The Ark of Education

The Ark of Education February 18, 2020

The Church can be the ark of education: taking scholarship and learning into the future against waves of barbarism.

For educators, the Church plays a special role. We are not clergy nor are we (normally) functionaries of the Church, yet we will teach theological truths because the Church contains truth. The Church also can be counted on, despite all the imperfections of people in the Church, to preserve education in difficult times.

A healthy society contains a sound church, loving families, just government, and flourishing social structures, including schools. Eastern Roman history presents a norm of an educational system supported by the government, patrons, and the family. The Church tended to the formation of clergy, though not in a seminary (or higher educational) system. The monasteries and churches, with the help of spiritual elders, provided the formation needed.

A society with multiple sources of authority will be safer from tyranny. If allowed independence, a good patriarch can check a bad Emperor. A good teacher can illuminate bad teachings from a priest. A virtuous parent can protect from a patron gone wrong.

As the history of the Eastern Roman Empire demonstrates, sometimes the government will fall into decay, then wealth plummets, and families hardly have the means to survive. When Eastern Christians became a politically powerless minority, often the church was the only way that Christians were allowed to organize. In other situations, only the Church had the resources or facilities to keep any educational program going. The Church did fill such gaps and so what could be saved was saved, though naturally with many failures. Secular authorities could pick up the task again in cases where political power was restored or prosperity returned to families. This happened several times in the history of the Eastern Roman Empire.

The Church uniquely out of all the normal structures in society can fulfill the educational mission. Liturgical worship reveals to us the Triune God, including the Son, the Divine Word of God. The Word of God Himself points to the importance of both the spoken and written word. Wherever the Christian Church has gone, relatively widespread literacy followed.

The reading of Sacred Scriptures in the liturgical life of the Church necessitates at least some literacy. The Church produced many books and the copying and preservation of all teachings, sermons, and liturgical instructions also encouraged forming a literate public. These documents were generally in the language of the people in the East and so the Church often spurred the creation of a national language and literature. Quite a few people have to be able to read and write for the traditions of the Church to continue.

The Church can save much in culture in hard times because she is very durable due to her mission. Tyrants often failed to destroy the Church in the past. This durability is gained whether her mission is sacred, God-protected, or merely deeply helpful in asking eternal questions. If her mission is sacred, then God has promised that she, the Bride of Christ, will endure to the end of time. However, even if she happened to be mistaken, the mistake is so intellectually interesting, the culture produced so beautiful, and the virtues she commands cultivated that her teachings, liturgy, and training endure.

This suggests a practical reason that the educator should not separate himself from the Church entirely. Tyrants or terrible periods in human history will come and in those times education or even human knowledge will face perils. The Church has shown herself to be resilient and able to save much, educate many, even in the most difficult times. She is an ark of safety so the tools of learning are not lost.


For a popular summary of the contributions of the Eastern Empire to the West see Brownworth, Lars.  Lost to the West: the Forgotten Byzantine Empire that Rescued Western Civilization. Broadway Book, 2009

“In Byzantium, primary education was available for both genders, and thanks to the stability of Justinian’s rule, virtually every level of society was literate. Universities throughout the empire continued the Aristotelian and Platonic traditions that were by now over a millennium old, and the works of the great scientists of antiquity were compiled in both public and private libraries.”

One of several Eastern Empire revivals in education occurred in the 9th century. The Emperor Theophilus  was noteworthy in his spending on education. (Brownworth, Location 2460)

More scholarly: Vasiliev, Alexander. History of the Byzantine Empire (University of Wisconsin Press, 2012), Kindle Edition.


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