Posted by: Brian Glass | June 18, 2010

Classical Education Part 2

My first findings in regard to the history of education may come as a shock to many who have been taught exactly the opposite. The “dark” ages were not exactly dark. (Recall that my research at this point is focusing on England). Quoting from Watson:

…the ecclesiastical organisation of the Middle Ages had established a school system both on the secondary and elementary planes of a far more extensive kind than historians have ordinarily supposed.

Evidence indicates that during the middle (otherwise known as “dark”) ages, the number of schools was great. In even relatively small towns endowments or funds known as chantries had been initiated to allow those who could not afford to pay for a teacher to attend school free of charge. Except in very remote and sparsely populated regions a boy would not have had to go very far to find a regular grammar school. Even the poor would have had the opportunity to learn Latin. The means of reading and writing Latin was by no means confined to the clergy as I was led to believe.

These chantry schools established by the Church existed well into the 16th century. The Church provided a chantry priest who was responsible for teaching especially the poor boys. The foundational material for teaching young school boys was the Expositiones Sequentiarum et Hymnorum, which served the double purpose of establishing both a Christian foundation as well as practice in Latin. (I found a copy of this but am not skilled enough yet to read it). It is clear that the primary purpose of the schools was to form the character and to establish a well-grounded Christian faith in its students.

Chesterton’s explanation of the “dark” ages seems apropos:

I take in order the next instance offered: the idea that Christianity belongs to the Dark Ages. Here I did not satisfy myself with reading modern generalisations; I read a little history. And in history I found that Christianity, so far from belonging to the Dark Ages, was the one path across the Dark Ages that was not dark. It was a shining bridge connecting two shining civilizations. If any one says that the faith arose in ignorance and savagery the answer is simple: it didn’t. It arose in the Mediterranean civilization in the full summer of the Roman Empire. The world was swarming with sceptics, and pantheism was as plain as the sun, when Constantine nailed the cross to the mast. It is perfectly true that afterwards the ship sank; but it is far more extraordinary that the ship came up again: repainted and glittering, with the cross still at the top. This is the amazing thing the religion did: it turned a sunken ship into a submarine. The ark lived under the load of waters; after being buried under the debris of dynasties and clans, we arose and remembered Rome. If our faith had been a mere fad of the fading empire, fad would have followed fad in the twilight, and if the civilization ever re-emerged (and many such have never re-emerged) it would have been under some new barbaric flag. But the Christian Church was the last life of the old society and was also the first life of the new. She took the people who were forgetting how to make an arch and she taught them to invent the Gothic arch. In a word, the most absurd thing that could be said of the Church is the thing we have all heard said of it. How can we say that the Church wishes to bring us back into the Dark Ages? The Church was the only thing that ever brought us out of them.

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Responses

  1. Beautiful quote by Chesterton. Thank you Brian for these articles. I will post a link to your blog on my company’s facebook page!


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