Calvin And The Founding Of The Academy Of Geneva -- By: W. Stanford Reid

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 18:1 (Nov 1955)
Article: Calvin And The Founding Of The Academy Of Geneva
Author: W. Stanford Reid


Calvin And The Founding Of The Academy Of Geneva

W. Stanford Reid

ALTHOUGH Calvin is usually considered to be primarily a religious reformer, if one takes the care to look closely at his work, it will very soon appear that just as fundamental to his plans and purposes was educational reform. His never-ceasing search for the renovation of the contemporary educational system took its rise in what he saw to be the basic requirements for effective ecclesiastical amendment. Only if adequate education were given to the people, as well as to their leaders, could the Reformation movement be powerful to overcome the massed forces of Romanist error and political despotism. For this reason it is of no little importance to know something of Calvin’s views on education, views which were brought to focus and to development in the founding of the Academy of Geneva in 1559.

Education in 1500

The dominant educational philosophy of the Middle Ages, which was also very influential in the sixteenth century, was derived from the thinking of Thomas Aquinas. Basing his thinking upon the philosophy of Aristotle, which he tried to synthesize with his own ideas of Christianity, Aquinas developed a fairly complete system of thought which attempted to give an interpretation of all reality. Although it is impossible to consider his thought in any detail, it must be emphasized that a clear-cut distinction between nature and grace was basic. In the realm of nature, philosophy, natural science and the like, man could think and act independently of God, attaining to truth by reason alone. He could discover the “universal” pattern which determines the nature of each individual fact. Indeed, man could even reach certain divine truths by speculation, but he could not by this means alone press very

far into the supernatural realm. For knowledge in this field he had to turn to revelation or grace. Through faith he would attain to an understanding of the higher orders or degrees of being, i. e., those of the angels and of God. For this reason theology was the queen of the sciences since it dealt with the divine realm, while the other sciences concerned themselves with earthly trivialities.1 Such a point of view did not incite scholars to dig very deeply either into natural science or into the thought of the past, except in so far as such investigation supported Aquinas’s system of philosophy.

Naturally, the idea of education derived from this philosophy was somewhat limited in its scope and interest. The primary function of school and university was considered to be that of preparing men for either the church or the courts. As the church, however, was ...

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