Lessons in Humanity from the Life and Work of Jan Amos Comenius:
A Study in Anthropological Pansophy
A Review Article
Preface: The Father of Modern Education by Thomas Johnson
Johnson, who appears to be Hábl’s mentor, writes on p. 9 of principles in nature and in human nature that we can recognize and that we should follow in order to reach our earthly and spiritual destinies. He thus wishes to separate the best parts of human nature from those in human nature which stand in conflict to them.
This is an artificial dissecting of the human in man which has often been used for totalitarian purposes in order to promote a less-than human society. True Pansophy is not limited to the anthropological and always adds to an all-round knowledge rather than separates one part of knowledge from another. A good teacher strives to educate the whole man, not what he feels because of culture or religion is merely the best in him. True educational reform seeks to make the best out of the worst. Thus the separation of one part of humanity (the alleged worst) from another part (the alleged best) in Hábl’s educational concept of humanization, pansophy and anthropology must be rejected on humanitarian and pansophical grounds.
1. Introduction: The Problem of Humanity and Educational Humanization.
On page 11, Hábl speaks of the dehumanizing tenets of communist totalitarianism. However, from a Christian perspective, which is professedly Hábl’s, Communist totalitarian de-humanization of the mass’s synergistic thoughts was an attempt to separate the material from the spiritual and thus degrade man as man. Hábl’s concentration on the anthropological and humanization factors in education thus still smacks of anti-humanising tendencies.
Hábl defines humanization on page 12 in Spilkova’s words as, ‘the significant strengthening of an anthropological orientation, increased attention to the child, to his or her needs, interests, and potentials of development’ and, quoting Holkovič, calls it an ‘adequate adjustment of the whole system of education and its particular parts to the needs of students’. He then quotes Rýdl’s definition, ‘approximation to the needs and expectations of the individual, so that he or she participates in shaping the form of educational processes.’ To this, we may ask, ‘If good modern education can be called a strengthening of anthropological orientation, what was the old system like? How was it less anthropological? Was it more spiritual than Hábl’s stress on anthropological humanization and therefore less humanising? How can an intensified anthropological thrust lead to an understanding of spiritual destinies which, rather contrary to all his arguments, still appears to be Hábl’s aim? Furthermore, if education means adjusting the curriculum to the needs of students, who determines what these needs are? If children are to be educated pansophically, are teachers who see reality, knowledge and wisdom merely in the anthropological adequate qualified for their pansophical task? If education is an approximation to the needs and expectations of the individual, how is the education of the individual to be advanced and deepened by those who wish to ‘adjust’ and ‘approximate’ them? It would appear to this author, who has taught in schools and colleges and trained teachers all his adult life, that these definitions are educationally inadequate and reflect no educational fundament, or, indeed, reason for educating. The definitions of ‘humanisation’ Hábl gives are thus inadequate as a basis for reforming education. Furthermore, Comenius expressly says in Pansophiae Praeludium that when he refers to Pansophia he means a Pansophia Christiana and outlines in five points its scope which reaches beyond that which Hábl continually discusses as ‘Comenian’. 1 Comenius himself is never happy with a bare pansophia humana. He does write of a vera humana sepentia but this is not an omnissapienta or a pansophia christiana. However, Comenius always limited pansophia to the sum of that which was revealed in nature, the Scriptures and man’s mens, whereas a number of his contermporaries such as John Durie placed all knowledge in the mens of Christ which was the pattern and extent of absolute knowledge and was limitless. That Comenius also wished to be Christo-centric in his teaching is more than soft-pedalled by Hábl. Nor does Hábl really discuss why Comenius did not reach the pansophical and theological practice and aims of his ancient and contemporary mentors.
However, Hábl relates on page 13 that this scheme of ‘humanisation has not yet arrived’ in the Czech Republic. Perhaps this is not a bad thing as Hábl’s idea of ‘humanisation’ as a goal for universal learning is unhelpful in envisaging an all-round, useful education for the good of the pupil and the good of society. It is not that schools have failed to achieve a humanisation, the humanisation which Hábl and those he quotes positively envisage cannot be spoken of as a janua to achievement. It is a wrong start in reaching ‘earthly and spiritual destinies’. This is not because the aim to educate humanity towards earthly and spiritual goals is wrong but the whole idea of ‘humanisation’ as put forward by Hábl is wrong. As Rýdl says, humanization is becoming (has become?) a mere slogan. Where is here the pansophia and merging of a mere humanism with the spiritual, the physical with the metaphysical that Comenius sought? Granted, Comenius’ views were often more Neoplatonic than, say, Pauline, but he never divorced divinity from humanity. The difference between Comenius and his contemporary educational reformers was that he placed ‘the Book of Man’s Mind’ as his starting point whereas others such as Durie started with the idea of a total knowledge, called by them Practical Divinity which was centred in their concept of a God-Only-Wise. Both Durie and Comenius, who differed radically in their views on pansophy, nevertheless had a community in harmony with God as their goal.
Hábl seeks on page 14 to repair this deficit by telling us that the reason ‘why humanisation is not arriving’ is philosophical. He thus wishes to make his contribution to a humanization of society via the philosophy of Comenius. Here I would have expected Hábl to have said that the failure of humanization is that it leaves no place for the ‘spiritual’. However, Hábl seems rather cautious of using the word ‘spiritual’ unashamedly introduced by Prof. Johnson in his Preface. Instead, he talks about ‘the transcendental dimensions of humanity’ which is even emptier of sense content than his favourite but ill-defined word ‘humanisation’.
In concluding the chapter, Hábl claims he will demonstrate Comenius’ relevance to the post-modern situation, which he leaves undefined. However, the fourteen works he lists to back up his point are not from experts on Comenius. They are also not educators but popular writers who attempted to come to terms with the then modern slogan of Post-Modernism starting some thirty years ago. The attempt to revive an old once-fashionable term is quite irrelevant to how Comenius’ alleged philosophy could help the pupil of 2012 and beyond. Using such ‘technical terms’ which are quickly outdated is hardly helpful. Comenius wished to educate for eternity and not for a quickly passing short period of time now in the past.
Hábl’s anthropology reminds us of the coercive and authoritarian methods warned against by Shore and Wright in their Goldsmith College study ‘Audit Culture and Anthropology: Neo-liberalism in British Higher Education’ (Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 1999). This study refers to the modern audit culture with its counter emancipatory methods, allowing for no reflexivity on the part of pupils. Indeed the term ‘anthropology’ has bad connotations in modern education precisely because of the connections with totalitarian systems. In order to introduce Comenius’ ideas into modern education, Hábl has chosen the wrong terminology. Obviously, he is thinking of using familiar terms borrowed from a totalitarian regime and giving them a new content to help the Czechs shake off a totalitarian past but his terms are too loaded for this method. Why did not Hábl go back to Comenius’ terms? The modern context is not so very different from that of Comenius’ days to make breeching the gap impossible. It appears that it is because of the anthropological emphasis in education of the Communist regime that the Czech Republic has lost touch with the historical developments before the Communist era. Yet it is precisely the anthropological route which Hábl is taking. So wherein does the reform lie? Hábl knows that the Czech Republic has lost touch with Comenius but he is finding it difficult to restore Comenius’ thinking through his own antiquated ‘Post-Modern’ terminology. Would not Hábl’s best policy be to fill in the missing historical links neglected by totalitarian thinking? Once the Czech Republic has re-found its historical roots in which Comenius played a great part, he can go on from there, building on a surer foundation than totalitarian ideology. So, too, he should tackle the problem pansophically, and not philosophically. As Comenius failed himself here, Hábl should thus improve on Comenius, rather than on Communism with its great break with the past and denunciation of former Czech culture, learning and religion.
2. Sources of Humanity in Comenius’ Biography
Hábl aims from page 17 on to depict the developments of Comenius’ Anthropology, which he describes as his ‘notion of humanity’. Again, Hábl is hiding the fact that Comenius wrote as much about ‘notions of divinity’ as he did about ‘notions of humanity’. In his ‘Greetings to the Reader’ in His Great Didactics, Comenius claims his educational aim is to impart ‘true knowledge, gentle morals and the deepest piety’ to his pupils. He adds that his aim is thus nothing less than the salvation of mankind and rejoices at the number of God-inspired contemporaries who are reforming education. He is certainly thinking of Hartlib and Durie here, amongst many others, and the pact he made with them to work as one tripartite man with them to reach this end. Trevor-Roper, thus calls them the Triumvirate of reforming men. Unlike Durie and Hartlib, however, who wished to make all children, youths and adults the beneficiaries of their educational plans, Comenius argues in his ‘Dedicatory Letter’ that God’s chosen ones are the subjects for Christian education which is to be carried out solely by worthy servants of Jesus Christ. In Durie’s pansophic system of education in both pupils and staff, he allowed for what he called ‘cases of conscience’. This reminds us of home-schooling William Cowper who had a friendly quarrel with John Newton concerning seeking help from non-Christian experts. Cowper felt that England needed good financial experts. Newton added, ‘but only if they are Christians’.
The idea of the Universal Church which Hábl takes up on page 19 makes a good basis for universal learning. The more united the churches are in faith and practice, the broader the basis for introducing universal learning. This was Durie’s aim; to unite Protestantism before a united educational course could be maintained. However, again, here Durie was more tolerant than Comenius who would not have ‘sects’ uniting with him.
Also the idea in justification by faith that the only righteousness which counted was that which was merited through Christ the Lord producing a ‘living faith’ aired on page 20 echoes the true Comenius but Hábl sees this merely as an emphasis on human deeds and actions. This is surely not Comenius’ whole point. This takes the emphasis from Christ’s righteousness and places it as a human attribute. Surely the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is not a mere emendation but a total re-construction of man.
The distinction drawn on page 21 between living in the end times and speculative Chiliastic visions gives a better impetus to Pansophism as we teach for the here, now and ever rather than merely for some future climax. Education is not a way of escaping from the world but a way of serving and saving the world.
Hábl, rather late, now looks very briefly on page 22 at the historical development of the Unitas Fratum, leaving his major demonstration to a footnote giving Strupl’s insight into the six stages of the United Brethrens’ history. But why see Comenius as ‘perfecting’ the development and forming the sixth stage? Were the 18th century developments merely a continuation of the 17th cent.? It would appear that much of the 18th century action was to get back to the roots rather than nest in Comenius’ branches.
On page 24, Hábl speaks of Comenius receiving a ‘proper university education’ during his two year’s under Alsted and Piscator at the Herborn High School. Though this education was renowned throughout Europe, Herborn was only a ‘Reformed Grammar School’ from where one graduated to university. It gave no degrees of its own. Besides Comenius had only received a very brief education indeed before going on to Herborn as he had to work for a living even as a child. The Herborn Grammar School fitted Comenius out to matriculate at Heidelberg where he broke off his studies after only a year. Comenius’ lack of a thorough-going academic education in his childhood and maturity hindered his work throughout his life. Indeed, Daniel Alexander Neval in his post-doctoral work Comenius’ Pansophie: die dreifache Offenbarung Gottes in Schrift, Natur und Vernunft, tells us on page 65 that ‘Auf seine Schulzeit blickt Comenius nicht gerade mit Freude zurück.’ This is why Comenius was always dependent on a team of workers to help him compile his writings and always looked for the polymaths to help him of which category, he confesses, he was not. Letters preserved in the Lord Delaware Collection refer to his constant soliciting for experts to help him compile his works. The broad and lengthy pansophical education enjoyed by his contemporaries such as Durie and Kinner was never his and it is a moot point whether he bettered the encyclopedism of Alsted, Piscator and Bisterfeld or not. Hábl repeatedly says Comenius found them wanting but never spells out how he possibly bettered them. The Herborn Grammar School led by Alsted during the two years Comenius was there was virtually non-subject-oriented in its curriculum but Comenius never reached this pansophic goal. So, too, Comenius’ educational theories never really embraced academic studies. Durie taught children from the elementary school on to think academically. Comenius also lagged far behind his mentor and co-worker Kinner who was a leading scientist, educator, biologist, Privy Councellor and physician with several doctorates and a specialist in mining and geology. Comenius was also way behind Durie in academic experience and know-how. Comenius’ early works, sadly lost, appear to have been encyclopedic and, according to my research, he returned to this method in later life. Comenius’ pansophy never moved beyond a mere generalizing of knowledge from case studies. It is notable that Hábl does not list Marburg Prof. Menk’s works on the Herborn School and the Comenius environment. Reading Prof. Menk’s works such as his doctor’s thesis Die Hohe Schule Herborn in Ihrer Frühzeit (1584-1660) and conversing with him has made the Hohe Schule come to life for me.
It is true that Comenius’ Labyrinth is a rattling good story, dealt with on page 28, but it is not the revolutionary work Hábl claims it is. There is little new in it as far as literary and educational genres go. It has the old, well-used themes used in Chaucer’s, Gower’s, Langland’s and Bunyan’s allegories, though Pilgrim’s Progress was written after the Labyrinth. So too, the educational ideas found in the Labyrinth had already been put in practice or bettered by Bacon, Mulcastor, Andreae, the Herborn Hohe Schule, the Baths, Bodin, Ratke, the Czech Reformation and the Spanish Jesuits. Indeed, Comenius was treading a traditional path well-trod by others and, unlike the contemporary university city of Paris, which still scorned English works as barbarian, there had been a most positive reception of English spiritual and allegorical writers in Prague for three hundred years. Thus, by the time Comenius wrote his Labyrinth, elements of pansophic thinking had filtered in from England, Scotland, Holland, France, Spain and Germany into the Czech educational scene. Though the Labyrinth is continually being kept up-to-date through translations which greatly enhance and spread its reception, it never reached the optimistic heights of progress depicted by Bunyan, either in natural or spiritual teaching. Allegory has its sure place in literature but it is not a good venue for factual, scientific study. When Durie started on his special pansophic educational ideas of the ‘sciences’ in the late twenties, he could still say that he had no predecessors who could advise him. He took his own pilgrimage along a different route. It is true that Comenius worked for the future in that he provided both Leibnitz and Hegel with ideas. However, both of these scholars put their clocks back and took up ancient Kabbalistic ideas similar to those of Comenius, but not those of a well-synergised pansophy, though Leibnitz was familiar with Durie’s greater break with the past. Sadly, most of the discussions linking Comenius with Leibnitz such as that of Bruno Tillmann are based on secondary literature only with little original textual work done. Happily, new discoveries such as insight into the Jablonskis show the difference between Durie’s and Comenius’ influence on Leibnitz. Howard Louthan and Andrea Sterk do underline the educative pioneering spirit of Comenius in his Labyrinth. They reveal, however, that the Labyrinth was not so much the product of the sixteen-twenties but his life’s work. Accepting that the story forms a 17th century milestone for the progress of Czech and European literature, it, nevertheless, demonstrates that Comenius life’s work builds on past concepts without transforming them for future use. There is, therefore, no modern application of the ideas of a Durie developed in the sixteen-twenties in using the filum Ariadnes, filum meditandi and filum cognitandi to embrace the labyrinthal knowledge as a sum and total holistic vision. So, too, the ecumenical element found in the story is not as extensive as in the works of other contemporaries. However, Durie never entered into allegorical fiction and never produced belles-lettres apart from an occasional Latin poem dedicated to a friend. Sadly, Durie’s works were mostly for the experts which makes them perhaps less popular today.
After saying this, Hábl does not give due emphasis to the spiritual nature of the Labyrinth which explodes Hábl’s anthropological and humanistic descriptions of it. In his Preface to Louthan and Sterk’s 1998 translation of the Labyrinth, Jan Milič Lochman tells us that Comenius wrote the work ‘under the scepter of Christ and ‘The Paradise of the Heart refers to the fellowship of the believer with his Saviour.’ He also tells us that this was Comenius’ purpose from the beginning to the end of Comenius’ writings as witnessed also by his later Amsterdam work Unum necessarium – The One Thing Necessary.
On pages 34-36, Hábl totally exaggerates Comenius’ historical importance in the sixteen-forties and leaves out that he went to England as a budding educator to learn from others who introduced him to influential people from whom he hoped to receive monies and ideas. He was certainly not the educational Guru Hábl makes of him. Though he had signed a pact with Durie and Hartlib to publish solely in conjunction with them, Comenius posted off his understanding of Durie’s ideas in his Via Lucis to Sweden in a letter begging financial support on their strength. This work was combatted by Durie for its grave insufficiencies and misunderstandings. Hábl praises Comenius for encouraging international boards for which Durie had been petitioning for years and especially in the forties. So, too, Durie had more success in his lifetime with such boards than Comenius both at home and abroad. Furthermore, though Comenius demanded that only Church synods had the authority to criticize his work, it was church synods in Germany and Holland from the early thirties which made official overtures to the Archbishop of Canterbury and, later, the Commonwealth churches respectively urging them to help promote Durie’s educational Practical Divinity alias Universal Learning or Pansophy on the Continent. They did not turn to Comenius who was far less-known than Durie at the time. This was how Durie’s Reformed School; Reformed Library-Keeper; Reformed Spiritual Husbandman; Some Proposals for the Advancement of Learning; A Summarie Platform; Bewegliche Ursachen and The Earnest Breathings of Foreign Protestants, etc. came to be written.
Comenius work on Latin text books for Swedish schools mentioned on page 37, would not have prevented him from developing his Pansophia at this time as Hábl suggests. Both Oxenstierna and de Geer encouraged Comenius to write on pansophy as they had been thinking for a long time on such lines themselves as Oxenstierna made clear to Comenius. De Geer even financed a visit of the Jablonskis to Sweden in an effort to put pressure on their relative to finish his pansophic work. However, Comenius merely did the work he was capable of doing quickly for a livelihood with his team of co-authors, though they complained that funds provided by de Geer via Comenius were not coming through to them. Indeed, it was partly because Comenius kept them in the dark regarding funding that quarrels ensued. So Comenius wrote Latin text books. In his spare time, he published other works which had nothing to do with either his Swedish commitments or Pansophism such as his histories, school plays and ‘prophesies’. Durie complained that if his Janua had provided an insight into Hebrew and Greek, instead of only Latin, it would have been more useful to Protestant education and exegesis. In his 1640 Discourse on a Method of Meditation, Durie, contrary to Comenius in his Janua, defines what he means by ‘method’ as not so much a gate (Janua) to various different fields (case-studies) of learning, but as a path by which one is led by a disciplined and trained mind using each newly gained experience to blend with and enhance the already observed, accessed and understood. Comenius moved slowly from the concept of Janua as a door to Janua as a gate but did not really embark on the path of accession and synergising. When friends wrote to Durie from the American colonies in May, 1642 to recommend good educational books, he answered that apart from Janua and a few Czech works, Comenius had not yet produced anything worth having. He hoped that now Comenius was bound for Sweden, he would produce works on the advancement of learning. However, Comenius kept up his production of Latin text books.
Comenius’ 60 paged Prelude to Pansophy (Prodromus Pansophiae) representing his early didactics was not received well in its initial form by the Durie circle. Jan Rohls, in his essay ‘Comenius, Light Metaphysics and Educational Reform’ in Platonism at the Origins of Modernity, calls Prodromus ‘a fusion of Platonic light metaphysics with educational reform,’ laying his finger on the philosophical basis of Comenius’ work. However, it was not Hartlib who initially published Comenius’ sample of ‘Pansophism’ as Hábl believes, 2 but Joachim Hübner whilst studying at Oxford. Kvačala relates how Comenius, on being told that Hübner, already a noted pansophist as Comenius acknowledged, had given him a hearing in England, sent him a sample of his planned Great Didactic, a work Hartlib and Worthingtom urged Comenius to improve on and complete well into the sixties, but in vain. Hübner told Comenius that as an introduction to Pansophy it was quite useless and betrayed its title. Comenius had not graded his learning to suit the age and abilities of the pupils and indeed, though there were elements that would be of interest to teachers, there was little in it for the learners and the art of learning had been left out in a work allegedly to be about universal learning. Parents were left out of the educational picture, too. There was no structure in the work and no linking subject with subject. One did not know where to begin and where to end. Material which belonged together had been cut into pieces. Comenius wrote much about ‘nature’ but never explained what he meant. Many of the Durie circle’s criticisms of Comenius’ pansophical thoughts can be read in the Ephemerides minutes preserved in the Hartlib Papers. Hübner says in the 1639 issue:
‘Comenius dose not know yet to demonstrate so accuratly and fully the necessity of a Pansophy as is requisite and therfore desires so much to bee insisted in it. . . . The Pansophical Vndertaking is of mighty importance. For what can bee almost greater then to have All knowledge. If it were with the addition to have All love also it were perfection.’
Another contributor (Young) says:
‘Hee (Comenius) scarce know’s himselfe what hee meanes by the Pansophy. It may bee a Logicam Realem. His Metaphysica is the highest degree in it and should bee last of all set vpon. For as yet it is impossible because of the want of particulars and inductions that it can bee any way’s compleate.’
Kvačala sums up by writing ‘As far as pansophical norms are concerned, one sees hardly a trace of them in Comenius’ argument (Aufbau) and didactics,’ and claims that most of the criticisms outlined above were deserved.’ 3 He relates how Descartes complained that Comenius’ Pansophy was merely an anthology of other men’s works that he had put together with no originality. This criticism still stands. We, note, for instance that Durie’s later 1642 work on universal knowledge entitled Notions Tending to the Publick Good came out ten years before Comenius’ A Pattern of Universal Knowledge. In 1639, Hübner suggested a mode of working for Comenius which Comenius actually strove to follow. Hübner said:
‘Comenius if hee will retaine his credit should publish all his Worke by way of Specimina by peece meales. After 5. years or some such intervallum there should follow a large discourse of so vniversal a Worke with a particular delineation.’
The specimens were duly published but the final grand work never materialized.
Indeed, it was the Polish-English-Scots-German-Dutch circle connected with Durie who encouraged Comenius to follow their ideas of pansophy and education and not the other way around. This historical fact is ignored by Hábl who presents Comenius’ work as growing from Comenian roots. Jan Rohls endorses my personal findings when he says in the above named essay, that Comenius’:
‘own philosophical system developed only gradually, in ever new programmatic drafts. In the second half of the 1630s, he sketched out his Platonically inspired Pansophia in various different texts as a philosophico-theological reform programme. The incentive came from his contact and friendship with a circle of English scholars: the Scottish theologian John Dury, Samuel Hartlib from Elbing, and his young friend Joachim Hübner.’
Kinner complained that his own personal contributions to Comenius’ work were appearing in Comenius’ name only. Though given an opportunity to teach Pansophy in France, Comenius opted for teaching Latin in Sweden. It was Hübner, an early pansophist and member of the Durie Circle who took up the post offered in France at Comenius request, accepting financial restrictions that Comenius had refused.
Hábl’s comments on Comenius in Transylvania/Hungary touched upon on page 38 need correction. Comenius was not invited to Transylvania to reform the school system but was given a job by friends (whom he had begged to allow him ‘to light his lamp from their lamp’) to help him out of unemployment and financial difficulties. Here Bisterfeld, one of the Durie and Herborn Circles, was probably the chief mediator. These men made it one of their philanthropic efforts to help Comenius out with his constant financial problems and job-seeking. Large reforms had already been made in the Academy through the influence of Alsted and Bisterfeld years before. This was made clear to Comenius from the start of his brief Transylvanian sojourn. The reason why strife ensued was as much Comenius’ fault as those of his fellow teachers as he had developed a most patronizing idea of his own importance coupled with the idea that other people should be paying him so that he could develop his thoughts freely, assisted by a team of experts without whom he had little to write. His concept was always outside of and bigger than himself. Maresius’ criticism of Comenius mentioned on p. 42 was, contrary to Hábl’s view, sadly justified. Bayle feels also that this was a great weakness in Comenius’ character. We note how he hurriedly left England leaving the bold letter that his friends should pay the debts he left behind him and how it was the offer of a huge salary that made him go to Sweden, instead of accepting a joint work with the English pansophists to which they had called him and which was continued without him until Cromwell’s death. So, too the criticisms of Prof. Arnold concerning Comenius’ nigh occult trust in soothsayers’ predictions were also justified. Most of Comenius’ closest friends felt he was wasting his time and talents, and Comenius, in his turn, showed that he could not take criticism lightly with the exception of Durie and Hartlib, castigating others such as Arnold as if they were incompetent young students. A number of letters are extant in the Hartlib Papers in which former Vive-Chancellor of Cambridge, John Worthington bemoans the fact that Comenius was always disappointing his supporters by wasting his time. Hábl soft-pedals on this side of Comenius. He gives us only half of Comenius didactic concepts and describes only half of Comenius character so the real Comenius is lost to us. Happily, Comenius’ autobiography (which Hábl does not appear to use much and does not list in its excellent (for scholars) multilingual 1975 Stockholm edition), though written to justify himself, may be used to discard many an over-gilded image of Comenius which many writers have produced. Sadly, the over-gildings of many Comenius’ fans have robbed history and education of the true Comenius whom we shall probably never get to know.
3. Dimensions of Humanity in Komensky’s Work
Although Hábl explains on page 43 that there was a historical development in Comenius’ work, he, nevertheless, sticks mostly to references from his earlier writings for his comments before this development took place. In listing the variety of Comenius’ works, he mentions the more useful writings from a Reformed Christian point of view but neglects to say that Comenius’ works on unproductive speculative soothsaying took up the bulk of his relatively long life.
In the footnote on Comenius’ mss re-found since the 1930s, Hábl does not mention the Lord Delaware Collection which contains, as far as I can judge, hitherto unknown writings of Comenius and makes others more easily available through cds (now sadly no longer sold) and inter-library loans and reading room visits.
On page 44, which introduces Hábl’s ‘Theatrum: Anthropology of Observation’, or a description of the world, the author speaks of the indisputable degree of originality shown in Comenius’ earliest works but backs this up solely from what other writers say without first-hand analysis. Hábl never spells out what is purely Comenian and in what ways this is an improvement on his mentors’ and contemporaries’ teaching. For instance, he relates that under Alsted’s supervision, he started to compile encyclopedias (now lost) and leaves us to think that these were better than Alsted’s without saying how. Indeed, Hábl says cautiously that Comenius developed no new insight but his improvement was that he changed Alsted’s hitherto passive perception into active emendation. He does not say why Alsted’s insight was merely ‘passive’ and how Comenius took over this insight actively in ‘emendation’. Hábl is merely making ‘emendation’ a new technical term and leaves us to look up Palouš to see what he means by this but not Comenius. This is in keeping with Hábl’s view of Christian anthropology as an emendation of human nature, leaving the question open as to whether this was Comenius’ view or not.
In his ‘Labyrinth: Anthropology of Critique’, Hábl tells us on page 45 that from being an admirer of the world, Comenius became its ‘biting critic’. The labyrinth of the world was not a safe place to be in. Here is the great difference between the supposed Pansophist Comenius and the real Pansophist Durie. Comenius wanted to provide mankind with special glasses which separated the negative elements of the world from the positive. In order to better mankind, certain parts of his life must be cut out. Comenius pansophy was always a reduction of the observable world with the rest made attractive by looking through rose-coloured spectacles. For Durie, nothing was in the world in vain. Everything had its proper place and application at the right time. Education was to put everything into its right use by extending the knowledge of the user. There were no ‘bad’ things which could not be used for the good of mankind in some way or another, that way being merely limited by lack of understanding and wisdom. Thus Durie’s Pansophism was always optimistic and ever expanding. He was always adding and multiplying whereas Comenius, especially as Hábl depicts him, was always subtracting.
Hábl, on page 47, goes part way to coming to terms with the present world, through his comments on Comenius’ Centrum Securiatis which he names Anthropology of Resignation. He says he has borrowed the translation ‘resignation’ from Patočka for Comenius ‘resignare’. This, Hábl sees as meaning ‘hopeful resignation’, believing that Comenius saw all the evil in the world as being signs of Christ’s coming. He also sees this as a resignation from the world as ‘the devil’s pub’. Hábl sees Comenius’ resignare more as a shutting off rather than an opening up or an unsealing, an unveiling or even a liberating, all of which resignare can mean. Here, perhaps Hábl’s own insular pietism is getting in the way. Surely, Hábl is being inaccurate here in his putting forward Patočka for his interpretation of resignare. Patočka certainly comes nearer Comenius than Hábl does. Indeed, did not Patočka write and lectured on the fact that in Centrum Securiatis there is an opening of Comenius’ soul to the world? Is this not Comenius’ true interpretation of resignare? If Comenius’ glasses were ‘anti-delusion’ glasses, the idea of ‘revealing’ what the world actually is would be more appropriate. One cannot help question, too, what place emendation might have in the ‘devil’s pub’. Hábl sees the difficulty but appears to think that because of Comenius’ eschatology, Comenius ‘Anthropology of Resignation’ was ‘a foundation without actual realization’. Comenius always contended for exactly the opposite idea to this. He felt he had found the key to unlock all ‘devil’s pubs’. I am not at all sure that Hábl has not misjudged or mistranslated Comenius here. Patočka might appear wrong in viewing Comenius as a forerunner of the Enlightenment but Comenius does show similarities with the British Puritans, especially Scotsman Rutherford who wrote Enlightenment works at this time, with Lex Rex to the fore. Comenius’ doctrine of the state clashed even with ‘moderate Puritan’ Durie, a fellow peregrinator, who viewed the world around him also with open eyes but with much more self-identification. If we are to use the term resignation of Comenius, it would be far more accurate to speak of it as a faithful resignation, (rather than a hopeful resignation), to the will of God. But then, we shall be speaking in terms of the spiritual, which Hábl keeps out of his definitions.
‘Didactica: Anthropology of Education’
Now Hábl, on page 50, comes to his fourth description of Comenius alleged humanized Pansophism by writing on ‘Didactica: Anthropology of Education’ as a compliment to his ‘Anthropology of Resignation’. It is interesting to note that Hábl now sees Comenius as gradually thinking more positively about the world with all its problems after the early 1630s. Hábl, in tracing this development, does not take into account that from now on, Comenius was being mentored and tutored by Pansophists who had never experienced the depressing view of the world which Hábl ascribes to Comenius in the twenties and thirties. Nor does he adequately trace the reasons for Comenius’ change of mind. Ignoring this obvious influence, Hábl looks to past reformers such as Bodin, Ratke, Lubinus, Helwig and Frey for Comenius’ inspiration rather than contemporary ones. These did not develop the pansophy of the Durie Circle, nor did Comenius really improve on their ideas from his own resources. We are brought nearer by the mention of Cusanus, Campella and Bacon but not up to the stage we ought to be at this time. The German scholar Nikolaus of Cusa’s idea of the world as a school being prepared for a union with God had been around since Biblical times and was nothing new in pedagogics. Campella and Bacon held to quite different ideas of knowledge-acquirement and knowledge engineering. There have been attempts to make Campella an anti-Aristotelian by association because he read Telesio but Telesio cannot be proved to reject Aristotle’s logic merely because it was not observable in his De Rerum Natura. Furthermore, Campella emphasized his Aristotelian orthodoxy time and time again. Bacon’s Post-Ramist ideas in his two books on the Advancement of Learning, influenced by the spirituality of his close friends and editors Herbert, Andrewes and Donne, had already been advanced further by Durie and made available to Comenius towards the end of the thirties. Sadly, Hábl gives a very one-sided and myopic view of Bacon as if he were unfamiliar with his stress on the union of the spiritual and the natural, and merely comments on Bacon’s view of nature, not allowing Bacon to speak for himself from his works. To describe Bacon the polymath, scientist, theologian, politician and educator as a mere ‘philosopher’ on pages 53-56 does not indicate that Hábl has studied Bacon’s spiritual and educational work to any depth. Indeed, Bacon’s educational works are neither dealt with nor even mentioned and Hábl merely uses Bacon’s name in connection with what he has culled from Patočka, accepting Patočka’s just criticism that Comenius had misunderstood Bacon, turning his synthesis into a syncrisis. This weakness in Comenius understanding of Bacon is also emphasized in Harry Scougal’s comparison of Durie’s and Comenius’ educational methods in his 1905 Jena Dissertation Die Pädagogischen Schriften John Durys: Ein Beitrag zut Gerschichte der englischen Pädagogik. Indeed, Comenius’ misunderstanding of Bacon can be said to have led to his misunderstanding of Pansophy and the ultimate goals of Christian learning.
Durie centred his Practical Divinity in the Being of God as revealed in Scripture as a harmony of all knowledge, whereas Comenius set up a tripartite system of Wisdom, Nature and God (Hábl refers to the world, the human being and the Scriptures) as three equal parallels to be compared. His rule-of three incorporating Analysis, Synthesis and Syncrisis verged on Neo-Platonism or Near Eastern Cabbalism and paved the way for Leibniz and Hegel to build their triangular dialectic on it. So, too, as Hábl points out, Comenius was building his didactics on an Aristotelian basis. Durie, supported by his closest friend Samuel Hartlib, 4 taught that all knowledge was integral, coming from the one pansophic source. He also firmly believed that teaching should not be hindered by subject-orientation. Hábl rightly points out that Comenius is less than scientific here in the modern interpretation of the term, whereas he sees Comenius as converting Bacon’s down-to-earth, more scientific approach into a mere part of his own speculative system. Here, Hábl places his finger on another weak spot in Comenius’ conceptions. As the Christian scientist Kinner claimed, Comenius lacked even the basics of scientific thinking and what he wrote on the subject, he had from others. However, as Comenius was able to tackle a number of scientific subjects well with the help of good scientific tutors, Hábl’s own speculations concerning the outcome of Comenius’ naivity in these matters puts Comenius in the thought world of the early Middle Ages. Durie and such as Kinner built further on Bacon and used scientific enquiry, especially of the mathematical kind, as a valid auxiliary in critical text interpretation and laboratory work in physics, chemistry, medicine etc.. Vives is also mentioned in passing by Hábl without any detailed study or source references. A Bacon, Vives, Durie comparison would have been fruitful here but this would have put Hábl on quite another track.
In spite of strong criticism of Comenius’ thought concepts and inability to think scientifically on pages 73-76, Hábl still believes it worth-while to stick to Comenius’ speculative pansophical didactics because of his views concerning ‘harmony, unity and wholeness’ in knowledge. However, as Hábl sees that Comenius’ speculation concerning harmony, unity and wholeness was not practically demonstrable by him, how can we use such a theory practically in didactics? Durie argued that not a further step should be taken in learning until the first step is not thoroughly understood and tested.
In section 3.4.1 entitled ‘Prologue: The Foundations of Human Educability’, the prologue in question is that of Comenius’ The Great Didactics of 1657. Hábl believes he has here discovered Comenius’ ‘foundational anthropological starting points’ which he mentions on page 57. The selected evidence given is misleading. Comenius, as seen above, does not begin his Didactics on a mere anthropomorphic, nature-bound emphasis, but makes it clear from the start that his help is divine and his aim spiritual. Even Hábl starts his comments outlining that Comenius begins with God in creation when all was perfect and how men fell from this glory. He then goes on to relate how Comenius believed in the restitution of all things (as did his colleagues and fellow-pact signatories Durie and Hartlib) and later relates that Comenius saw Christ as the one who ‘recreates what has been corrupted’ (page 61). Why then does he keep to the non-spiritual in his definitions? Comenius is here far more expressive than Hábl in basing his educating principles on the spiritual and his personal trust in Christ, writing in section 9:
‘This is all the more evident to us Christians, now that Christ, the Son of the living God, has been sent from heaven to regenerate in us the image of God For having been conceived of a woman He walked among men; then, having died, He rose again and ascended into heaven, nor had death any more dominion over Him. Now He has been called “our forerunner” (Hebr. vi: 20), “the firstborn among his brethren” (Rom. viii 30), “the head over all things” (Ephes. i:22), and the archetype of all who are to be formed in the image of God (Rom. viii. 29). As then, He did not visit this earth in order to remain on it, but that, when His course was run. He might pass to the eternal mansions; so we also, His companions, must pass on and must not make this our abiding-place.’
Education, to Comenius was certainly following the Archetype and Forerunner of our faith. Though Comenius often emphasized the ‘natural’ himself, this was never meant to be understood as antithetical to ‘spiritual’.
In this section, Hábl at last begins to let Comenius speak for himself through his Didactics. However, in his list of quotes on page 60 ff, concerning what Comenius thinks all humans ought to know about themselves, Hábl quotes alternatively from Comenius’ earlier Czech version of his Didactics, Velká Didaktika, through what appears to be his own translation and from an English translation of the longer and later Latin version Opera Didactica Omnia. 5 This makes following him very difficult because in long quotes he fuses both versions together. Though Hábl tells us there is not much difference in the versions, this is certainly not backed by his examples. For interest, there is a world of difference between viewing man via Hábl’s rendering as ‘the greatest, strangest and most glorious of all creation’ and Keatinge’s rendering that man is ‘the highest, the most absolute, and the most excellent of things created. It would have helped here if Hábl had explained his method of translation and purpose in mixing the earlier and later versions, giving the keywords in both Czech and Latin as he does in other instances.
Once again, though Hábl is both open to Comenius’ spiritual and natural, divine and human views, he nevertheless merely lists quotes in which Comenius is referring to human ascendency (p. 60 ff.), reflecting ‘the perfection which lies in human origin’. Here, Hábl uses the older Czech source to explain the later Latin/English source. (See page 62 where Hábl ‘crowns’ Comenius’ later Latin/English quotes with a summarizing quote from the earlier Czech version. However, the Latin version shows an enormous development in Comenius’ spiritual thinking. So, too, where Comenius places the initiative in God’s hand, Hábl has Comenius climbing up to God via perfections which Comenius, at least in more mature years, denied man had. Also, after explaining formally Comenius’ views on what every man should know, which have a ‘humanising’ effect, Hábl notes that as man is fallen, he is dependent on God in Christ for his elevation. However, instead of synergizing this with his central Comenian didactics where it belongs, Hábl places such utterances as a pious ‘aside’ as if he wishes to keep Comenius’ faith from his anthropological practice.
On page 64, Hábl sees Comenius’ problem in realizing that certain parents cannot teach their own children, so it is best that children are taught together, outside of the educational disadvantages of their parents. But who is to teach the teachers to be better educators than parents? This problem was never really solved by Comenius, though the examples Hábl gives shows that Comenius was envisaging the thoughts which Durie was already implementing for further education for parents, teachers, employers and administrators so that they could work as a well-educated team together in fostering the educational needs of all. However, Hábl describes the implementation of Comenius’ ideas purely in the realm of large schools for all children. In Germany at this time, public lectures for mature adults already played a vital part in many local educational systems and were introduced into England by such as Durie. In England, during the Cromwellian regeme, local groups of parents were campaigning for more say in their children’s education. This moved Durie to petition Parliament with their requests.
3.4.2 Methodology: General and Specific Didactics
Here Hábl, quoting from the Great Didactics, deals with Comenius’ educational theory based on the natural order of things. These he divides into three parts, How to make education certain; How to make education easy and How to make education thorough. Following natures natural progress, Comenius shows that one must not push a child but educate him or her according to natural growth and maturity. A bird does not push a new laid egg out of its nest but waits until the chick hatches, fed and it is ready to fly off on its own strength. Like Durie, he argues that nothing should be committed to the memory which is not fully understood. However, Hábl is still arguing for a nature-oriented Comenius as if he drew his ideas from nature alone. This is not at all the case. In his next section, Hábl does indeed look at the ‘religious’ side of Comenius but as something different and separate from his natural side. Again, this tells us more of Hábl’s own Aristotelian, analytical method of thinking and less about Comenius’ more synthesised didactic approach.
3.4.3 Instruments: Morals, Religion, and Discipline
Hábl now proceeds to analyse Comenius’ alleged ‘moral’ teaching through a wisdom which brings us nearer to God. He explains that moral education is related to religious education which Comenius outlines in Chapters XXIII-XXIV. However, the idea that Comenius regarded religious education in terms of moral education is Hábl’s and not Comenius’. Here Hábl turns again to the three sources of Comenius godliness which are the Scriptures, the world and human beings producing a ‘living faith’. This is somewhat different to Comenius’ usual mention of sources as the Scriptures, nature and man’s mind. However, to describe the goodness which Comenius wishes to impart to pupils as mere ‘morals’ and equate this with a living faith is not enough. The examples Hábl gives on page 69 are theological and not merely ‘moral’. Comenius claims that all men are sinners and education or ‘discipline’ is to prevent further sin. Punching and beating is no use but the pupil must be led to love learning. Again, when Hábl quotes Comenius on ‘moral misbehaviour’, this is Hábl’s interpretation as Comenius is not talking about ‘moral misbehaviour’ but ‘transgressions’ which ‘offend the majesty of God’. Each teacher must be a living example of the goal he aims at in the child’s education and thus be free from ‘sin’ and ‘transgressions’. This far transcends mere ‘moral behaviour’.
3.4.4. Organisation: The Educational System
Hábl presents Comenius’ comprehensive overview of school education which was very similar to the reforming ideas of his contemporaries such as Durie, as explained in my The Practical Divinity of Universal Learning: John Durie’s Educational Pansophism. However, Hábl claims they were Comenius’ innovations made public in Comenius Great Didactic, yet Hartlib and Durie had been striving to put these innovations through since founding their Chelsea College around 1628. Hábl believes that Comenius’ emphasis on teaching science to even the youngest pupils was a novelty but this had also been Durie’s aim twenty years before the Great Didactic came out, at least in its Latin edition. So, too, Durie included all the subjects which Hábl says Comenius wished to introduce, though Durie taught them situationally and synergetically and not as separate ‘disciplines’ with ‘religion’ as one of them. Durie added Medicine, Navigation, Surveying, Jurisprudence, Trade, Military Strategy, Hebrew and Greek to Comenius’ list as the capacities of the children grew. Durie, however, emphasized the centrality of the School and Community Libraries as an integral part of children’s education. So too Comenius’ ‘school of schools’ was merely a more limited idea of Durie’s further education establishments for teaching teachers, tradesmen, politicians and administrators. So, too, Comenius contemplation of the ‘world as a school’ was shared by Durie though Durie stressed more that the school was not a mere reflection of the world but an exemplary world in itself there to reform society in general. Surprisingly, however, Hábl still sticks to his major thesis that Comenius is describing an anthropology rather than a perfecting of man’s wisdom through the wisdom of God revealed in Christ, which is really what Comenius is aiming at in his educational programmes. On page 73, Hábl adds a footnote to say that Comenius’ teaching was primarily theological. Why then does he not pay attention to this when defining Comenius’ alleged ‘Anthropology’, especially as it becomes more and more obvious in the book that the term is a misnomer. Throughout, Hábl speaks of Comenius spirituality as a metaphysics which is separated from the physical. This, of course, is to misunderstand Aristoteles who merely called his first volume ‘Physics’ and volume two ‘After Physics’, or the second volume, not dividing the contents as does Hábl.
On page 78, we are introduced to Piaget’s brief evaluation of Comenius’ knowledge of child psychology. Again, these were ideas shared by a number of contemporary educators amongst whom Comenius was not the first. Indeed, Scrougal places Durie to the fore here also in his Jena thesis Die Pädagogischen Schriften John Durys. 6 Scougal also sees Mulcastor as going beyond Comenius generations before. He points out that whereas Comenius sought to fill the minds of children with knowledge gathered by the teacher, Durie went a step further and educated the minds of children so that they were in a position to gather and appropriate such knowledge for themselves.
Hábl goes on to speak on page 79 about Comenius’ democratic thinking, admitting that Comenius would never have used the term. Nor, I believe, would Comenius have used the idea as fundamentally as Hábl who strives to find it in the history of the Unitas Fratrum. One has only to read the well-balanced works of such as Odložilỉk, Spinka and Strupl to know that the at times turbulent history of the United Brethren did not appear to be very democratic. Scougal, thus rightly questions the democratic utility of Comenius’ major aim in education in fitting out a child with knowledge applicable to a life hereafter. The Scotsman points out that, in contrast to Comenius, Durie saw the child as a social being with social responsibilities who had a fitting place in society here and now to fill. His democratic aim was that all people should be given the opportunity to work together for the ‘public good’ and ‘the public service’ both in peace time and war and not for selfish reasons even including one’s personal salvation. In his last point in Section 3.4, Hartlib speaks of Comenius’s school organization and structure which came into being some 200 years later. This structure was however, very similar to Durie’s which was run experimentally in contemporary England for a brief time but more permanently in the New World. However, education is not organization. School organization and administration is most secondary to the educational methods used. Thus we find Keatinge, the English translator of Comenius, pointing out in his comments on The Great Didactic (pp. 149-150), that Comenius used the same teaching methods in each tier of Comenius’s four-tier system. Durie used methods which suited and furthered the different age and ability groups. In both didactics and method, Durie proved to be the one whose pedagogics would be widely used in succeeding years but never as much as in the present time.
3.5. Pansophy: Anthropology of Emendation
In his definition of Pansophy on page 120, Hábl limits the meaning of the term to ‘all that a human being needs to know for a respectable life on earth and to gain eternal life after death.’ Compared with definitions made by Comenius’ forerunners and contemporaries this was not an extension of but a narrowing down of the scope usually meant by the term. Even Lauremberg and Alsted saw a wider application of the term in education than Comenius, though they were strictly encyclopedic. However, Hábl never proves that Comenius betters them apart from in organizational aspects. Nor did Comenius in his philosophical dealings with the term pansophia go further than von Rosenkreuz or the Pansophie studiosorum of the Rosicrucians. Thus often scholars use the term Rosicrucian and Pansophist as synonyms. So, too, Comenius used the name of Johann Valentin Andreae gladly in conjunction with himself but as in the case of Durie, there has been far more work done on Comenius than both Andreae and Durie in recent years and both characters need a new evaluation.
Hábl, in his own moderate Pansophism, limits the term in Comenius’ case to an anthropological emendation. However, Hábl never makes it clear why he limits Comenius views in this way, nor does he tell us in what way Comenius sees pansophy as emending humanization and not perfecting humanity as man reaches spiritual maturity. To emend something is to repair it as it stands. Comenius certainly wished to transform and even create man, though his own incomplete system hindered him from pursuing the entire path. Hábl does see Comenius as pursuing this path, constantly emending his own former stance. It is interesting to note that Hábl has Comenius confiding this in a letter to Samuel Hartlib in 1638, telling his Anglo-Polish mentor that he now sees education as ‘an instrument of the pansophic method’. This, however explains little. What did Comenius understand by ‘the pansophic method’? The Hartlib Papers and especially the minutes of their Ephemerides meetings to discuss new works in the thirties contain a good deal of criticism concerning Comenius’ highly restrictive view of pansophy. It would have helped Hábl to have read both sides of the correspondence between the Durie and Hartlib Circle and Comenius, who was for a time part of it, from 1636 to 1662 when Hartlib died, thus gaining an overview of all that the English pansophists thought of Comenius’ constant but empty promises to develop and perfect his pansophy. Hábl puts this more positively on pages 81-82 by writing that his new idea of pansophy ‘was a shift from the latent universalism (in Didactics) to an explicit one, fully elaborated in Komensky’s magnum opus De rerum humanarum emendatione consultatio catholica (A General Consultation Concerning the Restoration of Human Affairs), on which Komensky worked (with several interruptions till the end of his life.’ Here, we note that Hábl now sees ‘emendation’ as ‘restoration’ which is not quite the same thing, though more acceptable to this writer, and not what Hábl has been talking about hitherto. However, in this final, unfinished work of Comenius, though Comenius writes of a Panegersia, a Panaugia, a Pampaedia, a Panglotte, a Panorthosia and a Pannuthesia, he does not place these under a total heading Pansophia but sees the latter as but one in seven elements of which Pansophia is merely defined as ‘an ordering of all things, thus far confused’. So we are back again at an emendation or repairing of the old rather than a perfecting through the new. This is why the Durie-Hartlib circle was never pleased with Comenius’ backward-looking system of knowledge. How an ordering of confused things, confused thought and confused speech can lead on to a knowledge of more things, more thought and a more understandable language, Hábl does not say. Nor did Comenius who did not live to answer the questions raised by his own writings. Yet Hábl calls this situation on page 87 ‘exuberant optimism’ and sees Comenius as refinding reality as it really is. That reality was, however, the reality of a fallen world which Comenius feels will open the way to God’s Paradise. This is certainly optimistic but will reordering confusion by Hábl’s humanizing, emending restitution of all things really put the world back to Day One when perfection reigned, especially when regarding the fact that Day One Man, after he had found out the difference between good and evil, fell.
This is exactly the problem Hábl strives to solve on page 89 with his question, ‘How can we explain the ease with which Komensky hopes to overcome the consequences of the human fall through his pansophically conceived education?’ At this, I became really interested, but Hábl came up with the biggest disappointment in the book by apparently arguing that this was inessential or irrelevant to the pedagogic good contained in Comenius’ educational theories. He seems to be saying, ‘Get back to Comenius’ and everything will fall into place. However, if Comenius never found a solution to his problem and Hábl also does not, what use for the common good are Comenius’ pedagogics? We are left with three choices: either Hábl is playing with bubbles or he has quite misunderstood Comenius or he is hoping that future educators will find out where Comenius went wrong and perfect him. None of these answers to a difficult question deserve to be made the speculative basis of any school curriculum.
3.6 Summary: The Restitution of Human Affairs
In this brief summary, Hábl goes through his arguments in the book again but adds with a new emphasis that Comenius saw man as ‘embedded in God’. More accurately put in Comenius’ own speech when writing to Bartholomäus Nigrinus in 1643, quoted in Molnár and Rejchrtová 1987 work on Comenius, the latter tells us ‘Everything sways for the one not firmly anchored in Christ.’ Hábl ought to have made this clear in his definitions of Comenius’ alleged Anthropology and Humanisation from the very start and not left Comenius’s ever guiding Christology to the end of his work but even then in a tuned down version.
Hábl then develops on page 93 the theologically questionable thesis that though man is fallen, he has not lost his Adamic capacity to choose God and reject evil. He thus sees man as being on probation, just like Adam. He is as prone to fall as he is to stand. He is both ‘noble’ and ‘fallen’ at the same time but carries exactly the same ‘potentials’ in himself which Adam had. Whether this is sound theology or not, the point is, if perfect Adam was the prototype of a man of two-potentials yet, nevertheless fell, how can his imperfect offspring be sure that they will not fall, too? Hábl seems to be saying that receiving a Comenian education is the best way to securing a non-fallen society in harmony with God. Thus all imperfect men have the potentiality to become perfect though their perfect progenitor fell. The reason Hábl gives is that, in spite of the fall, Adam’s offspring are still ‘embedded in God.’ There appears to be something seriously wrong with Hábl’s logic here even though it is ‘exuberantly optimistic’. Again, we are back to peg one and must ask why perfect Adam fell but imperfect man may not. Here, Comenius doctrine of election comes into the scene, which Hábl, as so many other Comenian views, avoids. However, Christian teachers do not grade their pupils into either elect or reprobate but seek to prepare them all for the tasks and duties of their present lives, and for playing their part for the common good though making them thereby aware of their spiritual responsibilities. Comenius idea that only true, elect Christians profit from his education as a way to Heaven, shows that Comenius was less capable in educating all children for their earthly lives. Nor does Comenius allow room for Durie’s ‘cases of conscience’ in his system. If children are merely schooled for Heaven, whether they are fit for it or not, what use is their educational development for every-day society and the human and spiritual responsibilities of our present times? Such questions in the reader’s mind will move him or her to consider with interest Hábl’s final very brief chapter:
4 Conclusion: The Relevance of Komensky’s Anthropology for Contemporary Education
Hábl believes that it is impossible and unnecessary to take over Comenius’ ideas en bloc to replace modern pedagogics but they can ‘add depth to our considerations’. This depth, Hábl argues, is ‘the element of transcendence’ in Comenius’ teaching. The author appears now to be arguing that it is Comenius’ divinity and spirituality which is missing in today’s education. Apart from the fact that this conclusion may be challenged, Hábl has done little hitherto to convince his readers that Comenius had a divinity and spirituality to offer as he has curbed such teaching and emphasized the material, physical, rational and anthropological all along. He has presented us with a humanizing concept that leaves the spiritual to future glorification in Heaven. Here is the typical criticism of the Communists that religion is a mere promise of ‘pie in the sky on high when you die’. So, without outlining how this ‘transcendental anthropological dimension’ as he now calls his ‘humanisation’ can be implemented in the school curriculum, Hábl concludes by saying:
‘it is necessary to restore and take into account the forgotten vertical or transcendent dimension of human beings as expressed in Komensky’s anthropological teleology’.
It is a great pity that Hábl forgot this more spiritual impulse at the beginning of the book. Coming at the end as a mere ‘statement’ without explanation, Chapter Four is an anti-climax indeed. Why did not Hábl come up with the full teaching of Comenius from the start and apply it from the start to each step of his ‘Anthropologies’ now rendered useless as they do not contain Comenius’ full ‘vertical and transcendental teaching’. Hábl’s wee book is like the modern untrained evangelist who preaches a sermon full of irrelevant tales, jokes and anecdotes and then suddenly, when his time is up, says ‘You must be born again – let us pray’.
There are three appendices of 12 pages in all attached to the 96 pages of the book. These deal with Comenius’ reception throughout the succeeding history and a chronological and biographical overview of his life and works. Throughout these pages, Hábl is less than objective both in his praise of Comenius and in his rejection of his critics views. He praises Comenius as pioneering reforms of which he was historically quite innocent, and rejects such as Bayle for dealing harshly with Comenius’ ‘impractical, visionary’ views, on the grounds that such negative criticism was deemed ‘objective’ at the time. What a comment! However, Hábl, again, is merely citing his own interpretation and translation of what Pánek says and is not quoting directly from Pierre Bayle’s gigantic Dictionaire Historique et Critique of 1697, often used by this author. His disdainful comments are thoroughly out of place as Bayle’s work still features as an objective pioneer study into many seventeenth century stalwarts’ lives and work. It was reissued in various complete and abridged forms throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Rotterdam and Amsterdam as well as in England and Germany and has been reprinted several times in recent years. Furthermore, when dealing with those who went further in reform than Comenius, such as Durie, Bayle’s comprehensive work is most positively objective and he is rightly called the man who internationalised Durie’s fame. The Dictionaire is not a dictionary as such but mostly a collection of biographical essays, in alphabetical order. The work has long been an online freebie, available to lall. In his lengthy, multi-paged, dual-columned entry on Comenius. Bayle gives a most broad and objective view of the educator commenting negatively in but a few lines on his eschatological speculations and money-begging, where he had every reason to do so, though not in the exact wording Hábl gives, which is another indication that Hábl has most likely not consulted the source.
Another such useful older source which Hábl might care to consult by way of comparison is that of Gottfried Arnold, son of a schoolmaster and close friend of Spener’s, who painted a most objective portrait of Durie in his work Unparteyische Kirchen- und Ketzer Historie published at Frankfurt a. M. in 1700. He also worked in a number of later letters, pamphlets and transactions from Durie’s pen. Scholars as far apart in time as Benzelius and Westin have profited greatly from Arnold as also this writer.
Hábl’s most inadequate description of the history of Comenius contribution to pedagogics and pansophy would take a book in itself to put right. I have evaluated Comenius’ contribution to the history of education and pansophy in ‘Chapter Seven: The Foederis Fraterni of Durie, Hartlib and Comenius’ in my book The Practical Divinity of Universal Learning: John Durie’s Educational Pansophism but trust that the few historical corrections I have made to Hábl’s representation in this brief review will suffice to cause readers to take all the Czech educator says with a large pinch of historical and pedagogic salt and delve into both Comenius’ and Durie’s works for themselves.
- See W. Bergmann’s 1896 work for lengthy quotes in various languages from Comenius’ works and from other Pansophists. ↩
- Comenius merely says that ‘a worthy man’ published the work. He does not mention Hartlib. ↩
- J. A. Comenius, p. 42. ↩
- See Webster’s Samuel Hartlib and the Advancement of Leaning, p. 8. ↩
- Both versions are available as freebies online. ↩
- Scougal. See page 44 ff for a direct comparison of Comenius with Durie and page 58 for a discussion of Durie’s pioneer psychological work. ↩