The Renaissance: zenith of Medieval culture

For all the secularism of the age, in a quite tangible sense the Roman Catholic Church itself attained a pinnacle of glory in the Renaissance. Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican all stand as astonishing monuments to the Church’s final moments as undisputed sovereign of Western culture. Here the full grandeur of the Catholic Church’s self-conception was articulated, encompassing Genesis and the biblical drama (the Sistine ceiling), classical Greek philosophy and science (the School of Athens), poetry and the creative arts (the Parnassus), all culminating in the theology and supreme pantheon of Roman Catholic Christianity (La Disputa del Sacramento, The Triumph of the Church). The procession of the centuries, the history of the Western soul, was here given immortal embodiment. Under the guidance of the inspired albeit thoroughly unpreistlike Pope Julius II, protean artists like Raphael, Bramante, and Michelangelo painted, sculpted, designed, and constructed works of art of unsurpassed beauty and power to celebrate the majestic Catholic vision. Thus the Mother Church, mediatrix between God and man, matrix of Western culture, now assembled and integrated all her diverse elements: Judaism and Hellenism, Scholasticism and Humanism, Platonism and Aristotelianism, pagan myth and biblical revelation. With Renaissance artistic imagery as its language, a new pictorial Summa was written, integrating the dialectical components of Western culture in a transcendent synthesis. It was as if the Church, subconsciously aware of the wrenching fate about to befall it, called forth from itself its most exalted cultural self-understanding and found artists of seemingly divine stature to incarnate that image.

Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind, pp. 228-9

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