Saturday, August 26, 2006

EDUCATING CHILDREN - Education in the Early Church

In the early days of the first church, education was almost identical to that of the Jewish community. Although the bulk of Christian converts over the centuries have been gentiles, almost all of the first converts were Jews. While these Jewish Christians made up only a small percentage of the Jewish population, [1] their numbers were enough to bring notice to this new movement. Along with the new movement, a new church was started in Jerusalem. Again, with mostly Jewish Christians, and the majority of these Jewish Christian parents continued to educate their children in the same way that they themselves were educated. (The normal practice of teaching how you were taught is an old one.) Some of the education was still carried out in the home, but the majority was given over to the synagogue school and to the hazzan or attendant that was in charge of the synagogue. However, with the rise of Christianity, a rift began to emerge between the Christians and Jews. A rift that was so serious, that it would drive the Christians even further away from their homes and finally out of the synagogues and synagogue schools forever.

During the first years of the church; the years immediately following the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the early Christians continued to worship along side their Jewish counterparts in the temple and in local synagogues. Services were typically held on the Sabbath or Saturday, and then additional services were held on Monday and Thursday.[2] While these services remained thoroughly Jewish, the Christians began to supplement these with daily meetings in the temple and in the homes of fellow believers.[3] They also began to meet regularly on the first day of the week as a day of celebration and remembrance for the Lord’s resurrection.[4] Now these new meetings, along with their new doctrine, did not go un-noticed by the Jewish religious leaders. One group in particular; the Pharisees, who had much influence over the synagogue and over those that met there for regular worship, were the ones chiefly responsible for much of the hardship that the early Jewish Christians endured. The Pharisees; a word derived from Aramaic word "perushim",[5] which means "separated", were the primary religious party among the Jews at the time of Christ. Their primary interest was in the protecting of their positions of authority and their religious traditions. These were the religious zealots of Judaism; they insisted on the strict observances of the Jewish laws, the Torah and the Jewish calendar, and they were greatly opposed to the occupation of their homeland by the Romans. While they could tolerate, at least initially, the coexistence of Christians in their community, they could not tolerate the presence of the Romans, and this was the beginning of the end of Jewish and Christian relations. The Christians were primarily pacifists. They chose to take the teachings of Christ literally, by turning the other cheek.[6] Since this was the case, the Christians abandoned the fight for Jerusalem, at least initially, and left it totally between the Romans and the Jews. For the Jews, this was the proverbial final straw. Under the leadership of Gamaliel II, Samuel ha-Katon composed the "benediction against the minim" or Benediction Twelve:

Bikat HaMinim

"And for slanderers [sectarians; minim] let there be no hope, and may all the evil in an instant be destroyed and all Thy enemies be cut down swiftly; and the evil ones uproot and break and destroy and humble soon in out days. Blessed art You, LORD, who breaks down enemies and humbles sinners."[7]

This was part of the synagogue prayer, also known as the Eighteen (later nineteen) Benedictions. This was a prayer that was invoked against the Nazarenes; the Jewish Christians, and others who were considered heretics. They were all grouped together and called by the general term minim. The prayer was meant to exclude such heretics from the synagogue, and was to be recited by all faithful Jews three times daily. The primary result of this was increased persecution of the Christians by the Jews within the synagogue and then their ultimate, final expulsion from the synagogue and, also along with it, its system of education. While this may seem to be a bad thing, it only proved to strengthen, at least for a time, the type and quality of education that these early Christians were giving to their children.

For the next several hundred years, education among Christians reverted back to being centered in the home, and it was through this system of home education that Christianity had its greatest number of converts.[8] Although they had moved away from the persecution of the Jews, they moved into a new era of persecution from the rest of the pagan world. It was a persecution that started with the Roman Empire and is still continuing through various outlets today. But just like silver that is refined in the fire,[9] the persecution only served to strengthen these early Christians.

As the persecution began, many Christians lost their lives in some of the most horrible ways imaginable. Like their Savior, some were crucified, others were fed to the lions, others were burned at the stake, and still others were beheaded. Even those that did not lose their lives still faced being exiled, sold into slavery, or put into forced labor. But the truth is, the persecution that the early church went through only served to strengthen her faith and lend credibility to the story of the risen Messiah; because while many would possibly suffer some persecution to cover for a fabricated story, none were foolish enough to die for one. So the fact that the early Christians were willing to die is even further proof that Christianity was based on fact and not fiction. Not only were they willing to die for the cause, they even took extra efforts to prepare for it. No, they didn’t exercise to build up endurance, they prepared spiritually; they started martyr’s schools.

The martyr’s school was one of the first forms of uniquely Christian education. In the years immediately following the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD, Christians suffered from some of the worst persecution imaginable. Because of this, most Christians knew that on any given day, they might have to choose between confessing their Savior and dying, or denying him and living. And since martyrdom was such a real possibility, the early church trained for it.[10] And although this training may not be considered by some to be the same as "school education", it was well organized, and it profoundly affected the lives of Christians in the early church.
But it wasn’t until Constantine and the Edict of Milan in 313, that Christian education really began to flourish.[11] Because it was here that they were finally given the freedom to operate publicly, without persecution. In a joint edict between Constantine Augustus, who ruled the West, and Licinius Augustus who ruled the East, they stated:

"we thought, among other things which we saw would be for the good of many, those regulations pertaining to the reverence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred;"[12]

So in 313, with the Edict of Milan, Christians began again to publicly and actively train their children through the school system. It was by the efforts of the early Christians that the pagan schools of the day began to be replaced by schools that taught Christian doctrine.

But just like any other freedom, there always comes abuses. It was during this time that the Roman Catholic Church began to emerge.[13] Although Christians had been around since the death of Christ, this formal organization known as the Roman Catholic Church had not. It was not until the year 438 that Emperor Theodosius II established the name "Catholic Christians",[14] which simply meant Christians that were part of the universal church. Prior to that, they were simply known as Christians, or people of the Way, and their Christian leaders were primarily concerned with doctrine. The main reason that many of the early church fathers; the leaders of the first church, came together, was to find common ground and to establish standard statements of faith. It was during some of these gatherings,[15] such as the Counsel of Nicaea or the Council of Chalcedon that many heresies were put to rest and many of the official doctrines of Christianity, that up until this point were only transmitted verbally, were finally formally written down. But as this new church age began to form, many of the church "leaders" started to have a different focus, and by 590 AD, the Roman Catholic Church began to take more control the state government.

The one person that can be given much credit for this was Pope Gregory I,[16] also known as "Gregory the Great." He had extraordinary skill as a statesman, as well as a theologian. Through this man, the Roman Catholic Church began to take more and more control of the government. As a result, state government began to slowly evolve into a new form of church-state government. It was through this the new church-state type of government that a new form of persecution came into being. This was much less physical that the persecution of the years before, but no less devastating. This new persecution came in the form of control and restrictions. The authority of parents to educate their children however they wanted was removed and it was placed into the hands of the official State "Church."[17] The presiding pope along with his official group of cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests and monks would set the tone for Christian education that would, for the most part, last throughout the Middle. During this time, education in general was reserved for those dedicated to the service of the church, and even then, many were still illiterate. Only a few choice individuals were allowed access to education, and even fewer were allowed access to the Holy Scriptures, and in many cases, the penalty for simply reading the Bible was death.[18]

While the grip of the Roman Church was far reaching, there were still bands of separate Christians that opposed them. These believers, for the most part, were hunted down and persecuted by the Roman Church, but they still withstood assimilation into the "official" state church of the day. They did whatever it took to remain separate, and because of this, many were martyred. They were known by many different names; including the Waldensians, the Lollards, the Hussites, the Anabaptists, and many more.[19] Although they were persecuted for their beliefs, these individuals considered educating their children, especially in the scripture, to be of a very high priority. A privilege and a command that was given to them by God Himself, and no human authority would tell them otherwise. So by the grace of God, there remained a remnant of true believers that were able to pass along the doctrines of the apostles in the way that God intended.

So in many ways, education in the early church, just like education in the Jewish community, was stifled by organized religion. The "religious" leaders of the people thought they knew what was best for all, and began to control what was taught and who it could be taught to. But while the majority conformed, there was still a small group of dedicated men and women who continued to educate their children God’s way. They took seriously their God given responsibility to educate their children and would not conform even under the penalty of death! And there they stayed until the Protestant Reformation.

[1] ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Origin of Christianity: the early Christians and the Jewish community (ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, 2000), Internet Article
[2] Pfeiffer, 1640
[3] Acts 2:46.
[4] Mark 16, Luke 24, Acts 20:7, others.
[5] Ninian Smart, The Religious Experience of Mankind, Third Edition. (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1984), 312
[6] Matthew 5:39, Luke 6:29
[7] The Weekday Amidah Prayers, Part II: Blessings of Petition, Blessing Twelve - Bikat HaMinim (Against Heretics).
[8] Paul A. Kienel, A History of Christian School Education (The Association of Christian Schools International, 1998), 41.
[9] Zechariah 13:9
[10] Kienel, 37.
[11] Paul L. Maier, Eusebius, The Church History, (Kregel Publications, 1999), 345.
[12] Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897-1907]), Vol 4:, 1, 28-30. This text is in the public domain.
[13] Kienel, 46-52
[14] Kienel, 56
[15] Smart, 363-373
[16] Edward McNall Burns, Robert E. Lerner, and Standish Meacham, Western Civilizations Volume 1, Tenth Edition (W W Norton, 1984), 273.
[17] Kienel, 57-77
[18] John Foxe, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Grinton W. Berry editor (Spire, 1999) many pages.
[19] Kienel, 79.

1 comment:

Phoebe said...

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