New Educational Systems

The Age of Enlightenment is a term used to describe a phase in Western civilization, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,  that emphasized rational thought and which included the foundation of modern science.  This phase included many aspects, and it is subject to a wide range of interpretations.  Here we will concentrate on aspects of these centuries and ongoing developments  that deal with education, humanism, and the love of learning.

In 1400, there were twenty-nine functioning universities in Europe.  Twenty-eight additional ones were created during the fifteenth century.  Renaissance rulers and city governments created universities because they believed that their societies would benefit from university learning. Men attended these universities to acquire the degrees and skills that would enable them to attain good positions in these societies [1].  Two educational philosophies were in competition during the sixteenth century.  The first philosophy was the traditional medieval approach of intellectual rigor, of the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.  The second one was the result of the influence of the renaissance humanists, with more of an  emphasis on the “active life,” in service to society. The humanists believed that the essential element of education was exposure to classical literature, which would inspire ideals and contribute to the formation of character.  The traditional or "scholastic" philosophy was the most prevalent at the major universities such as Paris, but the humanist approach was also influencing these schools during the century [2]. As a result of religious wars, and other factors, such as famine and plague, European universities suffered a decline during the seventeenth century.  This decline was accentuated by competition form new educational systems, as discussed below [3].

The Jesuit Educational System

The Society of Jesus was founded in 1540 by Ignatius of Loyola, a Spanish former soldier that had dedicated himself to missionary work for the Catholic Church. Ignatius and several of his early followers had been educated at the University of Paris and they had a strong academic background. The first schools of the Jesuit order were dedicated to the education of its candidates, but given the quality of these “internal” schools, the Jesuits were gradually induced to open schools for general, mostly secondary, education.  Ignatius soon realized the value of this work in the service to his church, and he made education a primary mission of his order. By 1679, the Jesuits were running 578 “external” schools [4].   During the sixteenth century, the Jesuits also began to offer university-level courses in their schools, and some of these schools attained full university status, such as the Roman College in 1556.

Jesuit education was influenced by the experience of some of its founders at the University of Paris, and it included aspects of both of the philosophies that had been in competition there:  “the Jesuits wanted to preserve the best of the two great educational ideals even in their universities: the intellectual rigor of the scholastic system and the more personalist, societal, and even practical aims of the humanists [5].”  The inclusiveness of this education is reflected in the sections of the Jesuit Constitution (1556) relating to universities: “Under the heading of humane letters is understood, in addition to grammar, what pertains to rhetoric, poetry, and history (paragraph 448)...  Logic, physics , metaphysics and moral philosophy should be treated, and also mathematics in the measure appropriate to secure the end which is being sought (paragraph 451).”  Of course, these “secular” studies were seen as subordinate to the primary religious mission of the order: “the arts or natural sciences dispose the intellectual powers for theology (paragraph 450) [6] ." Nevertheless, the quality of the over-all Jesuit education was universally acknowledged, even by the enemies of the order

Pietist Education in Germany

Pietism was a religious and educational movement that sought to revitalize Reformation Christianity. The followers of Pietism believed that Christians should work for the betterment of mankind.     Although the term "Pietism" was originally associated with a movement within the Lutheran church in Germany,  most of the Reformation churches of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were influenced by this movement.  Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705) is considered to be the founder of the movement.   He in turn was influenced by Johann Arndt (1555- 1621), a mystical Lutheran writer, and Jean de Labadie, an ex-Jesuit who had converted to Calvinism.  Spener was a prolific writer, and he became the chief pastor in the Lutheran Church at Frankfurt [7].

The University of Halle was founded in 1694 by Frederick III, Elector of Brandenburg, who later became King Frederick I of Prussia in 1701.  From the begining, it was decided that Halle would be a flagship university, and that it would be used to educate future civil servants and teachers [8]. August Francke (1663-1727), a disciple of Spener, taught theology and oriental languages at the University of Halle from 1694 to 1727.  Under his influence, Halle became the center of Pietism in Germany [9].


In 1695, Francke founded a charity-supported school for orphan children at Halle. Francke believed that every child should be given the opportunity to be educated regardless of birth or wealth. Francke’s school taught the children useful trades and the sciences, along with basic studies and religious instruction.  Those orphans who displayed sufficient ability were encouraged to prepare for the university, and special funds were set aside to provide scholarships for these students [10].  Francke’s success attracted the attention of king Frederick William I of Prussia.  The king established about 2000 schools in Prussia, modeled on Francke’s schools [11]. The University of Halle trained many of the teachers for these schools.

[1] Paul F. Grendler, "The Universities of the Renaissance and the Reformation"  in Renaissance Quarterly (2004),  2.

[2] John W. O’Malley, "The Jesuit Educational Enterprise in Historical Perspective," in Rolando E. Bonachea, ed., Jesuit Higher Education (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1989), 14-16.

[3] Paul F. Grendler, The Universities of the Renaissance and the Reformation, 23.

[4] Ibid., 24.

[5] John O’Malley, "The Jesuit Educational Enterprise," 21.

[6] Saint Ignatius of Loyola, The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus (St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1970), 214.

[7] Peter C. Erb, ed., Pietists, Selected Writings (New York: Paulist Press, 1983), 2-8.

[8] William Clark, Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 2006), 265-266.

[9] Peter C. Erb, ed., Pietists, 9.

[10] Levy Seeley, History of Education (New York, American Book Company, 1899), 233-236.

[11] Marcia J. Bunge, "Education and the Child in the Eighteenth-Century German Pietism: Perspectives from the Work of A. H. Francke" in Marcia J. Bunge, ed., The Child in Christian Thought (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001), 247-249.