From the Archives: The School of Infancy

WRITTEN IN 1631, The School of Infancy, was one of Comernus’s first works on education and concentrates on the first six years of a childs life and education “at the mother’s knee.”

We present below his preface and opening observations which offer an insight into Comenius’s attitude toward children, parenting, and the family. Readers may find the whole work published by the University of North Carolina Press at Chapel Hill in 1956 from which the excerpt is taken and used by permission.

To Godly Christian Parents, Teachers, 
Guardians and all who are charged with 
the care of Children
 
GREETINGS!

Beloved,

Since it is my purpose to speak to you all about your duty, it is necessary for me to show three things:

I. The preciousness of the treasures that God bestows on those to whom He entrusts children.

II. That He has an end and purpose to which He confers them, and a goal to which their education ought to be directed.

III. That youth demand good education so greatly that if they fail to get it they are of necessity lost.

Having established these three principals, I shall proceed to my purpose and explain in order the areas of your cares in this early age of your charges . . . Under Thy direction, O Father! by whom every generation in heaven and on earth is ordained.

Jan Amos Comenius

Chapter I

Children, God’s Most Precious Gift, 
and an Inestimable Treasure, 
Claim Our Most Vigilant Attention

That children are a priceless treasure God testifies, saying: “Lo, children are the heritage of the Lord: the fruit of the womb His reward; as arrows in the hand, so are children . . . ”

Also, when God speaks of His love towards us, he calls us children as if there were no more excellent name by which to allure us . . .

The Son of God when manifested in the flesh not only willed to become as a little child, but thought children a pleasure and a delight. Taking them in His arms as little brethren and sisters, he carried them about and kissed and blessed them. He severely threatened anyone who should offend them, even in the least degree, and commanded that they be respected as Himself.

If one seeks to learn why He is so delighted with little children. one will find many causes. First, if the little ones at present seem unimportant, regard them not as they now are, but as God intends they may and ought to be. You will see them not only as the future inhabitants of the world and possessors of the earth, and God’s vicars amongst His creatures when we depart from this life, but also equal participants with us in the heritage of Christ: A royal priesthood, a chosen people, associates of angels, judges of devils, the delight of heaven, the terror of hell . . . heirs of eternity . . . .

Philip Melanchthon once addressed the scholars assembled in a common school with these words:

“Hail, reverend pastors, doctors, licentiates, superintendents!”

“Hail, most noble, most prudent, most learned lords, consuls, praetors, judges, governors, chancellors, secretaries, magistrates, professors!”

When some of the standers-by smiled, he said, “I am not jesting. My speech is serious. I look on these little boys not as they are now, but as the Divine mind purposes, on which account they are delivered to us for instruction. Assuredly such leaders will come forth from them, though they may be mixture of chaff among them as among wheat.”

Why should we not with equal confidence declare a glorious future for children of Christian parents since Christ who revealed the eternal secrets said that “of such is the Kingdom of God.”

If we consider even their present state, we see at once why children are priceless to God and ought to be so to parents. They are valuable to God first because being so innocent, except for original sin, they are not yet the defaced image of God and are unable to discern between good and evil, between the right hand and the left.

Secondly, they are the purest and dearly purchased possession of Christ who saves all except those who shut themselves out by unbelief and impenitence. Since children have not yet so repelled Christ. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven . . . ” Having not yet defiled themselves with the allures of sin, they follow the Lamb wherever He goeth. And that they may continue so to follow, they ought to be led, as with the hand, by a pious education.

Finally, God so embraces children with abounding love that they become a special instrument of divine glory. “From the lips of infants and sucklings thou has perfected praise . . . .” Why God’s glory receives increase from children is certainly not at once clear to our understanding: but God, the discerner of all things, understands and declares it so.

That children ought to be dearer to parents than gold and silver, than pearls and gems, may be discovered from a comparison between both gifts of God: for:

Gold and silver and like things are inanimate, being only somewhat harder and purer than the clay which we tread beneath our feet; whereas infants are the living images of the living God . . . .

Gold and silver are fleeting and transitory; children an immortal inheritance. Although they yield to death, they neither return to nothing, nor become extinct: they only pass out of a mortal tabernacle into an immortal one. Hence when God restored to Job all his riches and possessions, even to the double of what He had previously taken away, He gave him no more children than he had before, namely seven sons and three daughters. This, however, was the precise double since the former sons and daughters had not perished but had gone to God.

Gold and silver come forth of the earth, children from our own substance. Being a part of ourselves, they consequently deserve to be loved by us, certainly not less than we love ourselves . . . . If anyone transfer such affections to gold and silver, God’s judgement condemns him of idolatry.

Gold and silver pass from one to another as though they were the property of none, but common to all; whereas children are a peculiar possession of their parents, divinely assigned. No man in the world can deprive them of this right, nor dispossess them of this inheritance. It descends from heaven and cannot be transferred.

Gold and silver are gifts from God, yet they are not among those gifts that he promises angels to guard. Nay, Satan mostly intermingles himself with gold and silver to use them as nets and snares to entangle the unwary—drawing them as with thongs to avarice, pride, and prodigal ways. Whereas the Lord declares that little children are always committed to the guard of angels. Hence he who has infants within his house may be certain that he also has angels. He who takes little children in his arms may be assured that he takes angels. He who surrounded by midnight darkness rests beside an infant has the certain consolation that the spirit of darkness can not enter. What comfort here! What a priceless jewel bringing such gifts!

Gold and silver do not procure for us the love of God, nor, as infants do, defend us from His anger, for God so loves little children that for their sakes he occasionally pardons parents. Nineveh is an example . . . .

A man’s life does not consist in abundance of wealth, as Christ says, since without God’s blessing neither food nourishes, nor plaster heals, nor garment warms. But for the sake of children His blessing is always present . . . . Luther has wisely said: “We do not nourish our infants but they nourish us: for because of those innocents God supplies necessaries, and we aged sinners partake with them.”

Finally, gold, silver, gems bring us no more instruction than do other created things, namely evidence of wisdom, power and beneficence of God. Yet infants are given us as a mirror in which we may behold humility, gentleness, benign goodness, harmony, and other Christian virtues. The Lord himself declares “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Since God thus wills that children be our preceptors, we owe them the most diligent attention.

Chapter II

Why God Gives Children 
and How Their Education 
Out to Be Directed

Do you wonder why God did not at once produce these celestial gems in the full number he purposed to have for eternity, as he did angels? He has no other reason than that in doing so he honors us by making us his associates in multiplying creatures: Not only that from this source we may draw pleasure, but that we may exercise zeal in rightly educating and training children for eternity.

Man accustoms the ox to plowing, the hound to hunting, the horse to riding and driving, because for these uses they were created. Man, however, being more noble than all those creatures, ought to be educated for the highest objects, so that he may approach in excellences God whose image he bears. The body being taken from the earth remains earthly, mingles with the earth, and must again be turned into earth. But the soul being inspired by God is from God and ought to remain in God and elevate itself to God.

Parents therefore will not fully perform their duty if they merely teach their offspring to eat, to drink, to walk about, to talk, and to be adorned with clothing. These things serve merely the body which is not the man, but his tabernacle only. The guest (the rational soul) dwells within and rightly claims greater care than its outward tenement. Plutarch correctly condemns those parents who desire beauty, riches, and honors for their children and endeavor to promote them in these while little regarding the adornment of the soul with piety and virtues. As he says, “Those persons value the shoe more than the foot . . . .”

The first care therefore ought to be of the soul, which is the principal part of the man, so that it may become in the highest degree possible beautifully adorned. The next care is for the body that it may be made a habitation fit and worthy of an immortal soul.

Regard that mind rightly instructed which is truly illuminated by God’s wisdom, so that man perceiving the presence of the divine image within himself may diligently guard that glory.

There are two parts of celestial wisdom which man ought to seek, and in which he ought to instruct youth:

The one is a clear and true knowledge of God and of all His wonderful works.

The other is prudence to regulate carefully and wisely one’s self and all external and internal actions that pertain both to this life and to future life-primarily to the future life, because properly speaking that is life, from which both death and mortality pass into exile.

This present is not so much life as the way to life. Consequently, he who obtains from this life that which prepares him for future life must be judged to have fully performed his duty here.

Nevertheless, God bestows long life upon many, assigns them certain duties, and in the course of their days places them in various situations demanding prudent action. Hence parents must see that their children are exercised not only in faith and godliness but also in the moral sciences, the liberal arts, and in other necessary things. Thereby, when grown up, children may become truly men wisely managing their own affairs in the various functions of life, religious or political, civil or social, that God wills them to fulfill. Thus having wisely and righteously passed through this life they may with greater joy migrate to heaven.

In short, the purpose for which youth ought to be educated is threefold: Faith and Reverence; Uprightness in Morals; Knowledge of Language and Arts. These are to be taken, however, in the precise order in which they here appear, and not inversely . . . .

Whoever has within his house youth proficient in these three matters possesses a garden in which celestial plantlets are sown, watered, bloom, and flourish. That home is a workshop of the Holy Spirit, in which He shapes and polishes those vessels of glory so that in them, as living images of God, the rays of His infinite power, wisdom, and bounty may shine more and more. How inexpressibly blessed are parents in such a paradise!

Chapter III

Youth Imperatively Demand Training 
and Guidance 
to Be Rightly Instructed

Children do not train themselves spontaneously, but are shaped only by tireless labor. A young sapling, planned for a tree, must be planted, watered, hedged round for protection, and propped up. A piece of wood designed for a special purpose must be split, planed, carved, polished, and stained. A horse, an ox, an ass, a mule must be trained to perform their services to man.

Indeed, man himself must be trained in such bodily actions as eating, drinking, running, speaking, seizing with the hand, and laboring. How then, I pray, can those duties higher and more remote from the senses such as faith, virtue, wisdom, and knowledge come spontaneously to any one? It is altogether impossible . . . .

God therefore has enjoined this duty on parents: That they should wisely and with all diligence instill into the tender minds of children all things pertaining to the knowledge and fear of Himself: and that parents should talk with them of those things when they sit in the house, and when they walk along the way, or lie down, or get up . . . .

Parents, however, are often incompetent to instruct their children, or unable because of duties or family affairs, or deem instruction of trifling importance. Hence from remote antiquity youth in every state have been properly handed over for instruction to righteous, wise, and good persons. These were called pedagogues (leaders, not drivers of children), masters, teachers, and doctors. And places designed for education were called colleges, gymnasia, and schools (that is, retreats of ease or places of literary amusements). These very names signified that the action of teaching and learning is in its own nature pleasing and agreeable, a mere amusement and mental delight.

This joyousness however altogether disappeared in subsequent times so that schools were no more places of amusement and delights. They became grinding houses of torment and torture. This was especially true where the teachers were incompetent men uninstructed in piety and the wisdom of God. They had become stupefied through indolence, despicably vile, and afforded the worst example though calling themselves preceptors. They inbued youth not with faith, godliness, and sound morals but with superstitions, impeity, and evil conduct.

Being ignorant of the true method, and thinking to beat in knowledge, they wretchedly tortured children, as shown in such traditional sayings as “He appears to have got a rich vintage of blows on his shoulder blades . . . .”

Although our predecessors somewhat improved this sorry state, yet God has reserved for our age some things to be amended for easier and better instruction to His glory and our comfort . . . .

Now I proceed with the blessing of God to the form of the proposed method of education to be applied in the School of the Mother during the first six years of a child’s life.

Chapter IV

In What Things Youth Ought to Be Exercised 
Gradually from Their Very Birth, so that 
They May Be Found Expert in Those Things 
in the Sixth year of Their Age

Every one knows that whatever disposition the branches of an old tree obtain they must necessarily have been so formed from its first growth, for they cannot be otherwise . . . . Man therefore in the very first formation of body and soul should be moulded so as to be such as he ought to be throughout his whole life.

For although God can make an inveterately bad man useful by completely transforming him, yet in the regular course of nature it scarcely ever happens otherwise than that as a thing has begun to be formed from its origin so it becomes completed, and so it remains. Whatever seed one sows in youth, such fruit he reaps in age, according to the axiom, “The pursuits of youth are the delights of maturity.”

Let not parents therefore give the instruction of their children alone to preceptors of schools and ministers of the church, since it is impossible to make the tree straight that has grown crooked . . . . But they ought themselves to know how to manage their own treasures that these may receive increases of wisdom and grace before God and man.

And inasmuch as everyone ought to be competent to serve God and be useful to men, we maintain that he ought to be instructed in PIETY, in MORALS, in SOUND LEARNING, and in HEALTH. Parents should lay the foundations of these in the very earliest age of their children. During the first six years this training should extend as follows.

PIETY, true and salutary, consists in these three things:

1. Our hearts, should always and everywhere have regard for God and should seek Him in all that we do and say and think.

2. Having discovered the steps of Divine Providence, our hearts should follow God always and everywhere with reverence, love, and ready obedience.

3. Thus always mindful of God, and conversing with God, our hearts joining God realize peace, consolation, and joy.

By Jan Amos Comenius

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #13 in 1987]

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