History has shown us how civilizations evolve over time. Broadly interpreted, the age of Diocletian marked a decisive stage in the transition from the classical, the Greco-Roman, civilization of the ancient Roman Empire to the Christian-Germanic civilization of the early Middle Ages. Similarly interpreted, "the age of the Renaissance marked the transition from the civilization of the Middle Ages to the modern world"(Ferguson 1). Therefore, the Renaissance is the beginning of the modern world and modern government.
In law the tendency was to challenge the abstract dialectical method of the medieval jurists with a philological and historical interpretation of the sources of Roman Law. As for political thought, the medieval proposition that the preservation of liberty, law, and justice constitutes the central aim of political life was challenged but not overthrown by Renaissance theorists. They contended that the central task of government was to maintain security and peace. Machiavelli maintained that the creative force (virtj) of the ruler was the key to the preservation of both his own position and the well-being of his subjects, an idea consonant with contemporary politics.
Italian city-states were transformed during the Renaissance from communes to territorial states, each of which sought to expand at the expense of the others. Territorial unification also took place in Spain, France, and England. The process was aided by modern diplomacy, which took its place beside the new warfare when the Italian city-states established resident embassies at foreign courts. By the 16th century, the institution of permanent embassies spread northward to France, England, and the Holy Roman Empire.
Renaissance churchmen, particularly in the higher echelons, patterned their behavior after the mores and ethics of lay society. The activities of popes, cardinals, and bishops were scarcely distinguishable from those of secular merchants and political figures. At the same time, Christianity remained a vital and essential element of Renaissance culture. Preachers, such as San Bernardino of Siena, and theologians and prelates, such as Sant'Antonino of Florence, attracted large audiences and were revered. Moreover, many humanists were concerned with theological questions and applied the new philological and historical scholarship to the study and interpretation of the early church fathers. The humanist approach to theology and scripture may be traced from the Italian scholar Petrarch to the Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus; it made a powerful impact on Roman Catholics and Protestants.
Some medievalists contend that the inflated eloquence and dull neoclassicism of much humanist writing undermine the claim that the Renaissance was a turning point in Western civilization. Although these contentions are valid to some degree, the Renaissance clearly was a time in which long-standing beliefs were tested; it was a period of intellectual ferment, preparing the ground for the thinkers and scientists of the 17th century, who were far more original than the Renaissance humanists. The Renaissance idea that humankind rules nature is akin to Sir Francis Bacon's concept of human dominance over nature's elements, which initiated the development of modern science and technology. Medieval notions of republicanism and liberty, preserved and defended with classical precedents by Renaissance thinkers, had an indelible impact on the course of English constitutional theory and may have been a source for the conception of government espoused by the Founding Fathers of American constitutionalism. Above all, however, "the age of the Renaissance marked a decisive stage in the transition from Middle Ages to the modern world"(Ferguson 1).
Morgan, Michael. Classics of Moral and Political Theory. Indianapolisis:
Hacket Publishing Company, 1992. 417-419.
Ferguson, Wallace. The Renaisance. New York: Harper & Row Publishing Inc.,