1902 Encyclopedia > Education > Education and Early Christianity. Education in the Middle Ages. Brethren of the Common Life.

(Part 4)

Education and Early Christianity. Education in the Middle Ages. Brethren of the Common Life.

The literary education of the earliest generation of Christians was obtained in the pagan schools, in those great an imperial academies which existed even down to the 5th century, which flourished in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and attained perhaps their highest development and efficiency in Gaul. The first attempt to provide a special education for Christians was made at Alexandria, and is illustrated by the names of Clement and Origen. The later Latin fathers took a bolder stand, and rejected the suspicious aid of heathenism. Tertullian, Cyprian, and Jerome wished the antagonism between Christianity and Paganism to be recognized from the earliest years, and even Augustine con-demned with harshness the culture to which he owed so much of his influence. The education of the Middle Ages was either that of the cloister or the castle. They stood in sharp contrast to each other. The object of the one was to form the young monk, of the other the young knight. We should indeed be ungrateful if we forgot the services of those illustrious monasteries, Monte Cassino, Fulda, or Tours, which kept alive the torch of learning throughout the dark ages, but it would be equally mistaken to attach an exaggerated importance to the teaching which they provided. Long hours were spent in the duties of the church, and in learning to take a part in elaborate and useless ceremonies. A most important part of the monastery was the writing room, where missals, psalters, and breviaries were copied and illuminated, and too often a masterpiece of classic literature was effaced to make room for a treatise of one of the fathers or the sermon of an abbot. The discipline was hard; the rod ruled all with indiscriminating and impartial severity. How many generations have had to suffer for the floggings of those times! Hatred of learning, antagonism between the teacher and the taught, the belief that no training can be effectual which is not repul-sive and distasteful, that no subject is proper for instruction which is acquired with ease and pleasure,—all these idols of false education have their root and origin in monkish cruelty. The joy of human life would have been in danger of being stamped out if it had not been for the warmth and colour of a young knight’s boyhood. He was equally well broken into obedience and hardship, but the obedience was the willing service of a mistress whom he loved, and the hardship the permission to share the dangers of a leader whom he emulated. The seven arts of monkish training were Grammar, Dialectics, Rhetoric, Music, Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, which together formed the trivium and quadrivium, the seven years’ course, the divisions of which have profoundly affected our modern training. One of the earliest treatises based on this method was that of Martianus Capella, who in 470 published his Satyra, in nine books. The first two were devoted to the marriage between Philology and Mercury, the last seven were each devoted to the consideration of one of these liberal arts. Cassiodorus, who wrote De Septem Disciplinis about 500, was also, largely used as a text book in the schools. Astronomy was taught by the Cisio-Janus, a collection of doggrel hexameters nke the Propria quoe maribus, which contained the chief festivals in each month, with a memoria technica for recollecting when they occurred. The seven knightly accomplishments, as historians tell us, were to ride, to swim, to shoot with the bow, to box, to hawk, to play chess, and to make verses. The verses thus made were not in Latin, bald imitations of Ovid or Horace, whose pagan beauties were wrested into the service of religion, but sonnets, ballads, and canzonets in soft Provencal or melodious Italian. In nothing, perhaps, is the difference between these two forms of education more clearly shown than in their relations to women. A young monk was brought up to regard a woman as the worst among the many temptations of St Antony. His life knew no domestic tenderness or affection. He was surrounded and cared for by celibates, to be himself a celibate. A page was trained to receive his best reward and worst punish-ment from the smile or frown of the lady of the castle, and as he grew to manhood to cherish an absorbing passion as the strongest stimulus to a noble life, and the contempla-tion of female virtue, as embodied in an Isolde or a Beatrice, as the truest earnest of future immortality.

Both these forms of education disappeared before the Renaissance and the Reformation. But we must not suppose that no efforts were made to improve upon the narrowness of the schoolmen or the idleness of chivalry. The schools of Charles the Great have lately been investigated by Mr Mullinger, but we do not find that they materially advanced the science of education. Vincent of Beauvais has left us a very complete treatise on education, written about the year 1245. He was the friend and counsellor of St Louis, and we may discern his influence in the instructions which were left by that sainted king for the guidance of his son and daughter through life. The end of this period was marked by the rise of universities. Bologna devoted itself to law, and numbered 12,000 students at the end of the 12th century. Salerno adopted as its special province the study of medicine, and Paris was thronged with students from all parts of Europe, who were anxious to devote themselves to a theology which passed by indefinite gradations into philosophy. The 14th and 15th centuries witnessed the rise of universities and academies in almost every portion of Europe. Perhaps the most interesting among these precursors of a higher culture were the Brethren of the Common Life, who were domiciled in the rich meadows of the Yssel, in the Northern Netherlands. The metropolis of their organization was Deventer, the best known name among them that of Gerhard Groote. They devoted themselves with all humility and self-sacrifice to the education of children. Their schools were crowded. Bois-le-duc numbered 1200 pupils, Zwolle 1500. For a hundred years no part of Europe shone with a brighter lustre. As the divine comedy of Dante represents for us the learning and piety of the Middle Ages in Italy, so the Imitation of Thomas à Kempis keeps alive for us the memory of the purity and sweetness of the Dutch community. Bnt they had not sufficient strength to preserve their supremacy among the necessary developments of the age. They could not support the glare of the new Italian learning; they obtained, and it may be feared deserved, the title of obscurantists. The Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum, the wittiest squib of the Middle Ages, which was so true and so subtle in its satire that it was hailed as a blow struck in defence of the ancient learning, consists in great part of the lamentations of the brethren of Deventer over the new age, which they could not either comprehend or withstand.

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