Education in the Middle Ages

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Education in the Middle Ages

The Russian State Social University

Report on Pedagogics.

“Education in the Middle Ages

                                                       Made by the first-year

                                                       student of faculty of

                                                       foreign languages,



                                                       Chrcked by Khajrullin

                                                       Ruslan Zinatullovich.




Preface_ 3

Education in the Orthodox Christian Civilization_ 3

The Russian offshoot of the Orthodox Christian Civilization    5

Education in the Western Civilization_ 9

Conclusion_ 13

bibliographic List_ 14


In A.D. 476 the Roman Empire, as universal state of the Hellenic Civilization, collapsed. This date is considered to be the beginning of the European Middle Ages. The Middle Ages covers the period from the fifth century till the sixteenth century. Middle Ages are divided into the early Middle Ages (V-IX centuries), the Middle Ages (X-XIII centuries), and Renaissance (XIV-XVI centuries).

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Orthodox Christian Civilization was the close relationship between church and state, in antithesis to the separation of church and state in the Western world. The whole outlook and orien­tation of the society was grounded in religion so that the church, as the official institution of religion, exerted an incalculably great in­fluence on all aspects of life including the "secular every-day educa­tion" and the affairs of the state supported university.

At the same time, however, public education in the society was pre­dominantly secular and independent of the church. Little is known about primary and secondary, but it is Marrou's opinion that in the East, there was a "direct continuation" of the classical education that prevailed under the Roman Empire. Certainly the basis continued to be grammar and the classics, and the same textbooks and commentaries continued to be used and copied. In higher education, the dominant institution was the univer­sity at Constantinople, which had been founded A.D. 425 by Theo­dosius II, and the curriculum in it remained entirely classical.

Thus by the time of the emergence of the civilization, the education and culture were Greek and the lay, secular education was classical, but behind the Greek culture and the secular education the influence of religion and of the orthodox church were extremely powerful.

There were three types of education, or, rather, three types of schools: the classical, secular, lay schools which included the univer­sity and its preparatory schools, in which there was a predominantly secular secondary training; the monastic school; and the special patriarchal schools. Each of the three, and the preparation for it, will be treated in turn.

The Orthodox Christian child was brought up in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord" and listened at night to stories from the Bible, was made to learn some of it by heart, particularly the Psalms, and was trained in correct (Greek) pronunci­ation. The child was later on to be taught from pagan textbooks and was to read pagan literature, especially Homer, as a matter of course; at home he learned that "our" — that is, the Christian — learning was the true and that the pagan literature, if not actually false, was only in praise of virtue disguised as verse or story.

At the age of six or seven or eight the boy went to an elementary school. Most towns of size had at least one school with a fairly competent teacher or teachers, and children of all social classes could attend the schools; it seems that tuition fees were charged and that the schools were privately operated. The main subject of study in the elementary school was reading and writing. When the boy was ten or twelve he began the study of "grammar."

This study of grammar appears to have been a thorough grounding in classical Greek language and literature, especially in the form and matter of poetry, chiefly Homer. Homer was probably still learned by heart, and explained word by word.

After the student had mastered "grammar" he was ready to go on to a university. The curriculum at the university seems to have been, again, still classical in method and content. For rhetoric, the student would read and memorize Greek masterpieces, and compose speeches according to classical rules and in imitation of the older style. For philosophy he used chiefly Aristotle, Plato, and the Neo-Platonists. He seems to have got, somewhere in his education, a knowledge of mathematics and astronomy, and of the natural sciences, although it is not clear at what stage they were introduced. The university cur­riculum was organized, more or less, into the classical Trivium and Quadrivium.

But "neither the names nor the sequence of different branches of Byzantine education are very clear." School and university subjects appear to have overlapped; some study of medicine appears to have figured in both, as did some study of the law.

There were important centres of higher learning at Athens, Alexandria, Caesarea, Gaza, Antioch, Ephesus, Nicaea, Edessa and, of course, the law school at Beirut. Most of these were destroyed by the Muslim conquests, but culture was still alive in Athens in the twelfth century, Nicaea remained an important centre of learning throughout the growth period and through most of the time of troubles of the civilization, and Edessa in the ninth century still supported a public teacher of grammar, rhetoric, and philosophy.

The second type of school in Orthodox Christendom was the monastic school. It was exclusively for those who had dedicated them­selves to the religious life, or those whose parents had dedicated them to it, for children were admitted at a very early age. From the beginning of Orthodox Christendom as a separate society until the thirteenth century the ban on lay children in the monastery schools was in force. The teaching in these schools was narrowly confined to the Scriptures (illiterate novices learned the Psalms by ear and by heart), orthodox commentaries thereon, lives of saints, and a few patristic works. The children were taught to read and write but the instruction seems not to have been taken beyond the elementary stage. The monastic schools did not provide the counter to the highly secular education of the lay secondary schools and the university.

The counter to the secular education was offered by the third type of school in Orthodox Christendom: the patriarchal school or schools in Constantinople. The very scanty sources suggest that these schools taught about the same subjects as did the secular schools, but with a different emphasis: all studies led up to the study of theology. The purpose and function of the school was to train clerics and to combat heresy. The professors were ordained deacons and the rector was invested by the Patriarch of Con­stantinople.

The curriculum seems to have been organized into two divisions: the one including grammar, rhetoric, some philosophy, and prob­ably the other classical studies, the other including chiefly the study and exegesis of the Scriptures. The rector of the school taught the Gospels, there was another professor for the Epistles and another for the Psalms. It appears that the professors of theology some­times gave lectures in literature and philosophy in addition to their exegetical courses. It is known that one twelfth-century rector gave courses in mathematics and classical literature and philosophy which the students were required to take before they were introduced to the study of the Gospels.

Orthodox Christian influence was also dominant among the Slavs of Russia.

The Russian offshoot of the Orthodox Christian Civilization

The Russia to which Orthodox Christianity came was a primitive and barbarous land. Hence it was the Orthodox Christian Church that gave to the land all its culture: the Cyrillic alphabet was adopted as the medium of writing and Cyril's translations be­came the basis of the native literature; the already fixed dogma of the church was taken over in its entirety, so that there were no disputes concerning fundamental issues of faith and practice; the liturgical forms were similarly adopted; religious pictures furnished the model for Russian iconography; and Orthodox Christian ideas were everywhere influential in daily life. Thus the date of the con­version of Vladimir may conveniently be taken as that of the begin­ning of the Russian Offshoot of the Orthodox Christian Civilization. That this society was an offshoot not identical with the main body is as clear in the case of Russia as in that of Japan: despite the very large cultural and religious heritage from the main body, the language was different, the land was different, the culture became different, and the religious domination of Constantinople lasted only so long as the Imperial City remained powerful and inviolable.

Milioukov suggests that after Vladimir's conversion, education in Kiev was compulsory. Certainly both dukes and clergy worked strenuously to create schools and to collect and copy books. The efforts bore fruit, for by the beginning of the twelfth century Russia had priests in sufficient numbers to serve the people, and she had the beginnings of a native literature. The literature produced by Russia in the early periods was predominantly, almost wholly, re­ligious and monastic: of the two hundred forty Russian writers known to have lived before A.D. 1600, only thirty were laymen and twenty secular clergy, the other one hundred ninety being monks.

It is known that c. A.D. 1030 the Grand Duke founded an academy in Novgorod for three hundred children to be instructed in "book-learning"; that he bade the parish priests "teach the people"; and that he established a library in connection with the cathedral in Kiev and gathered there scribes and scholars to translate books from Greek into Slavonic. Other dukes founded schools in two other cities.

Little or nothing is known of the curriculum in elementary and higher schools in Kievan Russia although it is known that both existed. A prayer book called the Book of the Hours was used as the first reader and was followed by the Psalter. It seems certain that some of the children of noble families were sent to Constantinople for their education. Vernadsky believes that during this period, there were a fair number of schools and that the percentage of literacy, "at least in the upper classes, was high"; he believes also that a few of the more highly educated were perhaps as well trained as their Byzantine contemporaries.

Among these more highly educated were, for example, Hilarion of Kiev (c. A.D. 1050), who wrote discourses on the Scriptures and on the saints, and who shows in his writings how thoroughly and quickly some Russians had assimilated the Greek culture and, at the same time, had modified it in an original way; the author of the twelfth-century Chronicle of Kiev shows an enormous erudition as well as a consciousness of the unity of the Slavic peoples and their common origins; the monk Daniel of the same time wrote an account of his travels to the Holy Land; the letters of the con­temporary Metropolitan Clement give references to Homer, Aristotle, and Plato and show other indications of a knowledge of the Greek classical writings, while the Bishop Cyril evidences a familiarity with the works of the Greek Fathers and imitates them intelligently. In addition to these writers and their works there appeared in the latter part of the eleventh century a juridical treatise, Greek and Russian Ecclesiastical Rule, and the original form of the Russkaya Pravda, the first codification of Russian customary law. Vernadsky concludes that the "intellectual level" of the Russian educated elite was as high as that in contemporary Byzantium and the West, while Dvornik holds that Kiev in the tenth to twelfth centuries was, as a centre of culture, "far ahead" of anything in the contemporary West.

These scraps of information are all that is known of education in Russia during the period of growth, and this early bloom of culture wilted with the beginning of the time of troubles. If we date the beginnings of the society at the last quarter of the tenth century, then its growth period lasted only a little more than a century and a half. By the last quarter of the eleventh century the "centre of gravity" had shifted north to the town of Vladimir; by the beginning of the twelfth century internecine warfare among the contending principali­ties had begun, and by the latter half of the century Kiev and the other towns of the Dnepr Basin had fallen into decadence. The internal troubles of the society were aggravated and other troubles were added by struggles with the Lithuanians and, beginning about the fourth decade of the thirteenth century, by the invasions of the Mongols.

It must be assumed that during this time, some priests taught some children and that there was some higher education for the few, since the continuity of education was not wholly broken and there were some scholars at the end of the period; but there is no evi­dence for the existence of any widespread education among the people nor even of systematic or higher education of the clergy.

The first great victory of the Russians over the Mongols took place A.D. 1380. Nearly a century later, A.D. 1472, Ivan III, Prince of Moscow, married the niece of the last East Roman emperor; A.D. 1489 he rejected all claims of the Mongols and assumed the title of tsar or autocrat: he was now no longer subject to any foreign power; Russia was an independent and sovereign state. And the Rus­sian Church now became independent and sovereign — indeed, uni­versal. Moscow was the successor of Constantinople, which, in Eastern theory, had been the successor of Rome. Russia was now "Holy Russia." This assumption of imperial and ecclesiastical mantles was accompanied by changes in the manner of life of the tsars and in the organization of the palace: new imperial insignia were adopted, pomp and circumstance added into the life at the palace. But little was done for education.

Boris Godunov in A.D. 1598 tried the experiment of sending young Russians to Western Europe for study. This was a break with tra­dition, for Muscovites previously had been allowed abroad only to Eastern Orthodox Christian countries and only on embassies or pilgrimages or for theological studies. The experiment was a failure: of the fifteen students sent abroad, only one returned. Boris also proposed the establishment of a university, but this was opposed by the church on the ground that "it was not wise to entrust the teach­ing of youth to Catholics and Lutherans."

It appears that until the second half of the seventeenth century what little elementary education there was given by the priests. A sombre but apparently accurate statement is given by Milioukov: "The ignorance of the Russian people is the source of its devotion. It knows neither schools nor universities. Only the priests teach the youth reading and writing; however, few bother with it."

The few elementary schools that existed in Muscovy from the beginning of the universal state until the late seventeenth century were chiefly for the purpose of training the clergy and a few govern­ment clerks. The teachers were local clergy, and the number of children taught very few. The subjects taught were reading, writing, and a little arithmetic.

In Ukraine a quite different situation obtained. There the Russian Orthodox Church was confronted with Roman Catholicism and consequently found itself compelled to organize its education so as to be able to compete on intellectually equal terms for the allegiance of the people. There appears to have been a kind of organization of the elementary schools, and A.D. 1631, a higher school of theology was established at Kiev. This academy became the centre of learning in Ukraine. Within a generation of its founding, a number of its scholars were called to Moscow and so Kievan learning became an important factor in advancing the intellectual life of late seventeenth-century Muscovy. In A.D. 1687 a Moscow academy, modeled on the one at Kiev but with more emphasis on Greek, was founded. Vernadsky sums up the seventeenth-century development by saying that by the end of the century, "a thin layer of Westernized cultural elite had formed" and that this elite could serve as a "connecting link between Russia and the West" and also as "a centre for the spread of new ideas" within Russia.

Education in the Western Civilization

From the last quarter of the seventh century may be dated the appearance of the Western as a civilization independent of its sister society, the Orthodox Christian, and of its parent, the Hellenic. Dur­ing the first century of its growth the only education, other than that ubiquitous and omnipresent apprenticeship education, was given in the monastic and parish and episcopal schools and thus was estab­lished the intimate connection between the church and the school.

In Western monasticism from the beginning, the importance of a knowledge of reading and writing for all monks and nuns had been emphasized because the reading of the Scriptures and of the daily Office was deemed indispensable to the devout life, and because it was considered a part of the duty of monks to make copies of the manuscripts of the divine word and of other Christian writings. Thus, in an early (A.D. 534) rule for nuns it was laid down that they were all to learn to read, were to spend two hours each day in read­ing, and were to copy manuscripts. Similar prescriptions appear in other sixth- and seventh-century rules for nuns. The several sixth-century rules for monks made similar prescriptions, but more emphati­cally; and the Benedictine Rule, which came to dominate monasticism in the West, set out in detail the requirements for the education of children and for the means and tools of writing and reading. Latin — Church Latin — was of course the language, but the texts that were read included none of the Latin classics — only Christian writings.

The second type of school was the episcopal school. The bishops always had around them a group of young men and boys as assistants, the children acting as lectors. Through the attendance on and asso­ciation with the bishops these youths learned, more or less by the apprenticeship method, what they came to know of Canon Law and dogma and liturgy. After the collapse of the Roman social and political system and of the classical schools, these attendants no longer had grounding in elementary education or in secular culture, and it therefore became necessary for bishops sometimes to give elementary education as it was generally necessary for them to give the specialized theological and dogmatic training. This was the begin­ning, in the sixth and seventh centuries, of the episcopal school, which later, in some instances, developed into a university.

The third type of Christian school was the parish or presbyterial school. When the waves of barbarians broke over the Roman world and the tide of barbarism threatened to engulf the social and cultural and educational systems, and as the number of Christian converts had increased, the very continuity of the Christian life through the priesthood was threatened, for the supply of priests was endangered. The answer was to make an adaptation of the system already in use in the episcopal schools: the Second Council of Vaison, A.D. 529, enjoined "all parish priests to gather some boys around them as lectors, so that they may give them a Christian upbringing, teach them the Psalms and the lessons of Scripture and the whole Law of the Lord and so prepare worthy successors to themselves." It ap­pears that a similar action had already been taken in Italy, and was taken later in Gaul. Marrou remarks that this action was a "memor­able" one, for it marked the beginning of what was later to develop into the ordinary village school in which the two functions of teacher and village priest were "intimately associated"—an institution new with the West, unknown in any general or systematic form to the Hellenic society.

All three of these schools were limited in range and purpose: they were to produce monks and clerics. The relevant legislation was the enactment that "every Monastery and every Cathedral should have a school for the education of young clerks."

The maximum secular knowledge taught in any of the schools was the seven "liberal arts" of the Trivium and Quadrivium. The Trivium included grammar, which used some literature by way of illustration, and rhetoric and dialectic. The Quadrivium included arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. In Alcuin's time only Aristotle's De Interpretatione and the translations of Porphyry were known; of Plato, only three dialogues were known: the Timaeus, Phaedo, and Meno — all in the Latin of Boethius.

However, probably the earliest of the Medieval Western schools that could be called a university was the school at Salerno. Already in the tenth century the city was famous for the skill of its physicians. The famous physicians seem to have attracted students to them so that by the first half of the twelfth century some kind of organized teacher-student association was described as "existing from ancient times." Of the eleventh century revival of interest in legal, theological, dialectical, and medical studies, that in medicine appears to have been the earliest. This interest, together with the beginnings of medical instruction in Salerno, led to the establishment, in the twelfth century, of the "university"—which was primarily or purely a medical school. Salerno was the one exception to the general rule that southern Italy took no part in the great intellectual movements of the twelfth, thir­teenth, and fourteenth centuries.

In northern Italy already by about A.D. 1000 Bologna was a centre of studies and had begun to attract some scholars from outside the city, and later in the eleventh century, the study of law had begun to be a professional study separate from that legal study which was a part of general education.

In France of the eleventh century the most important school was the Cathedral School at Chartres. At Chartres during the first quarter of the century under Bishop Fulbert the Trivium and Quadrivium constituted the curriculum.

The teaching of grammar included literature by way of illustra­tion and used Donatus as the textbook for beginners, Priscianus for the more advanced. The teaching of dialectic used the logical works of Aristotle, Porphyry's Introduction, Cicero's Topica and Boethius's discussion of logical categories and the kinds of syllogisms as commentaries on the main texts.

Towards the close of the eleventh century the reputation of the Cathedral School in Paris had begun to increase, and after Abelard's professorship there, Paris became a city of teachers. One of the great educational movements of the eleventh century was the gradual transfer of teaching activity from the monks to the secular clergy.

It should perhaps be added that Paris was also the home of the "collegiate" system: about 1257 Robert de Sorbonne, chaplain to the king, founded the "college" or "house" of Sorbonne as a college for sixteen men, four from each nation, who had already taken the master's degree and wanted to go on with the advanced studies that led to the Theological Doctorate. By the sixteenth century "the Sorbonne" included the whole Theological Faculty of Paris.

A second French university was founded at Montpellier in the twelfth century on the model of the school at Paris—a university of Masters.

In England, Oxford seems to have originated in a migration of students and masters of the English Nation from Paris about A.D. 1167; in 1209 a migration from Oxford founded the university at Cambridge.

In the thirteenth century the term Studium Generale came into general use, and this is the term that perhaps most closely corre­sponds to the vague British and American idea of a "university." The Studium Generale at this time meant, not a place where all sub­jects were studied, but an institution with three characteristics: it had students from all parts, it had a plurality of Masters, and it had at least one of the higher Faculties, i.e., Theology or Law or Medicine. By the fourteenth century popes and emperors were founding universi­ties by bull and charter, and Rashdall excludes from the "category of universities all bodies" which came into existence after A.D. 1300 that were not founded by pope or emperor. In the fourteenth century there were five papal and two imperial foundations in Italy, three papal and one imperial in France, none in England, one papal founda­tion and two by royal charter in Spain, as well as papal foundations in Prague, Vienna, Erfurt, Heidelberg, Cologne, Cracow, and Buda, and Fünfkirchen in Hungary (the two latter foundations were extinct within a century). The fifteenth century witnessed the foundation of two more universities in Italy, nine in France, three in Scotland, seven in Spain, eleven hi Germany and Switzerland, as well as one at Pressburg (Poszony) in Hungary and one each at Upsala and Copenhagen. Thus the total number of twelfth-century universities was six; thirteenth century, sixteen; fourteenth century, twenty-two; and fifteenth century, thirty-five; giving a grand total of seventy-six for the four centuries.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the larger universities prob­ably had between two and five thousand students each and the number at the largest — Paris and Bologna — in later centuries probably never exceeded six or possibly seven thousands.

The education given at the universities in the seven arts in the thirteenth and later centuries was secular: "A student in the Arts would have been as little likely to read the Bible as he would be to dip into Justinian or Hippocrates." The church provided little pro­fessional education for the future priest and less for the ordinary layman; even the bishops seem, in so far as they required any real standard of learning from candidates for holy orders, to have insisted mainly on secular learning." Seminaries for priests, catechisms, instruction and preparation for the first communion, and so on, are the product of Counter-Reformation, not of the education, clerical or other, of these centuries.

This, in very brief, was the educational situation in the West until the rise of modern Western science, the elevation of the vernaculars to the dignity of literary languages, and the emergence of individualism with that literary and artistic revival called "the Renaissance."

The legacy of these early medieval Western universities to the educational ideals and standards of the modern West is enormous. Rashdall is emphatic in showing that if the term "university" is appropriate for a modern Harvard or Oxford or Heidelberg or a medieval Paris or Bologna or Cambridge, it cannot be applied in the same sense to any school of antiquity. The ideas that teachers should be united into a corporate body, that teachers of different subjects should teach in the same place and be joined by a single institution, that an attempt should be made to have the body of teachers represent all human knowledge, that studies should be grouped into different faculties, that students should, after their pre­liminary training, confine themselves, at least partially, to one faculty or department — all this derives from the great twelfth- and thirteen-century academic foundations.

It should be added that the kings and princes of the Middle Ages got their statesmen and civil servants from the universities. Thus again, it was a literary and philosophical training that seemed to qualify a man for the affairs of the world.


Thus in the Middle Ages there were factors which united a society and defined specificity of training and education. First of all, it is Christian tradition, influence of antique tradition and, at last, mentality of a person. The Middle Ages also cannot be presented without barbarous pre-christian tradition. A believing person was an ideal. Monasticism should give a sample of education. An ideal of monastic education was moral education, removal from earthly blessings, self-control of desires, assiduous reading of religious texts, but it did not exclude necessity to get secular knowledge.

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