Tag Archives: education

William Tyndale



The Reformation was a bloody, violent business because there was so much power at stake. The people in charge faced losing their jobs. If regular shmos understood that they had a direct line to G-d through prayer, maybe they wouldn’t need the priests so much.

The Bible was THE book everybody in western culture was familiar with. It seems natural to want to translate into your own language and publish it, as Martin Luther had done. More than the prospect of making a few samolians from a bestseller, if you take Saint Paul’s words to heart, you understand that faith in Christ is its own justification. That is: if you accept Christ as your Savior, your sins are forgiven. That’s it. No paying for indulgences. Jesus’ sacrifice was a gift freely given to get us into heaven. William Tyndale wanted everybody to know that.

William Tyndale was an English scholar-priest and really good at languages. He wanted to publish the New Testament in English. It isn’t a surprise that no Church bigshot would underwrite Tyndale’s project. In fact, it became dangerous for Tyndale to even occupy space in England—so he moved around different continental cities until he settled in Worms (vorms), Saxony. There he translated the New Testament from Erasmus’ Greek edition and published it in 1525. Copies were enthusiastically smuggled into England. This didn’t go over so well with the Church or King Henry VIII (Henry was busy starting up a new church with himself replacing the pope). The Church did not want people reading the Bible for themselves. Whenever they found Tyndale’s bibles, they burned ’em.

He moved to Antwerp and even though Tyndale was hiding out, he spent his free time helping poor people. Eventually someone he trusted betrayed him to Church authorities. Tyndale was tried for heresy and burned at the stake. They were that afraid of him.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/scholarsandscientists/william-tyndale.html
Look at this gorgeous woodcut from Tyndale’s Bible—
https://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/heritage/archives/picture-this/william-tyndale-the-newe-testament-of-oure-sauiour-iesus-christe-faythfully-translated-oute-of-the-greke-with-the-notes-and-expositions-of-the-darke-places-therein-london-rycharde-jugge-1553-c/
Almost all Tyndale’s bibles were destroyed; there are only a few in existence—
https://evangelicalfocus.com/culture/4029/tyndale-bible-from-persecuted-to-becoming-a-treasure
https://thepilgrimsnews.wordpress.com/tag/william-tyndale/
https://bishopmike.com/2012/11/03/tyndale-luther-and-hus/

Okay, only some people read

I’ll show myself out…

Let’s take a breath. This flowering of learning and culture wasn’t for everybody. Literacy—reading and writing—was doing fantastic in the monasteries, schools, colleges and universities. Outside those buildings, the literacy rate for regular shmoes was depressingly low. Mediæval Europe had a rigid class system—feudalism—with 3 classes: nobility, freemen and serfs. The economy was all about land. The nobles owned land; the freemen rented land (or lived in a town); the serfs farmed someone else’s land (in exchange for protection and a portion of the harvest).

Most people didn’t know how to read or write. The schools I talked about earlier were for the sons of nobles, or freemen who made a nice living. The nobility were either knights (military) or clergy (church). Clergy definitely needed to read and write to understand the Bible. Of the well-off freemen, merchants learned how read, write and do math because they needed to keep records of merchandise bought and sold, like the Phoenicians did. Lawyers and doctors needed to read and write. But most people—low-income freemen and serfs—couldn’t afford literacy. Papyrus is cheap but doesn’t last very long away from the desert. Parchment is expensive. Books written by hand are expensive. If you were a serf, forget about going to school. The very last thing nobles wanted was their cheap labor going to school to learn stuff. They even made it illegal. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/parliament-rolls-medieval/november-1391

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_no_one_rid_me_of_this_turbulent_priest%3F

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Higher education

Colleges popping up!

These things don’t happen all at once. First schools—colleges—popped up, to teach the trivium and quadrivium (the liberal arts). Next, there were specialized schools that taught medicine or law or divinity. In late eleventh-century Bologna (that’s in Italy) somebody got the idea to gather together schools that taught specialties and the liberal arts under one philosophical roof and call them a university. ‘University’ comes from the Latin word universitas that means ‘whole, the sum of all things.’

Side bar: these terms for higher learning institutions are used differently in different countries. In Spain, ‘college’ sounds a lot like their word for high school. In Italy, ‘liceo’ (lee CHAY oh) means high school, but in Great Britain or the US, a lyceum is a hall where people give lectures or concerts.

https://www.medievalchronicles.com/medieval-life/medieval-schools/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_European_universities
https://www.britannica.com/topic/university
https://www.medievalists.net/2011/08/medieval-university/
https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2018-02-14/understand-the-difference-between-a-college-and-university-in-the-us
https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/lyceum

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Charlemagne’s culture boom

Your books will ship in 1-2 business days!

All of Charlemagne’s and Alcuin’s hard work paid off. The scriptoria were busy cranking out books using Alcuin’s new Carolingian-style letters (did you know Charlemagne’s sister Sister Gisele ran a scriptorium?) and choirs were singing those beautiful polyphonic hymns. Charlemagne’s push for education and culture inspired collections of schools to become universities—who clamored for even more books.

Sister Hildegard would do just about anything to improve the lighting in her scriptorium.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolingian_Renaissance
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chelles_Abbey
https://thenewinquiry.com/blog/women-scribes-the-technologists-of-the-middle-ages/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Fringe Romans and country men

Ancient Roman cell phone

I made a point of saying that kids who spoke Latin and Greek were taught to read & write Latin and Greek. Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire and if you wanted your kids to succeed in life, by Jupiter, you taught ‘em Latin. But maybe Latin wasn’t the kids’ first language after all. Let’s face it, the Roman Empire was a big place. As you travel away from the city of Rome, toward the frontiers of the Empire, people were less fussy about speaking Latin. Those regions had had their own native languages before Julius Caesar showed up. They adopted Latin and its grammar as it suited them. They mixed it in with the language they’d already been speaking.

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Learning Latin

I think we got it right this time!

UPDATE! The title of this post is more apt than I knew. I drew this quick sketch (above) of Julius Caesar writing his Commentaries (you can pick up a paperback copy here) and scribbled in his famous line: “Veni, vidi, vici” “I came, I saw, I conquered.” I did it in a hurry and got it wrong. I’d say I was nodding, like that guy Homer Bonus, but in my case it was more like a coma. Lucky for me, my pal Jim F (a newly-minted Western Civ Irregular) is a Latin master. He caught my goof not once, but twice when I corrected it wrong (see comments below). There’s a lesson here, gang. You don’t have to be smart—just be sure to have plenty of smart friends. I’m blessed with quite a few.

You still hear and read “I came, I saw, I conquered” occasionally today. A few years ago American Secretary of State Clinton joked about deposing the Libyan dictator Qaddafi:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlz3-OzcExI “We came, we saw, he died.” Vastly less cringe-worthy are Eric Maschwitz’ lyrics to These Foolish Things: “You came, you saw, you conquered me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mshV7ug8cdE  Here is Ella Fitzgerald singing it. If her voice and this song aren’t the pinnacle of Western achievement, I don’t know what is.

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/classical-quarterly/article/veni-vidi-vici-and-caesars-triumph/2EA3991576722595B28F33D54D8BAB9B

<p>During the Roman Empire, kids went to private schools. A teacher would set up a school and the parents paid him tuition. Not everybody went. Roman citizens—and freemen who could afford it—went to school. Poor freemen and slaves didn’t. <br /><br />Naturally, the students learned to read and write Latin and Greek. These are called ‘classic’ languages. Believe it or not, Latin was a regular part of everybody’s education in Great Britain and the United States up until less than a century ago. In the Sixties they taught Latin in New York City public schools. <br /><br />https://trisagionseraph.tripod.com/literacyf.html<br />https://erenow.net/ancient/ancient-greece-and-rome-an-encyclopedia-for-students-4-volume-set/257.php<br />https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Status_in_Roman_legal_system<br />https://classicalacademicpress.com/blogs/classical-insights/10-reasons-to-study-latin<br />The Latin master was a familiar feature of British education—enough so that the audience got John Cleese’s bit in Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)— https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAfKFKBlZbM<br />Do they still teach Latin in Italy? Renzo Arbore tells his mamma that he prefers singing rhythm to studying Latin: “Il Latino non va giù, aritmetica è tabu…(Latin’s no good, arithmetic is taboo)” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZV0XFzKxO0<br />https://medium.com/@gentryalex13/how-learning-latin-changed-my-life-3554969eb293</p&gt;

Rome-schooling

Livius and students.

With all these scrolls and codex books there must’ve been a fair amount of people who could read and write back in the latter days of the Roman Empire. It’s hard to know exactly because they didn’t keep statistics like that. At least I can’t find any. Based on who could afford to send their kids to school, maybe a third of the population was literate? Boys, mostly, learned to read and write—but girls learned, too. You can find the occasional fresco or statue of a girl reading. There weren’t government schools like we have today. Up until the 3rd century bc kids were home-schooled by their dad, the paterfamilias. As I mentioned earlier, the Romans sure did love Greek arts and literature. Once they saw Greek education, they glommed onto that, too.

The Roman Republic, and then Empire, was all business. They were set up as an organized military that also farmed. No time for frivolities. At least at first, Rome didn’t have arts or literature of her own. She imported ‘em from other cultures—mostly Greece. One Roman dad bought himself a Greek slave, Livius Andronicus, to tutor his kids. Livius likely introduced a system of teaching that resembled the Trivium (3 parts): Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. At the Grammar stage students learn subjects that are memorized, like the rules of reading & writing. At the Logic stage they learn how to think and understand. At the Rhetoric stage they learn how to persuade other people using logic and speaking skills.

Livius was wildly successful at teaching and so won his freedom. He opened his own school after that and is known for translations of Greek works into Latin as well as his original plays. Livius is thought to be the first to write literature in Latin.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_ancient_Rome
https://ihomeschoolnetwork.com/classical-education-trivium/
https://veritaspress.com/the-trivium
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trivium
I enthusiastically recommend recorded lectures offered by The Great Courses, but goodness, they need a proofreader for their newsletter. It’s ‘Plato’ not ‘Pluto.’ https://www.thegreatcoursesdaily.com/the-education-system-in-ancient-greece/
https://greece.mrdonn.org/education.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Livius_Andronicus
Here is a tiny chunk of what kids had to learn: 30 conjugations of the word ‘this’—
https://www.latintutorial.com/videos/hic-haec-hoc

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

AGAIN!

Have you ever read a book to a little brother or sister? Over & over & OVER again? That kid hasn’t learned to read yet. You, of course, are an expert reader—you don’t need to sound out each letter anymore, you look at a group of letters and right away you know it means ‘cat’, or ‘bicycle’ or ‘salami.’

A cat, a bicycle and a salami.

Our alphabet—the one you’re reading right now—is a code. Each letter stands for a particular sound. A group of letters—a word—can stand for a thing, or an action, or an idea. When a young reader sounds out the letters of a word, he’s learning how to crack that code.

Our alphabet is a gift from people who lived a long time ago—the Phoenicians. Before they came along, hardly anyone knew how to read. Reading was a secret skill practiced by a few select people.

https://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/how-do-kids-learn-to-read.html

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Make your reservations now!

I am booking school visits in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area for Read Across America Week, March 2 – 6, 2015. Friday the 6th just got reserved this morning. If I can book the whole week, everybody gets me for 25% off the regular rate.

Contact Lisa— bookings@johnmanders.com