THE RENAISSANCE AND REFORMATION
A revival of learning, known as the Renaissance, developed during the 14th century and took on a religious dimension as it spread throughout northern Europe. There was a renewed interest in the biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew, and the works of the early church fathers were published in a new form, the printed book. Biblical piety rather than scholastic theology became the mode for promoting the growth of the Christian faith. In some areas of Northern Europe, this revival of learning focused on reforming the church and Christian theology.
The educational efforts of Renaissance humanism (focus on human study) resulted in the establishment of secondary and preparatory schools. The curriculum combined secular and religious learning as well as the classical and medieval. Renaissance learning focused on the betterment of society and included traditional subjects of reading, speaking, writing, poetry, history, and moral philosophy. By the 15th century, the values of the Italian Renaissance on Scripture wedded with mystical philosophy had spread throughout Europe. Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), the most influential Christian humanist in England, promoted a simpler and non-dogmatic version of the Christian faith, distinct from the abstract and theoretical nature of scholasticism. Erasmus promoted Christian piety based on knowledge of Scripture and the church fathers. He promoted learning through creative games and physical activity, and held that teachers should build knowledge and character in their students through love and understanding.
Renaissance humanism brought about cultural and political changes in Germany that enabled the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther (1483-1546), a Roman Catholic priest and professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg, Germany, mobilized the Reformation when he publicly revolted against certain church teachings and practices. Luther argued that the Bible was the supreme authority in matters of Christian life and that everyone had the right and responsibility to access scripture. He also believed that every Christian could act as a priest for himself or herself and approach God directly.
A central concern of the 16th century Reformation was the reform of education, including early catechism training to graduate studies. Luther fought for the establishment of schools throughout Germany for all children, and he had a significant role in developing a national system of education in Europe. Luther communicated the ideals of his reform movement by developing educational systems for young children. The publication of Luther's Large Catechism for pastors and teachers and a Small Catechism for children marked his major contribution to Christian education. Through the catechisms, Luther sought to promote systematic education in Christian teachings.
In response to the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church leaders met at the Council of Trent (three separate sessions between 1545-1563), giving serious attention to the education of the clergy and strengthening Catholic education by establishing schools. The Jesuits, a Roman Catholic order founded by Ignatius of Loyola, established many schools. The Jesuit system of education was thorough and effective, giving meticulous attention to educational principles, preparation of teachers, and a broad scope of learning. The Jesuit Plan of Studies, printed in 1599, guided Jesuit education without change for more than 200 years. The curriculum included creative and competitive learning strategies and encouraged positive teacher-student relationships.
THE BIRTH OF MODERN CHRISTIAN EDUCATION
Modern Christian education, rooted in the Renaissance and the Reformation, evolved from the influence of many major leaders and movements. The ideas of John Amos Comenius (1592-1670), a Moravian church bishop, demonstrated a break from the educational practices of the Middle Ages making a significant impact on European education of children. Comenius devised new methods of teaching Latin through pictures, and he believed that children should be taught according to their natural psychological development. Comenius also believed that people come to know truth through religious faith rather than secular studies. In contrast to Comenius, Enlightenment (1680- 1790) thinkers believed that human reason was the supreme authority for life rather than faith or church tradition. Enlightenment thought challenged traditional Christian theology, yet along with Comenius, it paved the way for the emergence of liberal and progressive approaches to education in the 19th century. Many of the Enlightenment ideas rejected by Christians were eventually incorporated into Christian education. For example, the revolt against children as small adults led by Enlightenment writer Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was embraced by progressive Christian educators of the 20th century.
Catholic educators of the 19th century held to humanist tradition of liberal arts education, but condemned Enlightenment ideas as modern heresy. The papacy upheld the scholastic tradition of Thomas Aquinas, and rejected modern biblical scholarship. The ideals of Catholic education, such as the value of theological knowledge in liberal arts education, were articulated by John Cardinal Newman's 1852 work, The Idea of a University. In 1929, Pope Pius XI circulated a major letter on education that argued for the rights of the Catholic Church to maintain traditional Catholic education and attacked the modern progressive education in Europe and the United States.