History of Education: Church Fathers

Dear Reader,

This post is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian philosophy theology of education. Find all the posts here.

Last time we began looking at D. Bruce Lockerbie’s A Passion for Learning: A History of Christian Thought on Education (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Designs, 2007; first published 1994). Lockerbie gives us a brief overview of the history of Christian education with lots of snippets from primary sources. His first division, which we examined last time, was the biblical period, through the lifetime of Jesus. The next era to look at is the age of the early church, up to about 500 AD.

The overarching question for the church fathers was, in the words of Tertullian, “What, indeed, has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” (p. 28). As we saw when we looked at William Barclay’s Train Up a Child, the early church struggled with whether to accept the schools and learning of the day which made use of Greek myths or whether to turn their back on education. There were voices on both sides, Tertullian arguing that after Christ no more knowledge is needed and Justin Martyr arguing that, as all knowledge comes from God, all belongs to and is appropriate to Christians. A middle ground, perhaps, was taken by Basil the Great who, in his famous “honeybee sermon,” urged yong people to choose what is good and reject the bad (p. 28).

Augustine advanced an epistemology (a theory of knowing). He is quoted as saying credo ut intelligum, “I believe in order that I may understand,” which is to say that true understanding is only possible through faith. He said as well that Christ is the magister interior, the inward teacher, who reveals truth to us.

My quibble with Lockerbie on this section is that, though he has defined schooling as the formal education of children, he does not make clear if the authors he quotes are speaking of the education of children or of adults (or both perhaps). Likewise, he refers to early hymns and creeds as tools of education but these were clearly for religious education and do not seem to relate to education in the “secular” subjects. Barclay’s Train Up a Child indicated that some Christians made use of the pagan school system while others chose not to and that eventually Christians tried to develop their own educational materials. Lockerbie’s section on this era gives a little less clarity on the issue.


4 responses to this post.

  1. […] « History of Education: Church Fathers […]


  2. […] Purposeful Designs, 2007; first published 1994). Thus far we have looked at biblical times, the early church, and the Middle Ages. Today we are looking at the rise of humanism and the Protestant […]


  3. […] Purposeful Designs, 2007; first published 1994). Thus far we have looked at biblical times, the early church, the Middle Ages, and the rise of humanism and the Protestant Reformation. Today we look at the […]


  4. […] practical skills, creative arts, intellectual knowledge, or spiritual wisdom, God is the source. (History of Education: Church Fathers; also Teaching in the Old Testament) […]


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