Luther and Educational Reform

Martin Luther (1483-1546) is best known for his religious work as one of the main catalysts for the Protestant Reformation. However, Luther was also a powerful influence on education during his lifetime. This post will take a look at Luther’s early life and his contributions to education

Early Life

Luther was born during the late 15th century. His father was a tough miner with a severe disciplinarian streak. You would think that this would be a disaster but rather the harsh discipline gave Luther a toughness that would come in handy when standing alone for his beliefs.

Upon reaching adulthood Luther studied law as his father diseased for him to become a lawyer. However, Luther decided instead to become a monk much to the consternation of his father.

As a monk, Luther was a diligent student and studied for several additional degrees. Eventually, he was given an opportunity to visit Rome which was the headquarters of his church. However, Luther saw things there that troubled him and in many laid the foundation for his doubt in the direction of his church.

Eventually, Luther had a serious issue with several church doctrines. This motivated him to nail his 95 theses onto the door of a church in 1517. This act was a challenge to defend the statements in the theses and was actually a common behavior among the scholarly community at the time.

For the next several years it was a back forth intellectual battle with the church. A common pattern was the church would use some sort of psychological torture such as the eternal damnation of his soul and Luther would ask for biblical evidence which was normally not given. Finally, in 1521 at the Diet of Worms, Luther was forced to flee for his life and the Protestant Reformation had in many was begun.

Views on Education

Luther’s views on education would not be considered radical or innovative today but they were during his lifetime. For our purposes, we will look at three tenets of Luther’s position on education

  • People should be educated so they can read the scriptures
  • Men and women should receive an education
  • Education  should benefit the church and state

People Should be Educated so they Can Read the Scriptures

The thought that everyone should be educated was rather radical. By education, we mean developing literacy skills and not some form of vocational training. Education was primarily for those who needed it which was normally the clergy, merchants, and some of the nobility.

If everyone was able to read it would significantly weaken the churches position to control spiritual ideas and the state’s ability to maintain secular control, which is one reason why widespread literacy was uncommon. Luther’s call for universal education would not truly be repeated until Horace Mann and the common school. movement.

The idea of universal literacy also held with it a sense of personal responsibility. No one could rely on another to understand scripture. Everyone needs to know how to read and interpret scripture for themselves.

Men and Women Should be Educated

The second point is related to the first. Luther said that everyone should be educated he truly meant everyone. This means men and women should learn literacy. The women could not hide behind the man for her spiritual development but needed to read for herself.

Again the idea of women education was controversial at the time. The Greeks believed that educating women was embarrassing although this view was not shared by all in any manner.

WOmen were not only educated for spiritual reasons but also so they could manage the household as well. Therefore, there was a spiritual and a practical purpose to the education of women for Luther

Education Benefits the Church and the State

Although it was mentioned that education had been neglected to maintain the power of the church and state. For Luther, educated citizens would be of a greater benefit to the church and state.

The rationale is that the church would receive ministers, teachers, pastors, etc. and the state would receive future civil servants. Therefore, education would not tear down society but would rather build it up.

Conclusion

Luther was primarily a reformer but also was a powerful force in education. His plea for the development of education in Germany led to the construction of schools all over the Protestant controlled parts of Germany. His work was of such importance that he has been viewed as one of the leading educational reformers of the 16th century.

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