Education in the Middle Ages
Education in the Middle Ages
The Russian State Social University
Report on Pedagogics.
“Education in the Middle Ages”
by the first-year
of faculty of
Education in the Orthodox Christian Civilization_ 3
The Russian offshoot of the Orthodox Christian
Education in the Western Civilization_ 9
bibliographic List_ 14
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
Although the stages in the history of the Orthodox Christian
Civilization can be identified and dated, the scanty materials about education
do not permit a comparable division in the development thereof. There were
scholars in plenty in the society at many different stages, but education is
rarely described either by them or by the historians, and the allusions to
curricula, methods, and personnel are for the most part vague and ambiguous.
There is little direct evidence about schools; what indirect evidence there is
must be derived almost entirely from biographies of a relatively few
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
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.
"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.
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.
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.
Christian influence was also dominant among the Slavs of Russia.
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.
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.
During the four-centuries-long struggles among the multiplicity
of contending principalities and the more than two-centuries-long struggle of
all the principalities against the Mongols, education in Russia sank to abysmally low ebb. During the same period one of the states, Muscovy,
gradually rose to a position of importance, later took the lead in the struggle
against the Mongol domination, and finally, at its union with the state of Novgorod, A.D. 1478, established itself as the universal state of the Russian
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.
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
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
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.
Thus by the end of the twelfth century there were
six universities in the West: Salerno, Bologna, Reggio (founded by migration
from Bologna), Paris, Montpellier, and Oxford. In the thirteenth century in Italy four original university foundation were established and four more by student migrations; in France three new universities were established, in England, Cambridge; in Spain and Portugal, four.
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
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.