Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Christian humanism, as a philosophical tendency that has been traced back to the 12th century at least, is grounded in the mystery of God as present in history as a human being, Jesus, and secondly, on several teachings of Jesus, as found in the New Testament. The term has also been applied to the thought of Catholic theologian Jacques Maritain.
Christian humanism usually signifies a fundamental 'human-centeredness' as a basic value. It does not, however, elevate ordinary human beings to the status of deities, or deny the primacy of God. It does celebrate humanity, and place the serving of one's fellow human beings as one of the highest Christian duties.
According to sociologist Robert Bellah, such a perspective is characteristic of the 'modern' stage of religion, in which "man in the last analysis is responsible for the choice of his symbolism" (Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditional World [San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1970], p. 42).
James Davison Hunter believes that Christian humanism carries within it a potential for reaching across the metaphysical divide separating the two sides of what he calls "the American culture war," in which one side places moral authority in something transcending the individual, and the other places moral authority in personal human experience ("The American Culture War," in Peter Berger, ed., The Limits of Social Cohesion: Conflict and Mediation in Pluralist Societies [Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998], p. 6).
Selected Humanist Teachings of Jesus
The Second Great Commandment
Unto the Least
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand
"Come, ye blessed of my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat:
I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me:
I was sick, and ye visited me:
I was in prison, and ye came unto me."
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying,
"Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee?
or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in?
or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them,
"Verily I say unto you,
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren,
ye have done it unto me."
- Matthew 25:34-45
Christian humanism is first of all a movement for widened learning that emerged out of the Renaissance and was brought by devoted Christians to the study of the philological sources of the Greek New Testament. This project was undertaken at the time of the Reformation in the work of Erasmus of Rotterdam (who remained a Catholic), Martin Luther (who was an Augustinian priest and led the Evangelical Reformation, translating the Scriptures into his native German), and John Calvin (who was a student of law and theology at the Sorbonne where he became acquainted with the Evangelical Reformation, and began studying Scripture in the original languages, eventually writing a text-based commentary upon the entire Christian Old Testament and New Testament except the Book of Revelation). John Calvin was the most prominent of the many figures associated with Reformed Churches that proliferated in Switzerland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and portions of Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, and Poland. Each of the candidates for ordained ministry in these churches had to study the Christian Old Testament in Hebrew and the New in Greek in order to qualify. This continued the tradition of Christian humanism.
The broader tradition extends the zone of usage of the term "Christian humanism." and continues to be used widely to describe the vocations of Christians active in the discipline of Humane Letters and who serve on Humanities faculties of colleges and universities. Many authors of novels and poems, writing in the Twentieth and Twenty First centuries can be described as "Christian humanists" in this derived sense, although not necessarily knowing any Hebrew or Greek or Latin, or holding any involvement in translating Scripture. Many teachers of literary criticism also call themselves "Christian humanists," and understand literary values as including those of gentility, morality, and faith-perspective. Novelists of the preceding generation identified in this manner were Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Flannery O'Connor.
W.J. Bouwsma, John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait
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