I have mentioned the Renaissance Spirit in a few places on this blog and thus feel an explanation is fitting.
The Renaissance Spirit is an attitude. An attitude of wonder. An appreciation for old ideals. An unfailing desire to learn. It is a general excitement for life and an enthusiasm for discovery. In short, it is an attempt to keep the childlike awe we were born with.
When I say ‘an unfailing desire to learn’, I do not mean learning as in the accumulation of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. I mean learning in the sense of using knowledge to facilitate wonder. Socrates has said, ‘The object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful.’1 One may study astronomy: the cycles of the moon, the positions of the stars, etc.. However, this knowledge is not beneficial when pooled in the back of the mind! If one allows that knowledge to inspire admiration at how the moon waxes and wanes evenly each month, or how the stars rise every night in nearly the same position they have for years uncounted—if it causes one to wonder at the genius hand behind it all—if it encourages one to discover more (How does it work? Why does it work?)—that is the Renaissance Spirit.
Furthermore, the Renaissance Spirit is not only a discovering of the new, but a looking behind and appreciating the old. Our civilization is built upon the shoulders of countless men and women. The twenty-first century stands on the rhetoric of Rome, the simplicity of the Middle Ages, and the light of the Renaissance. The lessons of revolutions and wars lie at our feet. The writings and wisdom of 5,000 years are at our fingertips.2 There is plenty we may learn by looking at those who preceded us. Despite our advanced culture, a brief exploration of history reveals that our ancestors may have done things in a better way than we do them now. I do not advocate the return of eating live spiders as a cure for sickness, or other such stomach-churning customs of ancient days. However, I know I find walking more enjoyable than driving (though the latter is more efficient by modern standards). Home-grown food is more wholesome (and tastier!) than processed food, and handcrafted items often last far longer than those which are mass-produced.
Reading old literature, discussing and debating ideas with fellow students, tutors, and family members has instilled in me an excitement for life and a zeal for learning. I share Anne’s enthusiastic ‘Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive.’3 The world is a wondrous place and pursuing the Renaissance Spirit (a love of learning and an appreciation of the old) gives me the energy and excitement I need to live life the way I feel is most poignantly filled with beauty.
1Socrates makes this comment in Plato’s Republic, Part 3 (at the very end of I. Secondary or Literary Education).
2This number dates from around the time when the Sumerians invented writing.
3L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, Chapter 11