Humanism and Protestantism in Early Modern English Education

By Rex, Richard | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2011 | Go to article overview

Humanism and Protestantism in Early Modern English Education


Rex, Richard, The Catholic Historical Review


Humanism and Protestantism in Early Modern English Education. By Ian Green. [St. Andrew's Studies in Reformation History.] (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing. 2009. Pp. xviii, 373. $1 14.95. ISBN 978-0-754-66368-3.)

This substantial study represents the author's revision of his Waynflete Lectures, delivered at Magdalen College, Oxford, in 2006. Like Ian Green's other books, The Christian's ABC (Oxford, 1996) and Print and Protestantism in Early Modern England (Oxford, 2000), it is an encyclopedic survey of almost an entire genre of English books- a staple of the publishing trade, textbooks printed to supply the rapidly growing numbers of grammar schools. The chief aim of the book is to explore the curious juxtaposition, perhaps tension, between the elements of Protestantism and humanism in English education.

The labors on show here are prodigious and, as far as they go, definitive. Hundreds of books are examined, many in some depth, and Green provides a detailed account of the content of an English classical education- and of the varying levels at which that education was offered- in the two centuries from Henry VIII to George II (chapters 3 and 4). Among the most interesting of his findings is the increasing role of English translations of classical works in education from the middle of the seventeenth century. Only in chapter 5 is the relationship between Protestantism and humanism addressed directly, and Green does discern tension here, although not any kind of radical dysfunction. But the case he makes there and in the summative chapter 6, "Assessing the Impact," perhaps could have been developed a little further. After detecting a tension between an emphasis on practical virtue characteristic of the Erasmian and classical traditions and the "Protestant stress on divine grace" (p. 307), Green ultimately concludes that there was an "alliance of state religion and grammar school education" (p. 364) that prevailed until the nineteenthcentury age of reform.

Yet what this precisely calls into question is the Protestantism (that is, the theology) of English Protestantism. Even Philipp Melanchthon's enormously influential reconciliation of Renaissance humanism with Reformation theology, to which the whole European Protestant tradition was massively indebted, was ultimately something of an intellectual sleight of hand. …

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