Comenius remains for our day a prophet of internationalism and ecumenism. His message has a special relevance for the 1980’s, as displaced groups in Asia, Latin America, and Africa desperately seek refuge, as did the Brethren more than three centuries ago. Cornenius’s ecumenical world view, with its emphasis on the sacredness of human life, cries out to be heard in a world plagued by mindless terrorism.

The Need for Order

Comenius lived in a disorderly era. Not only was the Thirty Years War tearing apart the political, religious, and social fabric of Europe, but the theoretical foundations—the theological, philosophical, and political ideas of that age—were also in disarray. Recognizing these needs, Comenius sought to create an orderly but non-authoritarian world view.

Comenius’s pansophist philosophy prescribed a system of truth and value which promised that people could acquire the knowledge that led to understanding and peace. Pansophism sought to embrace all knowledge within an integrative system, multi-dimensional in its scope but holistic in its purposes. Comenius asserted that: (1) God’s plan of creation was orderly and that human knowledge of the world should also be orderly in its organization; (2) it is possible and desirable for human beings to possess this knowledge of an ordered creation in a systematic fashion and to use this knowledge to create orderliness in their personal lives and social behavior; (3) ordered knowledge would stimulate a love of wisdom that, transcending national boundaries and sectarian divisions, would help humankind to create an orderly and peaceful social order. In such a world order, persons would be free to worship their Creator according to their own liturgical forms but would also engage in an ecumenical dialogue. By reaffirming common humane beliefs and values, Pansophism as a form of international education would enable human beings to overcome the accidental differences of nationality and language that separated them. Although human life was varied in its responses to climate and geography, the themes of a common Creator, a common humanity, and a common knowledge would transcend these differences to create a perspective that would restore order to a contentious people.

The Need for Universality

The Comenian theme of an orderly world view was closely related to the need for universality. If the seeds of world order were to sprout from the common knowledge and values that human beings shared, then Pansophism’s message needed to be heard universally by all persons. Pansophism was not to be merely a verbal rendition of philosophical doctrines. It was also to be the instrument of universal reform and renewal.

The universality of Comenius’s message was reflected in his DeRerum Humanarum Emendatione Consultatio Catholica, or The General Consultation on the Improvement of All Things Human. Among the themes of this massive work was the need for a universal awakening and reform of humankind by means of universal wisdom, language, and education. Firmly believing that knowledge has the power to incline human beings to truth and love, Comenius hoped that such universal knowledge would engender international peace.

Comenius’s ecumenical vision of international peace was illustrated in his The Labynnth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart. Although for long historic periods humankind had wandered through the world’s maze of deceit, violence, and bigotry, it was possible still to find peace through truth and love. He envisioned a Christian unity that respected differences in prayer and ritual. Christianity, in the Comenian vision, was one great, universal church—an architectonic edifice—comprised of many denominational chapels in which people prayed in their own way to the one God.

Comenius’s Pansophist philosophy rested on the premise of the universal Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. From this broad and integrative vision came the Comenian priciples that: (1) if human beings possessed universal knowledge as an integrative body of truths, they would come to know God as the Creator of all existence and to understand the commonalities that were universal to umankind; (2) rather than being torn by sectarian disputes, Christians could celebrate a universal faith while peacefully retaining their own unique denomination nationalism; (3) education, made effective and efficent by the method explained in The Great Didactic, could bring about universal enlightenment; (4) universal enlightenment, in turn, would foster world unity and peace. Thus, Comenius’s universal outlook sought to fashion education for international community and peace.

The Need for Pansophist Education

For Comenius, the instrument for achieving world-wide peace was the peaceful process of education. Pansophist education did not mean that the mind would be stuffed with information in an encyclopaedic fashion; it meant rather that knowledge would be inter-related and integrated into a total view of reality that would lead humankind to universal wisdom. According to The Great Didactic, instruction, following the natural laws of human growth and development, would gradually move learners from the known to the unknown, from the concrete to the abstract, from the easy to the difficult, and from the specific to the universal. Unlike those who used corporal punishment to coerce children, teachers who followed Comenian principles would respect the dignity of child nature. If children were respected as persons, Comenius reasoned, they would learn to respect each other. Such widening circles of human respect and dignity could be extended to all members of the human race.

As a peaceful and non-violent process that cooperated with Nature, education would actualize human potentiality to its fullest. Cognitive knowledge would be cultivated as well as moral and religious values. Instead of receiving one-dimensional training, those who experienced a Pansophist education would be many-sided, multi-dimensional, totally integrated persons. Reflecting the themes of orderliness and universality, Comenius’s Pansophism would educate persons who would manifest these themes in their lives.

During his life, Comenius faced problems of persecution and war. To solve these problems, he prescribed universal knowledge and education. Today, the threat of nuclear war imperils life on our planet; violence and terrorism are still afflictions that block the way to world peace. Comenius’s prescriptions remain relevant in a world that needs to find and to accent the common ideas and values that enhance our lives on our common home—the planet earth.

Gerald L. Gutek, Ph.D., is professor of Foundations of Education and History, Loyola University of Chicago. Dr. Gutek writes on the history and philosophy of education.