As the Western world was entering the period we call the High Renaissance, there was a brilliant young man in Italy named Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. (You must wave your hands appropriately to same that name with a proper Italian accent.) He wrote what some have called the “Manifesto of the Renaissance.” an expression of humanism which was new not so much for its ideas as for the colorful way in which Pico phrased them.
In Pico’s imagination, God the Creator had spoken to Adam:
Neither a fixed abode nor a form that is thine alone nor any function peculiar to thyself have we given thee, Adam, to the end that according to thy longing and according to thy judgment thou mayest have and possess what abode, what form, and what functions thou thyself shalt desire. . . . Thou, constrained by no limits, in accordance with thine own free will, in whose hand We have placed thee, shalt ordain for thyself the limits of thy nature. . . . We have made thee neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, so that with freedom of choice and with honor, as though the maker and molder of thyself, thou mayest fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer. Thou shalt have the power to degenerate into the lower forms of life, which are brutish. Thou shalt have the power, out of thy soul’s judgment, to be reborn into the higher forms, which are divine.
As though the maker and molder of thyself! That is the new conviction that became the key to unlocking the rebirth of the human spirit. Wonderful things happened to Western civilization when the church began to lose its power to cage and control the human spirit. But, like all things human, there were two sides to the story. Not only was Pico saying we are free to be whomever we wish to be but God is no longer considered a factor in our becoming. Thus did Pico not only sound the trumpet for the entrance of the High Renaissance but for the deism which was not formally developed until a bit later.
Though even the church has often failed to see this, the truth is that being free from the power of the church is not the same as being free from the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We can say with Bonhoeffer that we want to be “religionless” Christians but we cannot aspire to be free from our Creator. If we do not wish to be what we have been created to be, we are not wanting to be human, not wanting to be truly ourselves, and not wanting to be free.