Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Worthy of Imitation 5

Comenius.jpgJust who is in your list of “saints”? One could pull out a list of those who have been officially “sainted” (examined, beatified and canonized on the basis of exemplary virtue and miracles and intercessory powers) in the Roman Catholic tradition. Or, one could list those who have not been officially sainted but who are still held in very high esteem by Protestants. Or, one could include a mix. One of the secrets to Chris Armstrong’s new book, Patron Saints for Postmoderns: Ten from the Past Who Speak to Our Future is the choices he makes. And he goes outside the traditional walls to include those who made genuine contributions to the church and to the world, instead of narrowing his list to those who are official saints.

Who would you call “saint” whose contribution has been as much in culture as in the church?
His choice of John Amos Comenius is a good example of going outside the walls to find someone for emulation. A devout Christian, author of a powerful allegory called Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart (Eastern Europe Collection) , Comenius’ legacy is as a Czech education reformer. In fact, he’s often seen as the father of modern education. Quite the story, but what I like about Armstrong’s choice is that he makes an educator a saint.


Comenius had a tough background, was sent off to a miserable school where, instead of falling under its utter boredom and cruelty, came away determined to do something about it. He eventually wrote a textbook for learning Latin that made Latin fun; he was the first to made a children’s education book full of pictures … and most importantly, he realized that education had to be set up in phases (grades), that kids needed to be wooed instead of coerced, and that education could transform a community, a country and the world. His books became standardized throughout Europe. He believed corporal punishment should be restricted to moral failures, and — way ahead of his time — believed girls should be educated just like the boys.
Alongside this world-renowned legacy, Comenius was a Bishop in Moravia — one outside the Catholic and Lutheran Churches and one who believed all Christians could be unified. One of his lasting legacies is his book on the inner soul (The Labyrinth — linked above), which shows his indebtedness to Augustine but also reveals his profound grasp of human sinfulness. He believed education could be a form of repentance as one learned to embrace the good and put off the bad.
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posted September 16, 2009 at 8:24 am

Thanks for this post. For the past several months I have been contemplating what the Bible says about ‘blessing’. Comenius seems to exemplify what I have been finding. Insofar as blessing is about life and “ongoingness” and abundance of life, it would seem to me that Comenius certainly qualifies as, to use Reggie McNeal’s term, “one of those blessing people.” (Incidentally Reggie notes that there is something slightly askew in the church when we honor those who teach in Sunday School/Children’s ministry but pay no regard to those Christians who teach in public schools.) In a time when many of us are thinking “missionally”, the work of Comenius can remind us that the work Christians do,wherever they do it, counts as ministry and as missional when it is oriented toward “blessing”. Thanks.

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posted September 16, 2009 at 11:16 am

“And lastly, it is to the advantage of heaven that schools should be reformed for the exact and universal culture of the intellect, that those whom the sound of the divine trumpet is unable to stir up may be the more easily freed from darkness by the brilliancy of divine light.”
– from “The Great Didactic”, John Amos Comenius

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Chris Armstrong

posted September 16, 2009 at 11:33 am

Thanks for the link, Greg. I didn’t know the Great Didactic was available online!

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Chris Armstrong

posted September 16, 2009 at 11:40 am

FYI, I did a little spiel on Comenius for CT online a few years back:
Also, check out the translated Czech film blending Comenius’s life and his allegory Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart:
The film shows how he lived through some harrowing stuff, including the Thirty Years War. This is what makes it so amazing (to me) that he was an irenic, ecumenical humanist: after having my entire denomination exiled from our home country and many of them killed, I would not have been so charitable.
I’m not shilling for Vision/Gateway–I really like this film and I’ve used it in the classroom.

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posted September 16, 2009 at 12:55 pm

Who would you call “saint” whose contribution has been as much in culture as in the church?
Wilberforce is an obvious example. Bonhoffer, Martin Luther King, Thomas Aquinas (and many other Medieval thinkers, much more difficult to separate church and culture then). Unfortunately it appears to be much easier to find people who, while they had a great impact on both church and culture, are not what most would call a “saint”.

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posted September 16, 2009 at 1:29 pm

“Who would you call ‘saint’ whose contribution has been as much in culture as in the church?”
Norman Borlaug

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posted September 16, 2009 at 2:41 pm

The first person that comes to mind for me is Billy Graham. I would probably also say Bonhoeffer.

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Mike Clawson

posted September 16, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Howabout Bono?

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posted September 16, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Las Casas of Spain
Lord Shaftesbury
George of Savannah
Harriet Tubman
Ida B Wells

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Jim Martin

posted September 16, 2009 at 6:24 pm

What an interesting series– I was totally unfamiliar with Comenius (and I suspect a number of others in this book.
I too was thinking about Wilberforce.

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John Loppnow

posted September 16, 2009 at 7:16 pm

I would add him to my list of saints. I’d also include him in my list of mystics that I have learned a great deal from.

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