An idea was born at the inception of this blog. It was clothed in a desire to promote what might be viewed as a kickback to the renaissance, a rediscovery of the pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness and the cultivation of wisdom in all areas of life. One of the nicest complements I have ever received was in a letter of recommendation from my pastor. I was applying to classical Christian schools all around the country. In the application process they require a recommendation from your pastor. In the recommendation my pastor said, "Stuart is something of a modern day renaissance man who balances well the things of this world and the world to come, all in a way that glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ." I know that looks a bit like blowing my own horn but that is not the intent, and I would point out that I didn't ask him to write that yet he felt it was important to add in his recommendation in order to promote what he thought qualified me as a classical Christian school teacher. I'm not exactly sure what qualifies someone for being classified as a modern day renaissance man and therefore can't really tell you if I really do meet the qualifications for one, but I am willing to trust his judgment on this.
Some of my recent readings and even conversations have cemented in my mind the need for modern day renaissance men. We live in a time where specialization is to the nth degree. Now, we need people who are specialized to the nth degree, but there is no reason that someone could not be specialized in the neurosciences and also have an equal appreciation of Shakespeare (maybe not equal but at least an appreciation).
Brian Phillips points out at the Circe Institute blog that this separation between different categories of life was not always characteristic of men throughout history. He points out several examples from the corridors of history:
Pythagoras (c. 580-500 B.C.) was a mathematician, scientist, and philosopher.
Plato (c. 428-348 B.C.) was such a stunning thinker that his dialogues are still used to teach philosophy, rhetoric, mathematics, logic, and ethics.
Aristotle’s (384-322 B.C.) writings covered physics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, government, zoology, and more.
St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) was a rhetoric teacher, philosopher, and theologian.
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) served as a statesman and linguist, as well as a poet.
Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) though remembered for his Canterbury Tales, was also an accomplished alchemist and astronomer.
In the recommendation from my former pastor and in the testimony of history we see that something inherent in the pursuit if knowledge and wisdom needs to include an appreciation and pursuit of several areas of life. It includes seeing life as an integrated whole, a true universe where all the points and aspects are held together and connected, where Theology and Brewing Beer have some kind of relationship, where Art and Science are not seen as two unrelated categories of life, where Literature and Philosophy are connected and where man is understood to be able to embrace all these aspects of life without contradiction.
Promoting modern day renaissance men does not mean I promote everything in the Renaissance with all of its philosophical underpinnings and shift to a more man-centered and autonomous view of life. As Jostein Gaarder says in Sophie's World, "Good and evil are twin threads that run through the history of mankind." Looking back to the Renaissance, there are definitely beliefs and practices that will have to be discarded or given a proper proper foundation so as to avoid the negative consequence of ideas. The pursuit and cultivation of wisdom in life, art and science will need to be grounded in a proper understanding of man, his place in this world and his relationship with God. This will only serve to strengthen the idea of a true renaissance man.
This is a topic I have been thinking about for a while which is why I found it interesting when I received a call the other day from a friend of mine who had the idea to have a renaissance man weekend. This would be a weekend with several guys of similar mind and intent who go off to a cabin in the woods and hash out these ideas through music, art, conversation and maybe some hunting. There is no telling what will develop from these ideas or where they will lead to, but I think it may be just what we need in a time that seems to lack any meaningful understanding of the world and man.