Humanities, APUSH, constitutional law, cognitive psychology, religion and social justice: common classes for a student to take at many schools today. The classes all relate to a similar form of education: a liberal arts education. This term “liberal arts” has been tossed around a lot lately, being seen as either good and bad by many a politician. But where does this concept originate?
One of the biggest ideals within humanism is the idea of the necessity of education. From the beginning of its conception, “studia humanitatis” or “humanism” stressed the necessity of education in “arts subjects – language, literature, history and social studies,” (Cambridge, 1). In The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism, Jill Kraye describes one of the first instances of this humanism ideal of education being instituted, long before the Renaissance, with king Charlemagne. Charlemagne, during his rule, completely reformed the system of education. In one of his decrees, he ordered that, “schools be established in which boys may learn to read,” and that in the schools, children would, “Correct carefully the Psalms, the signs in writing, the songs, the calendar, the grammar in each monastery or bishopric, and the catholic books; because often men desire to pray to god properly, but they pray badly because of incorrect books. And do not permit mere boys to corrupt them in reading or writing,” (Documents, 97). Education for this purpose falls under a category of Humanism called “Christian Humanism,” (McKay, 416).
Seeing his decrees and reasoning behind his actions, one can view Charlemagne as the father of Christian Humanism. As one of the many sects of humanism, Christian Humanism stresses the ideals of education in the arts subjects, but its purpose is to find links between classical literature and Christian ideals. Looking at the reasoning behind his schools, which was shown far before the renaissance, and to allow for a better understanding of the Christian texts, one can see that his ideals very closely match those of the Christian Humanists. Through his actions, one can see how Charlemagne’s actions influenced the Church in the future, causing higher literacy rates and thus a higher understanding of the purpose of the church, and allowing people to learn more about themselves and God, and thus completing his goal successfully (Kraye, 4).
Bettenson, Henry S. Documents of the Christian Church. 2nd. United States: Oxford University Press, 1963. Print.
Kraye, Jill. The Cambridge companion to Renaissance humanism. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.
McKay, John, Bennet Hill, John Buckler, Clare Crowston, and Merry Wiesner-Hanks. A History of Western Society. 9th ed. B. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008, 407-8 412-8. Print