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The Impact of Calvinism on Education


February 8, 2016David Murray (http://headhearthand.org/blog/author/davidprts/) 0 comments

(http://headhearthand.org/blog/2016/02/08/the-impact-of-calvinism-on-education/#disqus_thread)

Over the next few weeks, Ill be posting extracts of a popular-level


address I gave onThe Impact of Calvinism on Culture.Previous posts
on Calvinism includeTheres More to Calvinism Than the Five Points of
Calvinism (http://headhearthand.org/blog/2015/10/12/theres-more-to-
calvinism-than-the- ve-points-of-calvinism/), Theres More to The
Doctrines of Grace than the Doctrines of Grace
(http://headhearthand.org/blog/2015/10/13/theres-more-to-
the-doctrines-of-grace-than-the-doctrines-of-grace/), The Five Distortions
of Calvinism (http://headhearthand.org/blog/2015/10/15/the- ve-
distortions-of-calvinism/), and the introduction to this series, The Impact
of Calvinism on Culture (http://headhearthand.org/blog/2016/02/04
/the-impact-of-calvinism-on-culture/).

Although John Calvins views about education were shaped by his


classical education and mainstream humanism, he also introduced a
number of changes that impacted education in many countries and
continued to do so in the following centuries. If he was alive today, I
believe he would explain his approach to education as follows (Ive
presented summaries of the material in bullet points for the purposes of
the blog post format).

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1. Education is for all irrespective of age, gender, or wealth.

Despite Calvins view that original sin a ected every faculty from
conception, he maintained an optimistic view about the educational
potential of children.

Calvin rejected the Roman Catholic view that ignorance is the


mother of piety.

He reformed Genevas public schools by rejecting the idea that


education was only for aristocratic and Roman Catholic elites.

Calvin and other reformers made public education available to all


children from a young age without respect to gender or wealth.

Calvin was basically the father of free public education, being one of
the rst to educate girls.

Each child was to be viewed as a gift from God that was to be


developed and stewarded for Gods glory.

Calvin opened the way for people to raise themselves by education


and by the diligent use of their knowledge and abilities.[1]

2. Education is the responsibility of the Church and parents

Calvin taught that schools were to be Reformed, with congregational


oversight of the school and the curriculum.

The church was responsible for the whole education of the children
and congregations were expected to nance the schools.

Calvin also insisted that education must begin with training in the

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home, motivating his passion to develop Christian fathers and


mothers who would con rm the school lessons at home.

Under Calvins church discipline, parents were punished if they did


not send their children to school.

Children were also expected to attend a weekly catechism class.

A few times every year the churchs leaders would meet with the
children and their parents to examine their educational and spiritual
progress.

3. Educations goal is theological and spiritual

Whereas the aim of renaissance education was humanism the


study and knowledge of humanness Calvins ultimate aim was the
knowledge of God.

As no one can know himself without rst knowing God, the rst
subject of an education was to be God, and then from that humanity
can be studied.

He wanted children to be taught the Christian faith early, before


sinful desires and acts became dominant in their lives.

In the constitution of his Genevan Academy, Calvin stated that the


foundation of all learning was the Word of God.

Calvins doctrine of creation, providence, and Gods sovereignty


meant that there is not a single fact in the universe that is not a
God-centered factall facts derive their signi cance and meaning
from the mind of God.[2]

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The true aim of education is to lead the child to the Christian life
The glory of God is the nal aim in mans life, and this is also the
nal aim in mans education.[3]

Calvin saw that a well-educated ministry and a well-educated people


were necessary for the spread of Reformed truth.

4. Education is to include nature and the natural world

Genesis 1:26-28 is not just an agricultural command but a cultural


command. The statement means that humankind has been placed
by God over the entire creation, including that part of it produced by
people (usually called culture).[4]

If the human race is to have dominion over the earthly order, every
sphere and act of dominion is worthy [of study][5]

The doctrine of creation a rms the earthly order as having value in


Gods sight.[6]

Calvin maintained that the liberal arts are aids to a full knowledge of
the Word of God.

Calvin was convinced that the Reformation could grow and increase
only through a study of the arts and sciences as well as that of
theology.[7]

Education in sacred and secular subjects had the same nal aim: the
glory of God.

According to Calvin, science was a gift of God, created for the


bene t of mankind. The real source of natural knowledge was the

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Holy Spirit. Whoever dealt with it acknowledged God, obeyed the


call of God, and focused on Gods creation. Thus, biology was also
theology.[8]

One of the Calvin Studies Society papers on the legacy of John Calvin
concluded:

In refusing to reject outright the contribution of the humanist liberal arts to the
educational process, and in ensuring that higher education was not perceived
solely in a narrow sense, even for future pastors, Calvins impact was signi cant.[9]

Calvinistic con dence in the unity, stability and order of of the world
could not but awaken as with a loud voice, and vigorously foster
love for science.[10]

The ourishing of science and scienti c enquiry in the following


centuries in Calvinistic counties have been traced to Calvins writing
and teaching.

5. Education is to be carried out by gifted Christian teachers

Calvin saw the teachers job as ranking almost with that of the
minister.

He viewed teachers as o cers and servants of the church.

He required that they hold a theological degree, that they be of


mature and good character, and that they be well enough paid so
that they could accept poor children free of charge.

6. Education is to prepare students for ecclesiastical and civil


government

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Calvins schools all had the stated aim of preparing children for both
the ministry and civil government.

Calvin wrote in a letter to the King of England: As the schools


contain the seeds of the ministry there is much need to keep them
pure and thoroughly free from ill weeds.[11]

He wanted to promote not just pure religion but the public welfare.

Calvins ecclesiology (government by lay-elders) and soteriology


(each individual was responsible to seek his own salvation) required
everyone to be educated rather than just a handful of priests.

Conclusion: Wider and Ongoing Impact

Calvins educational revolution in Geneva reverberated way beyond


the citys walls and continued to in uence the education of children
for years afterwards.

In 1559 The Genevan Academy was created and divided into two
sections: the College (o ering secondary and some primary
education) and the Academy proper which was more like a
university and o ered higher learning in Theology.

J Coetzee says the Academy was his crowning achievement in his


building of a Christian state.

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The Academy drew students from far and near, from all overIn this way,
Calvinistic teaching and learning spread over a very wide area. In 1564, the year in
which Calvin died, there were some 1200 pupils in the College and some 300 in the
Academy proper. Among its foreign students were many illustrious men, such as
the tutor of King Henry IV of France; Thomas Bodley, the founder of the famous
Bodleian library at the University of Oxford; Kasper Olevianus, cowriter of the
Heidelberg Catechism; Marnix of Saint Aldegonde, a leading Calvinist in the
Netherlands. In 1625 a list of famous men was drawn up at Liege and it could be
stated that more than one fourth of the names so listed were of men who had
studied at the Genevan Academy.[12]

Joel Beeke said that:

The Academy served as a model for the establishment of similar institutions in all
countries where Calvinism found adherents. These institutions developed into
internationally famous academies or universities from which came the most
learned men over the whole of Western Europe and even the United States of
America.[13]

Some historians regard these schools as the forerunners of modern


public education.[14]

Basically, wherever Calvinism went, schools and Colleges were


established. The old saying, With Romanism goes the priest; with
Calvinism goes the teacher, was proven true in Europe and in America.

[1] Joel Beeke, Calvin for Today (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product


/B00C9QH8US/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&
creativeASIN=B00C9QH8US&linkCode=as2&tag=headhearthand-
20&linkId=5T2GCPRPWGDXQWG2), 245.
[2] Phillip Vollmer, John Calvin: Man of the Millennium
(http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1934554359/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&
camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1934554359&

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linkCode=as2&tag=headhearthand-20&linkId=H5NURZST62W2WZYX),
197.
[3] Jacob Hoogstra, John Calvin: Contemporary Prophet
(http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000O2SBPK
/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&
creativeASIN=B000O2SBPK&linkCode=as2&tag=headhearthand-
20&linkId=GA3M2QJAAVIOUXF6), 216.
[4] Leland Ryken, Calvin and Culture: Exploring a Worldview
(http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1596380985/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&
camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1596380985&
linkCode=as2&tag=headhearthand-20&linkId=WP4Q43ABLZ3GH54A),
ed. David W. Hall, 97.
[5] Ryken, 98.
[6] Ryken, 112.
[7] Vollmer, 201.
[8]Engaging with Calvin (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product
/1844743985/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&
creativeASIN=1844743985&linkCode=as2&tag=headhearthand-
20&linkId=Z3COWS3WMH34N3OM), ed. Mark Thompson, 155.
[9] Calvin Studies Society Papers,The Legacy of John Calvin
(http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007EMKGJ2
/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&
creativeASIN=B007EMKGJ2&linkCode=as2&tag=headhearthand-
20&linkId=GFG4JSVJTMLTPWV4), 26.
[10] Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism (http://www.amazon.com
/gp/product/1449570143/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&

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creative=390957&creativeASIN=1449570143&linkCode=as2&
tag=headhearthand-20&linkId=3OM5HIDJKPPCCKB7), 115.
[11] Vollmer, 166.
[12] Hoogstra, 211-212.
[13] Hoogstra, 212.
[14] Beeke, 242-243.

Ill post a bibliography of all books consulted at the end of the series.

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