Rabelais and Education

Rabelais (1495 – 1593) was a monk, a great scholar and a prolific writer. In his work ‘Gargantua and Pantagruel’, a connected series of novels, he has a lot to say about education. He attacked the clerical education of his and monastic orders, because he felt they spent too much time on matters that were obscure, confused and questions that Rabelais thought irrelevant and didn’t consider to be important. He felt that monasticism was too narrow and rule bound and failed to affirm.

At that time most education was to be found in the church, but Rabelais appreciated that it was possible to be educated in other areas and supported secular learning. H e describes an idealistic world where everyone does as they like yet where:- So nobly were they instructed that there was not a man or woman among them who could not read, write, sing, play musical instruments, speak five or six languages, and compose in them both verse and prose.

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He thought it was important to learn from earlier scholars and says that one should learn Greek, Latin and Hebrew and should study the scriptures. At this time the Sorbonne was beginning to confiscate Greek texts and the Bible was not generally available in the vernacular and almost all were in churches and so unavailable to secular people. Rabelais was a rebel to some extent. He loved carnivals and stories and must have felt stifled in the monastery.

He begged for permission to leave the Franciscan order where it wasn’t possible to study as he wished, and it is known that he had two children. His books were banned by both the Sorbonne and by the French parliament and were on the Catholic churches list of banned books. They are certainly bawdy in places, but at the same time have much to say about the social system of his time. He was not so much opposed Christianity, but rather spoke out for freedom of thought and deed.