The Long List of Representatives of the Humanistic Period. There was a revival of scholasticism,—Paulus Barbus Socinas (d. 1494), Cajetan (d. 1534), Ferrariensis (d. 1528), Melchior Cano (d. 1560), Dominicus de Soto (d. 1560), Dominicus Banez (d. 1604), John of St. Thomas (d. 1644), Vasquez (d. 1604), Toletus (d. 1596), Fonseca (d. 1599), Suarez (d. 1617), John the Englishman (d. 1483), Johannes Magistri (d. 1482), Antonius Trombetta (d. 1518), Maurice the Irishman (d. 1513). Among the Humanists were Pletho, Bessarion (d. 1472), Lorenzo Valla (d. 1457), Marsilio Ficino (d. 1499), Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (d. 1494), Francesco Pico della Mirandola (d. 1533), Theodore of Gaza (d. 1478), Agricola (d. 1485), George of Trebizond (d. 1484), Justus Lipsius (d. 1606), Schoppe (b. 1562), Paracelsus (d. 1541), Reuchlin (d. 1522), Fludd (d. 1637), Montaigne (d. 1592), Charron (d. 1603), Sanchez (d. 1632), Pomponatius (d. 1530), Achillini (d. 1518), Nifo (d. 1546), Petrus Ramus (d. 1572), Scaliger (d. 1558). The Italian nature philosophers were Cardano (d. 1576), Telesio (d. 1588), Patrizzi (d. 1597), Bruno (d. 1600), Campanella (d. 1639). The notable scientists were Cusanus (d. 1464), Copernicus (d. 1543), Tycho Brahe (d. 1601), Kepler (d. 1631). The Protestant Mystics were Luther (d. 1546), Zwingli (d. 1531), Franck (d. 1545), Weigel (d. 1588), Boehme (d. 1624). The political philosophers were Macchiavelli (d. 1527), Thomas More (d. 1535), Jean Bodin (d. 1597), Gentilis (d. 1611), Althusius (d. 1638), Hugo Grotius (d. 1645).
As examples of the first epoch of the Renaissance2 we have selected Cusanus (1401–1464), Paracelsus (1493–1541), and Bruno (1548–1600). These three men will represent fairly well the wide interests of this epoch, and more especially its neo-Platonic spirit and its methods. The reader will see from their dates that the lives of these three philosophers nearly cover the Humanistic Period. Cusanus lived during the last half century of the Middle Ages and the first decade of the Humanistic Period; Paracelsus’s life covers the middle of the Humanistic Period; Bruno lived during the last part of the period, and his death (1600) coincides with the last year of the period. All three were neo-Platonists. They had been so impressed with the nature-world that had opened before them that they were mystic nature-worshipers—pantheists, to whom neo-Platonism became the truest philosophical standard. All three were scientists in different degrees. Yet Cusanus, the cardinal of the church, and Bruno, the speculative philosopher, contributed more to science than Paracelsus, who aspired to medical science. This seeming inconsistency in their lives is not difficult to explain. Paracelsus merely reflects the science of the time; while Cusanus and Bruno anticipate the Natural Science Period—the one by his empirical discoveries, the other by his mystic speculations which were almost prophecies.
Nicolas of Cusa (1401–1464). Modern German scholars place Nicolas of Cusa (Nicolas Cusanus) with Bacon and Descartes, as the leaders of the modern philosophical movement. Nicolas lived two hundred years before Descartes and one hundred years before Bacon. The German estimate of him shows at least that he was modern in his thought, although he belongs in time to the Middle Ages for the most part. He lived when the Middle Ages were passing over into the Renaissance. His principal work, the Idiota, was published in 1450, when the Renaissance was on the threshold. He was certainly a forerunner of modern times. He was a German, a cardinal, and is now reverenced by liberal Catholics as one of their deepest thinkers.
Cusanus was a scientist of no small merit. He died before the great discoveries were made; but he anticipated Copernicus in his belief that the earth rotated on its axis; he anticipated Bruno in conceiving space to be boundless and time unending; he proposed a reform in the calendar; he was the first to have a map of Germany engraved. He condemned the prevalent superstitions of the church and the use of magic in explaining nature events. Thus he anticipated the science of the time of Bacon, Hobbes, and Descartes, and transcended his own period.
In other respects Cusanus belongs in this period with Bruno and Paracelsus. He did not seek to discover a new method; but he turned back to the revived traditional Greek systems for an explanation of the “new world.” He found in the mystic numbers of Plato and the Pythagoreans the principle of all scientific investigation. The world of nature phenomena must be accounted for by the spiritual world. Cusanus uses almost the identical language of Bruno, when he says that the world is the mirror of God and that man is an epitome of the universe. In the neo-Platonic spirit of the Humanists, he regarded the world as a soul-possessing and articulate Oneness. Although a scientist, he conceived science to be only a conjecture, which in its unreality reveals the inner interconnections of the real world—the world of the spirit.
Paracelsus (1493–1541). Paracelsus did not transcend his time as did Cusanus. He merely expressed it. He was the exponent of its science as Bruno was the representative of its poetic speculation. Paracelsus was a much-traveled Swiss, who tried to reform the practice of medicine by a kind of magical chemistry. The poet Browning makes his adventures the basis of a poem. As a physician Paracelsus could employ the magic arts without much danger of the charge of heresy, for the practice of the magic art was theoretically justified by the neo-Platonism of the time. The Faust of Goethe is at first a Paracelsus. The universal spirit behind nature presents itself in an infinite number of spiritual individuals. Nature facts are to be understood and mastered by understanding the activities of these spiritual forces. In this way medicine became a brewing of tinctures, magical drinks, and secret remedies. It was an alchemy which grew to the proportions of a science. The alchemists of the time expected to discover a panacea against disease, which would give them the highest power. This is the meaning of the “philosopher’s stone,” which was to heal all diseases, transmute everything into gold, and bring all spirits into the power of its possessor. Paracelsus thus turned back to Greek hylozoism for the truth about physiology and the cure of disease; and he met with some degree of personal success, for his physics had many adherents both in theory and in practice.3
In the neo-Platonic manner Paracelsus conceived the world as fundamentally a developing vital principle (Vulcanus). Man is this cosmic force individualized (Archæus). The laws that operate in the world are the same as in man, except that in man they are hidden. The study of nature’s laws, as they lie open, will reveal how those same laws operate in a human being. Now the vital principle in nature manifests itself in three realms: the terrestrial, the astral or celestial, and the spiritual or divine. The Archæus or vital principle in man must have the same realms of activity. There is man’s body, which gets its strength from the terrestrial realm of nature; man’s mind, which is nourished by the stars; man’s soul, that feeds on faith in Christ. Perfect health, therefore, consists in the sympathetic interaction of these three realms in man. A complete medicine consists of physics, astronomy, and theology.
But Paracelsus was a chemist, and the terrestrial nature of man was his peculiar interest. The theologian may prescribe for the human soul, and it is the duty of the astronomer to care for the human intellect; but the practical physician must understand the human body. Here is the Archæus imprisoned in the gross terrestrial body! It is in continual warfare with that body. What is the nature of that body which is so hostile to the human vital principle? Here Paracelsus introduces his strange chemical analysis which characterizes him as a Renaissance physician. Nature has three essences of which all bodies are composed: (1) mercury, that makes bodies liquid; (2) sulphur, that makes them combustible; (3) salt, that makes them rigid. These essences are compounded in such a way that from them the four elements—earth, air, water, and fire—are derived. Each one of these elements is controlled by elemental spirits. The earth is controlled by gnomes, the water by undines, the air by sylphs, and the fire by salamanders. Thus the chemical analysis of Paracelsus discovers four sets of spirits with which the physician is obliged to deal. Gnomes, sylphs, undines, and salamanders are in warfare with the human vital principle for control. When the Archæus is in any way checked by these, there is disease; when the Archæus has them under control, the man has health. The medicines that the physician administers are determined by their effectiveness in helping the Archæus in its battle against the hostile spirits. This makes medicine a field for the magician in the control of spirits.
Giordano Bruno (1548–1600). The neo-Platonic spirit of the Humanistic Period reached its most complete development in the æsthetic philosophy of Giordano Bruno. He sang the world-joy of the æsthetic Renaissance. Italy ordained him priest, exiled him as heretic, and then burned him at the stake as recalcitrant. Italy has produced very few great speculators since his day. The Council of Trent met when he was fifteen years old; already the counter-Reformation had begun in Italy, and Italy was soon to become an intellectually arid waste. The influence of Bruno appears in Spinoza and perhaps in Leibnitz. His one contribution to modern science was in his inspired conception that because God is infinite, the world is infinite in space and time. The philosophers who influenced his thought were Pythagoras, Plato, Plotinus, and Lucretius.
The fundamental thought of the Humanistic Period was expressed by Bruno in his imaginative conception of the divine beauty of the living All. Poet as well as philosopher, he was consumed by a love for nature as a beautiful religious object. He revolted from all asceticism and scholasticism. The “new world” in which he found himself was to him the emblem of God. The thought of that chief of neo-Platonists, Plotinus, of the beauty of the universe had never been so sympathetically regarded as by the Renaissance; in the hands of Bruno this beauty became the manifestation of the divine Idea. Philosophy, æsthetics, and religion were identical to him. To express his thought he employed the usual neo-Platonic symbol of the all-forming and all-animating light. Bruno was no patient student of natural phenomena as such, but a lover of the great illumination of nature facts by the great soul behind them. He was not interested in any single group of phenomena, as was Paracelsus; but he loved them all as a religion. Not only externally but internally is the universe an eternal harmony. When one gazes upon it with the enthusiasm of a poet, its apparent defects will vanish in the harmony of the whole. Man needs no special theology, for the world is perfect because it is the life of God. Bruno is a universalistic optimist and a mystic poet. Before this cosmic harmony man should never utter complaint, but should bow in reverence. True science is religion and morality.
Since Bruno conceived no theodicy (proof of the goodness and justice of God) to be necessary, he did not define in exact terms his conception of God. Nevertheless, to escape the charge of atheism, he distinguished between the universe and the world. For him God = the universe = nature = matter = the principle immanent in the world. The “world,” on the other hand, = the sum-total of nature phenomena. The “world” is the body of God, and God is the soul of the “world.” God is natura naturans; the world is natura naturata4. Just as the sum of the parts of man’s body does not equal the man himself, so to identify God with the totality of objects of nature is atheism in the true sense. It is to make God a finite being, although very big. In opposition to this, Bruno conceives God as the one substance manifesting himself through all things. This is to magnify God and to make him really omnipresent.
Nevertheless, Bruno is involved in all the inconsistencies of the Mystic. In a neo-Platonic fashion he frequently speaks of God as if he were a plural number of atoms. God is not only the world unity, but in every particle of the world is He writ small. The elements of the world are monads, and each is the mirror of the All. The Absolute is the primal unity; and yet in the paradoxical fashion in which the neo-Platonist is so successful, Bruno says that all creation is unfolded out of God and is included in him. The speculative poet is so in love with the world that he does not stop to make consistent the distinctions which he has drawn. The natura naturans and the natura naturata, the unity and plurality of the world, are the two aspects of the reality in his own life—and that reality is God.