1516 AD The Education of a Christian Prince

Erasmus was born in 1466 and lived when the Reformation was in full swing.  For those who don’t know, the Reformation was when many people, commonly called Protestants, left the Catholic Church because they disagreed with some of the teachings, including the selling of indulgences and so forth.  Before this point, the Catholic Church was the Christian church.  The Catholic Church became very powerful during the Middle Ages, and finally became quite corrupt.  That’s when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses and many others got involved as well, for many different reasons.  (Henry VIII became a Protestant so he could grant himself a divorce…)  The leaders of the Catholic Church did actually see the point being brought up by the Protestants, and met at the Council of Trent to redefine several of their practices, but this took a while, and when the Protestants left, they really didn’t plan on coming back.  Erasmus stayed on the Catholic side, believing that the church could be reformed from the inside and no new church was necessary.  His position tended to anger both devout Catholics as well as Protestants.  Erasmus was a monk, as well as a tutor, and had to work very hard for his education.  He was very poor as a young man, and was constantly in need of money to pay for books and teachers.  This brings a bit of new meaning to his famous quote, “When I get a little money, I buy books; and if there is any left, I buy food and clothes.”  That was probably a pretty accurate summation of his life.  He did finally succeed in learning both Greek and Latin, and he read the ancient philosophers, whom he quotes abundantly in The Education of a Christian Prince.  Erasmus wrote many books.

In The Education of a Christian Prince, Erasmus wrote about just that.  He makes the point that those who are entrusted with a prince’s education  is “undertaking a duty by no means slight”.  He encourages the educator to study the prince’s personality and discover his weaknesses and strengths, and then teach with fables, analogies, lessons, proverbs, as well as by example to strengthen him.  The educator should help him pull out the morals in stories.  The prince’s playfellows should be well-behaved children.  The prince should be praised in public and admonished in private, but love should be apparent throughout all, especially as the prince gets a little older.

You’ll probably agree with me that this sounds like good advice for any parent.  While what he is specifically addressing is how to raise and educate a future ruler of a country, much of what he says can be applied to anyone who wants to be a force for good in the world, as well as parents who wish to raise their children to be the same.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from The Education of a Christian Prince:

“There is no nature so happily born that it cannot be corrupted by wrong training.”

“Nothing is truly ‘bad’ unless joined with base infamy.  Nothing is really ‘good’ unless associated with moral integrity.”

“True honor is that which follows on virtue and right action of its own will.”

“The happiest man is not the one who has lived the longest, but the one who has made the most of his life.”

“To be a philosopher and to be a Christian is synonymous in fact.  The only difference is in the nomenclature.”

“There is but one death for all – beggars and kings alike.  But the judgement after death is not the same for all.  None are dealt with more severely than the powerful.”  This reminds me of the scripture, ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’

“The ancients used to say that [it] was a costly prudence which came from experience, because each one found it at his own expense.”  In other words, learn from those who have gone before.  We don’t all have to die in a car crash to learn to buckle our seat belts.

“School yourself so that nothing pleases you which is not suitable.”

“The more others allow you, the less you should permit yourself.  As others indulge you, so you should check yourself.  Even when everyone marks you with approval, be your own severest critic.”

“…take pains that you correspond to your wonderful archetype (Christ), whom it is hard, but not unseemly, to follow.”

“He loves honest friends, by whose companionship he is bettered.”

“Hold yourself of your own accord to a rule of honor, and judge yourself according to it.”