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Roots of Individualism in Euro

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Roots of Individualism in Euro

Roots of Individualism in Europe

During the Middle Ages, independent thought was viewed disdainfully. Almost any idea deviating from the status quo, largely determined by the Roman Catholic Church, was condemned as heresy. One convicted of such a grievous offense was often excommunicated or killed, either by means of a proper execution or by a hostile mob. However, with the decline of the Middle Ages, the conditions arose for the birth of individualism'the development of which can be traced through the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the rise of capitalism. Individualism was a radical ideological revolution that forever altered the face of Europe and the rest of the world.

The beginning of individualism's gradual evolution was first manifested in the Renaissance Era. The Renaissance was a ripe time ready for change. The weakening role of the Catholic Church led to an increase in power for the masses. Corruption plagued Church officials and many sought theological respite elsewhere. The reemphasis of ancient Greek and Roman texts proffered alternatives for many to satisfy their religious needs. This helped contribute to the abolishment of the Church's imposition of its absolute truth and its claim to ultimate authority. As the church lost power, so did the political units. The bonds between church and state began to erode. Feudalism declined, hence giving rise to new political opportunity. The noble class no longer held a monopoly on the valued positions in society. Rather, one was able to pursue wealth and fame through various endeavors ranging from artist to soldier.

The most empowering change of this era was the dominance of a secular attitude and the decline of church absolutism. This secular viewpoint altered man's reason for existence from an otherworldly quest to an intimate, immediate appreciation for that which exists on earth. Humanism is a primary source of individualism. Pico della Mirandola's 'Oration on the Dignity of Man' captures the essence of the humanist movement. He writes that God gave man the ability to make of himself what he wills. Although man is capable of depraved acts, he also possesses the profundity to distinguish him as a holy being. Pico praises the goodness of mankind when he writes, 'man is rightly called and judged a great miracle and a wonderful creature indeed'. This Renaissance perspective varies from the idea it replaced that held man as an intrinsically evil being. Pico's oration, representative of the Renaissance itself, placed a higher importance on mankind, hence endowing members of society with a sense of pride rather than shame in their humanity. No longer did the church determine piety and greatness, but it was the common man who was now able to make this measurement. This represents a drastic step towards individualism.

The Reformation was an epoch that increased the right and power of the individual. As a reaction against rampant church corruption, Martin Luther publicized complaints against the church. Luther's criticism sparked a revolution that resulted in the formation of several new religions'Lutheranism, Calvanism, Anabaptism, and Protestantism. These new faiths undermined the church as having an absolute truth because each religion claimed to have an absolute truth of their own, separate from their counterparts. One now had the option to freely choose his or her faith rather than accept beliefs that were forced upon him. Also, theology adapted from one dictatorial faith to a variety that better suited society and its members. The people rather an establishment deemed what theological ideas were to be embraced and rejected.

Lutheranism differs from Catholicism in the understanding and interpretation of three major areas: determination of salvation, source of truth, and basis of the church. The Catholic Church believed that ...

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Keywords: individualism europe, individualism european history

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