The cultural level of a country is often judged by the measure of education of its population. What is education? There is an aspect of education which is not specifically human. We know the adequate and at the same time touching exertions of animals in training their young ones in the arts of their life. Human education is a continuation of these exertions by which the older generation introduces the younger generation into the habits and arts of their own life. Human education then is a form of tradition; its purpose is to pass on the experiences of the earlier generation their convictions of what is necessary to life their conception of values and standards their habits and practices and to train those who come after in all these. The subject of education is primarily the community: in the first place the family but also the clan and finally the political community. Education like all tradition is in its essence an activity of the community. In primitive societies education ends with a rite of reception into the community of the adult by which act he now becomes responsible.
It was an event of revolutionary importance when Socrates for the first time proclaimed as the true purpose of education individual independence spiritual self-reliance. His maieutic method aimed as the name indicates at simply drawing out or bringing to the light of the day what is hidden in every man. He therefore questions the principle of education that had been dominant hitherto namely its character of tradition. The Socratic teacher does not pass on; he does not give but wants to make the pupil independent of anything given and of any giver.
The idea of education as evolution development was thus discovered. But this new individualistic idea was never accepted—either in the time of its first prophet or later on—to such a degree as to displace the older idea with its basis in social tradition. On the contrary the Socratic method of education always remained an exception. The material weight of the things to be passed on and the necessity of social tradition was so great that the Socratic element of education was always confined within narrow limits.
All the same there was even in the traditional idea an element somehow akin to the Socratic method namely the element of training the development of those capacities and skills which seemed useful to the community. Training is different from passing on. Its aim is individual mastery. After all even the act of passing on of tradition contains at bottom an element which we might call Socratic; appropriation of what is to be received. Wherever tradition is alive and not mechanical this element of individual active appropriation must be present. On the other hand the Socratic idea has its limits. The mind or spirit cannot be educated or formed without offering it certain materials for self-active appropriation. The Socratic ideal was based on the a priori elements of that which dwells in the mind and is therefore independent of history. Socratic education evidently has a rationalistic anti-historical leaning.
It is obvious that Christianity introduced into the world an idea of education which—at first sight—is completely opposed to that of Socrates. In the Christian conception the historical is everything the a priori nothing. Christianity is in itself paradosis traditio of historical revelation. Something divinely given has to be passed on. Furthermore Christianity is essentially social. The individual has to be fitted into the Christian community and finally—and this seems to be the sharpest opposite to Socrates—the aim is not the self-active spirit or reason but the acceptance of something given which is beyond reason. The victory of Christianity then seemed to carry with it—in its idea of education—the complete denial of the Socratic idea.
This was so much the case that even in the moment where western education began to emancipate itself from Christian leadership—i.e. in the Renaissance—this fundamental opposition was not yet felt. The return to antiquity did not take place at first in the direction of individual independence or autonomy but as an appropriation of the antique cultural values as distinct from the Christian ones. Education was in fact so entirely conceived as passing on that at this time the question was merely: what is to be passed on? It seemed to be possible to take over the cultural heritage of antiquity without thinking independently for oneself. But the masters of antiquity could not but create a spirit of independence and the courage of thinking for oneself. It could not be long before the specific character of Socratic education was rediscovered and the idea of education as the development of the indwelling germs of the individual mind was given first place. Descartes’ Discours de la méthode with its regress upon the a priori certainties and Leibnitz's Monadology with its principle of the monad without window gave the Socratic idea a new philosophical and metaphysical weight. Lessing's treaty Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts is important in two respects. First Lessing is the first modern thinker who understood the whole history of humanity from the point of view of education divine education thus showing the way to Herder and German idealistic humanism. Second Lessing tried to combine Christian revelation with the Socratic idea of education. He interpreted divine revelation as being a means of accelerating the development of the a priori possibilities lying in man's spirit. It was however Rousseau who for the first time and in the most comprehensive manner applied the Socratic ideal to the education of children and youth and thus even surpassed Socrates. With Herder the idea of education as Bildung i.e. organic development of all inward possibilities lying within man's nature is magnificently based upon a universal conception of history. All human history is but one great process of spiritual development.
What German humanism since Herder understands by Bildung has no parallel in any other country or language. That is why the word cannot be translated. By a grandiose synthesis Christianity was combined with the Socratic idea of education. What Goethe Schiller Humboldt Fichte Schleiermacher and Hegel understood by Bildung is a synthesis of historical tradition or communication and Socratic self-development. The product of this synthesis is the truly gebildete Persönlichkeit. This gebildete Persönlichkeit the highest point man can reach is an individual in whom all latent possibilities are fully developed by the appropriation of that which is given to him from outside from nature and history. The whole wealth of historical heritage of antiquity and Christianity is here conceived of as a means of education. Education itself however is understood Socratically as self-development. History plays the rôle of the Socratic teacher. It is the stimulus that brings forth the development of inner wealth. Contrary to the rather polemic attitude of some of these thinkers with regard to Christianity the decisive influence of Christian personalism appears in the fact that the idea of personality dominates within this system of education. Goethe's confession höchstes Glück der Erdenkinder ist doch die Persönlichkeit is not only his but that of the whole classical epoch of German idealistic humanism.
Within this conception of Bildung the idea of education has outgrown the limitations within which it was confined up to Lessing. Education understood as Bildung is not a process which is completed by reaching the age of maturity but one which only then comes to its own. Bildung is the real life of the man who is spiritually awake. It is the very essence of humanity to become a truly gebildete Persönlichkeit; it is the highest aim towards which man can strive according to the Orphic word: “Become what Thou art”. Education gains here a new meaning of immeasurable width and depth. Man is a microcosm containing and reflecting the macrocosm. He can and shall appropriate to himself the totality of nature and history. At the same time nature and history are meant to become united in his personality.
The idea of Bildung in German idealistic humanism is certainly one of the grandest and most beautiful achievements of the human mind. Although it was the life programme of a small élite and although it was so ambitious that it could be shared only by men of high culture it has exerted a great influence. From this ideal the renewal of the German university (for which the newly created University of Berlin was the model) took its start. The schools of secondary education followed its example. The enthusiasm and the deep sense of responsibility with which in this epoch the reform and extension of popular education were tackled have their origin in the impulses which came from the spiritual heroes of Weimar Jena and Berlin. The rôle which this spirit of education played in the national awakening of the German nation leading to the War of Liberation against Napoleon cannot be ignored. The influence which this powerful and high-minded philosophy exerted far beyond the German frontiers is well known. It had even a political effect in the democratic movement of 1848 which was unfortunately crushed by Bismarck.
All the same it was not by chance that in the political as well as later in the social competition of forces this movement came to an early end. The ideal of Bildung was as we have already mentioned too exclusively fitted to a spiritual élite and could not be adapted to the requirements of the common man. This is the decisive limitation of idealistic humanism. It was an educational ideal for spiritual heroes; it could never become popular. The adaptation of this conception of education to primary schools and family education proved to be impossible. It is true that the school programmes with a few phrases originating from this realm proclaimed beautiful things about the development of the total personality. As a matter of fact in the real school education these phrases remain on paper whilst actual education and training follow quite different more practical lines.
Fortunately there existed and still exists another much older idea of education which is capable of being the basis of all even the most popular education: the Christian idea. This Christian idea of education however was never clearly conceived and worked out. In the Church of the first centuries Christian education was limited to baptismal instruction containing the elements of Christian doctrine and ethics combined with family tradition. How this Christian family tradition and ethics grew up we do not know. We do know however that it must have been very efficient in the first centuries because otherwise the continuous growth of the Christian Church could not be understood. Christian personalities were trained who stood the test of life. The Christian idea of education was not worked out because obviously this was not necessary. The passing on of Christian doctrine and morality and the training for Church and family life were sufficient. The first part doctrinal instruction was performed according to the didactic rules prevalent in the synagogue and in existing schools. The second part was performed so to say instinctively.
The same is true more or less of the Middle Ages. For the simple Christians the catechism and Church custom seemed sufficient. For the more ambitious there were the higher and highest schools of learning with their combination of Christian theology philosophy and liberal arts. But for both the simple people and the spiritual élite a large part in education was played by the Sacraments which accompany the whole life from birth to death and which at that time were observed daily. No doubt the Church of the Middle Ages did a tremendous work of education by its religious apparatus and by its effective endeavour to permeate the whole of life by its sacramental practices. No wonder then that in this epoch the conflict between Christian theology and the Socratic idea of education did not become acute. The lack of a formulated Christian idea of education was covered by the actual educational work of the Church.
This lack however became much more dangerous in the Churches of the Reformation. Here the sacramental training and Church habits were reduced to a minimum. On the other hand preaching and teaching the doctrine of the Bible was pressed almost exclusively. These two facts together created an enormous educational vacuum. Whilst in theological knowledge the New Testament origins of Christianity were rediscovered it was almost completely forgotten that the original Christian Church was before all a living community that the Holy Spirit worked primarily by means of communal life and that at that time the younger generation received their Christian influence and instruction not merely through preaching and teaching but through training in Church life. The educational vacuum which became more and more obvious is primarily due to the lack of capacity and even of endeavour on the part of the Reformation Churches to develop a Christian community life. Certainly there exists a considerable difference between Lutheran and Calvinistic Churches. Calvinism and even more the sects deriving from Calvinism have paid much more attention to the formation of living communities than the Lutheran and even the Zwinglian Churches where the identification of Church and civic community worked in the opposite direction. But the tendency towards orthodox intellectualism developed the same vacuum even within the Calvinistic Churches. The orthodox intellectuals’ emphasis on doctrine is the main cause of the educational vacuum of Protestantism.
It is true that the intellectualist misunderstanding of faith—identifying faith with belief in doctrines—was a tragedy in the Christian Church that had already begun in the second century. But up to the time of Protestant orthodoxy this fatal onesidedness was compensated to a certain extent by intensive ecclesiastical training and habit. Whilst the Reformation in its centre was the rediscovery of the non-intellectualist conception of faith this new discovery was lost all too soon in the fight against the Roman heresy. The Reformation Churches became orthodox. The old intellectualist misconception of faith became dominant again but was now much more dangerous than in the Catholicism of the Middle Ages because all those compensatory elements by which the Church of the Middle Ages had covered its bareness were now lacking. Once Church doctrine theology and catechism had acquired their almost monopolistic position education was reduced to theological teaching. No doubt even within Protestantism Christian custom played its rôle and Christian training was an element of family life. But these elements were secondary and not sufficiently connected with a truly evangelical community life. The resentment against Roman Catholic training resulted in discrediting training as such.
We have to mention another factor of great importance—the fight of Reformation theology against the opinion that man could co-operate with God in things of faith led to a conception of revelation which stood in opposition to the Socratic idea. Orthodox theological doctrine as expressed for instance in some Lutheran Confessions interpreted in mechanical terms the exclusive divine activity in the conversion of men. The active element of appropriation was eliminated. If you study the classical catechisms of the 16th and 17th centuries which in many respects are masterpieces you will see that the activity of the pupil is reduced to a minimum. The doctrine that the human mind to which faith is imparted is a truncus et lapis has devastating effects upon teaching. The ordinary catechism instruction is an educational monstrosity.
From this point of view the Socratic revolution beginning with Descartes and leading on to German idealism was an historical necessity and an indubitable gain. Here the pupil is at last taken seriously as an active factor in learning. Against the background of orthodox passivism one can understand the tremendous impression made by the educational ideas of the 18th century and also the energy and passion with which the orthodox system was attacked. Protestantism in spite of its priceless Biblical insight has led to an educational debâcle which would have become much more apparent had not the revival of teaching in the 18th century and 19th century been carried on in the name of Protestantism.
Up to the present day the Christian idea of education has not been fully worked out. In that respect Reformation theology even in its best forms has proved unsatisfactory because it was never capable of combining the necessary Socratic element of active appropriation with the Christian conception of divine revelation. There are however two great exceptions to this negative general statement two thinkers at least who have made most valuable contributions toward a Christian idea of education: the great Swiss educator Pestalozzi and the great Danish Christian thinker Kierkegaard.
In general Pestalozzi has been misunderstood as being a follower of Rousseau and of German idealism though as a matter of fact the basis of his pedagogical system is emphatically Christian. It is true that Pestalozzi took over from Rousseau the idea of self-development and worked out his pedagogical message according to the Socratic principle of development of the germs lying in man. In that respect he is at one with the main trend of the time. On closer inspection however we see an unbridgeable gulf between Pestalozzi's guiding principles and those of Rousseau and the German humanists. This appears already from the basic fact that the central idea in Pestalozzi's system is the Christian idea of love. Education for him is education in love and for love. He is in complete disagreement with his contemporaries and in complete agreement with the Christian tradition in putting the main emphasis on the education by the family particularly by the mother and in subordinating all education to the one belief that men become human by living in the love of God and in loving communion with their fellow men. Again he is thoroughly Christian in emphasising the dignity of manual work and the unity of man's body and spirit. Pestalozzi in spite of his idealistic terminology is a Christian prophet of humility social responsibility and life in prayer deeply rooted in Biblical revelation and tradition. He has learned whatever was to be learned from his idealistic contemporaries and their idea of Bildung but the basis of his instruction is neither Rousseau nor German idealism but Biblical faith.
It is greatly to be regretted that the Christian Church and theology were prevented by intellectualism from understanding the unique importance of this first great Christian philosopher of education and that they left it to the epigoni of German humanism to develop and to propagate Pestalozzi's ideas in a direction foreign to the intentions of the master. A genuine Christian conception of education could have been gained from Pestalozzi or at least developed for he was the first thinker who had tried to combine the Socratic idea of self-development and spontaneous appropriation with the Christian faith in divine revelation. After what we have seen about the fatal misunderstanding of orthodoxy in the matter of appropriation of divine truth we certainly cannot seriously blame Pestalozzi for lacking in orthodoxy.
It may seem rather astonishing that we should speak of Sören Kierkegaard in this connection because this great thinker does not seem to have been very much interested in the problem of education. We are justified however in mentioning him here because the dominant problem of his philosophy is the relation between the Socratic conception of learning and Christian faith and because his main interest was the truly active appropriation of the Christian message. Hence we can understand his sentence: “The subject is the Truth”. This sentence expressing better than anything else what he was after is not an expression of romantic subjectivism of Fichte's philosophy of the “Ego” nor of Cartesian rationalism; it is spoken simply out of his concern for genuine “existential” faith as distinguished from orthodox belief in a creed. Kierkegaard however has met with the same fate as Pestalozzi: the Church and the theologians failed to understand him.
Kierkegaard's doctrine of the paradox of the scandal of the existential character of faith has certainly exerted considerable influence on recent theology. But his doctrine of appropriation which is at the root of all his dialectic has not been understood has not even been noticed. So far as Protestant theology is concerned it did not fit in with the conceptions of sin and grace as they were formulated by Reformation theology. The doctrine of sola gratia did not seem to leave room for Kierkegaard's concern for active appropriation. Protestant theology is still dominated by a mechanistic conception of God's activity in conversion. And this is precisely why Protestantism up to this hour has not been able to develop a Christian idea of education and to relate Christian faith to the different spheres of autonomous cultural life.
In their time the Reformers had tried to solve this problem by making a distinction between Christian revelation on the one hand and secular science and arts on the other. By this simple distinction they were capable of combining with their theology a rather generous estimate and use of cultural values of the Graeco-Roman civilisation. In spite of Luther's fight with Erasmus and of Castellio's expulsion by Calvin all the great Reformers were also humanistic admirers of classical antiquity. This is particularly true of Zwingli and Calvin. Whilst their theology differed greatly from that of the humanists they shared with them not merely their love of Greek and Latin but also their high estimate of classical literature poetry philosophy political science and science in general so long as the question of free will did not interfere. But they left unsolved or even untouched the problem to what extent Christians could and should learn from the pre-Christian pagan masters and left undefined the limit of what was or was not admissible. We certainly cannot blame them for not being capable at the same time of reforming Church and theology and of solving the problem of the relation between Christianity and secular culture. They had undoubtedly done enough; their followers however did not have the necessary calibre to tackle the task which the great masters had left behind. On the one hand they turned back to the medieval synthesis; on the other hand they developed a narrow-minded Biblicism on the basis of verbal inspiration which could not but lead to a severe conflict with science and to the cultural impoverishment of the Protestant world. The lack of a Christian conception of education was a serious handicap.
This vacuum however became fatal directly Cartesian rationalism and German idealism produced the new and inspiring idea of Bildung1
and when the 19th century compelled by the development of natural science and modern industry forced modern mankind to face entirely new problems. Whilst in the time of the great German idealists history and classical antiquity were the primary material from which the education of the gebildete Persönlichkeit
was expected the demands now became much more realistic and practical. Nature took the place of history; the social and political problems and struggles of the present displaced the interest in antiquity. National consciousness superseded idealistic cosmopolitanism; the claims of state and society left little room for the development of personality. A new idea of education originating from a naturalistic theory of evolution and from pragmatism took the place of the two older traditions—the Christian and the idealistic. Education was now conceived as an adaptation to the social environment.
The American philosopher Dewey was the first to formulate this new realistic idea of education on the basis of a naturalistic evolutionism. The extraordinary success which Dewey's educational programme had even amongst those who did not agree with his naturalistic philosophy is due in no small measure to the fact that he drew more or less unconsciously from humanistic and even Christian reserves. It is probable that even the great example of Pestalozzi had its share in his educational conceptions.
This is now our educational situation: a chaotic mixture of the most varied traditions and ideas: medieval and Protestant Christianity Rousseau German idealism pragmatic naturalism Marxist economic materialism nationalism and political totalitarianism. The question is whether Christianity is capable of producing a conception of education which can combine with the highest claims of Christian personalism the Socratic element of self-development on the one hand the new insights of natural science and the practical requirements of economic and political life on the other.
If we answer this question with a confident “yes” we do not mean by this that this idea has already taken shape in our mind but only that our understanding of the Christian faith makes it possible. We agree with the 18th century humanists that the idea of personality must be in the centre of education. But it is just in the understanding of personality that the roads part. From the point of view of Christian faith personality is not something given which only needs development but it is a relation. Personality is rooted in the relation to God. It is that “self” of man which is called into existence by the divine “Thou”. Its centre is responsibility understood as the response of man to God's call. Its true realisation and therefore true humanity is existence in divine love becoming concrete in love towards our neighbour. This is Pestalozzi's idea of education. We must however distinguish more clearly than he did between the divine calling to this existence and an innate possibility. This possibility does not lie in man. It cannot be developed; it must be given. But Pestalozzi is right against his orthodox critics in maintaining that this personality does not come to existence without man's highest activity; it is not thrown into man but man is called to it so that nobody can take away his own responsibility. Out of this conception of personality a new educational programme can and must be developed combining the Socratic element of self-development with the Christian concept of divine grace.
All the powers and possibilities of mind and body which are in man and which can and must be developed are placed in a new relationship and unity by this central act by which true personality is created. They are not denied but transformed. Nobody becomes a genius by faith. Mathematical or physical knowledge is not upset by the fact of conversion. There exists a certain autonomy of the powers of reason imagination and feeling given by the Creator which have to be respected so long as they are not absolutised. These powers then have to be developed according to their own law and this is the place of the Socratic element. But it is no more than an acknowledgment that all these powers are gifts of the Creator and subordinate to the highest personal and communal destiny of man as it is given by the Christian faith which can prevent them from anarchic competition with each other and unify them harmoniously. Furthermore the development of innate powers has to take account of the fact that man is a sinner and that nothing in him is exempt from the destructive effects of sin. In this respect however a fundamental law has to be considered. The more peripheral or extraneous a sphere of life i.e. the further it is removed from the personal centre the less does the question of sin come in. It would be hard—though not impossible—to discover the difference between a pagan or atheist and a Christian mathematics but we can certainly distinguish most clearly between a Christian and a non-Christian conception of freedom of moral obligation of marriage and family because in all these questions the sinful “Ego” of man plays its rôle. The reformers were undoubtedly right when they were inclined to learn from Aristotle's logic but were rather sceptical concerning his ethics; they were right in enjoying classical poetry and at the same time criticising its pagan superstition or its moral confusions. Furthermore a Christian idea of education will be distinguished by a positive appreciation of everyday life and economic work. It will not in idealistic snobbery ignore the fact that man has a stomach and must eat and that he is created with sexual desires. It will not forget in these spheres particularly that man is both God's creation and a sinner. It will not therefore discard the wealth of new knowledge which modern biology has given us but it will refuse to accept pseudo-scientific mythology without fearing the reproach of backwardness. It will not refuse to see man as a member of the animal realm but will at the same time emphasise that his humanity is something perfectly new which cannot be derived from animal life. It will however interpret this humanity of man not so much in terms of his rational and creative capacities as in terms of personality and will therefore subordinate both his natural and cultural requirements to his ultimate personal destiny. It will put love and personal responsibility in the first place and thus oppose the intellectualism and irresponsible individualism and aestheticism of modern higher education which is so largely responsible for the cultural catastrophe of our age. In an age of collectivist totalitarianism Christian education is particularly called upon to oppose the claims coming from that side and to emphasise the supreme value of personality and personal responsibility.
These are merely a few hints indicating that there is a Christian idea of education although we may not yet clearly know what it is. Those who feel the calling to work it out will have to justify their claim to do so by making use of the most important beginnings—the contributions of Pestalozzi and Kierkegaard—and by seeing clearly the real crux of the problem: the relation between traditio—Christian and otherwise—and Socratic self-development.