Friday, October 4, 2013

Honoring Truth | Luther's Role in Education

It was Aristotle who said, it is our duty to “honor truth above our friends.”[1] He was not the only one. 1800 years later, Martin Luther was born. As the German theologian meditated on the beliefs circling around him, he clung to what he knew and dismantled the beliefs hindering him. He called Reason a whore and spoke of the Ancient Philosophers as traitors. He called his fellow teachers fools and their doctrine heresy. Still, this is what the education system needed.

Luther did not see himself as a master, but as a servant. He knew that the church and the school systems were losing those who they had been formed to help: Common Man. Somewhere along the line, a moat had been dug and a draw-bridge lifted up between the people and the shepherds who were placed there to mentor them.

Part of this was that the teachers became too distracted by things that they could never understand. They became obsessed with studying God and philosophy as something to dissect and reason out instead of something to explore and know. They held on to a tradition of teaching in an unused language. They were speaking Latin to a crowd who only knew German. And, in Luther’s eyes, they had misplaced truth, burying it beneath half-truths and lies. To honor truth, he needed to unbury it, to give it back, to share it as a service to those around him.

The rebel, Martin Luther, then risked his career, life, and soul to get back to the people. He needed them to know truth. They needed an understanding of the basic principles that should drive their lives. They needed to hear what Luther knew how to teach.

Before he was well-known, he gave out pamphlets of his ideas to the public to read, in their own language. He stood up and spoke against the horrific job that other mentors had been doing in their own language. He produced catechisms, literally meaning “books for teaching,” to instruct households and teachers in their own language. He challenged the educated to correct him, to find a solution to the problems that he had found in their teachings and they could not.

The importance of education was passed down from him. A tradition of forming schools and studying truth had begun spreading from his days in Germany all the way to Modern Day America. Here, in the States, the first Lutheran churches were required to have schools. And, most school systems have been strongly influenced by the post-scholastic practice of teaching, adopting the idea to teach both boys and girls to think for themselves. The idea of studying and sharing wisdom with the common man continues. And, truth is explored.[2]


[1] Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics I.6
[2] Although Luther and Aristotle tend to clash (Veith calls Aristotle “Luther’s philosophical nemesis”), they do agree on the importance of truth. They just disagree on the reason for its importance. Aristotle drives after truth for its own sake, for his own arrogant stature, to better himself selfishly. Luther finds truth for the benefit of those around him, to love his neighbor, to fulfill his vocation. I hope the difference has been made plane in the paper above.

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