Thursday, June 16, 2016

Thoughts About Petrarchan Humanist Philosophy for My Brother

Thursday, June 16, 2016
Dear Rhen, 

This semester, I have learned about the importance of making connections from the past to the present through self-directed learning. In my Rhetoric and Western Civilizations 2 class, Professor Gideon Burton encouraged us to dig into primary sources; experience time periods through a number of hands-on activities, like visiting museums, going to plays, baking food, creating art, or composing music (see Gideon Burton's post A Guide to Self-directed Learning for more details). 

One time period that particularly interested me was the Renaissance because of its humanist philosophy. One of the very first humanist thinkers was Petrarch, a 14th-century philosopher. Petrarch rediscovered Greek classics detailing the importance of human accomplishment but also enjoyed the teachings of recent Christian scholars such as St. Augustine. Petrarch asserted that individual accomplishment enhances rather than detracts from faith. In a world steeped with secular humanism, which asserts that the purpose of life is altruistic human accomplishment and the nonexistence of God, we can look to Petrarch to understand how individual human accomplishment can inspire us to live our faith rather than leading us to believe that God doesn't exist because we don't need Him. 

For my self-directed learning about the Renaissance, I read a letter that Petrarch wrote to his father relating his experience climbing Mount Ventoux and then recreated the experience by hiking up to the BYU "Y" for the very first time with classmates Sam and Ryan and Ryan's wife to see if I drew the same conclusions that he did. 

After reading Petrarch's letter, I wrote the following about what I had learned: "I really liked how Petrarch made the effort to climb the mountain for the view. I realized that he, notwithstanding his humanist views, was truly a very spiritual man and concerned with his salvation. The conclusion that he makes that even more important than climbing mountains is climbing spiritual mountains, but that climbing spiritual mountains helps us climb physical mountains, was very inspiring."

After hiking to the Y for the first time, I wrote the following: "I hiked the Y with Sam, Ryan, and Ryan's wife. We had a great time. It was a lot harder than I had thought, but the view was fantastic. I felt accomplished for having done such a difficult thing, and thoroughly enjoyed the view at the top." At the top, my classmates and I concluded together that this feeling of accomplishment associated with tackling physical mountains does indeed inspire us to tackle spiritual mountains. Later, one of my friends told me that she made a goal to hike the Y every single day one summer. This inspired her to have the necessary confidence in herself to have success in both her academic and spiritual endeavors.

I know that you enjoy accomplishing challenging physical feats like running races, hiking mountains, surfing, swimming, and mountain biking. Do you feel that accomplishing these physical feats has inspired and encouraged you in your spiritual endeavors? What is the importance of Petrarch's humanist philosophy in your life?


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