So influential was Francesco Petrarch (1304– 1374) that some historians argue that his writings mark the beginning of the Renaissance. Indeed, all the themes discussed above are found in Petrarch’s work. Above all, Petrarch was concerned with freeing the human spirit from the confines of medieval traditions, and the main tar- get of his attack was Scholasticism. He believed that the classics should be studied as the works of humans and not be reinterpreted or embellished by others. He had a low opinion of those who used the classics to support their own beliefs, saying of these embellishers, “Like those who have no notion of architecture, they make it their profession to whitewash walls”.
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As most Renaissance humanists did, Petrarch urged for a personal religion like that described by St. Augustine—a religion based on the Bible, personal faith, and personal feelings. He thought that Scholasticism, in its attempt to make religion compatible with Aristotelian rationalism, had made it too intellectual. Petrarch also argued that a person’s life in this world is at least as important as life after death. God wanted humans to use their vast capabilities, not inhibit them, Petrarch argued. By actualizing the potential God has given to us, we can change the world for the better. By focusing on human potential, Petrarch helped stimulate the explosion of artistic and literary endeavors that characterized the Renaissance.