Comenius, John Amos (1592–1670)

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John Amos Comenius, also called Komensky, the Czech philosopher of education and theologian, was born in Uhersky Brod. Comenius was a member of the Community of the Moravian Brethren (Unitas Fratrum ) and studied Protestant theology at the universities of Herborn and Heidelberg. Shortly after his return to Moravia, the Thirty Years' War broke out. The Protestant Czechs were defeated by the Catholic Hapsburg monarchy, and Comenius became a permanent exile. Elected bishop of the Unitas in 1632, he considered it his main mission as a pastor and as a theological writer to preserve the faith and unity of the dispersed Moravian brethren.

In his writings, which range from such topics as theology, politics, philosophy, and science (as he understood science) to linguistics and education, as well as in his personal life, he combined such contradictory strands of thought as world immanence and world transcendence, interest in science and dependence on false prophets, progressivism, and apocalyptic expectations. In order to understand this mingling of ideas, we must project ourselves into the baroque age, when so many illustrious minds were wandering from one extreme to another. Thus, despite scholastic and Calvinist influences during his years of study, Comenius's concept of the divine regime contained a notable admixture of Neoplatonic, evolutionary, mystical, and pantheistic ideas. God was for him the God of Nature as well as the God of Heaven. However, all these pantheistic leanings did not shake the foundations of Comenius's faith, and throughout his life he clung to the fundamentals of the Christian dogma. Nevertheless, it was the cosmic curiosity in Comenius's religion that opened his mind to the unfolding of the natural and humanistic sciences. Yet Comenius lacked any real understanding of science in the Newtonian sense. The generic concept under which he subsumed the new scientific pursuits was that of "Light," to be understood as both the "Light of God" and the light of reason that God has kindled in man in order to guide him on his way toward eternal truth.

No doubt a certain utopian chiliasm inspired Comenius, but he also shared with the greatest minds of his time the enthusiasm about a new discovery, the discovery of "method," understood as a form of systematic and empirical inquiry which would guarantee the harmonization between man's reason and the naturaland perhaps even the supernaturaluniverse. The man who impressed Comenius most of all was Francis Bacon. Through Bacon, he became convinced that the new inductive method would shed light not only on the arcana naturae but also on the mysteries of the human mind and of human learning. The long title of Comenius's Great Didactic (Didactica Magna ) tells the reader that the author believes he has found a system to teach "all things to all men." Comenius was one of the first to grasp the significance of a methodical procedure in schooling, to project a plan of universal education, and to see the significance of education as an agency of international understanding. Often quoted are the eight principles of teaching that Comenius expounds in Chapter 9 of the Great Didactic, in strange analogy to what he supposes to be the economy and order of the sun's functioning in the universe. Still valid in these principles is the emphasis on the interrelation between mental maturity and learning, on the participation of the student, and on the logical interconnection of the subjects in the curriculum.

Educationto be extended to both sexes, all men, and all peoplesshould be crowned by a pansophia (encyclopedic synthesis of universal knowledge), with the aim of a dilucidatio (systematic interpretation) of the order of all things within the cosmic order. For the promotion of the great and worldwide mission of education, Comenius recommended a "Universal College" of the great and wise men of the whole world, and an easily constructed international language for the peace and "for the reform of the whole world" and as an "antidote to the confusion of thought."

In 1668 he dedicated a treatise, The Way of Light (Via Lucis ), "to the torch bearers of this enlightened age, members of the Royal Society of London, now bringing real philosophy to a happy birth." He expressed the "confident hope" that through their endeavors "philosophy brought to perfection" would "exhibit the true and distinctive qualities of things for the constantly progressive increase of all that makes for good to mind, body, and estate."


works by comenius

The Great Didactic. Translated by M. W. Keatinge. London: A. and C. Black, 1923.

The Way of Light. Translated by E. T. Campagnac. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1938.

The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart. Translated by Matthew Spinka. Chicago: National Union of Czechoslovak Protestants in America, 1942.

John Amos Comenius, Selections, edited by Jean Piaget. New York, 1957. Contains references to more-recent Czech literature.

works on comenius

Bušek, Vratislav, ed. Comenius. Translated by Káca Polácková. New York: Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences in America, 1972.

Kozik, František. The Sorrowful and Heroic Life of John Amos Comenius. Prague: State Educational Publishing House, 1958.

Kvacala, J. J. A. Comenius. Berlin, 1914. Contains a large bibliography.

Laurie, S. S. John Amos Comenius. Boston, 1885.

Petru, Eduard. "The Harmonizing Influence of God in the Understanding of J. A. Comenius." Ultimate Reality and Meaning 20 (2 and 3) (1997): 99106.

Sadler, John E. J. A. Comenius and the Concept of Universal Education. London: Allen and Unwin, 1966.

Ulich, Robert. History of Educational Thought. New York: American Book, 1950.

Ulich, Robert. Three Thousand Years of Educational Wisdom. 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954.

Robert Ulich (1967)

Bibliography updated by Tamra Frei (2005)