Western civilization is remarkable for the alternation of free spiritual movements throughout its history, from the monastic era to the movement towards the international and supra-national monarchy, to the intellectual synthesis of scholasticism, to the cultural movements that have traversed the former Empire since the time of the Renaissance. These, together, have contributed to the emergence of a common cultural consciousness evident in common educational goals, common spiritual ideals, and common political and social values. To this day, the Renaissance figures as the emergence of Europe, of that international order of culture aiming at the final stage of civilization for the common brotherhood of man, and in fact, the recognition of his final end within the temporal society: God.
True, the Renaissance presents with an orientation that is at once humanistic and artistic, it proposes man – and not God – as the center of social activity, intending to form an order that promotes human flourishing and the development of those virtues that contribute to the political life. In sum, it reposes on the re-discovery of nature, and of the marriage between Greek philosophy and Roman life, to the point, that, particularly in Italy, the two traditions are identified as one, visible eminently in the artistic measure of the Renaissance, where the Greek principles of art and architectural design, and the literary patrimony, are infused into the religious thought of Renaissance Italy.
In Florence, Italy, this movement takes its origin. Here, the first canons of art are implemented, with the earnestness and the clarity characteristic of the period – from this period, come the great literary genius of Petrarch, Erasmus, Lorenzo Valla and the famous artists of Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli and more. The Renaissance mind, is inherently, inquisitive and curious, with a fresh spirit of discovery that is concerned with an investigation of nature and of the techniques that allow for a faithful depiction of, a realism that forms the foundation of all artistic activity. In this context, natural science develops primarily from the conception of anatomy, from an attention to the mimesis of the processes of nature – Leonardo da Vinci with his study of anatomy and his inventions, is particularly important to note and contributes greatly to the progress of science within the period.
From the Thomistic synthesis, and the new Franciscan attitude coupled to the poetry of Dante, the Renaissance establishes its concern for the natural world. The discovery of nature is particularly evident in the sculptures of Michelangelo, in the linear perspective in art palpable in the paintings of Raphael, and in the design of cathedrals and churches. The human person awakens to the consciousness of being part of a natural world that has metaphysical value, sensible, and beautiful; this is a realization that ultimately leads to the excesses of the Scientific Revolution, as the emphasis on nature leads to the unfortunate delegation of religious faith, a demotion from true religious belief to Deism, and finally, in the 19th century, to the atheism of scientific materialism.
The Renaissance, in reality, is a cultural achievement, that testifies to the Catholic religion, in its power of providing a source of unity and of being the cause of a certain transcendence, of that quality that transfigures the traits of temporal life – Catholicism, is inherently a religion of universality, that in the rationality of the Incarnate Word, the Logos, seeks those elements of culture that are alive and rational, proposing to incarnate its purpose in their cultural life: the regeneration and the unity of the human race, the incarnation of spiritual purpose into history, the transcendence of the temporal life into eternity, the marriage to consummate Beauty with civilization and culture.