The scholars of western political thought have confidently asserted that both Renaissance and Reformation are inextricably connected. If there were no Renaissance, Reformation could not get the opportunity to find its proper progress.
Renaissance considerably broadened the mind and outlook of man. Being enlightened by reason and rationality, man came out of the darkness of the Middle Ages. The development of reason and rationality put man on a different stage.
He came to believe that the practices and behaviour of the church and the Pope were absolutely responsible for the decaying condition of the religious world.
As a result of Renaissance people came to believe that religion was a personal affair and they have the right to lead their religious life in accordance with their own reason and belief and the church or the Pope have no power to dictate them. By asserting this, people started to go according to their own reason.
This condition helped the leaders of Reformation to rise against the enormous power and influence of the church. Martin Luther and Calvin properly utilised the situation to challenge the authority of the church.
It is true that Renaissance prepared the field, and the leaders of the Reformation, especially Martin Luther and Calvin sowed the seeds of reforming the church. Under such situation we have actually very little scope to separate Renaissance from Reformation. Again we hold the view that Reformation would never be possible without Renaissance.
The whole issue is a continuous process. The issue is to enlighten the mind of the people, to free their mind from all sorts of superstition and unreasonable ideas and concepts.
A relevant comment of Ebenstein is:
In the field of religious thought and experience, the Renaissance opened the gates to a new religious world through the Protestant Reformation.
Renaissance helped Reformation in other ways also. The international relations and trade increased as a result of Renaissance. People of different-parts of the globe came in close contact which broadened their mind and outlook. Renaissance prepared the field for the rise and development of nationality and reasonability in their mind. They refused to be guided by orthodox religion and dictates of church.
Simultaneously, the Reformation Movement removed the unreligious stigma (at least partially) from the body of Christianity. The liberal aspects of Christianity received wide support from the people of other countries.
Renaissance encouraged people to sail to other countries for trading purposes and these people carried with them the reformed Christianity. The world civilisation, liberation, economic progress and development in trade all advanced forward simultaneously. Man was released from darkness un-reasonability by the Renaissance. He was again freed from religious orthodoxy Reformation. The two—pronged attack launched by Renaissance and Reformation created a new world—a world of liberalism, a world of free thought and free trade.
In his Rise of European Liberalism Harold Laski says:
“The contrast between the eager merchant and the avaricious landlord of the Tudor Age, on the one hand, and the priest and the monk on the other, left no doubt of the result of the struggle for the wealth of the church. When, at the Council of Trent, the papacy awakened to the need for reform, it was already too late. For by that time, it had lost the half of its empire. The new men were in the saddle. The new terms of exploitation had been laid down. It was no longer for the new spirit to make its term with the church. It was now the business of the church to make its terms with the new spirit.”
Both Renaissance and Reformation radically changed the economic and religious scene of the world.
Impact of Renaissance and Reformation on Political Theory
Both Renaissance and Reformation turned the academic, intellectual and even the political worlds of whole Europe upside down. The superstition, religious conservativeness and narrowness of mind and outlook underwent drastic changes.
It has been observed by a critic that Renaissance and Reformation Movement penetrated at every level of superstitious beliefs. People of all walks of life changed their belief and outlook.
They did not, it is true, throw away their beliefs about God and religion but the obstinacy in attitude was considerably relaxed and this was due to Renaissance and Reformation. The scientists and social reformers challenged the time-old views and ideas.
People began to view everything with inquisitiveness and scientific mind. Unscientific views and concepts were faced with unprecedented challenge. There was also a change in the political world. People were conscious of their right and obligation. They demanded more and more rights and privileges from the authority.
Religious beliefs and faiths were replaced by materialistic outlook and in this field Thomas Hobbes is really a harbinger. According to several scholars of Western political thought he was the first man who introduced materialism or materialist outlook in political science.
Chris Harman says:
“The conservative political theorist Thomas Hobbes published a thoroughly materialist book Leviathan which combined attacks on the notion of religious miracles”.
Severe attacks against superstition, conservativeness, unscientific views and concepts began to pour and all these combined built up a solid foundation for new world of thought, faith and belief.
Renaissance and Reformation ruthlessly removed superstition and enlightened the faith, belief and outlook. New thought and outlook were not confined in any particular field, it spread almost too all the sections of society and some people call it catch-all effects.
That is, not a single sector or part of society remained out of the catch-all effects or category. Natural scientists, philosophers, historians, economists and political scientists and theorists all made sincere and serious efforts to make contribution to their respective fields.
Their contributions were radical in nature. People of all walks of life began to think and feel that their society was defective and it must be changed. This feeling was almost universal and serious people came under its influence.
Voltaire’s Candide caricatured brilliantly the existing situation, beliefs and faiths. Philosophers Descartes in France, Spinoza in Holland, and Leibniz in Germany were all convinced that reason would prevail everywhere and guide all activities and thoughts. This inflicted a serious attack upon the prevailing thought system. This is called rationalism or rationalist philosophy.
Many thinkers declared that every conclusion must be based on empirical observation. That is, every decision must be supported by facts or physical incidents. Voltaire and Montesquieu of France supported empiricism.
In the period of Enlightenment, Voltaire once said; encrasezl’ infame—crush the infamy. These words he uttered against the superstition of religion.
Gibbon in England wrote a pioneering work the Decline and fall of the Roman Empire which was a scathing attack on the influence of the Christian church.
All these thinkers were unanimous at least in one respect and that was everything was changing and therefore society must be changed to cope with the new situation.