How often on that day, think you, did I not on the return journey look back upon the peak of the mountain! In comparison with the loftiness of human contemplation, unless one is mired in earthy corruptions, its height appeared to be scarcely a cubit in height. A thought kept occurring to me at every step. If one were not slow to undergo so much sweat and toil to bring the body closer to the heavens, what cross, what prison, what rock should terrify the mind from approaching God and from trampling underfoot the puffed-up heights of insolence and mortal fate? — from “Letter to Denis of Borgo San Sepolcro”
Francesco Petrarch (1304–1374) is best known as the “Father of Humanism” and a sonneteer whose 14-line gems to the mysterious “Laura” remain the sine qua non of romantic and even erotic lyrical expression. In the above letter, though, Petrarch reveals another side to his character — that of the devout Christian who, upon ascending Mt. Vinoux in southeastern France and reading St. Augustine’s “Confessions,” had a profound and lasting conversion experience, leading him upon his descent to give up worldly pursuits for those of the next world. Many critics see the letter as the literary start of the European Renaissance.