The Puritan Philosophy of Education -- By: Earle E. Cairns

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 104:415 (Jul 1947)
Article: The Puritan Philosophy of Education
Author: Earle E. Cairns

The Puritan Philosophy of Education

Earle E. Cairns

The New England Puritans came to America to try “an experiment in Christian living.” The heritage of the Renaissance and the Reformation was an important part of their equipment to cope with the wilderness. Luther had asserted the authority of the Scriptures in religious matters as over against the authority of the universal church, Fathers, pope, or church Councils. In the Bible one could find all that was necessary for faith and life. In common with the Renaissance humanists, Luther stressed the importance of the individual, who was not to be merged in the corporate unity of a universal medieval church or empire; but, unlike the humanists of Italy, Luther gave to the individual the authority of the Scriptures rather than that of the classics in the matter of achieving salvation. If the Bible was to be the new authority, the individual must be able to interpret it, and to interpret it one must be able to read it. Thus, the Reformers laid great stress upon universal elementary education for all, so that the Scriptures could be read and interpreted in the vernacular. Luther in his letter to the mayors and aldermen of all the cities of Germany in behalf of Christian schools (1524) wrote: “The welfare of the State depends upon the intelligence and virtue of its citizens, and it is therefore the duty of mayors and aldermen in all the cities to see that Christian schools are founded and maintained.”1 He advocated elementary schools to teach the vernacular, Latin schools, and universities. The last two would produce Christian leaders, trained in the classics and

original languages of the Bible, to be good interpreters of the Word who could grace both pulpit and public rostrum. Only in this way did he feel that temporal and spiritual institutions could be stable.

Calvin held to a similar conception of a religious state supporting a system of common vernacular schools, higher Latin schools, and a college for both religious and civic ends.2 To read the Bible and to take part intelligently in church services, education, at least in reading, was essential. Classical studies should not be ignored in setting up a curriculum for secondary schools and the university, but according to Calvin should serve a religious end. In planning a system of education in 1537 he wrote: “Although we yield the first place to the Word of God, we do not reject good training…the Word of God indeed is the foundation of all learning, but the liberal arts are aids to the full knowledge of the Word and are not to be despised.” Both the Bible and liberal arts are necessary “to sec...

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