Some Thoughts From Luther On Education

During my week of coding last week I did get a little reading done. Part of that little reading was a trip through Luther’s An Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate. I found a public domain copy of the work online (there are a number of things by Luther on the Project Wittenberg website). Unfortunately there are many things to correct in it, so I’ll probably put up a copy with corrections here on the site and alert the Project Wittenberg folks of the changes.

In my last post I talked quite a bit about education, a topic near and dear to my heart, so I’ll post a quote here about education from Luther to stick with the theme. Of course some of you might wonder about my own education as I attempted (I will leave it up to you, dear reader, if I succeeded) to take them to task for trying to talk about evangelicalism’s sins without mentioning one of its greatest sins against itself. After all, they were talking about politics and whatnot, not education. But to me that is the point; they are either blind, chose not to speak, or forgot to speak on this very important topic (I hope it is the latter). But I digress. Read that post if you care. For now, here is a bit from Luther on education taken from the aforementioned address:

The number of theological books must also be lessened, and a selection made of the best of them. For it is not many books or much reading that makes men learned; but it is good things, however little of them, often read, that make men learned in the Scriptures, and make them godly, too. Indeed the writings of all the holy fathers should be read only for a time, in order that through them we may be led to the Holy Scriptures. As it is, however, we read them only to be absorbed in them and never come to the Scriptures. We are like men who study the sign-posts and never travel the road. The dear fathers wished, by their writings, to lead us to the Scriptures, but we so use them as to be led away from the Scriptures, though the Scriptures alone are our vineyard in which we ought to work and toil.

Above all, the foremost and most general subject of study, both in the higher and the lower schools, should be the Holy Scriptures, and for the young boys the Gospel. And would to God that every town had a girl’s school also, in which the girls were taught the Gospel for an hour each day either in German or Latin. Indeed the schools, monasteries and nunneries began long ago with that end in view, and it was a praiseworthy and Christian purpose, as we learn from the story of St. Agnes and other of the saints. That was the time of holy virgins and martyrs, and then it was well with Christendom; but now they have come to nothing but praying and singing. Ought not every Christian at his ninth or tenth year to know the entire holy Gospel from which he derives his name and his life? A spinner or a seamstress teaches her daughter the trade in her early years; but now even the great, learned prelates and bishops themselves do not know the Gospel.

O how unjustly we deal with these poor young people who are committed to us for direction and instruction! We must give a terrible accounting for our neglect to set the Word of God before them. They fare as Jeremiah says in Lamentations 2:11 ff.: "Mine eyes are grown weary with weeping, my bowels are terrified, my liver is poured out upon the ground, because of the destruction of the daughter of my people, for the youth and the children perish in all the streets of the whole city; they said to their mothers, "Where is bread and wine? And they swooned as the wounded in the streets of the city and gave up the ghost in their mothers’ bosom." This pitiful evil we do not see, -- how even now the young folk in the midst of Christendom languish and perish miserably for want of the Gospel, in which we ought to be giving them constant instruction and training.

Moreover, if the universities were diligent in the study of Holy Scripture, we should not send everybody there, as we do when all we ask is numbers, and everyone wishes to have a doctor’s degree; but we should send only the best qualified students, who have previously been well trained in the lower schools. A prince or city council ought to see to this, and permit only the well qualified to be sent. But where the Holy Scriptures do not rule, there I advise no one to send his son. Everyone not unceasingly busy with the Word of God must become corrupt; that is why the people who are in the universities and who are trained there are the kind of people they are. For this no one is to blame with the training of the youth. For the universities ought to turn out only men who are experts in the Holy Scriptures, who can become bishops and priests, leaders in the fight against heretics, the devil and all the world. But where do you find this true? I greatly fear that the universities are wide gates of hell, if they do not diligently teach the Holy Scriptures and impress them on the youth.

You can, of course, find this quote and others in my fancy new snippet browser that still has very not-so-fancy navigation.

One last quote, which is also quite applicable to the topic of education:

If I knew that the Picards held no other error touching the sacrament of the altar except that they believe that the bread and wine are present in their true nature, but that the body and blood of Christ are truly present under them, then I would not condemn them, but would let them enter the obedience of the bishop of Prague. For it is not an article of faith that bread and wine are not essentially and naturally in the sacrament, but this is an opinion of St. Thomas and the pope. On the other hand, it is an article of faith that in the natural bread and wine the true natural body and blood of Christ are present. And so we should tolerate the opinions of both sides until they come to an agreement, because there is no danger in believing that bread is there or is not there. For we have to endure many practices and ordinances so long as they are not harmful to faith. On the other hand, if they had a different faith, I would rather have them outside the Church; yet I would teach them the truth.

Whatever other errors and schisms might be discovered in Bohemia should be tolerated until the archbishop had been restored and had gradually brought all the people together again in one common doctrine. They will assuredly never be united by force, nor by defiance, nor by haste; it will take time and forbearance. Had not even Christ to tarry with His disciples a long while and bear with their unbelief, until they believed His resurrections? If they but had again a regular bishop and church order, without Roman tyranny, I could hope that things would soon be better.