Ad fontes  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Ad fontes is a Latin expression which means "to the sources" (lit. "to the fountains"). The phrase epitomizes the renewed study of Greek and Latin classics in Renaissance humanism. Similarly, the Protestant Reformation called for renewed attention to the Bible as the primary source of Christian faith. The idea in both cases was that sound knowledge depends on the earliest and most fundamental sources.

This phrase is related to Ab initio, which means "from the beginning." Whereas ab initio implies a flow of thought from first principles to the situation at hand, ad fontes is a retrogression, a movement back towards an origin, which ideally would be clearer than the present situation.

The phrase ad fontes occurs in the Latin Vulgate version of Psalm 41:

quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum ita desiderat anima mea ad te Deus.
(In the same way that the stag is drawn unto the sources of water, so is my soul drawn unto you, God)

According to Hans-Georg Gadamer, there is evidence provided by E. Lledo that Spanish humanists drew the expression from this source.

Erasmus of Rotterdam used the phrase in his De ratione studii ac legendi interpretandique auctores:

Sed in primis ad fontes ipsos properandum, id est graecos et antiquos.
(Above all, one must hasten to the sources themselves, that is, to the Greeks and ancients.)

The ad fontes principle also had many applications. The re-discovery of ancient manuscripts brought a more profound and accurate knowledge of ancient philosophical schools such as Epicureanism, and Neoplatonism, whose Pagan wisdom the humanists, like the Church fathers of old, tended, at least initially, to consider as deriving from divine revelation and thus adaptable to a life of Christian virtue. The line from a drama of Terence, Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto (or with nil for nihil), meaning "I am a man, I think nothing human alien to me", known since antiquity through the endorsement of Saint Augustine, gained renewed currency as epitomizing the humanist attitude.


  • J.D. Tracy, Ad Fontes: The Humanist Understanding of Scripture as Nourishment for the Soul, in Christian Spirituality II: High Middle Ages and Reformation, (1987), editor Jill Raitt

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Ad fontes" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools