THE AUGUSTINIANS AND HUMANISM (4)
Most representatives of humanism preserved their close connection with the Church, although a few isolated forerunners of the coming Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century already made their appearance.
The seeds of this religious revolution were sown by the lampoons and libidinous poems of such men as Poggio Bracciolini, Antonio Beccadelli and Lorenzo Valla.
Humanism was planted in Germany by Petrarch during his residence there as ambassador to Charles IV, with whom he corresponded after his departure.
It has been stated by a recent medieval scholar that the Order of Augustine fostered some of the most mercurial and original minds of the later Quattrocento (fourteenth century) in Italy.
There had been – mainly in Florence and Rome – the scholars and authors Denis of Borgo San Sepolcro O.S.A. (died 1342), Bartholomew of Urbino O.S.A. (died 1350), Jean Coci O.S.A. (died 1364), Martino da Signa O.S.A. (died 1374?), Cardinal Bonaventure Baduario da Padova (Padua) O.S.A. (died 1385), and Luigi Marsigli O.S.A. (died 1394).
But humanism in Augustinians was not confined to Italy. In France, Jacques Legrand O.S.A. (1360 – 1415), a preacher of national fame, had a favorable attitude to this new cultural movement. His life as a writer coincided with the years in which the humanistic current began to emerge among the cultured and aristocratic classes of his country. He was such an eloquent preacher that John of Montreuil, "the first French humanist", confessed that he was dazzled by Legrand, listening to him "for six hours, in a sermon on Good Friday.
In his writings, especially his principal work Sophilogium, Legrand demonstrated an ability to harmonize an appreciation of the values of cultural antiquity with the postulates of the Christian faith. His rapport with antiquity was far from merely utilitarian.
He did not propose the simple subordination of classical culture to the service of the Church. Instead, persuaded that the aspirations of humanism extended to all sectors of contemporary life, he integrated what was truly great and beautiful in classical antiquity with traditional Christian thought.
Another French Augustinian contributor to humanism was John Coci.
While humanism and the Renaissance in Italy, France, and Germany was often oriented toward the past, with naturalist and pagan tendencies, in Spain humanism showed that it could fully serve the cause of Christianity, and do so in a grand style. In his prose works, Fray Luis de Leon O.S.A. (1527 - 1591) succeeded in harmonizing erudition and precise exegetical analysis with a classical elegance of literary form. His original poetry, unsurpassed in Spanish literature, united deep religious sense, intense inspiration, and beauty of style. In this category are his Vida del cielo, Noche serena, En la Ascension, and A nuestra Senora, etc.
Two Augustinians in England have their place in English literature as humanists: John Capgrave O.S.A. (1393 – 1464) and Osbern Bokenham O.S.A. (1393 – 1467).
It is important to bear in mind that, unlike some Franciscans (mendicants in the religious order founded by Francis of Assisi), both the Augustinian conventual members and observant members had no division among them about the value of secular learning.
The humanistic movement found favourable reception and encouragement everywhere.
The humanists of the Renaissance had to consider whether pagan virtues had anything to offer the Christian culture of Europe, and decided that virtue was culturally neutral.
Many followed the earlier advice of Saint Basil. He suggested, "Imitate the bees, who select only from certain flowers and take what is useful to them, but leave everything else behind."
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