Ancient Higher Education & Christinanity

With the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire, there were several gradual and strong changes made to education. All the changes mentioned are not directly caused by Christianity, but they are correlated with it meaning that they happened at the same time Christianity was rising in Europe.

Changes in Curriculum

The trivium and the quadrivium were replaced in part by other subjects. Theology was studied for the obvious reason that Christianity was growing in popularity among people. There was a need for clergy in this religion which begat the need for academic training. In addition, unlike other religions in which the priesthood may be limited by tribe or hereditary, any male could at least express interest in being a religious leader in early Christianity assuming he passed vetting by elders and others.

Law was also added to the curriculum. This may not be directly related to Christianity but it happened around the same time. In particular, people wanted to understand Roman law in greater detail leading to a growth in those who were trained as lawyers. For whatever reason, the natural sciences were sometimes classified as being part of law studies during this time as well. Perhaps this was meant to refer to natural law as alluded to by Aristotle.

The subjects of the trivium and quadrivium were often reduced to a single subject called philosophy. By the dawn of the Christian era in the Roman Empire, the influence of Plato and Aristotle was strongly felt. As such, the study of their work along with anything else related to the humanities was temporarily classified as philosophy.

Changes in Traditions

Within schools, at this time students were encouraged to think independently. Free thought was supported and schools were locally controlled. There was also a discussion style of teaching instead of simply lecturing. Education was about bringing forth from the student rather than filling the head of students. This is in part what the Latin word “educere” means which serves as the root word for education.

The religion of Christianity has several strong absolute beliefs such as what is right and wrong. This influenced education in that academic learning was focused on finding universal truth. Education was searching for the ideal. This is in sharp contrast to education today with its obsession with the subjective. The idea of an absolute God led to the focus on finding absolute ideal truth.

Higher education also had something in common with monasticism. When students went away to study, it was expected that they would live away from society in part and study it objectively before returning to the world and engage with it. The idea of leaving the world is one of the goals of monastic living not with the purpose of studying the world objectively but of trying to have a closer connection with God.


Education like most things in this world, changes with the times. As a new religion began to make its presence felt there was a corresponding change in education. It would be simplistic to trace all the changes provided here solely because of any religion. However, historical people saw education differently when they began to see the world from a Christian perspective.

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