The Education of a Christian Humanist: Heinrich Bullinger’s Studiorum Ratio

Humanism and reformation were joined at the hip, especially in the first half of the 16th century in Switzerland. Right now I am working on a translation of Plan of Studies by the reformer Heinrich Bullinger. In 1528 Bullinger published the book with a dedicatory letter to his friend and fellow humanist Werner Steiner. [Bullinger refers to him as Lithonius in the text. It is a play on words. In German “Stein” means stone. In keeping with the fashion of the day, Bullinger converted his name to Greek, in which the word for stone is lithos.] Though Bullinger passes off the composition as an impromptu work, literally calling it ex tempore, it is anything but. Bullinger since 1523 had been the head teacher at the cloister school at Kapell am Albis outside Zürich. He had successfully converted it into a center of reformist education. Now he was about to leave the classroom for a post in parish ministry. Thus, this text contains Bullinger’s parting thoughts as a reforming humanist educator. Based in part on classical genre of furnishing advice to gifted students, the work lays out a complete curriculum for Christian humanists.

The dedicatory letter is a clear demonstration of the easy way in which classical and Christian themes coexist. The opening quotations are by Cicero, Roman master of eloquence, and his Christian counterpart, Augustine. (Perhaps it is relevant that Bullinger fails to refer to him as a saint?) It is not clear at this point exactly how Cicero’s praise of the humanities (humanitatis studia) and Augustine’s identification of true philosophy with understanding the Trinity ultimately cohere, but there is no doubt in Bullinger’s mind that they do. Likewise, Bullinger tells Steiner that he will see great fruit come of his studies if he perseveres in his pursuit of noble literature. However, he stresses that this can only come about through divine wisdom secured by prayer.

Please keep in mind that the translation below is a very rough draft made in a single sitting. There are likely some errors; indeed, I have already marked a few spots for review.


[dedication letter to Werner Steiner]

Cicero, Pro Archia

“The humanities drive the young man, delight the old man, adorn achievements, furnish a refuge and solace in adversity, are pleasant at home, are no impediment abroad; they are our companions through the night watches, on journeys, and on holiday.”

Augustine, De trinitate

“True philosophy is to understand the trinity, that is, the one God from whom, the Holy Spirit in whom, and the Son through whom we exist, the principle toward which we are created, the form by which we are preserved, the grace in which we are reconciled.”

To a man famous for his learning and piety, Werner Lithonius, an elder who commands our rapt attention and a brother quite dear to us, grace and integrity of life through Christ.

Among the conspicuous mental gifts with which you are endowed, in my judgment by no means the least of them is that you are possessed by an inexplicable yearning for learning. For that exceptionally prudent mind of yours, which loves the best things, knows how true it is what Learning, in the works of Lucian of Samasota, says and promises:

“I will deck you with honors, both numerous and eminent: modesty, justice, piety, refinement, fairness, intelligence, fortitude, and love for all similarly noble qualities. Even more, I will make it so that you are supremely attached to all the most important things. For truly these things adorn a truly well-rounded mind. Finally, no ancient learning will escape your notice, nor will you be ignorant of appropriate action in the present, but with me you will anticipate what needs to be done. And so that I might for once speak briefly—in short, I will teach you all things, both divine and human.” These are the words that Lucian attributes to Learning.

If the goal is attaining the most distinguished fruit of learning, you seem to me to be acting most wisely, in that you embrace noble literature (which does not bear the title “noble” by chance). And you will become even wiser if you persevere in this literature the way you began, in awe of it. Among all our capacities there is certainly no equal to heavenly wisdom, which can be possessed and exercised only by praying that it should ever increase our virtues, so that by persevering in good we might attain, truly and piously, to the summit of learning. May this be granted to you [Steiner]—I pray, oh highest and eternal Creator of all things. Amen.

I have just recently composed for you an impromptu Plan of Studies, or, Guide for a person devoted to studies, first of all in order to aid you in your study, but secondly to fulfill your wishes, for you know how much you pestered me for this. I have done what I could, but you will see from what sort of person you have demanded such a great work. Certainly it has not escaped me that I have undertaken a task far weightier than my powers. Nor do I possess by virtue of years the prudence equal to what this task requires. Nor have I yet acquired a mature, multi-faceted level of learning, nor have I obtained skill through assiduous practice. Yet because you command, I write, and I write to you, who know how to ponder all things profitably.

Be well, dearest Werner

May 17, 1528, Kappel

Entirely devoted to you,

Heinrich Bullinger