Comenius on Corruption, Part II of Several
By John Taylor; 2010 Feb 14, Mulk 08, 166 BE
Like his peers, John Amos Comenius was enthralled by Frances Bacon, whose enthusiasm for casting off old preconceptions and investigating the natural world inspired what later became known as science. We often forget today that Bacon's thought was infused in the Bible. He spoke in religious language, constantly cited scripture and directed his message as much at religious believers as "pure" scientists. Among religious leaders, Comenius was alone in taking up Bacon's torch. Indeed, so negative were his fellow spiritual leaders that there was no response, either in his age when the first ten chapters were published around the time of his death, and later, when Panorthosia was rediscovered and translated into English in the 1990's. The urgent entreaties of Comenius for a reconciliation between science and religion, and for both of them to support a world government fell on deaf ears. Even today, Comenius is remembered as an educational rather than a religious or political reformer.
The first several chapters of Panorthosia are an extended argument for reform addressed specifically at Comenius's fellow Christians, and to theists generally. In the second chapter, for example, he cites the second verse of Joel, verse twenty-eight, "I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh." Such scriptural evidence bolsters his belief that God is no anthropomorphic superstition but an invisible, unknowable essence imposing order on inherently chaotic matter throughout the universe. Corruption is a fundamental characteristic of nature, a natural leaning for every created thing. When God glances away, as it were, things immediately fall apart and become corrupt.
The second chapter also cites evidence from the Bible that the teaching of religion must one day consummate not in a priestly theocracy but what we would now call a liberal democratic order, where individuals partake of formative truths on their own initiative,
"They shall teach no more every man his neighbour, saying 'Know the Lord', for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them." (Jer 31:34)
He cites less familiar words of Esdras predicting that,
"When the world that shall begin to vanish away shall be finished, then will show thee these tokens: THE BOOKS SHALL BE OPENED BEFORE THE FIRMAMENT, AND THEY SHALL SEE ALL TOGETHER. And the children of a year old shall speak with their voices ... And the hearts of the inhabitants of the earth shall be changed and turned into another meaning. For evil shall be put out and deceit quenched. As for faith it shall flourish, corruption shall be overcome, and THE TRUTH WHICH HATH BEEN SO LONG WITHOUT FRUIT SHALL BE DECLARED.' (II Esdras VI, 20, 21, 26, emphasis in the original).
In view of his belief that matter is corrupt by nature, it is not surprising that Comenius pays close attention to it throughout Panorthosia, especially in chapters 5, 6, 10, 19, 20, 21 and 24. Every new reform is more subject to corruption, and the further away from the source of life it is, the more susceptible it must be to dissipation. History should be taken as a lesson here. A civilization that does not adhere to the purest monotheism is in danger of either dissipating or becoming an object lesson to later generations.
"I say that the mixture of evil with good is the first source, which has always brought disaster to human affairs and will continue to do so until it is eradicated once and for all." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 10, para 21, p. 160)
The difficulty of avoiding corruption should not be taken as reason for despair, however. An instance of corruption should be seen as an opportunity to go back and correct earlier errors. Anticipating Nietzsche's later apothegm, "What does not kill me only makes me stronger," Comenius writes,
"If corruption befalls things which are weak or not fully established in the first place, there is a chance to strengthen and establish them more fully by reforming them. Thus a house which has collapsed gives an opportunity of building a better one. A fractured bone, when soundly healed, acquires such hardness that it does not fracture easily a second time. A disease, when properly cured, produces a feeling of rejuvenation and fuller vitality." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 5, para 3, p. 88)
The best way to eliminate the main source of corruption, that is, confusion, is to uphold all aspects of truth together. This is only possible by positive measures, which is what Jesus taught when he said that "the truth shall set ye free." Therefore the representatives of the three ways of knowing, knowledge of self, knowledge of others and knowledge of God, that is, science, politics and religion, all should become reconciled with one another, respect one another's bounds, pay tribute to their virtues, and cooperate in uniting all human beings in the freedom of truth. Each of the three, all for one and one for all, are needed to make structural changes that will not soon degrade and dissipate.
"Politics is the receptacle of our schools and churches, for no state is properly constituted without a school or schools for the training of wisdom and a church for the training of religion. In either case the political magistracy stands in the role of nurse. Therefore after our attempt to reform these two, we must follow with the attempt to reform politics, which will meet with its own measure of success if we set about it in the same way as we sought to reform the first two, namely, 1. by putting a stop to corruptions. 2. by introducing improvements. 3. by establishing the good things which we have introduced." (Panorthosia, Ch. 24, para 1, p. 127)