1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Comenius, Johann Amos

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COMENIUS (or Komensky), JOHANN AMOS (1592-1671), a famous writer on education, and the last bishop of the old church of the Moravian and Bohemian Brethren, was born at Comna, or, according to another account, at Niwnitz, in Moravia, of poor parents belonging to the sect of the Moravian Brethren. Having studied at Herborn and Heidelberg, and travelled in Holland and England, he became rector of a school at Prerau, and after that pastor and rector of a school at Fulnek. In 1621 the Spanish invasion and persecution of the Protestants robbed him of all he possessed, and drove him into Poland. Soon after he was made bishop of the church of the Brethren. He supported himself by teaching Latin at Lissa, and it was here that he published his Pansophiae prodromus (1630), a work on education, and his Janua linguarum reserata (1631), the latter of which gained for him a widespread reputation, being produced in twelve European languages, and also in Arabic, Persian and Turkish. He subsequently published several other works of a similar kind, as the Eruditionis scholasticae janua and the Janua linguarum trilinguis. His method of teaching languages, which he seems to have been the first to adopt, consisted in giving, in parallel columns, sentences conveying useful information, in the vernacular and the languages intended to be taught (i.e. in Comenius's works, Latin and sometimes Greek). In some of his books, as the Orbis sensualium pictus (1658), pictures are added; this work is, indeed, the first children's picture-book. In 1638 Comenius was requested by the government of Sweden to draw up a scheme for the management of the schools of that country; and a few years after he was invited to join the commission that the English parliament then intended to appoint, in order to reform the system of education. He visited England in 1641, but the disturbed state of politics prevented the appointment of the commission, and Comenius passed over to Sweden in August 1642. The great Swedish minister, Oxenstjerna, obtained for him a pension, and a commission to furnish a plan for regulating the Swedish schools according to his own method. Devoting himself to the elaboration of his scheme, Comenius settled first at Elbing, and then at Lissa; but, at the burning of the latter city by the Poles, he lost nearly all his manuscripts, and he finally removed to Amsterdam, where he died in 1671.

As an educationist, Comenius holds a prominent place in history. He was disgusted at the pedantic teaching of his own day, and he insisted that the teaching of words and things must go together. Languages should be taught, like the mother tongue, by conversation on ordinary topics; pictures, object lessons, should be used; teaching should go hand in hand with a happy life. In his course he included singing, economy, politics, world-history, geography, and the arts and handicrafts. He was one of the first to advocate teaching science in schools.

As a theologian, Comenius was greatly influenced by Boehme. In his Synopsis physicae ad lumen divinum reformatae he gives a physical theory of his own, said to be taken from the book of Genesis. He was also famous for his prophecies and the support he gave to visionaries. In his Lux in tenebris he published the visions of Kotterus, Dabricius and Christina Poniatovia. Attempting to interpret the book of Revelation, he promised the millennium in 1672, and guaranteed miraculous assistance to those who would undertake the destruction of the Pope and the house of Austria, even venturing to prophesy that Cromwell, Gustavus Adolphus, and Rakoczy, prince of Transylvania, would perform the task. He also wrote to Louis XIV., informing him that the empire of the world should be his reward if he would overthrow the enemies of God.

Comenius also wrote against the Socinians, and published three historical works — Ratio disciplinae ordinisque in imitate fratrum Bohemorum, which was republished with remarks by Buddaeus, Historia persecutionum ecclesiae Bohemicae (1648), and Martyrologium Bohemicum. See Raumer's Geschichte der Pädogogik, and Carpzov's Religionsuntersuchung der böhmischen und mährischen Brüder.