“Man is rightly called and judged,” declared Mirandola, “a miracle.” Centered on two evidences, the ability to reason and the ability to “ordain for thyself the limits of thy nature” (Mirandola), renaissance humanism was largely theological (New World Encyclopedia). God made man to be special. But whether or not we continue to be so was up to debate.
John Calvin said no. Despite being Mirandola’s contemporary – their lifespans missed each other by a paltry fifteen years – our image of him is not of a man-fan. We vaguely lump him in with the dour Puritans of American Colonialism and disapprove of his ideas about predestination. He was, nonetheless, humanistic. Wrote he, “it is of importance to know that we were endued with reason and intelligence, in order that we might cultivate a holy and honourable life, and regard a blessed immortality as our destined aim” (211). He followed it by calling our current state of affairs a “sad spectacle” brought about by Adam. By way of the fall, we lost our innate goodness and stand in need of Christ in order to regain it.
Mirandola said yes. In his essay, man begins as a wonder by virtue of his creation. We then continue as such based upon individual desire and choice: we may degrade, or we may progress.
Nowadays, the base assumption – that man is wonderful and superior to other life forms – has come under scrutiny. What truly makes man unique? Researchers have found numerous examples of other life forms meeting us head to head on matters of architecture, warfare, charity, compassion, service, government and intelligence. (For some examples, see these articles on rats, whales and others.)
In other ways, humanism manifests itself in social movements. Where would human rights be without the belief in the importance of man? The pushback against body shaming, racial oppression and homophobia all stem from the same.
So. Are we special because we’re a superior life form? Or is it in our social relationships that humanism will survive?
"Christian Humanism." New World Encyclopedia. N.p. 23 Sep 2008. Web. 13 Sep 2015. <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Christian_Humanism&oldid=815385>.
Calvin, John. The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Trans. Henry Beveridge. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1845. Print.
Mirandola, Pico della. Oration on the Dignity of Man. The History Guide. N.p. 13 April 2012. Web. 13 Sep 2015. <http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/pico.html>