A Practical Impetus for the Aristotelian Renaissance in 17th Century England

During the days of Richard Hooker, England was experiencing a time of intellectual revival. For decades the various faculties of Oxford and Cambridge had experienced a decline, not only in matriculation of students, but in the intellectual creativity of their instructors. The time between Erasmus and Bacon is often seen as a veritable Dark Ages. This decline came in part from the rise and fall of the various Tudors, particularly Mary, and partly from the comprehensive reshaping of society that was the Reformation. Yet, under Queen Elizabeth, England once again experienced a Renaissance of learning. During this renewal, exemplified by men such as William Shakespeare and Edmund Spencer, there was also a revamped interest in the corpus of Aristotle; and this Renaissance of Aristotelianism may need some explanation.

In 1593 and Richard Hooker had just published his now famous Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity in which he explained to the more radical wing in the Anglican Church why it is not necessary for every nation to imitate Geneva’s ecclesiastical polity. In defending Anglican polity and the ability of human reason to guide the affairs of the civic realm, Hooker relied on Aristotle’s method. But, he did not really have much of a choice in the matter. Every man is a product of his time. All of Hooker’s theological predecessors were Aristotelian in some form, whether they be Medieval such as Thomas and Scotus, Reformed such as Vermigli and Jewel, or the divines who preceded him at Corpus Christi College such as William Cole and John Rainolds.

Hooker was also influenced by the writings of Plato (as Torrance Kirby has demonstrated) and one of his contemporaries, Everard Digby, was the first English Neo-Platonist of the Seventeenth century; Digby’s Theoria Analytica popularized the Neo-Platonic texts of Proclus and the Cabala and later inspired the Platonism of the Cambridge Platonists. Yet, even with the advent of Neo-Platonism and Renaissance Humanism, Aristotelianism remained the foundation of the liberal arts curriculum at Oxford and Cambridge. Charles Schmitt explains the very practical reason for this, a reason that still held sway in the mid-1630s:

If arts education was meant to be reasonably comprehensive and to embrace the range of reliable knowledge, were there alternatives to the Aristotelian synthesis? The writings of Bruno were certainly not systematic enough for teaching purposes. The new philosophies of Telesio or Patrizi were possibilities, but neither covered a significant portion of the range of subjects to be taught. The same could be said of ancient works such as those of Plato or Pliny. The approach to knowledge produced by the sixteenth-century humanistic movement was curiously one-sided, with whole areas of positive knowledge left unaccounted for. The new synthesis of Gassendi, of Descartes, of Newton, were all in the future, if by only a few years or decades. . . In short, Aristotelianism still was the best comprehensive philosophy available. When genuine and useful alternatives did emerge a few decades later, they were taken up rather quickly by the universities of England. (Schmitt, John Case and Aristotelianism in Renaissance England, p. 44)

John Case is another example of an English Aristotelian of this time period, one who has received little attention aside from Schmitt’s work. Case is one of the first in England to use the notion of the prisca theologia gleaned from the Corpus Hermeticum. According to Schmitt, he was the most widely read Aristotelian from the 1550s to the 1650s, thus setting the intellectual climate for Bacon and Herbert of Cherbury. Case, just as Hooker, used a variety of sources but was an Aristotelian at heart. As Schmitt notes, Case as well as other English educators at this time used the sources that were available (i.e., Aristotle) to build the curriculum by which they sought to perfect the next generation because those sources were available and all encompassing.

One lesson in historical interpretation to learn from this is that the primacy of a certain philosophical system for a certain body of people at a certain time does not always indicate a staunch loyalty for that particular system. (By “staunch loyalty,” I mean a loyalty for a particular way of systematizing truths vs. a loyalty toward the pursuit of the truth itself) Usually that system just happens to be the best option at the time. When new ideas correct or add greater clarity to the old ones, new curricula are formed out of necessity. The corpus of Aristotle continued to supply the basis of college curriculums even after the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century until more updated and modern systems arrived that were capable of replacing it.

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Ohne Reformation kein Humanismus

Reformed SchoolOhne Humanismus keine Reformation (without Humanism no Reformation)  is the conclusion of one German scholar. On this Reformation Day, a day that bids us stop and reflect, the question, “Would the Reformation have occurred without humanism?,” seems pertinent. Many scholars have focused on the influence of humanism upon Luther, Zwingli, and Clavin, concluding that these three prominent Reformers came to their conclusions through the use of humanistic methods. Without ad fontes there would be no sola scriptura or sola fide. Yet, there is another side to the coin.

Unfortunately, the adage Ohne Humanismus keine Reformation stressed too much, signifies the notion that humanistic ideals and education were in the stages of decline in the mid-16th century, a decline that was precipitated by the Reformation return to Christian piety. This Reformation of piety, some say, valued theology over the arts curriculum and even sought to stunt the spread of a liberal education, fearing pagan authors would distract the youth from the importance of the sacred text. Against this notion are the examples of the Reformers themselves and those with whom they associated.

Lewis Spitz has done a tremendous service to Reformation scholarship with his work on education at the time of the Reformation and, particularly, his publication of the essential pedagogical writings of Johann Sturm. The research of Spitz and many others (including Barbara Tinsley and Karin Maag) has led scholars (such as Erika Rummel) to reverse the question of how humanism influenced the Reformers and ask, “How did the Reformation influence Humanism?” Spitz, in “The Importance of the Reformation for the Universities: Culture and Confession in the Critical Years,” points out that although Erfurt and Leiden Universities were influenced by traveling humanists such as Rudolph Agricola and Mutianus Rufus, genuine humanistic reform did not occur in these schools until 1519.

New humanist translations of Aristotle were to replace the medieval Latin texts. Instruction in classical Latin, poetry, rhetoric, lectures on Cicero and Virgil, and the study of Greek were added to the curriculum. (Spitz, in Rebirth, Reform, and Resilience, p. 50)

LutherThe same type of Reform in the classical arts occurred at Heidelberg in 1522, in Tübingen in 1525, and Cologne shortly after. At the University of Wittenberg humanistic education flourished under Luther and Melanchthon due to the protection of Elector Frederick and the distance of Wittenberg from the older centers of learning – in the older universities humanism had to battle with scholasticism and church tradition. Elector Frederick appointed Philip Melanchthon as professor in Greek, against Luther who suggested Peter Mosellanus. Elaborating on Luther’s and Melachthon’s humanism, Spitz notes:

Although no humanist theologically speaking, Luther was, nevertheless, a protagonist of the humanist curriculum on the arts level. He understood that the reform of theology in the advanced faculty of theology would be impeded and perhaps even impossible if the students’ arts training was exclusively in traditional dialectic and Aristotle in Latin commentaries and if they lacked education in poetry, rhetoric, languages, and history, subjects he deemed necessary for Biblical exegesis and the theological disciplines. He took an active role in promoting these subjects with the Augustinian colleagues and especially with Melanchthon after his arrival in 1518. Melanchthon’s draft of the statutes for the Faculty of Liberal Arts in 1520 eliminated everything that had referred to scholasticism. Melanchthon’s inaugural oration, De corrigendis adolescentia studiis [On the correcting of adolescent studies], was programmatic for Wittenberg, decrying the loss of learning, the ignorance of Greek language and culture, and the schoolmen’s dialectic, and urging the university to turn to the studia humanitatis for new light. The various reform statutes adopted between 1533 and 1536 … completed the symbiosis of humanism and reformation. Melanchthon, praeceptor Germaniae, labored for a reform of education from top to bottom. His role in the educational reform of the secondary schools was of critical importance. He took the initiative in encouraging the establishment of gymnasia in Nuremberg and many other cities, and his influence reached through Johannes Sturm in Strasbourg to Roger Ascham in England and Claude Baduel in Nimes. (ibid., 51.)

Through the influence of Wittenberg, humanistic reform came to other universities throughout Europe and even reaching England. Spitz slightly exaggerates the influence of Melancthon in this article. For instance, Johann Sturm was mainly influenced by the Brethren of the Common Life, through his education at the College of St. Jerome in Liege. Yet, no matter who influenced whom, it is a proven fact that were it not for these pivotal figures humanism would not have advanced in European centers of education. Even such a staunch biblical theologian as John Calvin worked to implement a humanist curriculum at the Genevan Academy, mainly under the influence of Johann Sturm’s Strausburg Academy. Therefore, on this Reformation Day we should all remember the humanism of these great church Reformers and instead of saying Ohne Humanismus keine Reformation (without humanism no Reformation) we should say, Ohne Reformation kein Humanismus (without the Reformation no humanism).

Lambert Daneau and ‘Natural Philosophy,’ A Pagan Phrase?

Lambert DaneauLambert Daneau (1530-1595)  is not a well-known man, yet he was very influential in the Genevan Academy in the decades following the death of John Calvin. He was the first person to become a full-time professor at the new academy. The others, including Daneau’s mentor Theodore Beza, served the dual function of parish minister and professor. The pastors of the Consistory recognized Daneau’s theological gifts and promoted him, at an early age, to full-time professor. He was a prolific writer for his short stay on this earth, publishing a commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, a commentary on Augustine’s Enchiridion, works on the Eucharist and the Antichrist, a three-volume work on Christian Ethics, a work on Christian Natural Philosophy, two biblical commentaries, various polemical works, commentaries on the Minor Prophets, two works against Osiander, and others. Along with men like Ursinus, Olevianus, Zanchi, and Beza, Daneau contributed to the codification of Reformed theology indicative of the era of early orthodoxy, in its first phase ranging from 1565-1618.

In Daneau’s day there was no “Genevan” school of thought as there came to be in the second phase of early orthodoxy, represented by the High Calvinist Gomarus and his Genevan counterpart Giovanni Diodati. As Richard Muller has so aptly demonstrated, Reformed theologians from Calvin to Keckermann created an eclectic sort of theology. They drew upon Scotus, Thomas, Bernard of Clairveaux, and many others to systematize the theology bequeathed to them by the first generation Reformers. Daneau contributed to this process in his The Wonderfull Woorkmanship of the World… by seeking to bring natural philosophy within the boundaries of the faith. Lutheran theologians such as Jacob Schegk were already doing this. The latter even argued that the goal of natural philosophy is virtue since the study of nature leads to the First Cause. In the following passage Daneau seeks to defend the use of natural philosophy by Christians.

Why then, doe you call it naturall Philosophie, which is a woorde used by Heathen Philosophers? For twoo causes. The firste is, for that Christians ought not to bee so scrupulous, or rather superstitious, that thei should bee afeard to use suche common woordes and names as the Heathen doe, for somuche, as with them wee do use and enioy the self same Sun, aire, earth, water, light, meates, and Cities. Neither doeth the Scripture it self refuse that woorde as unseemely or monstrous, as appeareth in te 2 chapiter and 3 verse to the Ephesians [referring to Paul’s use of fu/siß],and the 1 chapiter and 5 verse of the second Epistle of S. Peter. Also the auncient and Catholike fathers in every place, doe terme this knowledge of thynges by the name of Naturall Philosophie, as did Basile, Chrisostome, Ambrose, Augustine in his Enchiridion to Laurence: Naturall Philosophers, saieth hee, “are thei that searche the nature of thynges.” Secondly, that for as muche as this woorde, Nature, in the common use of the Greeke tongne, is, for the moste parte, applied to suche thynges as doe consiste, not of essence only, of whiche sorte God is, but are compounded with certain accidentes adioined, suche as are all the thynges that wee beholde with our eyes, and whereof this visible worlde consisteth: that knolwedge seemeth moste properly to bee termed naturall Philosophie, whiche is busied in the handlying of the mixt, compounded, and materiall thinges, that it maie bee distinguished from Divinitie. Wherefore, Naturall Philosophie, saie thei, is the knowledge of Materiall and Instrumentall beginnynges. (Daneau, The Wonderfull Woorkmanship of the World, pp, 1, 2.)

Not only does Paul use the word “nature”, a term Daneau attributes to the pagans, but other faithful Christians, particularly the church Fathers, have used that term in order to distinguish the science of nature from that of divinity. Daneau continues to probe the reason why Christians ought to investigate natural philosophy. He gives five reasons, other than the sheer pleasure such a knowledge should bring: (1) So that we may know God to be omnipotent and eternal, (2) to learn created things, their operations and natures, (3) so that we may know what man is and what is his soul, (4) so that we might be stirred up to contemplate and praise God, and (5) so that the Christian Divine may better understand and interpret the scriptures. In expounding the 4th reason Daneau relates the story of Galen:

The IV [reason that Natural Philosophy is profitable for Christians] that wondryng at in our myndes, and beholdyng with our eyes these woorkes of God, so greate, so many, so wonderfull, beyng thereunto holpen by none other meanes than by this Arte, wee are with greate zeale and affection stirred up to set foorth the wonderfull praises of God and to give him thankes. Which thing happened unto Galene, yea, although he were a prophane Philosopher, that after hee had described the Nature of one of Gods woorkes, that is to saie, of Man, and the partes of his bodie, hee was enforced, yea, almoste against his will, to syng an Himne to God. Herethence it commeth that suche multitude of hymnes, so many Epodes and songes o praise, so many Psalmes are written and celebrated. (ibid., pp. 3, 4.)

Though Daneau did not consider nature to be the foundation of the supernatural – a contradiction in terms – he did consider nature to be infused with a divine power that when studied provoked an almost forced response from man in the form of song and praise. Therefore this Natural Philosophy should be studied by Christians for the betterment of the individual mind as well as the corporate prayer of the Church.

Rhetoric as Divine Art: A Reformed Notion

Johann SturmThe lexicon is a deceptive source of information. It is incredibly useful but tends to commit one to bondage. For those who have attempted to learn one of the classical languages, the ultimate freedom comes in achieving the goal of breaking free of the lexicons and syntax books and reading the text with one’s own mind. In essence, the goal in learning a language is to create a habit of speaking/thinking in that tongue by transforming the mind into a sort of living and breathing lexicon-grammar-syntax.

For this and other reasons, Renaissance humanists held the commentaries produced by the scholastics of the Medieval Universities in high disdain. Activities such as producing commentaries on Peter Lombard’s Sentences preoccupied the mind with the opinions of other men rather than directing the student ad fontes, to the source of truth itself. Rather, students should be trained in linguistics and logic so that they may read the Fathers in the original tongue and do research without the limitation of a lexicon or the slippery opinions of some other man’s commentary. This ad fontes approach to education and scholarship is exemplified in the Reformers who while seeking to remove the barrier of clergymen that kept the “blood of Christ” from the mouths of the faithful were also seeking to remove the barrier of textual glosses and scholastic commentaries that separated the student and scholar from the original source.

Not only are there barriers in the realm of reading dead languages but barriers also exist for the spoken word, the art of Rhetoric. As moderns we often think of an artist as someone who is born with a gift. Beethoven was a childhood genius born with an incredible capacity for music, composing his first piece at the tender age of three years. Yet, the classic definition of “art” is an inward characteristic that comes through experience and training. Aristotle used the example of a harp-player. The good harp-player is the one who has a perfect knowledge of the correct strings to play at the correct time and has developed a disposition allowing him to bring that knowledge to actuality in the playing of a beautiful song. In a similar manner, the good rhetorician must have a knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, and syntax coupled with the learned disposition that enables him to speak “off the cuff”, free from the aid of lexicons and speech aids. In other words the good rhetor must combine knowledge with skill.

Another innovation of Renaissance thought was the renewed emphasis and centrality of the art of rhetoric for the purpose of education and the pursuit of the common good. During this period the speculative sciences (particularly Metaphysics) were abandoned for the more practical sciences, such as Ethics. Figures such as Lorenzo Valla and Rudolph Agricola sought to combine Ethics and Logic with the art of Rhetoric. The goal of Ethics – the pursuit of the common good – was de-Platonized and applied to the civic sphere. With Dante Alighieri as a living example of the turmoil between Emperor and Pope at this time, the Renaissance humanists considered the education of young men to civic office to be of utmost importance for the survival of the state. Therefore, even Logic transformed to fit the agenda of the rhetor who must not only have the ability to rouse the emotions of the masses but most importantly, he must be able to persuade the mind while enflaming the heart as well.

The art of Rhetoric was considered the savior of Christendom. This may seem like an odd opinion to us moderns but, as Barbara Sher Tinsley argues, the art of eloquent speech was necessary in a society in which letters took days to reach their destinations and the persuasive power of mass media was hundreds of years in the distance.

[E]loquence was appropriate enough for an age in which, though books were relatively plentiful, the exigencies of policy making – often during periods of extended warfare – were such that the policy makers had little time for reading. Furthermore, the most difficult problems were not those which depended on knowledge so much as on opinion; for policy hinged on ethical and religious points of view more often than on technical circumstance. In late twentieth-century policy making, mass media serves the function of rhetorical eloquence with this difference: the media are less concerned with apt or elegant rhetoric. Instead, they emphasize speedy delivery, quantification, and visual impact. In the Renaissance, such opinion-molding factors were not readily available. (Tinsley, “Johann Sturm’s Method for Humanistic Pedagogy”, Sixteenth Century Journal XX, 1, 1989, p. 32.)

Rhetoric was considered a necessity for the well ordered society, particularly because the good rhetor held a tremendous power in his ability to sway public policy. This is also why Ethics was considered crucial for the eloquent speaker. Humanists of this period were not interested in merely producing flowery speeches with no substance, but sought to combine knowledge of the truth (Logic) and true practical wisdom (Ethics) with the art of eloquent speech (Rhetoric).

Many modern writers have claimed that the downfall of this humanistic pursuit came at the hands of the Protestant Reformers. Yet, the legacy of Johann Sturm (pictured above), rector of the Strasbourg Gymnasium and friend of Martin Bucer and John Calvin, fights against this notion. As Tinsley points out, Sturm’s program for the reform of education in Strasbourg was thoroughly humanistic. Sturm’s goal was to educate the youth in the liberal arts so that they might be able “to move freely about in all writers without an interpreter.” (De literarum ludis, 185) These authors included only classical authors: Vergil, Horace, Terrence, Plautus, Caesar, Sallust, and most importantly, Cicero. There was to be one class on catechetical instruction but the remainder of the student’s education would be from the classics. The impetus for this primarily pagan education was due to Sturm’s belief that he shared with other Reformers and Renaissance thinkers, the belief that the classical artists were divinely inspired. Tinsley notes:

[T]he approach to “godly things” and to religion was to be gained primarily by studying literature and language; to a lesser degree by studying Scripture and the apostles. Dogma as such (except for catechism) was largely ignored. how this learned piety affected pedagogy is difficult to determine, since the pedagogical writings offer little explanation. They do suggest that the emphasis was on classical authors, not Christian ones. Sturm held the traditional humanist attitude towards classical writers, which was that they were divinely inspired, hence, not opposed to Christian teaching. Indeed, they were necessary to understand God and his religion properly. (Tinsley, p. 29.)

For Sturm, a perfected Christendom will not be realized without the aid of the classics in directing Christians in the proper method of thought and speech. God has provided a helpful handmaiden for his church, a handmaiden who possess the divine secrets of a well-ordered society. According to Sturm, the loss of ornate speaking in a society signifies an ethical problem, laziness and self-indulgence. He follows other humanists in seeing the commentaries of the scholastics as we may see “cliff-notes” the bane of the English professor who wants to remove all temptations toward academic laziness (though he encouraged the reading of commentaries outside of school). There is a reason why a rhetor should steer away from Barbarisms. The Barbarians were an unethical and uncivilized people. For a man like Sturm, prudence and rhetoric walk hand-in-hand.

However, Sturm did not consider the education of his day as a “rebirth” of classical learning. He believed there to be much potential in Europe, yet he was not without his criticisms. He asks, “What if Socrates were living today?” and responds, “He could find nobody in letters and in that philosophy now whom he could compare with those [his contemporaries].” (On the Lost Art of Speaking, in Johann Sturm on Education, p. 123.)

To speak briefly, the minds of our people have been corrupted and the philosophy of living vitiated. For though many are gifted with ready understanding during adolescence, how few remain who are not softened by self indulgence, or if able to avoid that, remain in letters and do not turn to profitable arts before they have acquired even an elementary education? . . . Nothing is so inimical to study as self-indulgence and softness of the spirit, even though the former furnishes too weak a defense of our morals and the latter is believed to be the very reward of virtue and is for the most part desired. But not only … have vices and haste led us away from the good, but also inasmuch as Latin is not so highly regarded in the city-states as formerly, and is used only by a few and that faultily, that approach is not so feasible for elementary instruction as once was. And if it were, we have sill lost it: it is now more rude and less pleasing. This being the case, speech has also been changed and conversation once pure and Roman, ornate and learned, is now impure and foreign, rude and unlearned. (ibid., 125, 126)

Sturm may sound like an elitist in this diatribe against the lack of education in letters in his day, and especially for the castigation of Medieval Latin. Yet, we must remember that Sturm has a biblical view of human behavior. The external acts reflect that which is in the heart. A society that looks scornfully at or simply ignores the art of speaking a pure Latin tongue is a society that sees perfection as an easy pursuit and has satisfied itself with mediocrity. Sturm continues with an omen of things to come if the way of self-indulgence is pursued:

For since the use of eloquence is great in all the arts, especially in theology and political science, as long as we do not possess, properly practice or cultivate rhetoric, so long too shall we not see our people produce anything that is polished in speech, elaborated by industry, or ornamented by abundance and variety. (ibid.)

In other words, as long as we are satisfied with mediocre Latin and a mediocre language we will only be able to achieve a mediocre society, which, especially during Sturm’s day, is a society headed for destruction. Thus, Sturm made it his goal to reverse this poor situation and work on the reunification of Christendom through the education of the youth in pure Latin and rhetoric. He followed Crassus in implementing nine areas in which the faculty of speaking consists.

1) the nature of the mind and its capacity for learning 2) the education and teaching of youth 3) keener observation 4) the knowledge of letters 5) the habit of daily conversation 6) the reading of good authors 7) experience 8 ) memory and 9) continual study. (ibid., 123)

Sturm notes that these nine elements have become corrupted in his day and offers  the means of their restoration:

The first thing to do is to protect the mind from the corruption of desire and vice. Good teaching and the imparting of wisdom do not sort well with self-indulgence and depravity. If the last are avoided and the first promoted, excellent talent can be cultivated. The goodness of nature must be stirred up by the zeal and ardor of love in order to progress toward those ends for which good natures were born. All this must be done naturally so that the desire added is for diligence. For though nature cannot be given by friends, but is conferred together with life, youth is nevertheless encouraged by those whom it considers dear. This task pertains not only to parents, teachers and others involved either by necessity or connection, but indeed to those who care for the state as well. (ibid., 130, 131.)

Here Sturm reassures the reader that the most important aspect involved in the renewal of rhetoric is the curbing of the heart’s malicious desires and tendency toward self-indulgence. He also notes that education must be accompanied by the guidance of good friends, parents, and those who care for the state. By these means Sturm hoped to “create in adolescents the burning desire to excel in letters and the opportunity thus to earn rewards and praise.” (ibid.) Mainly through the imitation of the classical authors, children should be schooled in the correct use of the Latin tongue, in Ethics and Natural Philosophy, and most importantly, in the art of eloquent oration. Only by means of a classical education centered around the art of rhetoric, an art which frees the soul from textbooks and endows the student with the virtue of avoiding self-indulgence in thought and speech, only by this means will the commonwealth prosper. The feet of those who bring good news will tread upon Roman roads.

Sturm’s method was a tremendous success, influencing the creation of a number of similar schools across the continent and even influencing the tutor of Queen Elizabeth. It was only at the hands of the Lutherans and their antipathy toward all things Calvinistic that Sturm later lost his position as rector of the Strasbourg Gymnasium. Yet, by this time he had already guided the school for decades, training many in the ways of classical literature and learning. Sturm is an untapped resource for all of those interested in Christian and classical education in our day. Though not without errors, Sturm is an important thinker and protential influence for modern Christian and non-Christian educators, and he is an important figure for our understanding of the reform of educational practices among the Reformers of the 17th century.

A Reformed Education in Renaissance England

Oxford

The following letter is from a young Swiss student Conrad ab Ulmis, writing to one of his sponsors John Wolfius. At the time of this letter Martin Bucer had been dead one year, Bishop Cranmer was busy completing the first Prayer Book, and Peter Martyr was at Oxford lecturing on the Epistle to the Romans. Merely one year later King Edward dies and is promptly succeeded by  Mary Tudor and the Reformation in England seems all but lost. But, in the mean time there was a renaissance of classical education at Oxford, as exemplified by this letter.

Greeting. As I never entertained a doubt but that it was my duty to write to you, as my preceptor, some account of my studies; though I wrote last month at the house of Joshua Maler, my dear friend, and one too who has a great respect for you; yet as I have at this time changed my course of study, I have thought fit to write to you again. Receive therefore a brief account of my studies. I devote the hour from six to seven in the morning to Aristotle’s politics, from which I seem to derive a twofold advantage, both a knowledge of Greek and an acquaintance with moral philosophy. The seventh hour I employ upon the first book of the Digests or Pandects of the Roman law, and the eighth in the reconsideration of this lecture. At nine I attend the lecture of that most eminent and learned divine, master doctor Peter Martyr. The tenth hour I devote to the rules of Dialectics of Philip Melanchthon de locis argumentorum. Immediately after dinner I read Cicero’s Offices, a truly golden book, from which I derive no less than a twofold enjoyment, both from the purity of the language and the knowledge of philosophy. From one to three I exercise my pen, chiefly in writing letters, wherein, as far as possible, I imitate Cicero, who is considered to have abundantly supplied us with all instructions relating to purity of style. At three I lean the institutes of civil law, which I so read aloud as to commit them to memory. At four are read privately, in a certain hall in which we live, the rules of law, which I hear, and learn by rote as I do the institutes. After supper the time is spent in various discourse; for either sitting in our chamber, or walking up and down some part of the college, we exercise ourselves in dialectical questions. You have now a brief account of my studies, with which I think you will be pleased. Do you take care, in the first place, to preserve your health, and in the next place, to address me occasionally by your letters; for you can hardly conceive how much pleasure I shall derive both from their elegance and agreeableness. Solute for me those most honourable ladies, your wife and mother. Farewell. Oxford, March 1, 1552.

Your pupil,

John Conrad Ab Ulmis

Aristotle’s Method as Promethean Fire: Melanchthon’s Opinion

Prometheus Brings Fire to MankindThe old view that the Renaissance humanists exchanged Aristotle for Plato in toto has been discredited for a long time now (see Kristeller). Sure, philosophers of the 16th century steered away from Aristotle’s metaphysics but at the same time they took up his writings on Logic and Rhetoric with renewed gusto. Philip Melanchthon’s opinion of Aristotle is interesting because he was a humanist, and because his magister theologicus, Martin Luther, was so adamantly against Aristotle. Melanchthon asserts that Aristotle was “divinely endowed with a heroic nature,” and concludes his 1537 address to the Masters students of Wittenburg:

I feel strongly that a great confusion of doctrines would follow if Aristotle, who is the one and only creator of method, were neglected. By no other plan can anyone learn method except by regular practice in the genre of Aristotelian philosophy. Wherefore I urge you, not only for yourselves, but for all posterity, to cultivate and preserve that best form of doctrine. Plato said that the fire that had been taken by Prometheus from the sky was method. But if that little fire is lost, men will be transformed back into beasts; for indeed if the true plan of teaching is removed, nothing will separate man from beasts. So then let us hold on to that fire, that type of doctrine that Aristotle handed down, and preserve it with the greatest zeal.

Melanchthon says that it would be a great tragedy and much confusion would follow if mankind neglected the philosophy of Aristotle. But, you might ask, if the church has the teachings of the prophets, of Christ, and of the apostles, do societies need the methods of Aristotle’s philosophy to keep order amongst what would be chaos? Melanchthon’s view, and that of the other Reformers, is that philosophy is the God-given tool by which the Magistrate orders life within the civil realm. The difference between good and bad, just and unjust, are known via the natural law and rulers create positive laws based on this knowledge. The natural law is the divine law written on the hearts of man and is practically the same as the Mosaic Law. And, without this natural knowledge and the science of philosophy that is built upon these natural principles, men would become beasts. Yet, Melanchthon also believed, as have the majority of theologians throughout ecclesiastical history, that philosophy is necessary for the protection of the church. And, not just any philosophy can do this. Only the methods derived from Aristotle’s works may preserve church unity. What are these methods and how do they safeguard the church? Melanchthon answers in his other address to the Master’s students in the year 1544:

I think that of all things the task of dialectic is the most important one in our church, for it properly informs our methods, defines correctly, divines properly, corrects fittingly, judges, and separates hideous connections. Those who do not know this method cut apart the matters to be explained the way cats tear rags. . . But someone may say: What good are Physics and Ethics to the church? This is really a Scythian question when it is asked in that way. Since it is right for the church of God both to be the most moderate and the most beautifully endowed with literature and art, these subjects may be understood as gifts of God, because they are of great use to the human race. . . Remember the insolent and Stoic confusions that come from the Anabaptists, who take all emotions from men and leave them without feeling. This error arises from an ignorance of physics, as if they said that they saw no distinction between good emotions, which are divinely implanted in the human heart and are called natural affections, and the depraved impulses or the unjust flames of the heart. . . Of the Ethics you yourselves know that true ethics is part of the divine law. . .

So, philosophy is the beautiful adornment of the church, without which, men fall into errors such as that of the Anabaptists, and without proper philosophy societies do not recognize the relationship between the natural law and the divine law that leads to discipline. The method that steers away from error is found in Aristotle’s dialectic, a possible jab at 16th century scholars such as Rudolf Agricola and Peter Ramus, who tried to reinvent dialectic around the art of Rhetoric. Melanchthon concludes this last speech by noting the reason why God gave man philosophy:

Nor in fact should it be doubted that these philosophical passages [of Aristotle and Cicero] … are useful for discipline. God wants us to look at nature, and has impressed his sign in it so that we may recognize him: he gave arts not only that they may be a support in life, but also that they may inform us of the order of its author, who is seen in numbers, in the motion of the heavens, in pictures and in that eternal and unchanging barrier set in the mind of man, namely in the judgment of good and bad: for that sweetest voice of Plato is correct when he says that the grace of God is scattered through the arts. Then let us love philosophy and know that it is to be used by the church to her great benefit, if it is used rightly. The minds of the pious would be thoroughly shocked if among the sacred things they saw the altars smeared with the sordid and filthy. It is no less evil to rush upon heavenly teaching barbarically, with inadequate knowledge of languages, history and arts, than it would be to desecrate sacred altars. Then let us cultivate studies of literature, language and honorable subjects, and give our work to the glory of God; and if we do that, it will be in God’s care, and will not lack rewards.

There are divine things within nature that may be discovered by all men. Contrary to what you may think he is doing with the image of the altar being smeared with unclean things, Melanchthon is actually continuing his line of thought, that when Aristotle’s method is abandoned or neglected, the “heavenly teaching” of philosophy is smeared with the “sordid and filthy.” And, in an apparent jab at the Scholastics, Melanchthon implies that heavenly teaching is distorted and the altars are smeared with filthy things when the pious possess an “inadequate knowledge of languages, history and arts.” Melanchthon was accused of being a rationalist because of his high praise of Aristotle, but when we look at nature from his perspective this accusation does not hold water. If nature glows with a divine light that is objective and if every man is part of that nature – man having the divine law written within him – then true and perfect philosophy, to which Aristotle came closer than any other pagan, is also divine and should be guarded for the welfare of both church and world. The torch which Prometheus took from the sky ignites “the minds of men with the power to think rightly.”

Johann Sturm: Calvinist, Humanist, and Educator

Johann SturmWe should all know more about Johann Sturm, and I hope to devote another post to his legacy. For now it will be sufficient to give a very brief account of who this man was. He was responsible for the Classical curriculum at the Stasbourg  Gymnasium (academy) founded by Martin Bucer, and through his lifelong service to that school and his reputation as a man of superior intellect and piety he became the father of the German public school system. Sturm was a tutor to the famous logician Peter Ramus and friends with the tutor of Queen Elizabeth I of England Roger Ascham, even working for Elizabeth for a time as a diplomat. Within the first decade of Sturm’s rectorship of the Strasbourg Academy he employed such professors as John Calvin, Wolfgang Capito, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Jerome Zanchi, and the founder of the school, Martin Bucer. All of these men had the utmost respect for Sturm, to the extent that they trusted him with the education of Strasbourg’s future civil and ecclesiastical leaders.

So, what was a Reformed education like in the 16th century? Speaking of Sturm’s treatise The Correct Opening of Elementary Schools of Letters, Lewis Spitz notes:

If this treatise were merely a discussion of books, classroom procedures and teaching techniques, it would still be fascinating; for its description of Sturm’s expectations for boys astonishes modern readers who find it hard to believe that seven-year-olds, often brought to their first year teacher without knowledge of the alphabet, were by the end of that year expected to be reading Cicero’s shorter letters! In their third year they were reading Vergil’s Aeneid, and in their fifth, the one in which they began Greek, Aesop. Then, during “their last year of boyhood” (at twelve) they were studying Aristotle’s logic. At fourteen, the year they would have acquired “ornate speech,” they began to study Hebrew. In their final year of the Gymnasium, they were to perfect “apt speech,” which Sturm expressed as “instructed, liberal, and accommodated to things” and to have begun (!) “the science of numbers,” and astrology. (Spitz, Johann Sturm on Education, p. 48)

You might have noticed that there is no mention of Latin amidst this discussion of curricula. That ommission is due to the fact that Latin was the language of discussion for teachers and students within the classroom, at play time, and on the walk home. Sturm writes to an instructor in the Lauingen School:

We want youth – all of them, including those harbored in the lowest grades – to have Latin conversations. We do not want teachers speaking to them in the native tongue, nor will it be necessary. . . When boys enter school, when they play, when they walk together, when they are coming on the way to school, their speech should be Latin or Greek. Let no one come here if he is going impudently to stray in this matter. (Sturm, For the Lauingen School, in Spitz, p. 246)

I will discuss the motives behind Sturm’s academic rigor in a separate post, but suffice it say that he was a true humanist who considered the eloquence of speech achieved by Cicero and others of antiquity to be the quintessential element of a proper education. Sturm viewed rhetoric with the utmost importance, since a true rhetor must be gifted with the knowledge of subject matter and the prudence required to choose the appropriate words and their arrangement, the combination of which will not merely stir the heart of the listener but will convince the mind as well. As a humanist educator and promoter of Classical education, Johann Sturm is one scholar that all Reformed educators – all Christians for that matter – should know about.