Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wisdom's Skeleton Key

The Skeleton Key

Piaget on Comenius

By John Taylor; 2008 Dec 24, 13 Masa'il 165 BE


Early in Jan Amos Comenius's life he wrote a parable of the relationship between the world and spirit which became a spiritual classic. It is called, "The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart" and is, according to Wikipedia, the best known of all older Czech literary works. The latest Czech edition came out in 2002 and sold out immediately. The story describes a pilgrim in search of the trade or profession that would most conduce to his happiness and that of others. He is sent a guide named Searchall or Ubiquitous and together they navigate the complex labyrinth of worldly understanding. I have a brief film version of the parable in a DVD biography of Comenius, and it is on my todo list to upload it onto YouTube. At any rate, in the end the searchers find that the paradise of the heart opens doors in the world below as well as the way to heaven.

In this essay series we have been discussing the distinction that Comenius makes between reform and universal reform.

Universal reform, or Panorthosia, is based upon the universal worldview of spirit that Comenius called Pansophia, or universal wisdom. In the eleventh chapter of the Panorthosia he asks, "What is the difference between Philosophy and Pansophy?" He then answers his own question:


"Surely it is that between the part and the whole; just as if one man who lived in a castle had separate keys for each of the rooms, and another had only a single key which opened them all." (para 22, p. 184)

This skeleton key of divine wisdom is different from all other "keys," all of which open just one room in the castle. Pansophia, universal wisdom, can open all doors in the rooms and dungeons of the labyrinth of the world. Abdu'l-Baha had a very similar understanding of the knowledge given to the Holy Manifestations,

"Thus, the divine Manifestations of God had a universal and all-inclusive conception. They endeavoured for the sake of everyone's life and engaged in the service of universal education. The area of their aims was not limited - nay, rather, it was wide and all-inclusive." (Selected Writings, 69)

Pansophia is universal because it divides wisdom into knowledge, volition and action -- or, as below, into the aims, means and methods of the science.

"So we have seen the Aim, and the Means, and the Methods of a new and truly Universal PHILOSOPHY, and it is an easy matter to state the conclusions to be drawn from all that I have said." Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 11, para 22, p. 184

Universal reform, based on universal wisdom, could without dislocation remove all of the narrowness, prejudice, hatred and confusion that afflict the tortuous dungeon of materialism. The modern educational reformer Jean Piaget held that pansophia was meant to become the first Everyman's philosophy. I will close with Piaget's tribute to Comenius,

Piaget on Comenius

"Not only was Comenius the first to conceive a full-scale science of education but, let it be repeated, he made it the very core of a pansophy which, in his thinking, was to constitute a general philosophic system."

"...he resumed a scheme for a work on the universal reform of human society by the following means: (a) unification of learning and its spread by an improved school system under the supervision of a kind of international academy; (b) political co-ordination through international institutions aimed at maintaining peace; (c) reconciliation of the Churches in a tolerant form of Christianity. The title of the work, General Consultation on the Reform of Human Affairs, shows that his idea was to submit a programme to those taking part in the great negotiations which had aroused and disappointed so many hopes during the seventeenth century.

"Comenius's international projects, therefore, cannot be divorced from his educational ideas or from his philosophy as a whole. Peaceful international organization and the sort of international ministry of education that the Collegium lucis was intended to be are not merely the outcome of the dreams with which a man whose tragic life had always prevented him from carrying out his educational intentions consoled himself.

"As we have seen in running through the stages of his life, Comenius constantly sought, with direct relation to his pansophic ideal, to lay the foundations for that co-operation which was at least as close to his heart as his ideal of teaching.

"He must, therefore, be regarded as a great forerunner of modern attempts at international collaboration in the field of education, science and culture. It was not incidentally or by accident that he conceived such ideas, fitting in fortuitously with certain modern achievements, but as a consequence of the general conception of his system, which fused nature, human activity and the educational process into a single whole."


John Taylor



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