5.15 A Radical Reformer

Some few critics influenced by evangelical reformers were more willing to criticize educational institutions on moral grounds. The most eloquent and direct criticisms to come down to us were penned by the humanist Aonio Paleario (1503-1570). Not coincidentally, Paleario was tried by the Inquisition. The charge against him was heresy, because he espoused several Protestant doctrines on matters of grace and free-will. But he was also a powerful critic of the church's educational practices. Paleario effected some reforms as superintendent of schools in Lucca in the fifteen forties and proposed even more sweeping ones in public orations during the fifties. (72) In 1557, Paleario's most important educational work appeared in Milan, The Grammarian, or Rather, The False Conduct of Schools. He was under warrant by the Inquisition when it was reprinted in Venice in 1567, along with a second work, a miscellany of essays on education that included a textbook-like anthology of grammatical rules, Ideas for Learning Latin Grammar Together with the Usage of Cicero. It is likely that his publishers sent these uncontroversial works to print in 1567 in the hope of saving Paleario's reputation (and his life). In the event he was executed in 1570.

Like Bossi before him and Rubini and Pescetti afterwards but more radically than any of these others, Paleario's principal theme was that moral, linguistic, and scientific education should be an integrated whole. Teachers must learn to combine the science of things with the study of expressive means. The best model was Cicero, in whose political and philosophical writings Paleario saw an integrative power worth emulating. This was more than a humanist commonplace, for in Paleario's mind the political realities of sixteenth-century Italy included the corruption of the institutional church. The commonplace, then, had radical consequences institutionally and theologically. It was also radical when applied to the teaching of Latin. Bad Latin, Paleario insisted, results when it is studied merely instrumentally, for its own sake or as a tool. Latin will only be attractive to students and can only be beautiful when it is studied with immediate and constant reference to moral content and investigative contexts. (73) Like many earlier humanists, Paleario held that when rhetoric, science, and morality are one, language has the power to reform the individual and society. (74) This approach ran directly counter to the practices embodied in Alvares' textbook. The Jesuits also aimed at reforming society, but they hoped to do so with a high-powered, instrumentalizing, professional program of study. They separated off Latin as a discipline of total language mastery and taught other subjects in other courses in the Jesuit colleges. Their students, they thought, would become the leaders of a Roman Church reformed from the top down. Paleario's ideal students, like those of many other humanist pedagogues, were meant to be leaders of a Christian society renewed from the bottom up. No surprise, then, that Lucca, the city most profoundly influenced by Paleario's reform ideals, also resisted the establishment of a Jesuit college. (75)


  • Open Bibliography
  • (72) Morpurgo 1912, 261-265; Kossuta 1980, 5-11; Adorni-Braccesi 1986, 573-582.
  • (73) Turchini 1996, 319-326.
  • (74) Lerer 2002, 24-41; Cox 2003, 679-683.
  • (75) Adorni-Braccesi 1986, 584.
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