The purpose of this essay is to answer that question and offer some tentative suggestions as to what Elizabethan writers meant when they used the words humanist and humanitian.
In his translation of Suetonius' De vita Caesarum (1606), Philemon Holland describes one Sphaerus as a 'deep Scholler and great Humanitian as we speake, and whom the Greekes call Philologon'.
Now that we have some idea of the variety of interconnected senses in which the word humanity was used in the late sixteenth century, we may proceed to the way in which specific writers used the terms humanist and humanitian.
John Harvey uses the word humanitian twice in his Discursive Problem Concerning Prophecies (1588), a general refutation of unauthorized prophesying.
The second use of the word humanitian adds a little to the picture.
They might give us some clue as to what he means by the word humanitian when he (wrongly) accuses Petrus Pomponatius of trying to convert Pope Leo X to atheism, 'as Iouius an humanitian bishop saith'.
Again and again, Harvey characterizes these writers as the harbingers of a new Dark Age, and describes himself in contradistinction as a 'silly humanitian of the old world'.
The passage in which this remarkable self-description occurs affords little assistance in understanding what Harvey means by humanitian, but his idea of humanity can be worked out very clearly from elsewhere in his book.
Here, then, the humanist or humanitian to be reconstructed from this use of the word humanity is seen as a lover and exponent of belles-lettres, 'classical' in the sense that it reproduces the Elizabethan understanding of the Latin humanitas, namely as good literature in whatever language it is written, but also 'neo-classical' in that it proposes a clear tradition of good writing connecting the ancient Greeks and Romans with their English successors.
These early records of the words humanist and humanitian allow us to draw some tentative conclusions about the way they were used by late sixteenth-century writers.
So it was, I suggest, that the humanitian Harvey could take what might at first glance seem a paradoxically hostile attitude towards his 'superficial humanists'.
I have so far been unable to locate the first record of the word humanitian given by OED, which reads: 'Oliver Eustace, a student of the civil and canon law, a good humanician, and a proper philosopher.