Renaissance Concepts Of Man And Other Essays

A central emphasis was on man's “similitude” to God, which in the Greek word of the Septuagint, homoiosis, connoted the dynamic process of becoming like God, or Platonic “assimilation.” Man's creation in the divine “image” indicated his original state of perfection, whereas, after the Fall, man was involved, through the Incarnation, in a process of movement toward a restoration of the “image” in a heavenly state, finally fulfilling man's creation in the image and likeness of God. Regarding the soul as a “mirror,” Gregory of Nyssa teaches that by “seeing” and “knowing” God in one's self, by assimilation, man becomes like God, theopoiesis or theosis, moving from homoiosis or praxis of virtue and purification to theoria or gnosis in an infinite mystical progression.

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Moreover, Renaissance humanists found in Cicero another even more precise depiction of the excellence of the human species, and this one also derived from Stoic-Middle Platonist Greek sources, most likely Posidonius.

After discussing the rationality, design, and providential character of the cosmos as a whole and its inanimate and animate parts, the Stoic, “Balbus,” presents his arguments “that the human race has been the especial beneficiary of the immortal gods” (De na- tura deorum II, 54-66).

The principal contributions of the Greek Fathers to the development of this theme were made by Clement of Alexandria and Origen in proximate dependence on Philo, and by Basil and Gregory of Nyssa in less direct dependence on him.

Although important variations were present among them, all four were heavily influ- enced by Platonism.

30): But in every investigation into the nature of duty, it is vitally necessary for us to remember always how vastly superior is man's nature to that of cattle and other animals: their only thought is for bodily satisfactions....

Man's mind on the contrary, is developed by study and reflection....In his commentary on Genesis, The Mosaic Creation Story (De opificio mundi), Philo stresses that the divine image in man is the mind.Molded after the archetype of the Mind of the universe, the human mind is like a god in man.From this we may learn that sensual pleasure is wholly unworthy of the dignity of the human race Passages such as this were well known to the Italian humanists, and following Cicero's precedent, they were able to identify the dignity of man with humanitas itself, the quality of being most truly human which was to be acquired through the study of the liberal arts—the studia humanitatis, from which they derived their name.The notion of the dignity of man is thus in its origins linked with the Petrarchan ideal of the viri illustres stressing high civic or military achieve- ment to be attained through emulation of Roman heroes, i.e., with the pursuit of glory or fame.Whether it is a direct trans- position of the ideas of Posidonius or a Ciceronian synthesis of other sources, it was to have a direct and powerful influence on Renaissance humanist treatises on the dignity of man.But long before this happened, in antiquity, this cluster of ideas was blended with biblical conceptions of the nature and role of man in the universe within the history of the Judeo-Christian tradition.It was, however, the teachings of the Latin Fathers which, through the depth of their influence within the Western theological tradition and through the constant availability of texts, contributed in the most formative way to the development of the Renaissance idea of the dignity of man.The great and dominating figure was, of course, Augustine of Hippo.But prior to Saint Augustine significant differences from the strongly established Greek theological tradition became appar- ent in the works of Tertullian, Arnobius, Lactantius, and Ambrose.Greek patristic thought in its depend- ence on Platonism tended to regard the creation in emanationist terms, so that in a sense the presence of the divine image in man was an estrangement of the divine nature; the reformation of man toward his divine origins, after the Fall, through incarnational grace, was a return to an original perfection.

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