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Humanism and Theology in Renaissance Florence

Four Examples (Caroli, Savonarola, Ficino, and Pico)

Verbum
Author: Amos Edelheit

The argument in this article is that we should not make clear-cut distinctions between humanism and philosophy or theology, and between the humanists and their contemporary scholastic theologians and philosophers, in the Florentine context of the second half of the fifteenth century. The relations between these two groups were complicated and included, beyond obvious differences, also mutual influences, not always discussed in detail among modern scholars. Starting from the known controversy between Eugenio Garin and Paul Oskar Kristeller regarding the nature of the humanist movement and its relations with philosophy, I then move-on to present four examples: the first two deal with "scholastic" theologians and preachers, the Dominicans Giovanni Caroli and Girolamo Savonarola, in whom I emphasize the humanist bias; the last two deal with humanist philosophers, Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, in whom I emphasize the importance of religion and theology for the understanding of their philosophy.

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1. The Trend of Legal Humanism and Ancient Laws. 2. Natural Law and Research in the Relation of Laws of Antiquity

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Abstract  

The essay discusses, in chronological order, three important black texts on race: DuBois’s 1897 speech “The Conservation of Races,” Charles Johnson’s collection of essays Being and Race (1988) and, finally, Paul Gilroy’s critical assessment of postcolonial identity politics in Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line (2000). Though in ways significantly differing, all of these texts struggle to undo the limitations of racialized discourse and, in its stead, introduce new forms of theorizing racial differences. Rather than being grounded in biological or even cultural differences, here race appears to be geared to variations of behavior that need to be conceptualized with respect to highly ideological structures of perception. Since postcolonial texts on race usually respond to longstanding assumptions about the nature and role of racial differences in human society, I begin by briefly delineating the history of the race concept as it evolves from late eighteenth through the nineteenth-century seems appropriate.

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In the framework of an European program that I direct — which is devoted to the enhancement of the humanist heritage of the Upper Rhine region (Southern Germany, Northern Switzerland and Alsace), that is the humanistic editions of the Greek and Roman authors held by the libraries —, a curious work to be found in the University Library of Basel has come to my attention. Indeed, I would like to speak about some aspects of the humanist reception of Virgil and more specifically of his Bucolica, concerning the form as well as the content.

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Some of the manuscripts and books of the Hungarian humanist, Johannes Sambucus (1531–1584) are still kept in Vienna, in the Austrian National Library. A source of information puts a new light on the sale and reception of his library. In his last will made in 1583, Sambucus left his library, the manuscripts he still owned and his maps to his son, in 1584, not long after his death, his widow started negotiations about selling them to the Emperor Rudolf II. However, the data clearly suggest that Sambucus’ library did not become en bloc part of the Imperial Library, if the purchase took place at all: only 44 years after Sambucus’ death was a certain part of his library bought by Sebastian Tengnagel for both the Imperial Library and himself. Another result of the research confirms that the philologist Sambucus cannot be separated from the book and manuscript collector Sambucus, and the examples presented here justify why it is worth involving in the research the extant books of the Hungarian humanist.

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In this article we have an overview of the life and activity of Pier Paolo Vergerio, an Italian humanist who lived for 26 years in Hungary, at the court of Sigismund of Luxemburg. The Author shows the relations of Vergerio with contemporary other Italian humanists, specially Coluccio Salutati and indicates possible connections with the second generation of Humanism in Hungary.

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Modern humanism, in the form of Marxism and existentialism, is humanism without God where the present-day man has lost his transcendental sources. These novel, "post-modern" philosophies have created a new mythology, i.e. the myth of existence (Sein) and ontology. In the 20th century, ontology is no more the science of the existent but that of the existence. According to Heidegger, all previous philosophy forgot about existence, beclouded being. In my essay I aim to show that the accusation of forgetting about being is valid exactly for the new, fashionable philosophies. They constantly refer to "existence", whereas in fact they narrow it down to material and perceptible existent (the matter) or the subjective existent (the human being), i.e., they are concerned with the existent and not existence itself. And this is the root of the tragedy of modern man. With regard to Christian tradition, and thus Thomism-neo-Thomism, ontology had indeed been the science of the existent (ens). However, an in-depth analysis shows that existence (esse) and not the existent stands at the core of St. Thomas's teachings. Hence the accusation of Heidegger is not valid for Aquinas. As a matter of fact, St. Thomas elaborated an extraordinary ontology even in a "post-Heideggerian" sense. St. Thomas himself is going to be our guide in this treatise. We might as well say that Aquinas himself answers the problems of existence of present-day man. One can build an undistorted humanism upon this ontology, which avoids the one-sidedness and immanentism of both materialism and subjectivism. The Christian humanism of the man open to existence, to God, is the unspoilt heritage of Saint Thomas.

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In the previous research, two periods were distinguished in the history of the intellectual connections between the Low Countries and Hungary in the early modern age. The first period, terminating at the beginning of the 17th century, was characterized with the impact of Renaissance Humanism, while in the second one, lasting from the 1620s to the end of the century, Cartesian philosophy and Puritan theology were mentioned among the effects reaching Hungary. This paper deals with the traces of the intellectual and literary history of Hungary and Transylvania that can be connected to the extensive philological scholarship practiced at the universities of the Netherlands. The Hungarian crowd of students invading the university of Leiden from the end of the 1610s — the university which was in the contemporary frontline of philological reflection and was also exceptional in the field of philological practice — faced the consequences of philological conceptions, especially of those permeated from Latin Humanism into the field of theology either gaining validity there or provoking intense discussion. This way, the effect of the Dutch Humanism did not decrease in this second period but — on the contrary — it just reached the zenith of its expansion and significance, being synthesized in a broader education programme.

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The author’s monograph published in Hungarian in 2001 was the first attempt to give an overview of the theme of King Matthias Corvinus in Slovenian folk tradition and literature. This study provides some further details on this subject, suggesting a new interpretation of traditional folk texts about King Matthias Corvinus as texts of collective memory, collective narrative and collective identity. The myth of King Matthias Corvinus as a saviour strongly condenses how this exceptional soldier and possible crusade leader, who vanquishes the unbelievers and heretics, liberated this part of Europe from barbarism and instilled in it the spirit of humanism and the Renaissance.

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