Christianity versus Humanism

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1. Essential conceptual differences between Christianity and Humanism

Essential conceptual differences between Christianity and Humanism

In order to understand the Tempietto's place in the history of Roman conflicts around 1500, it is necessary to go back in time and consider the historical development of the clash between Christianity and Humanism. Two major categories, religion and the world, are seen as mutually exclusive: religion was above all the realm of the gods, eternal laws, values and goals; whereas the world is the realm of man and nature, values measured only by humanity and its temporal interrelationships. [?]

Christianity and Classical Humanism together are the two principal components of the Western tradition. Humanism is a doctrine, attitude, or way of life that is centered on human interests or values and stresses an individual’s dignity, worth and capacity for self-realization through reason. This attitude was first developed in ancient Greece and Rome. On the other hand, Christianity teaches that without God as the starting point, knowledge is useless and prone to error.

Four influential Classical Humanists were Plato, Zeno, Epicurus, and Aristotle. Plato (428 BC - 347 BC) promoted Idealism, the theory that the essential nature of reality lies in consciousness or reason. He believed that conflicting interests of different parts of society can be harmonised. The best, rational and righteous political order, which he proposes, leads to a harmonious unity of society and allows each of its parts to flourish. But never at the expense of others[1]. His thoughts gave rise to the theory of Platonism. Aristotle (384 BC - 323 BC), who studied with Plato, believed that all things are beginnings; that one has scientific knowledge once he knows the cause. Thus, to know a thing's existence is to know the reason for its existence.[2]

The inherent conflict between Humanism and Christianity may be explained by significant conceptual differences in views to which humanist and Christians adhere. For instance, humanists believe that the existence of God "is either meaningless or irrelevant to the question of the survival and fulfilment of the human race"[3], whereas Christians believe that God not only exists, but is also active in many ways in human affairs. With regard to the origins, humanists see the universe as self-existing and not created, where man is a part of nature that has emerged as the result of a continuous process. On the other hand, Christians believe that all things were created and are sustained according to their nature by the Eternal God.[3]

Another conceptual distinction lies in differences about the nature of humanity. Humanists believe that humanity is only physical. They "find that the traditional dualism of mind and body must be rejected." On the other hand, Christians believe that humanity is both physical and spiritual, having been made both from "the dust of the ground" and also "in the image of God"[3]

However, it would be wrong to claim that development of Humanism and Christianity followed entirely different directions. For this purpose, attention should be paid to Christian Humanism, a highly influential movement throughout the Italian Renaissance, which represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. In short, it regards humanist principles, such as universal dignity, individual freedom and the primacy of human happiness as essentials of the teachings of Jesus.


  1. W. J. Korab-Karpowicz, Plato: Political Philosophy , Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Accessed November 2014
  2. Michael W. Jones, Historical Humanists- Aristotle , The Eloquent Atheist Accessed November 2014
  3. Robert L. Waggoner, Humanism v Christianity: The Greatest Battle of Our Times Accessed November 2014
  4. Citation needed