In This Article Jan Amos Comenius

  • Introduction
  • Exhibitions and Magazines
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Pedagogical Theory and Method
  • Linguistics
  • Pansophy and Natural Science
  • Social and Political Reform
  • Theology and Spirituality
  • Church Reform and Ecumenical Work
  • Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart
  • Influence of Comenius

Renaissance and Reformation Jan Amos Comenius
by
Craig D. Atwood
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 April 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0097

Introduction

Jan Amos Comenius (John Amos Comenius; Johannes Amos Comenius; Jana Amose Komenskeho; Jan Amos Komenský [b. 1592–d. 1670]) gained international fame for his innovative teaching methods and proposals for comprehensive educational reform. He advocated a holistic approach to knowledge and ethics called Pansophy (universal wisdom), which was rooted in the conviction that people should work with nature rather than against it. During his lifetime, Comenius published more than 150 works in Czech, Latin, and German on such diverse topics as linguistics, pacifism, social justice, human development, cartography, and spirituality. Few modern scholars have mastered the scope and complexity of Comenius’s intellectual endeavors, and the literature on him and his work is daunting. Comenius began his career in Moravia as a pastor and teacher in a small Protestant church known as the Unity of the Brethren, but he was forced into exile in Poland because of religious persecution. After his early pedagogical works were published in Latin and English translation in the 1630s, he was invited to establish a school system for England. The outbreak of war between Charles I and Parliament prevented those plans from maturing. Comenius accepted an offer from the Swedish Crown to produce new educational materials. In 1650, he was invited to set up a pansophic “school of play” in Transylvania, where he wrote his groundbreaking textbook Orbis pictus. He returned to Leszno, Poland, in 1654, but, two years later, the city was destroyed during the First Northern War. Tragically, many of his unpublished manuscripts were lost in the resulting fire. Comenius sought refuge in Amsterdam in 1656, where patrons published his collected pedagogical works under the title Opera didactica omnia. He was buried in Naarden in 1670. Scholars in many countries have proclaimed him the “father of modern education” because of his humanistic methods and advocacy of universal education. Comenius was one of the first pedagogical theorists to apply Francis Bacon’s epistemology. Comenius’s writings may have had as much impact in the 20th century as they did in his lifetime as his works were translated into several languages. Until the middle of the 20th century, Comenius was known primarily as a pedagogue, but the rediscovery of his pansophic writings, most notably De rerum humanarum emendatione consultatio catholica, launched a new appreciation for Comenius as a philosopher, social reformer, and peace activist. Much of the research on Comenius has been published in Czech, but literature in German and English is also considerable. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared 1992 as the year of Comenius in honor of the quadricentennial of his birth. The creation of the Czech Republic and the admission of the country to the European Union in the 1990s facilitated research on Comenius for scholars outside of central Europe.

Primary Sources

It is not possible in this article to provide a complete bibliography of Comenius’s publications, much less all of the translations. Instead, this article focuses on modern editions, especially collections, of his writings. Research on Comenius is hampered by the international scope of his work, which means that the original manuscripts are found in several locations. Unfortunately, some of his unpublished manuscripts were lost in a fire in Leszno in 1654. The National Museum in Prague has the largest collection of Comenius’s manuscripts, including many found in Leszno in the 19th century. The State Archives in Poznań, Poland, also houses many manuscripts authored by Comenius. The Western Bank Library of the University of Sheffield in England has the largest collection of Comenius manuscripts outside of the Czech Republic, including much of his correspondence with individuals such as Samuel Hartlib. Some of his works went through multiple editions in numerous translations during his lifetime, which also complicates research. Most of Comenius’s writings have been published in critical editions.

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