Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

Click for Detailed notes on McCabe - scroll down for selections from A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (1948).

Here's the full A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (about 1.3 MBytes; Word format; includes notes on some of its limits)

Education, The Churches and.

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

The legend that Christianity "gave the world schools," which is still repeated even by apologists who consider themselves above the popular class, is, like similar claims in regard to slavery, philanthropy, purity, etc., the exact opposite of the historical facts as they are recorded in every manual of the history of education published since the middle of the last century. Indeed, the Roman system of free education had been described repeatedly since the classical revival of the fifteenth century, and even in Christian circles every biography of Augustine of Hippo had described how he found free pagan schools, primary and secondary, even in the smaller towns of Africa. In earlier civilizations a good deal of schooling had been provided for boys (occasionally girls) of the middle class, as we find in Egyptian and Babylonian remains, but they all, including Greece, regarded the education of the workers as superfluous. Under the influence of the Stoic-Epicureans, long before bishops had the least influence, the Roman Emperors created a system of schools, maintained by the municipalities, for all freeborn children. By the fourth century the "ladder of education" (free to all) stretched, in all parts of the Empire, from the simple primary school, often in the open air, through secondary schools to a sort of university at Rome (and in a few other cities). See the details in Laurie's Historical Survey of Pre-Christian Education (1900) or any modern manual. These schools, in which the text-books were, naturally, Pagan literature, were offensive and dangerous to the Church, and the fact that in so intellectually busy a city as Alexandria the Christians opened a few small schools rather reminds us of the fable of the fly on the chariot - wheel when we are asked to regard this as the beginning of education.
      The Fathers were, in fact, overwhelmingly opposed to education and expressed a contempt for profane knowledge. "After Jesus Christ," said Tertullian, "all curiosity is superfluous." In the last century a French priest, the Abbé Gaume, contending that the classics ought to be excluded from every Catholic college, quoted a long series of such sentiments from the works of the Fathers (Le ver rongeur des sociétés modernes 1851). Even Augustine, in his later years, joined in the chorus, and the murder of Hypatia and the closing of the great school at Alexandria, followed later by the closing of the schools at Athens by Justinian, are well-known facts. The work of the apologists is, in fact, so clumsily conducted that instead of pleading, as they might, that after the fall of the Empire it was economically impossible to maintain the vast system of schools, Christian writers give their readers the curious impression that it was just at this time that schools began to multiply. It is a commonplace of historical manuals that the Roman schools perished almost without trace. "With few exceptions they had disappeared by the sixth century," says Dr. W. Boyd, who is by no means anti-clerical, in his History of Western Education (1921, p. 100). Dr. Boyd thinks that schools survived best in Christian Gaul, but Denk, who makes a special study of schools in this region in his Geschichte des Gallo-Frankischen Unterrichts (1892), shows that you could count them on your lingers. The Ostrogothic monarch, Theodoric and his daughter Amalasuntha had made a noble effort to save civilization and restore education, but the Popes intrigued with their enemies and ruined it. We find Gregory I ("the Great") rebuking a French bishop for the "horrible crime" of opening a school (Ep. LIV, Migne Collection); and instead of this the chief Papal historian of this period, Mgr. Mann, quotes a "work of Gregory" which the Benedictine editors themselves declare spurious.
      On a balanced view of education in the Dark Age - the facts are now given quite consistently in every detailed manual - we see an appalling intellectual collapse. The Roman workers (excluding slaves) had all had free education, but in the impoverished new Europe, in which 90 to 95 per cent. were now serfs, almost none, apart from priests and monks, had education; and many priests could not read the Mass, while the bulk of the monks were illiterate and sensual idlers [see Monks]. Here and there, at one period or another, a bishop like Isidore of Seville gave his clergy some culture. Here and there an abbot feebly illumined his district for a time; but of the much-vaunted zeal of the British and Irish monks in the first century of their Christian fervour, Prof. Boyd observes that "in pre-Christian times education flourished in Ireland and other Catholic countries," so that the apostles of Christianity were compelled to adopt "the cultural interests and educational work of the Druids" (p. 112). He would, of course, not question that this early Celtic zeal did much work for a time in Britain and France, but this work is often wrongly represented as a broad educational development. Little was taught except theology, and the pupils were nearly all - to some extent sons of the nobles were included - monks or clerics. The work of Charlemagne, on the other hand, is now recognized as of very little significance. Stimulated during his first visit to Italy by the high culture of the anti-Papal Lombards , he ordered all his bishops and abbots to open schools. Few did, and the scheme was abandoned as soon as he died [see Charlemagne]. Rome itself remained so backward that we have legal documents of the tenth century which ladies of the highest noble family have signed with a mark because they could not write their names (Gregorovius, History of the City of Rome, III, 258).
      The myth of the monks and classical literature has been exposed elsewhere (Classics, The Monks and the), and just as, or even more, reckless is the Catholic boast, based upon the egregious work of Montalembert, of the libraries of the monks. On dubious evidence they claim that there were monasteries in the later Middle Ages with 6,000 or 7,000 volumes - we know that in the thirteenth century the library at Canterbury, presumably one of the best in England, had only 1,800 (Catholic Encyclopaedia) - whereas by the ninth century the Spanish Arabs had myriads of libraries of beautifully bound books, superbly housed, rising to the royal library of at least 400,000. [See Libraries.] Such was the height of the nominally Moslem, but very largely sceptical, culture of the Arabs and Persians from Portugal to Baluchistan. Is was this culture and the provision of schools for nearly all children - see the works of Prof. Ballesteros and Prof. Ribera - that at last inspired a school-movement in Christendom. We find it beginning in the south of France in the tenth century, when the education of Gerbert and his Arab schooling plainly show the inspiration; and the spread of this school-movement over the whole of the south of France in the eleventh century was the dawn of the age of wandering scholars and universities. [See Abelard and Universities.]
      In Italy the movement was later, and it began in the south, close to Arab Sicily, while Rome still lagged behind the other cities. It is, further, a matter of history that this school-movement, which is considered one of the glories of the Middle Ages, was at first very largely independent of the Church and as broad in its curriculum as the state of learning permitted; and that the Church suppressed the free colleges, eliminated the teaching of science, and turned most of the universities into theological cockpits for crowds of monks and clerics.
      In the next phase we meet claims that the Reformers on the one hand, and the Jesuits on the other, gave a great impetus to education. Both sides concentrated on the religious issue, the Jesuit education in particular being a narrow and poisonous system for making sons of the wealthy and the nobles hate Protestantism. In point of fact, however, and although we should expect the invention of printing and the manufacture of paper to stimulate education, the references to new Protestant and Jesuit schools and colleges are very misleading. The figures of illiteracy in the various countries of Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century make a mockery of all educational claims for earlier dates. The French Revolution had directed Talleyrand to draft a fine scheme, which we have, of universal free education, and the ideal was passed on to Switzerland, Spain, and Italy. Napoleon had here in part maintained the revolutionary ideal; but, after his fall, Catholic countries - and again the Pope's dominions were the worst - sank back into a lamentable condition, while Rationalists like Pestalozzi, Froebel, Robert Owen, and Bentham worked for universal education.
      It is enough to tell the development in England. The demands of the humanitarians opened the eyes of all to the disgraceful situation, and a Quaker, Lancaster, supported by the Atheists Owen, Place, and Bentham, founded a system of undenominational schools; to which the Church of England, in its own interests, reacted by opening a large number of very primitive schools of its own for the children of the workers. But the bishops fiercely resisted for thirty years the grant of any national subsidy, and for forty further years obstructed the demand for a national system. See the details in Holman's English National Education (1898) or any other history. At the beginning of the nineteenth century 90 per cent. of the people were still illiterate in England - which fully discredits all pre-Reformation or post-Reformation claims. Fifty per cent. were still illiterate when Parliament was permitted to make an annual grant of £20,000 (and £70,000 for the royal stables) in 1833. The bishops walked in procession from the House to the Palace to protest against the establishment of a national system, and their hostility was not broken until 1870. The same fierce struggle against the clergy had to be waged in nearly every country before the modern system - which we now regard as indispensable to civilization - could be established. See articles in the Encyclopaedia of Education (5 vols., 1912), issued by Columbia University, or any modern manual of the history of education. A Student's History of Education by Pres. Graves (1936) has the weakness of much recent American history generalizing (favourably to Catholics) on small achievements in the Middle Ages, and it is poor in exact detail.


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