and Witt, Footsteps of the Ancients, 231.

(40.) See Lorenzo Valla, The Treatise of Lorenzo Valla on the Donation of Constantine, trans. Christopher B. Coleman (Toronto, Buffalo, NY; and London: University of Toronto Press, 2000, reprint 1922), 85–87.

(41.) Peter Mack, ed., Renaissance Argument: Valla and Agricola in the Traditions of Rhetoric and Dialectic (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1993), 27, 108–109.

(42.) Lorenzo Valla, Dialectical Disputations, eds. & trans. Brian P. Copenhaver and Lodi Nauta (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), Bk I, chap. 8, pp. 93–95.

(43.) Valla, Dialectical Disputations, Bk I, chap. 8, p. 95.

(44.) Valla, Dialectical Disputations, Bk I, chap. 10, p. 141.

(45.) Valla, Dialectical Disputations, Bk II, chap. 19, p. 141.

(46.) Victoria Kahn, “Rhetoric of Faith and the Use of Usage in Lorenzo Valla’s De libero arbitrio,” in Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 13 (1983): 106–107. See the translation by Charles Trinkaus, “Dialogue on Free Will,” The Renaissance Philosophy of Man, eds. Ernst Cassirer, Paul O. Kristeller, and John H. Randall, Jr. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), 155–182.

(47.) Lorenzo Valla, On Pleasure = De Voluptate, eds. and trans. A. K. Heiatt and Maristella de Panizza Lorch (New York: Abaris Books, 1977; Italian 1970), 265.

(48.) Valla, On Pleasure, 275.

(49.) Valla, On Pleasure, 263, 267–269, 275, 281. Valla made the same point in Valla, Dialectical Disputations, Bk I, chap. 10, p. 161.

(50.) Trinkaus, Image, 1: 126; and For an alternative viewpoint see John Monfasani, “The Theology of Valla,” in Humanism and Early Modern Philosophy, eds. Jill Kraye and Martin W. F. Stone (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), 7–8.

(51.) Trinkaus, Image, 1: 116, 126–127.

(52.) Nancy S. Struever, “Lorenzo Valla: Humanist Rhetoric and the Critique of the Classical Languages on Morality,” in Renaissance Eloquence: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Renaissance Rhetoric, ed. James Jerome Murphy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 192–193, 194, 200.

(53.) Jerry H. Bentley, Humanists and Holy Writ (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983), 56–57.

(54.) Bentley, Holy Writ, 64.

(55.) Lorenzo Valla, “In Praise of St. Thomas Aquinas,” in Renaissance Philosophy: New Translations [of] Lorenzo Valla, Paul Cortesa, Cajetan [Thomas de Vio], ed. and trans. Leonard A. Kennedy (The Hague: Mouton, 1973), 23–24.

(56.) Valla, “In Praise of St. Thomas,” 22–23.

(57.) Morimichi Watanabe, “Luther’s Relations with Italian Humanists: With Special Reference to Ioannes Baptista Mantuanus,” Lutherjahrbuch, 54 (1987): 37; and Jan Lindhardt, “Valla and Luther on Free Will,” Widerspruch. Luthers Auseinandersetzung mit Erasmus von Rotterdam, ed. Kari Kopperi (Helsinki: Luther-Agricola Gesellschaft, 1997), 49.

(58.) WA 4:183, 33–34.

(59.) WA 57/III3:9, 13–15.

(60.) WA 59:412, 10.

(61.) WA 18:640, 8–10.

(62.) Charles B. Schmitt, Aristotle and the Renaissance (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 102–103.

(63.) Schmitt, Aristotle and Renaissance, 95–96.

(64.) Charles B. Schmitt, “The Rediscovery of Ancient Skepticism in Modern Times,” in The Skeptical Tradition, ed. Myles Burnyeat (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 233–235.

(65.) Helmar Junghans, Der Junge Luther und die Humanisten, (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1985), 202–205.

(66.) Junghans, Der Junge Luther, 202–205.

(67.) See Alison Brown, “Reinterpreting Renaissance Humanism: Marcello Adriani and the Recovery of Lucretius,” in Interpretations, 267–268.

(68.) Brian Copenhaver, Renaissance Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 144.

(69.) Joseph Leon Blau, The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1944; 1965), 20–21; and Catherine Swietlicki, Spanish Christian Cabala: The Works of Luis de Leon, Santa Teresa de Jesus and San Juan de la Cruz (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1986), 1–2.

(70.) WA 1:611, 37–40; LW 31:157; and WA 31/I:516, 37–38.

(71.) Eckhard Bernstein, German Humanism (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1983), 7.

(72.) Bernstein, German Humanism, 48.

(73.) Erika Rummel, The Humanist-Scholastic Debate in the Renaissance and Reformation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 156; Mack, Renaissance Argument, 114–116; Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine, From Humanism to Humanities: Education and the Liberal Arts in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Europe (London: Duckworth, 1986), 168; and Lisa Jardine, “Lorenzo Valla and the Intellectual Origins of Humanist Dialectic,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 15 (1977): 147–148. For the only dissenting opinion see John Monfasani, “Lorenzo Valla and Rudolph Agricola,” in Language and Learning in Renaissance Italy (Aldershot, U.K.: Variorum, 1994), 185–189.

(74.) See Spitz, Religious Renaissance, 17, 21, 39.

(75.) Bernstein, German Humanism, 48.

(76.) Robert Kolb, “Teaching the Text: The Commonplace Method in Sixteenth-Century Biblical Commentary,” Bibliotheque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 49 (1987): 575.

(77.) Rummel, Humanist-Scholastic Debate, 156–158; Nancy S. Struever, “Lorenzo Valla: Humanist Rhetoric and Critique of the Classical Languages on Morality,” Renaissance Eloquence, ed. James Jerome Murphy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 203; Lisa Jardine, “Humanism and the Teaching of Logic,” in The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 799–801; and Wright, Luther’s Understanding, 80–81.

(78.) E. J. Ashworth, Language and Logic in the Post Medieval Period (Dordrecht, The Netherlands; and Boston: D. Reidel, 1974), 10–11; and James Overfield, Humanism and Scholasticism in Late Medieval Germany (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 88, 90–93.

(79.) Ashworth, Language and Logic, 10–11.

(80.) Lisa Jardine, “Lorenzo Valla: Academic Skepticism and the New Humanist Dialectic,” in The Skeptical Tradition, ed. Myles Burnyeat (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 147–148; Jardine “Humanism and Teaching Logic,” 798–799; and Maristella de Panizza Lorch, “Lorenzo Valla,” Renaissance Humanism 1: 338–340.

(81.) Rummel, Humanist-Scholastic Debate, 172–173; Ashworth, Language and Logic, 13; and Monfasani, “Valla and Agricola,” 192–193.

(82.) Rummel, Humanist-Scholastic Debate, 168–170.

(83.) Grafton and Jardine, From Humanism to Humanities, 168; and Jardine, “Humanism and Teaching Logic,” 801.

(84.) WA 60:143, 6. See also WA 10/II:330, 2.

(85.) Heinz Scheible, Melanchthon: Eine Biographie (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1997), 140–141; and Quirinus Breen, Christianity and Humanism: Studies on the History of Ideas by Quirinus Breen, ed. Nelson Ross (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1968), 98–99.

(86.) Rummel, Humanist-Scholastic Debate, 156, 154–155, 172–173; Jardine, “Humanism and Teaching Logic,” 801; Breen, Christianity and Humanism, 478–479; Grafton and Jardine, From Humanism to Humanities, 135–138; Ashworth, Language and Logic, 84; Michael Bjerknes Aune, To Move the Heart: Philip Melanchthon’s Rhetorical View of Rite and Its Implications for Contemporary Ritual Theory (San Francisco: Christian University Press, 1994), 10–11, 15, 18–20, 238; and Kolb, “Teaching the Text,” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 49 (1987): 575–577.

(87.) See Wright, Luther’s Understanding, 82–83.

(88.) Spitz, Religious Renaissance, 278; and John Barton Payne, Erasmus: His Theology of the Sacraments (Richmond, VA: M. E. Bratcher, 1970), 13, 82.

(89.) See Payne, Erasmus, 220.

(90.) Disiderius Erasmus, “The Enchiridion (The Handbook of the Christian Soldier),” in Advocates of Reform from Wyclif to Erasmus, ed. Matthew Spinka, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, Library of Christian Classics 16 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953), 304–305; and Spitz, Religious Renaissance, 278.

(91.) Erasmus, “The Enchiridion,” in Advocates of Reform, 332–333, 349.

(92.) Erasmus, “The Enchiridion,” in Advocates of Reform, 349.

(93.) Erasmus, “The Enchiridion,” in Advocates of Reform, 316.

(94.) See Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, trans. James Schaaf (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985–1993), 2:236–237 for the pamphlet war and bibliography.

(95.) WA 30/III:531, 30–31.

(96.) Spitz, Religious Renaissance, 286–288.

(97.) Spitz, Religious Renaissance, 277–281.

(98.) Bernstein, German Humanism, 63–66.

(99.) Leonard Forster, ed., trans., and commentary, Selections from Conrad Celtis, 1495–1508, (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1948), 7–8, 77.

(100.) Lewis Spitz, Conrad Celtis: The German Arch-Humanist (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957), 3–4, 50–52; Forster, Selections from Conrad Celtis, 74–75; and Spitz, Religious Renaissance, 91–92, 286–287.

(101.) Spitz, Religious Renaissance, 286–287.

(102.) Brian Vickers, “Analogy versus Identity: The Rejection of Occult Symbolism, 1580–1680,” in Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the Renaissance (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 106; and Charles Zika, “Reuchlin and Erasmus: Humanism and the Occult Philosophy,” Journal of Religious History (Sydney) 9 (1997): 223–246.

(103.) Francis Barham, The Life and Times of John Reuchlin or Capnion, the Father of the German Reformation (London: Darton, 1840), 53, 102–103; Joseph Leon Blau, The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1944), 45; and Spitz, Religious Renaissance, 67, 70–72.

(104.) Barham, Life and Times of Reuchlin, 101.

(105.) Blau, Christian Interpretation, 45.

(106.) Johann Reuchlin, On the Art of Kabbalah = De arte Cabalistica, trans. Martin Goodman and Sarah Goodman (New York: Abaris Books, 1983), 121, 123; cited in Spitz, Religious Renaissance, 74.

(107.) See LW 11:459 and LW 26:290.

(108.) Eckhard Bernstein, Mutianus Rufus und sein humanistischer Freundeskreis in Gotha (Colonge: Böhlau, 2014), 65.

(109.) LW 29:125; and Lectures on Hebrews 2:7, 1517–1518.

(110.) Bernstein, Mutianus Rufus, 14.

(111.) Spitz, Religious Renaissance, 140–150.

(112.) Bernstein, Mutianus Rufus, 323, quoting Karl Gillert, ed., Der Briefwechsel des Conradus Mutianus Geschichtsquellen der Provinz Sachsen und angrenzender Gebiete 18 (Halle, Germany: Hendel, 1890), Nr. 15; the author’s translation from the German.

(113.) See Bernstein, Mutianus Rufus, 326, citing Gillert, Briefwechsel Mutianus, Nr. 335; and Spitz, Religious Renaissance, 146–147.

(114.) Table Talk (December 1532), LW 54:69; and WA TR 2:627, nos. 2741a and b.

(115.) Bernstein, Mutianus Rufus, 17, 321.

(116.) Bernstein, German Humanism, 94, citing Carl Krause, ed, Der Briefwechsel des Mutianus Rufus (Kassel, Germany: Handel, 1990), 460.

(117.) Bernstein, German Humanism, 94, citing Krause, Briefwechsel Mutianus Rufus, 353.

(118.) WA TR 1:186–187, no. 432; LW 54:69, no. 274; WA TR 2:627, nos. 2741a and b; and WA TR 2:627 nos. 2741a and b.

(119.) Weiss, The Spread of Italian Humanism.

(120.) Francesco Petrarch, The Secret with Related Documents, ed. & trans. Carol E. Quillen (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2003).

(121.) Lee, Petrarch and Augustine; and Yocum, Petrarch’s Humanist Writing.

(122.) Salvatore I. Camporeale, Christianity, Latinity, and Culture: Two Studies on Lorenzo Valla, ed. Patrick Baker and Christopher S. Celenza (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2014).

(123.) Lewis William Spitz, The Religious Renaissance of the German Humanists (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963).

(124.) Eckhard Bernstein, German Humanism (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1983).