John Amos Comenius (1592 – 1670) was a Czech educationist, philosopher and Evangelic priest. He is considered to be a reformer and thinker of the epoch called “the modern age”. This figure, together with other notable figures of the period, had an impact upon the course of history, the development of culture, science, and civilization from the ancient times up to the present. The thinker can be described as the one who conquered and changed the world, leaving his permanent trace in its history, influencing the philosophical thought, social and religious life, both positively and negatively. Comenius was an outstanding human being. He had a complicated and sometimes impressive biography; he took part in different countries’ greatest events; he created important and immortal works.
For the first time, he dealt with educational ideas in Herborn, where he studied reformed theology and philosophy from the year 1611. In 1613 in Heidelberg he learned about the idea of Christian irenicism. In 1614 he started work as the headmaster of Přerov school. In 1616 he became a clergyman of the Unity of the Brethren. In 1627 he had to leave his homeland due to religious persecution and he went to Poland with a group of the Brethren, where he finally settled in Leszno and took up a job in the local secondary school. It is there that his most prominent works were created, which brought him international fame. In 1632 he was elected to be the senior of the Unity of the Brethren, and he was responsible, among other things, for preparing minutes of church synods, and from 1636 on, for school supervision as well.
Travelling all over Poland and Europe, Comenius preached his own educational ideas. In England, he presented a scheme of a cultural and social life reform, in Sweden he helped to develop a plan of school system and he prepared textbooks. At the same time, he would visit Gdańsk, Elbląg and Toruń, improving his own educational concepts and taking part in the preparation for a Gentiles’ Congress, organized by Bogusław Radziwiłł. He also gathered information about the situation in Poland for the Swedish. In 1645, as a representative of the Unity, he took part in Collequium Charitativum, a theological dispute, which was an attempt to reconcile Catholics and Protestants. In 1648 he returned to Leszno, where he became a superintendent of the Unity of the Brethren. Two years later, he helped to organize a secondary school in Sieraków, where he fully accomplished his innovative educational program. Followingly, he reused this educational model in Sárospatak, Hungary. During the Swedish invasion of Poland (1655 – 1660) he was for the Swedish, writing a panegyric in their honor and an appeal (1656) calling the Polish for disowning Catholicism and King John II Casimir. The above, together with the support given to the Swedish by the gentiles, provoked the Polish army’s revenge, who conquered Leszno (1656) and burnt it. Comenius lost his library and manuscripts, and had to escape to Silesia. Finally, he settled in Amsterdam, where he spent the rest of his life. It is there that he had his work Opera didaktica omnia published in 1657.
In Amsterdam he continued his work on the project of “”human matters improvement”, which was to be supported, among other things, by education, understood as pampaedia (Pampaedia 1948, Polish edition 1973), a theory of universal education of the whole mankind, learning everyone about everything throughout their life, including the school of birth, childhood, boyhood, adolescence, youth, manhood, old age and death.
Comenius was a forerunner of modern didactics and the creator of the concept of uniform school system. He supported the egalitarianism of education. He formulated a contemporary view of didactic encyclopaedism, the rules of the demonstrative method, and the idea of permanent education.
Comenius was a great European, a worldly person. It is proved by his numerous voyages of almost all Europe, including Poland. For his times, his voyages and contacts with different countries and towns, famous for seeking the truth and culture of knowledge, still seem to be astonishing and amazing even at the beginning of the 21st century. Equally amazing is his insistence on the work on theoretical and practical preparation for education and upbringing of man. Comenius paid most attention to education. It was the most important subject matter of his thinking. His theoretical and practical writings about education were the fullest expression of his philosophical and social views.
It is the improvement of education that he hoped to improve the world, therefore he stated educational tasks and objectives “as the peoples’ common good”. In his writings, he emphasized the role of education for the amendment of international relationships, for worldwide peace, for all people’s common good. Time has come to ring the bell to wake people up, to break them free from their passivity and numbness they remain in even at the sight of the dangers which threaten them and their relatives. Europeans should be the first ones to wake up, in order to followingly grab all the other nations and hold them together. According to the above postulate, Comenius cared for the international development of sciences, especially the art of education, he made contact with various institutions, postulated new organizational forms of such work. Within the program of international cooperation, Comenius made an effort to get rid of the differences between the nations, i.e. religious or even linguistic differences. He considered the possibility of a universal language.
John Amos Comenius, a 17th-century Czech educationist, philosopher and theologian, whose other homeland was Poland – Leszno, is still alive among us and fascinates us with his wisdom. It is astonishing that in the 21st century we discover the vitality of his works, philosophy and education science. His views were far ahead of his times. Nowadays we associate them with far-reaching European integration and ecumenism. AT PRESENT WE CONTINUE COMENIUS’ WORK MEETING HIS DREAMS OF EUROPEAN INTEGRATION. The Europeans who are fascinated by John Amos Comenius emphasize the fact that Poland (mainly Leszno) became the reformer’s other homeland, and it is there that his most important works were created.
Since time immemorial, we have been trying to get to know, explore, understand and interpret John Amos Comenius’ ideas, to recognize the meaning of the heritage of his educational thought in modern Europe, which is seeking its new identity in the process of integration. The universal message of his ideas of education, ahead of their time and breaking the existing religious and cultural barriers, becomes subject to reflection. To what extent are his ideas up-to-date nowadays and can they give rise to new theories being developed in the global civilization of the 21st century?
As far as Comenius’ extra-educational activity is concerned, the following facts are especially worth emphasizing: his striving for the unity of churches; numerous appeals for “world amendment”, especially for constant peace; attempts to build international cooperation, which was supposed to be achieved by founding Collegium lucis – an institution functioning as a kind of ministry of education; his demand of the democratization of education, with making education available to girls and the disabled.
Nowadays, Comenius appears as a teacher of Europe, or even a “teacher of the nations”. His specific philosophy of life he called pansophia is essential for understanding his educational concept and his approach towards teaching problems and the role of the teacher that we are interested in. It includes an educational message. Comenius himself described pansophia as specific universal knowledge, understood not only as intellectual, e.g. as a kind of encyclopaedic knowledge, but as transmission of all of what concerns human consciousness and what forms the rule: to teach everything about everything to everyone (docere omnes, circa omnia, omnino).
It is possible to notice three directions of Comenius’ interests: social, political and educational. These directions can be related to three origins: the Bible, the nature, and the human being, and to three basic tools: faith, senses, and reason. Such triads are quite characteristic for the theoretical depiction of anything that mankind has created, and which could be eventually justified by the Holy Trinity. It is also correspondent with the period of Baroque, which sought such harmony and rules.
John Amos Comenius is very close to us as an ecumenical philosopher and a leading constructor of reliable foundations of the modern didactics and its first system, in which he referred to it as “an art of teaching”; as the creator of the first universal system addressed to all people regardless of their social or economic position, creed, race, nationality, or physical or psychical ability.
The already mentioned controversy of Comenius’ activity and views emerges in a special way in his approach towards Poland, his other homeland: as an outstanding representative of the Christian Church reformation, Comenius kept continual discussions, or even fought with the Catholic Church in Poland. That is why he may be perceived by some researchers exclusively in terms of a traitor and enemy of the Polish state (the extreme form of this view is visible in the book by Jędrzej Giertych U źródeł katastrofy dziejowej Polski: Jan Amos Komensky (The Origins of the Historical Disaster of Poland: John Amos Comenius), published in London, 1964). However, we cannot forget about Comenius’ numerous contacts with outstanding Poles and his pedagogical, educational and publishing activity in Leszno (the book Działalność Jana Amosa Komeńskiego w Polsce (John Amos Comenius’ activity in Poland), PZWS, Warsaw 1957 by Łukasz Kurdybacha is devoted to Comenius’ life in Poland).
Comenius’ philosophy of upbringing and education accepts every individual human being’s right to develop through educational creation. The humanistic value of this exceptional and universal postulate consists in a special mission of the wise and ethical man in the new world, and knowledge and education will make the world better and full of people’s happiness. Comenius attempted to convince everyone that a man is shaped through his own work on himself. The best and only material for shaping a genuine, authentic human being is knowledge.