Christian Education in Antiquity

The dawn of the Christian era brought deep change to Europe and the Roman Empire specifically. This post will provide an overview of Christian education from antiquity.

Early Efforts

Initially, it was difficult for Christians to have schools in the traditional sense. This is because the frequent persecution made it difficult for Christians to settle in one place for long periods of time. For about the first 200 years, Christian education was focused on teaching adult new believers the basic principles of Christianity. These schools were called Catechumen schools. With time these schools would also be opened to children.

The next innovation in Christian education was the Common Schools of the second century. These schools were founded by Protogenes. The curriculum focused primarily on learning to read and to write. Advanced education was not yet a concern.

At about the same time as the founding of the common schools was also the development of catechetical schools. The first of these schools was found in 181 AD by Panteaus in Alexandria, Egypt. Catechetical loosely translated means “question and answer” which is a reference to the teaching style of the school.

The Catechetical schools are famous in part because of their alumni. Both Clement (150-215 AD) and his student Origen(184-253 AD) studied at the Alexandrian school. Clement was a former student of the founder Panteaus.  Origen became a teacher at the school while a teenager, which was an amazing feat. Origen taught at the height of the school and the decline began after his death.

Towards the Middle Ages

By 529ADm the Byzantine Emperor Justinian had outlawed the pagan schools within the empire. For a long time, the Christians and the pagan schools and competed for students and influence. Eventually, Christianity saw the pagan schools as a threat to believers and use their resources to suppress them. As Christianity became the state religion, pagan schools declined and Christianity took over as one of the main bodies for providing education.

By the Middle Ages, some of the educational duties of Christianity had been given to the monasteries. The church had tremendous power and the monks owned as much as 1/3 of Europe. The education consisted primarily of the seven liberal arts divided into the trivium (three) and quadrivium (four).

Towards the end of the Middle Ages,  there began to be resistance to the monastic education in the form of a philosophy called scholasticism. Scholasticism supported the use of reason to learn while monasticism focused on the authority of the church. While monasticism avoided most classical literature as pagan scholasticism embraced and tried to harmonized classical ideas with Christianity. The split that began with scholasticism would have an influence on the church for several centuries as people continue to argue over the role of faith in education.

Conclusion

Christianity started as a persecuted religion to moving to become a state religion. This change in status also brought about a change in how education was viewed and conducted.

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