Friday, May 01, 2015

Was the Protestant Reformation Opposed to Graeco-Roman Thought? A Second Response to David Quine, Part II: Philipp Melanchthon

Philipp Melanchthon
This is the second in a continuing series of posts on whether classical education is somehow opposed to the Christian worldview. This is a claim made by David Quine, a Christian curriculum developer who has made this charge in several speeches and in comments on this blog.

Quine not only claims that the study of the classics is inconsistent with Christianity in general, but more specifically with the thinking of the Protestant Reformation. Says Quine:
It is exactly this amalgamation of Greco-Roman thought to true Christianity which [Francis] Schaeffer described in his writings as a departure from true Christianity and which the Reformation Church leaders considered contrary to orthodox teaching of the Church ( that is, heresy) and many of whom were willing to give up their earthly lives for this issue. 
There are a number of problems with this statement, the chief of which is that it is clearly not true. In actuality, the Protestant reformers, to a man, were not only the beneficiaries of a classical education, but proponents of it. They not only knew the great authors of Latin and Greece, but esteemed many of them highly. They not only learned from them, but taught them. They not only taught them, but openly advocated that others teach them.

Let's talk first about Philipp Melanchthon. Melanchthon was the first systematic theologian of the Reformation and was, in some respects, its intellectual leader.

When Melanchthon was ten years old, he learned to read the Greek and Latin poets, then the histories and dramas. "This habit," he said, "gradually led me to the ancient classics. From them I acquired a vocabulary and style."

He studied the structure of the orations of Cicero (the Roman orator) and Demosthenes (the Greek). At the University of Tubingen, he then took up Virgil, Galen, and others. When he was seventeen years old, he began to teach there, with classes on the Romans Vergil, Terence, Livy, and Cicero. He even conducted translations of Terence, portions of the Roman biographer Plutarch, and the Greek philosopher Aristotle's Posterior Analytics.

When he became the Professor of Greek at the University of Wittenburg (the academic home at the time of Martin Luther), he gave lectures on the Epistle of Titus, wrote two treatises on Plutarch, the Greek philosopher Athenagoras, Greek philosopher Plato's Symposium, wrote a Greek dictionary, a Greek hymn, and three books on rhetoric—classical subjects all. He published a handbook on dialectics, edited the Greek playwright Aristophanes' Clouds, and wrote a Greek grammar.

He encouraged his pupils to translate works by the Roman philosopher Seneca, and the Roman playwrights Plautus  and Terence, a practice of which, said classicist Theodore Arthur Buenger, "Luther approved."

Here is Dr. Buenger's account of Melanchthon's educational programme:
In 1528 appeared the Saxon Visitation Articles ... which give an outline of the school system as Melanchthon wished it to be. In the first place, teachers should be careful to teach only Latin, not German, Greek, or Hebrew. The primary School was to consist of three classes, which, however, were not to he absolved in one year. In the first the pupil was to study the alphabet, the Lord's prayer, the Creed, Donatus, and Cato's Disticha; in the second class, he was to be occupied with Aesop (in Latin), extracts from the writings of the contemporaneous authors Mosellanus and Erasmus, and with Terence and Plautus. Besides, there was to be drill in grammar. The third division was to take up Vergil, Ovid, and the Letters or the De Officiis of Cicero, and to continue the study of grammar, dialectics, and rhetoric. In all classes the boys were obliged to talk Latin with the teacher and with one another. This elementary school was followed by the Gymnasium, in which the study of Latin was continued, Greek and Hebrew were begun, and Greek was continued through Isocrates, Xenophon, Plutarch, Hesiod, Theognis, etc. ... "We still have the correspondence between him [Melanchthon] and fifty-six cities asking counsel and assistance in founding and conducting Latin schools and gymnasia" [said James W. Richard] ... Nearly all the Latin schools of the sixteenth century in Germany were founded according to Melanchthon's directions. His textbooks were used in all of them. 
According to Richard, this curriculum was instituted at the University of Marburg, then at Jena, then at Tubingen, Leipzig, Heidelburger, Frankfurt, Rostock, and Greisfswald. Said Buenger, "The outcome was a union of classical antiquity and of all the sciences and philosophy with religious knowledge."

If Quine is concerned with "synchretism" (the mixing of Graeco-Roman thought and Christianity) in Dante, this should really concern him.

In fact, the idea that the Protestant Reformation was somehow opposed to classical education--the study of Latin, the liberal arts, and the study of the Greek and Roman classics—is not only untrue, but precisely the opposite of the truth. Here is Buenger on the actual historical situation:
We may thus say that the leaders of Protestantism were all of them well trained in the Classics, that they had in fact a knowledge of the ancient literatures which is rare nowadays even among professional classicists. They appreciated the classical authors and made them a part of their lives. That this heritage of antiquity might not be lost to their descendants they incorporated them in their Schools. Protestantism adopted humanism as its educational standard.  
You would have to falsify the historical record in order to maintain the position that there is some kind of opposition between the Reformation and classical education.

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