Part 1: 15 Reasons Why America Must Embrace Bible-Friendly Policy to Survive the 3rd Millennium
How Education, Literacy & the University Came From Christianity & Are Dying Without It
Comments | Print friendly | Subscribe | Email Us
As incredible as it may now seem, the entire history of Western education is steeped in the Christian faith. In fact, it is quite likely that without the foundational work of the Church, the modern world would not exist.
Without exemplary Christians like Charlemagne, Christian missionaries, and their worldview, there would be no modern university. Further, schools for the poor, or literacy programs would probably not have been launched without belief that each person needed to be able to read to access God’s Word.
Ironically, after helping establish the modern world, the formerly Christian-created university systems have been co-opted to be used as a relentless battering ram against faith, church and God. Yet, at the same time intellectual standards have utterly fallen, the West appears on the brink of lapsing into a new Dark Age. If America is to last into the new millennium, we must repent of this move towards darkness, reject our spiritual coma and once again embrace the light of intellectual rigor and the search for truth.
I. Literacy—Ancient & Modern
In ancient Greece and Rome there simply were not very many literate people, according to William V. Harris, in Ancient Literacy. The problem was not just a scarcity of manuscripts, but also the paucity of funds available for education. So only a small portion of the population could hope for an education, or to learn to read and write.
The possibility of widespread literacy was not possible until German Johanne Gutenberg’s (1395—1468) invention of the modern printing press, with moveable type. This allowed books to be printed more than one at a time. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this invention. Famously, Gutenberg chose to print the Bible as his magnum opus.
Reformer Martin Luther realized that creation of the moveable-type printing press made possible the widespread dissemination of a vernacular, or German-language Bible, for the common person. He had half a million copies of the German Bible printed. Luther did this to help crack the hegemony the Church held over Scripture. Despite not wanting to leave the Church, but merely reform it—his efforts succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. To underscore the point, we can trace the creation of the modern German language to Luther’s works. The same can be said of the vernacular Bibles of France, and England—the King James Version.
Widespread literacy came with religious groups, such as the Puritans, who put great emphasis on reading the Bible as a means of developing a spiritual life and gaining salvation. For example, the American colonists had a higher rate of literacy then their English cousins, as the colonists were undoubtedly more fervent in their beliefs. In many countries around the world, schools for the common man and woman and literacy have only come through Christian missionary work, up till today, according to Dana Robert’s Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion. Another site states,
We know the story of how, beginning in the 1800s, literacy was spread by missionaries around the world through full or partial Bible translations into roughly 2,500 languages. These efforts are often accompanied by literacy classes and/or mission schools. Catechism through Christian education is still taking place in Africa, India, Korea, many developing cultures and certain Asian countries.
Some more quotes from Robert’s book are notable:
“In many countries, missionaries were the first to insist on the education of girls, despite public opposition.”
“In 1869, Methodist missionary Isabella Thoburn founded a women’s college in India—the first in all of Asia.”
“By 1909… American missionary women were operating 3,263 schools, ranging from primary level to colleges”
“By the early twentieth century, the majority of girls’ schools in Japan, Korea, China, and other locations, had been founded by missionaries despite social prejudice against women’s education”
“In China, Korea, and Japan, women trained in missions schools pioneered women’s higher education”
Overall, modern world literacy is inconceivable without a strong bedrock of religious faith to provide the logic and commitment to spread it.
II. The First Schools
The entire theory of advanced education comes out of the Christian worldview. The concept and creation of the university (which have ironically morphed into the most humanistic and anti-Christian of undertakings) was created by Pope Alexander III, in 1179, according to Hunt Janin in The University in Medieval Life, 1179—1499.
Before the Pope directed that the European university system be built, Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, dictated schools be established for the teaching of the Franks. Charlemagne, along with Alfred the Great, is considered the preeminent European king. He was well-noted as a Christian warrior king who relentlessly battled pagan tribes, causing them to bend the knee to Christ, or suffer death. And yet, in his zeal for the good of his people, he also demanded schools be built for the largely illiterate masses.
In 789 King Charles, who would be named Emperor Charlemagne the next year, revealed an ambitious program to reform and improve education. All monasteries and cathedrals were to have schools offering, free of charge, the basic elements of education for any young man who had the ability and self-discipline needed to prepare academically for the priesthood. Charlemagne’s command on schools reads:
Let the priests recruit for these schools not only children from servile families but also the sons of free men. We wish that schools be created to teach children how to read. In the monasteries and in the bishoprics, teach the psalms, how to take notes, hymns, reckoning the dates of movable feasts in the religious calendar, grammar, and studiously correct the religious books because, often, when students want to pray to God they cannot do so because of imperfections and mistakes in these books.
These first cathedral schools averaged about 100 students. The program was overseen by the scholar Alcuin, and was eventually spread across the vast territory that the Franks controlled. Alcuin taught grammar, rhetoric, dialectic and the elements of geometry, astronomy, and music—known as the Seven Liberal Arts. Charlemagne wrote the “Charter of Modern Thought” to inform the Frankish Church of his new educational scheme. Charlemagne wrote that he
“...judged it to be of utility that, in their bishoprics and monasteries committed by Christ’s favour to his charge, care should be taken that there should not only be a regular manner of life, but also the study of letters, each to teach and learn them according to his ability and the Divine assistance…Let there, therefore, be chosen [for the work of teaching] men who are both willing and able to learn and let them apply themselves to this work with a zeal equal to the earnestness with which we recommend it to them.”
III. Start of the Universities
One of the great achievements of mankind is the creation of the medieval university. These were not based upon Greek or Roman models, but produced new, out of whole cloth. French medievalist Jacques Verger wrote:
The university is one of the great creations of the Middle Ages. It became stabilized as a corporative institution linked to the expansion of the cities and destined to become what we now call higher education. The university has continued to develop up to the present time and still remains important
Upon the foundation of public schools by Charlemagne, universities were begun by a dictate of Pope Alexander in 1179. Writes Janin,
In 1179, Pope Alexander III ordered that every cathedral should have a magister (master) who would, free of charge, teach Latin grammar—the cornerstone of academic knowledge in the Middle Ages—to bright but impoverished students.
By the 12th century, three universities had come into being in Europe, the first modern universities. These first three were Bologna, in Italy, which specialized in law; Paris, which dealt with theology and philosophy; and Oxford, which taught mathematics and the beginning sciences.
In the beginning, universities were designed to train the lucky few for careers in the Church. Later, laymen were allowed to attend, as well. The courses were all taught in Latin. The schools taught the received core curriculum from the ancient world of Classical texts, Greek, Roman, Arabic and early Christian authorities Original thought was not prized or encouraged, but the wisdom of past ages was exemplified. The core curriculum became biblical study, which supplanted the ancient Greek interest in philosophy.
What did the first universities teach? Janin describes this:
In medieval universities, theology, which was based on exegesis of the Bible, took over the preeminent role which philosophy had played in the Greek. It was hailed as “Madame la Haute Science” (“My lady the high science”) or as “Lady Theology.” It was the most prestigious and most difficult course of study. The doctrines of the church were supremely important; heresy was a serious and possibly fatal mistake in medieval times. Doctrinal errors were potentially so threatening to a man’s career and livelihood that he was well advised, under the threat of having his teaching license and thus his earning power canceled, to make sure that both his peers and the church approved of what he planned to teach students.’? Indeed, during the later Middle Ages university leaders would continue to stress the traditional, primary role accorded to theology. Jean Gerson, renowned French theologian and chancellor of the University of Paris, held that, in comparison with other academic disciplines, theology must be granted the role of domina (mistress). The other subjects were thus only ancillae (handmaidens) to theology.”
Even the famed scholastic method had a theological foundation, which was later used to branch out into all studies, and therefore provided a foundation for all university curricula, says Janin:
During the high scholastic period (1250 to 1350), scholasticism expanded beyond theology into many other fields. Its ultimate aim was to produce a systematic body of knowledge in every important arena of intellectual enquiry. Scholasticism was, together with the Christian faith, the intellectual powerhouse of medieval universities. Medievalist R. W. Southern said:
“The greatest virtue of the medieval scholastic system was that it stabilized and systematized knowledge of theology and law, which were the subjects of greatest importance for the creation of a fairly orderly and basically hopeful society, and which had been immensely successful in producing works of the highest genius in Christian doctrine, devotion, imagery, and order. The role of the schools was fundamental to their whole effort since they produced the systematic body of doctrine on which a way of life and a body of works of piety and devotion, and of imaginative force, were created which can never lose their power to attract, however much they may lose their power to convince.”
The famed Liberal Arts approach to modern university study was also laid down in the first colleges:
Let us look at the seven liberal arts (artes liberales), which formed the basis for most university studies. These arts were grammar, rhetoric, dialectical reasoning, music, astronomy, geometry, and arithmetic. They were called the “liberal” arts (from liberalis, which has its roots in the Latin word liber, meaning “free”) because they were held to be the proper course of study for free, i.e., non-servile, men. They were considered qualitatively different from and, indeed, much superior to the manual or mechanical arts and also to the practical and more mundane arts of law and medicine.
Lombard’s Sentences, a summary of the Bible, was probably the most influential and most used book from the medieval university.
IV. Intellectual High Points of History
It is an obvious observation that Christian societies have created some of the most outstanding intellectual movements in history. For example, the American Ivy League, long considered the world’s most prestigious university system, was originally founded to train ministers. As one source states,
With some 17,000 Puritans migrating to New England by 1620, Harvard was founded by ministers who realized the need for training clergy for the new commonwealth, a “church in the wilderness.” it was named for John Harvard, its first benefactor. It received its corporate charter in 1650 and became a university in 1780.
In the words of Harvard’s founders:
“After God had carried us safe to New England, and we ... rear’d convenient places for God’s worship ... dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches, when our present Ministers shall lie in the Dust ... it pleased God to stir up the heart of one Mr. Harvard, a godly gentleman and a lover of learning ... to give the one half of his estate ... towards the erecting of a college and all his Library.”
Note that America itself was based upon an intellectual tradition which represented the cream of the crop of Europe’s Puritan and Reformed thinkers. This inheritance was used for the American Declaration and Constitution. This religious legacy is perhaps inevitable when one considers that America was founded by men and women seeking a place to freely express their Christian convictions.
Or consider the fact that the modern age’s most influential thinker, John Locke, was wholly influenced by the Bible in nearly all of his philosophy, according to Kim Ian Parker in The Biblical Politics of John Locke. John Locke was influenced by the beginning chapters of Genesis to posit that mankind is naturally in a state of freedom and equality. Locke, who is considered the formative mind behind Classical Liberalism and the Enlightenment, as well as Religious Liberty and Constitutionalism, was perhaps the most influential writer upon America’s Founders.
Bradley Green notes this connection in his The Gospel and the Mind, writing:
...wherever the gospel takes hold of a culture, you inevitably see academies, schools, and institutions of learning develop. They develop not only to teach people how to read and understand the Bible, as important and central as that is. But wherever the gospel goes, it seems to generate intellectual deliberation and inquiry.
Green then proceeds to offer one reason why Christianity creates an intellectually hospitable environment:
One of the key burdens of this book is to suggest that without certain key theological realities and commitments, the cultivation of an enduring intellectual and cultural life becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible. In short, there is an inseparable relationship between the reality of the gospel and the cultivation of the intellectual life. When the gospel ceases to permeate and influence a given culture, we often see a confused understanding of the possibility of knowledge and the meaning of our thoughts. Ultimately, where the gospel is not holding sway, it should not surprise us to see the subtle or not-so-subtle disintegration of, or rejection of, meaningful intellectual engagement and activity.
V. Intellectual Free-fall: Political Correctness, Literary Theory & Value-Free Education
Having established that the history of Western education was a Christian undertaking, from beginning to end, we must now inquire—What has happened to American and European learning? A general rot has set in, as the most prestigious and elite universities are caving-in, as if from some hidden termite infestation. What is the cause?
In fact, the cause of the decline of education is quite obvious. Once you have challenged the idea of Truth itself, then what is the point of education? Instead of a search for Truth, education simply becomes another means for advocating for a political position. C. John Sommerville, in The Decline of the Secular University, writes “Universities are not giving us much practice at formulating worldviews, in [their] haste to fit us for our jobs…the academy needs to learn to speak theologically.”
Political Correctness teaches that all important moral decisions are predetermined, and that they all challenge tradition. This is simplistic revolutionary dogma. What a disaster! Literary Theory teaches that texts have no meaning. But if this were true, how could it ever be communicated? Further, wouldn’t that fact alone justify demolishing all schools? Talk about returning to a new Dark Ages!
In fact, the failure of the modern university is also the failure of journalism and of Hollywood. It is a failure of vision. One cannot build a meaningful world out of disbelief and nihilism. Human beings need a positive vision of life, and role models of success and genuine humanity. Until America regains this religious, Christian model, our slide towards collapse will only increasingly gain speed.