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Lesson 5: Education Across The Centuries
Until the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine, Christians had been a minority. Governments had attempted to stamp out the church. In spite of legal and political opposition that murdered thousands of Christian martyrs, the church grew.

In AD 313, full religious freedom as a right of every man, recognition of the Christian faith, and reparations were decreed by the edict of Milan. Official persecution of Christians ended. Theodosius I established Christianity as the religion of the Empire. He authorized the name of Catholic Christians in AD 380.

Official recognition as the state religion brought significant changes in the educational practices of the Christians movement.

Christianity championed national reforms. The distinction between the church and state were almost non-existent. Infants were declared members of the church just as they were born citizens of the state.

When Christianity was an “outlaw” faith, great effort was made to teach new members the fundamentals of the faith. Once all citizens were ordered by the government to become followers of Christ, indoctrination took a back seat to organizational development.

Nothing substantial was done to teach about membership in the Christian faith. The early ideas of equality among all members before God was replaced by a spiritual hierarchy that soon appointed itself as final authority in all matters religious. Christianity became a set of rules and regulations.

When Rome fell, ignorance, illiteracy, decline in literature, arts, and science, economic chaos, and oppression was the status quo. The world was plunged into centuries of darkness.

Until the time of Martin Luther and the Reformation, the church was more interested in liturgy than education. Conditions for education were deplorable. Many church leaders were illiterate and ignorant of the basics of Christ’s teachings.

Tidwell records, “When Hooper was bishop of Gloucester; he found that out of 311 of his clergy, 168 were unable to repeat the Ten Commandments. Thirty-one did not know where to find them.

Forty could not tell where the Lord’s Prayer is to be found and 31 did not know the author.”

Teaching was reduced to rudimentary forms and formulas. Drama, sacraments, architecture, art, and stained glass replaced in depth training.

Slowly the world emerged from the Dark Ages. Gutenberg printed the first Bible in Mainz, Germany in 1456. Until that time, literature was limited to what was copied by hand.

The Renaissance was a period of renewed interest in learning. This prepared the way for the awaking of widespread interest in Christianity. The growing availability of Bibles spread the message of the Gospel. The Reformers and Old Guard clashed. Many men of faith were expelled from the Roman Catholic Church.

They continued their search. Erasmus (1466-1536) was a Dutch scholar. He translated the New Testament from Greek. He edited editions of classical church materials. He declared that all people should have the opportunity to study the scripture and interpret its meaning for himself. He was a major proponent for the education of women. Both of these teachings were radical at the time.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) was also a proponent of religious education. He challenged parents to teach their children. He called for the government to support compulsory education. Luther believed education of the public was essential for the success of the church and for the future of the church.

Philipp Melanchthon influenced the University of Wittenberg, Germany to combine secular materials and Christians though. His system of education affected both Christian education and religious education. He proclaimed that a Christian philosophy of education must embody both a due regard for the humanities and an
existential role for piety. Rhetoric, history, poetry, the languages, and the Scripture required equal study and mastery according to Melanchthon. Wisdom must be transmitted, not merely taught. Wisdom is the revelation of God in the Word of God. He led the schools where he taught to be life centered and pupil-oriented.
(A history of Religious Education P. 144-145, 151, 153)

John Calvin (1509-1564) admonished the church to teach the young. He prepared lesson guides in French and Latin. He proclaimed that children should learn the music of the faith and be allowed to sing in public worship. This was amazing for a time when “children were to be seen and not heard.” He devised a comprehensive educational and political system in Geneva in an attempt to create a Christian society. According to Calvin, knowledge and learning are not merely for one’s enjoyment or to satisfy intellectual curiosity. One should learn in order to teach others. (A History of RE P. 172)

John Knox (1505-1572) sought for Sunday religious activity to be centered on both worship and education. He called ministers to be as concerned about doctrinal education as Gospel preaching. He saw education as a major responsibility of the church. Secular education’s major benefit was that one learned to read. Upon gaining this skill one should use it to read the Scripture. This way individuals could discover God’s will for their life.

Ulrich Zwingli wrote the premier religious education book, The Christian Education of Youth. He brought attention to teaching individuals according to their educational level

Each of these reforms and their followers were instrumental in the growth of religious education as a valuable part ministry.

Post-Reformation Education
The Catholic Church was forced by the Protestant reformers to renew their educational efforts. In the 1500’s Jesuits had established free schools for children and offered quality education in religion and in secular subjects in North America, South America, the Orient, and other parts of the world.

Religious Education in Colonial America

The Colonial Period (1607-1783) emphasized the family and church as key institutions. Three distinct educational structures were formed. In New England a common school plan, which was the forerunner of the current public school system came into being. In the middle colonies, a parochial plan developed. In the South, a private school plan using tutors grew up. Each system placed high value on family and church.

The New England Primer was used as a basic reading text in every school in American. The contents of the book included the alphabet, vowels and consonants, capitals and small letters, easy syllables for children, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, the Shorter Catechism, and account of the martyrdom of John Rogers, and a dialogue between Christ, youth and the devil. Eighty seven per cent of the book included scripture.

For many years, Christianity influenced public and private education. During the national period (1783-1876) the gradual secularization of public education occurred. As a result it became essential that the church provide quality systems to teach their members.