Jan Amos Comenius * Henk Woldring (2014)

However available since november 2014 this book was officially presented a couple of weeks ago during a seminar in the Vrije Universiteit (University Amsterdam) where the author used to lecture. Woldring is professor in political philosophy and invited colleagues of various breed to say something about Comenius’ message in our own day and age. I was positively surprised that also scholars on ‘materialistic’ fields seem to have ears for a spiritual thinker as Comenius.

Jan Komenský lived from 1592 to 1670, born in Nivnice, Moravia, died in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The “Amos” part of his name he added himself when he was a student and also by himself, his name is usually written Latinised as Comenius. I have a few translated books of the author, but before this biography I was mostly unaware of the vast amount of literature on the vast amount of diffent subjects that he wrote about. Comenius was adherrant to what in English is called the “Moravian Church”, but in Dutch they are called “brotherly community”, a Protestant church founded by Jan Hus (John Huss). During the Reformation, but mostly during the Counter-Reformation the situation was very difficult for (other kinds of) Protestants and Comenius continually had to flee. Being an original thinker who was well-respected by many, but maligned by others, Comenius had friends all over Europe and travelled a great deal. A few times Comenius lived in my country and since he died here and is burried in Naarden (Amsterdam was too expensive), we have a Comenius mausoleum and a museum (which I have not yet visited). It was mostly on demand of the museum that this biography of Comenius was written, simply because there was no descent overview of the man’s life and ideas.

The book is not large, only 215 pages, but there is too much to summarise in a short review. Comenius was groundbreaking in the fields of pedagoy and didactics. He wrote books that are still praised today. Also he wrote a lot about religious tolerance, strove for peace whereever he came, had friends in various religious, political and industrial circes. Surviving several wives and children, continuously having to flee, but trying to help his brothers and sisters in whatever way he can, Comenius had a stressfull life. Yet he managed to write over 250 books, many of which were published in his own day (often by himself), others after his death.

Woldring interweaves biographical notes that he drew from many different sources with Comenius’ ideas on different subjects. This sometimes runs strangely through eachother like the part in which the author describes a visit between Comenius and Descartes which starts by describing how the meeting came about, goes over in a comparison of the ideas of both men and ends again biographically. Nonethess, the parts in which the ideas of Comenius are described are the most interesting to me. For the rest, the man seems to have been an interesting character with an eventfull life.

The many different subjects Comenius wrote about, everything was part of a ‘grand scheme’ which he called “Pansophia”. Comenius strove to bring together all ways of knowing things, find out the connections between seemingly unrelated things and thus come to overarching knowledge. He was much aware of the rise of rationalism in his time, religious strive and conflict and political and economic wars, but his ideas are certainly still worth thinking over and this well-written book makes a very nice introduction into this versatile person. As of now, it is only available in Dutch though.

2014 Damon, isbn 9460361994

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