J. A. Comenius: A biographical time chart
It has pleased my God to give me a heart,
which would gladly have promoted human welfare.
Comenius: Unum necessarium, chap. X, 1.
1592 28th March: Jan Amos Komenský (Comenius) born the village of Nivnice in southeastern Moravia as the son of a miller.
1604 His parents die young. At the age of 12, he is orphaned and brought up by an aunt in the small town of Strážnice. He receives only very little school education.
1608 A bishop of the Unity of Brethren recognises his talent and takes him to the grammar school of the Unity of Brethren (Unitas fratrum) in the Moravian city of Přerov. He wishes him to be trained as a cleric of the Unity of Brethren.
Not until he is 16 does Comenius have his first Latin lesson. Latin at that time was the language of scholarship and a knowledge of it was a condition of studying at universities, where throughout Europe it was the sole language of instruction.
1611 Studies with a scholarship from the Unity of Brethren at Herborn academy in Nassau in Germany under the Calvinist theologian, John Piscator (1546–1625) and one of the most famous encyclopaedists of the 17th century, Johann Heinrich Alsted (1588–1638).
1612 Already in his student days he begins work on a Thesaurus linguae Bohemicae (Thesaurus of the Bohemian Language), a work of great importance for the cultural advancement of his people, and on which he continues to work for more than 40 years. The manuscripts were lost when the town of Leszno was destroyed in the Swedish-Polish war, 1656).
1613 Completes his studies at Herborn with two printed disputations: Problemata haec miscellanea (Miscellaneous Problems) and Sylloge quaestionum controversarum (Collection of Controversial Questions).
1614 Finishes studies at the university of Heidelberg under the leading ecumenical theologian, David Pareus (1548–1622), with the disputation De S. Domini Coena, sive Eucharistica (On the Supper of the Lord or the Eucharist).
Travels to the Netherlands. In Heidelberg, he purchases the manuscript of the main work of the astronomer, Nicholas Copernicus (1473–1543), De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) from the widow of a professor. He takes it with him on his return journey (on foot) via Nuremberg and Prague to Moravia and it remains in his possession for decades.
After returning to Přerov he becomes head of the grammar school there, which he had left as a pupil only four years earlier; writes a small Latin grammar, Grammaticae facilioris praecepta (Precepts of an Easier Grammar) (publ. 1616 in Prague), his first textbook, and Theatrum universitatis rerum (Theatre of the Totality of All Things) which was to comprise 28 volumes, but the manuscripts were lost in the Swedish-Polish war in 1656, too.
1616 Ordained priest of the Unity of Brethren. Two years after his ordination, the protestant estates of Bohemia precipitate a conflict with the house of Habsburg.
1617 Writes a tract in defence of protestantism against the new policy of re-catholicisation in Bohemia and Moravia by the catholic Habsburg king of Bohemia, Ferdinand II (1578–1637): Retuňk proti Antikristu (Warnings Against the Antichrist). The Unity of Brethren was a small body of believers. Its membership in Bohemia did not exceed 1%, in Moravia 3 %, of the entire population.
1618 Pastor and head of the school of the Unity of Brethren in Fulnek in the northern part of Moravia. Defenestration of Prague (May 23, 1618), an incident of Bohemian resistance to Habsburg authority.
Marries Magdalena Vizovská.
1619 The Bohemian estates revolt against the catholic King Ferdinand II and elect a German protestant prince, Frederick of the Palatinate (1596–1632), as the new king of Bohemia.
Writes Listové do nebe (Letters to Heaven), a tract against social injustice and the exploitation and oppression of the poor by the rich, printed 1619 in the Moravian town of Olomouc.
1620 Battle of the White Mountain, near Prague. The army of the Bohemian estates suffers a heavy defeat at the hand of the archduke of Austria, king of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II. The elected protestant king of Bohemia flees. The victors put the Bohemian estates on trial. The leaders of the revolt are beheaded. The Brethren, especially their spiritual leaders, are among the immediate victims of persecution. It was the opening phase of the Thirty Years War.
1621 Comenius flees from the Spanish troops who occupy the country for Emperor Ferdinand II, and persecute all protestant clergy. From April lives he in hiding in various parts of Moravia and Bohemia. He loses his library and his manuscripts.
Moved by patriotism, he starts work on Mapa Moravy (Map of Moravia). It remains in use for more than 150 years, and is successful across Europe, although its author had been banished from the country.
1622 Comenius writes a tract, Přemyšlování o dokonalosti křest’anské (Reflections on Christian Perfection), to console the persecuted protestants. He dedicates it to his wife, but she and his two young children, who had been separated from him on account of the persecutions, are already victims of the plague, introduced into the land by foreign troops.
1623 In a hideout in northern Bohemia, Comenius composes his greatest literary masterpiece, a work written against the injustice, violence and foolishness of the world, Labyrint svĕta a ráj srdce (The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart) (publ. 1631), dedicated to the former imperial governor in Moravia, Karel starší z Žerotína (1564–1636), who protects him against imperial persecutors.
1623/24 Writes the consolatory works Truchlivý (The Sorrowful) (Parts 1 and 2), O Syrobě (Concerning Orphanhood), Přemyšl’ování o dokanalosti křest’anské (Reflections on Christian Perfection). Nedobytedlný hrad jméno Hospodinovo (The Impregnable Castle: The Name of the Lord).
The Sorrowful reflects Comenius’ patriotic feelings at a time when his homeland and church were suffering.
He completes a lengthy work with excerpts from the bible, Manuálnik (A Manual, or the Kernel of the Entire Bible), printed in Amsterdam 1658 (910 pages).
1624 While he is living illegally in hiding in Bohemia, the first edition of his map of Moravia is published in Amsterdam by the famous printer Nicolaus Johannides Piscator.
Marries Dorothy Cyrillová, daughter of the leading senior (bishop) of the Unity of Brethren, Jan Cyrill (1569–1632). In this way he becomes part of the leading circle of the illegal Unity of Brethren.
1625 Centrum securitatis, Hlubina bezpečnosti (The Centre of Security), one of his key philosophical works (publ. 1633).
Travels on behalf of the Unity of Brethren to Poland, to find out whether the members of the Unity of Brethren who have been forced to flee will be able to settle in the Polish city of Leszno (Lissa).
1626 Travels on behalf of the Unity of Brethren to Berlin, to obtain help for the oppressed or banished members of the Unity of Brethren from the Elector of Brandenburg.
1627 Travels to The Hague in the Netherlands to meet Frederick, the exiled Calvinist king of Bohemia, in order to move him to resistance against the expulsions. These were his first political missions.
In the library of a Bohemian nobleman he discovers a major pedagogical work by the educator, Elias Bodin (1600–50?), and begins work on didactical topics
1628 After some seven years of precarious existence on the domains of aristocratic members of the Unity of Brethren on January 28th, he crosses the border to Poland to become an exile in Leszno. Teaches at the Grammar School there. He is now 35 years old.
Birth of his daughter Elizabeth.
Starts correspondence with the renowned reforming writer, Johann Valentin Andreae (1586–1654). Tries to start correspondence with the German educational reformer, Wolfgang Ratichius (1571–1635). Ratichius does not respond.
1629 Teaches at the Latin school of the Unity of Brethren in Leszno. Starts work on Janua linguarum reserata (The Unlocked and Opened Gate to Languages) (completed and published 1631); first Latin-English version of this amazingly popular European “bestseller” with a carefully elaborated philosophical structure, publ. 1632 in London. It is used extensively in the American colonies. First Latin-German version publ. 1633 in Leipzig.
This work appears in twelve European languages, with entries in up to five languages printed next to each other. Translated into four non-European languages (Arab, Persian, Turkish, and an Indian language). This work makes Comenius a leading educational figure in Europe.
1630 Hopes to return to his homeland after the protestant victory over the armies of the catholic Emperor.
Ráj církve znovu se rozzelenávající, jinak Ráj český (The paradise of the church which once again is becoming green or the Bohemian paradise).
Praxis pietatis (Practice of Piety), a translation into Czech and adaptation of the enormously successful work by English Puritan and Anglican bishop, Lewis Bayly (1565–1631).
1631 Prima Philosophia (First Philosophy) – one of his most essential philosophical works.
Kurzer Bericht über die Pest (A short report on the Plague) in the town of Leszno. He pleads passionately that those suffering from Plague should be cared for, and not driven out into the forests.
J. A. Comenii Physicae ad lumen divinum reformatae synopsis (J. A. Comenius’ Natural Philosophy Reformed by Divine Light).
1632 Elected senior (bishop) of the Unity of Brethren, with the special responsibility of observing the publications of other denominations and of supervising the training of young preachers for the Unity of Brethren.
Physicae Synopsis (Synopsis of Physics) (publ. 1633).
Informatorium školy mateřské (Informatorium of the Mother School), the first European systematic programme concerning the aims and methods of pre-school education, beginning in infancy and ending upon entry into primary school at age six.
New hope of return to his homeland following the victories of the protestant armies over the catholic emperor, Ferdinand II.
Writes tracts to prepare exiles for return: Bazuine des genaden jaar voor de bohemische natie (The Trombone of the Year of Grace for the Bohemian People), Haggaeus redivivus (The Prophet Haggai Revived).
Finishes Didaktika (Bohemian Didactics), in the hope that liberation will come soon and that this book will be accepted as a programm for school reform all over Bohemia and Moravia.
1633 Samuel Hartlib († 1662), a Prussian intellectual living in London, where he worked on the advancement of learning and political, religious and economic progress, head of the “Hartlib circle” of reformers, writes to Comenius, who is living in Poland.
Comenius asks the Polish Count Rafał V Leszczyński (1579–1636) in October 1633 to finance his scheme for a pansophic encyclopaedia.
1634 Deputy head of the school in Leszno.
Finishes the Latin Didactica Magna (The Great Didactic), the first comprehensive and systematic treatise on education produced in early modern Europe, publ. only 1657 in Amsterdam as the first part of Opera didactica omnia.
1636 Spiegel guter Obrigkeit (A Mirror of Good Government).
1637 Cesta Pokoje (The Way of Peace), written in the sense of the desired reconciliation in order to preserve the Church in peace and harmony.
In England, without Comenius’ knowledge, Samuel Hartlib publishes his Conatuum Comenianorum praeludia (Preludes to the Comenian Attempts) (printed in Oxford, 1638). It is read by leading figures in England, France and the German territories and is the basis of Comenius’ renown as a pansophical thinker and reformer. Not only Comenius, but also his friends, are fascinated by the pansophic scheme.
School play, Diogenes Cynicus redivivus (The Revived Diogenes the Cynic), for performances in that school at Leszno. Comenius sees the pupils’ performances as an exercise of wit, a challenge to diligence, and a joy for parents.
Faber Fortunae sive ars consulendi sibi ipsi (Everyone is the Architect of His Own Fortune).
1638 Invited to Sweden for practical work of the reform of the schools there. He turns down the offer, on account of his obligations to the Unity of Brethren.
1639 Friends of Comenius and the French mathematician, natural philosopher, and theologian, Marin Mersenne (1588-1648), who has correspondents across Europe, discuss Comenius’ pansophy in Paris.
Prodromus Pansophiae (Precursor of the Pansophy), printed in London. The author propagates a very ambitious project: a reform of the whole of human society, particularly in the three great fields of science, religion und politics.
School play Abrahamus patriarcha (The Patriarch Abraham).
1640 Comenius begs Count Bogusław Leszczyński (1615–60) to finance his pansophic encyclopaedia.
1641 Travels to London, urged by Hartlib. The ship on which he intends to travel to England is almost destroyed in a storm and has to return to Danzig. He reaches London with another ship.
Reception by leading members of the English Parliament. It is intended that he found in England a pansophical college. This is prevented by the outbreak of the English civil war. The visit in England: 21 September 1641 to 21 June 1642.
He produces his programmatic work, Via Lucis (The Way of Light), which, far ahead of its time, contained statements on the possibility of “renewing the sciences” and his proposal to found a “College of Light” (publ. only 1668 in Amsterdam).
1642 Invited to France by Cardinal Richelieu (1585–1642), chief minister to King Louis XIII of France, to found a pansophical College there. He sends his friend Joachim Hübner (1611–66) to France.
Probably invited to Harvard College in Massachusetts, New England (from 1781 U.S.A.) by the younger John Winthrop.
Invited to Sweden by the wealthy merchant and manufacturer, Louis de Geer (1587–1652).
On his way there, he meets famous mathematician and philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650) who receives him at his residence in Holland at Endegeest near Leyden and with whom he has a four-hour discussion. Their standpoints diverge so much that there is no chance of agreement between them.
Invited by the Polish nobleman, Adam Suchodolski, to settle on his estates in Poland and, under excellent conditions, to devote himself to pansophy. For political reasons, however, he decides in favour of Sweden.
Invited by the government of Bremen to become head of the city’s prestigious Gymnasium illustre (a famous school with university courses). He turns down the offer, as he has already decided for Sweden.
In Stockholm, he negotiates with the Swedish lord chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna (1583–1654), and the young Queen Christina of Sweden, who receives him as “her teacher”, because she was taught with his textbooks.
1642–48 Works for the Swedish state in the Prussian town of Elbing (Elbląg), on the Baltic Sea, then under Swedish rule, on textbooks for Swedish schools, sponsored by his principal benefactor, Louis de Geer. Further work on the system of pansophy.
Professor of philosophy at the academy in Elbing.
1643 Birth of his daughter Susan.
Irenic discussions with the Polish Calvinist cleric, Bartholomew Nigrin (1595–1646), who later converted to catholicism.
1644 Irenic Disputation with the Capuchin monk Valerian Magni (1586–1661), envoy of the Rom based propaganda-congregation for the re-catholicisation of Northern Poland, published as Judicium de judicio Valeriani Magni Mediolanensis (Judgment on the Judgment of Valerian Magni from Milan).
Invited to the Duchy of Lithuania by Prince Janusz Radziwiłł (1612–55) to found a generously financed College of Light there.
1645 Participates against the wishes of the Lutheran Swedish in the Colloquy at Thorn, initiated by the Polish king Władisław IV (1595–1648), who wishes to end interdenominational conflict in order to strengthen the Polish state.
De colloquii Thoruniensis apparatu cogitationes quaedam (Some Considerations on the Preparation of the Thorn Colloquy).
From 1645 to 1670, he works on his major pansophical work: De rerum humanarum emendatione consultatio catholica (General Consultation on the Improvement of Human Affairs), consisting of seven books, Comenius’ great contribution to human welfare, a monumental work; partially printed Amsterdam 1656: Panegersia (Universal Awakening) and Panaugia (Universal Light).
1646 Travels again to Sweden. Received by lord chancellor Oxenstierna and Queen Christina of Sweden.
Works on his linguistic study, Methodus linguarum novissima (The Latest Method in Languages).
1646 Birth of his son Daniel († 1694).
1648 Returns from Elbing to Leszno in Poland.
Elected presiding Senior (bishop) of the Unity of Brethren.
Death of his wife Dorothy Cyrillová.
Writes to the Swedish lord chancellor, Oxenstierna, asking him to attempt to secure the right of protestant emigrants from Bohemia and Moravia to return to their homeland at the peace conferences in Osnabrück and Münster (called to end the Thirty Years’ War). He points out that thousands of Bohemian and Moravian refuges had fought in the Swedish armies.
Peace of Westphalia.
His hopes are disappointed. The Holy Roman Emperor, now Ferdinand III (1608–57) manages to prevent any protestants from returning to his territories in Bohemia and Moravia.
1649 Invited by Queen Christine of Sweden to become a member of an academy of sciences to be founded in Stockholm, along with René Descartes, but Descartes died in Stockholm 1650 and the academy was not founded.
Warns about English independentism: Independentia, aeternarum confusionum origo (Independentism, the Cause of Eternal Confusion).
Publishes the linguistic study, Methodus linguarum novissima (The Latest Method in Languages), a strikingly original treatise with an entirely new approach to the subject, printed in Leszno.
Marries in Thorn (Toruń) Johanna Gajusová.
1650 Kšaft umírající matky, Jednoty bratrské (The Testament of the Dying Mother, the Unity of Brethren) – a tract born of despair at the terms of the Peace of Westphalia, and which would come to be regarded as a Czech classic. There is discussion about whether the Unity of Brethren in exile should dissolve itself. The majority decided that it should continue. As the leading bishop, Comenius now shoulders the greatest responsibility, also for obtaining financial assistance, mainly from England.
1650 Travels to Hungary and Transylvania on behalf of the Unity of Brethren. Talks about the reform of the Latin school in Sárospatak.
Moves to Sárospatak. Practical work on the reform of the school there; tries to win the ruling Rákóczi family for a military campaign against the Habsburgs.
Writes rules and regulations for schools, among them
Praecepta morum in usum juventutis collecta (Moral Precepts), Leges scholae bene ordinatae (Laws for a Well-Ordered School)
Makes major speeches, among them De cultura ingeniorum oratio (An Address on the Cultivation of the Mind), De primario ingenia colendi instrumento, sollerter versando, libris, oratio (How to Deal With Books, the Main Instruments of Education).
1651 Sermo secretus Nathanis ad Davidem (A Secret Sermon of Nathan to David) (publ. 1902). With this work he intended to win the magnate, Szigmond Rákóczi of Transylvania (1622–1652), the younger brother of the ruling prince of Transylvania, for a coalition against the empire of the catholic Habsburgs.
1652–54 Gentis felicitas (The Happiness of the People), another political memorandum, this time directly addressed to the prince György II Rákóczi (1621–1660) of Transylvania (publ. in 1659 in Nagy-Várad, now Oradea, Romania).
Schola ludus (School as a Game) (publ. 1656 in Sárospatak, 1657 in Amsterdam).
Orbis sensualium pictus (The Visual World in Pictures), first publ. 1658 in Nuremberg. This pictorial encyclopaedia became Comenius’ greatest “bestseller”, unrivalled for even longer than the Janua. To the present day, over 250 editions have appeared, continually “modernised” and adapted to local needs by other authors.
1654 Returns from Hungary to Leszno in Poland. Thanks to the generous remuneration in Transylvania he is now well-to-do. He buys a house in Leszno and even lends the city money. He wishes to complete the numerous publications he has planned, on some of which he has worked for decades.
1655 Beginning of the Swedo-Polish War, which for Comenius turns out to be a personal catastrophe.
Writes Panegyricus Carolo Gustavo (Panegyric on Charles X Gustav), under pressure from the city government, for the new King of Sweden (1622–1660), who successfully attacked Poland and, because he was joined by many Polish noblemen, was able to achieve great victories.
1656 Destruction of Leszno by Polish troops; Comenius loses his library and many manuscripts. He flees to save his life, now an old and poor man. He first goes to Silesia, and then via Brieg to Hamburg, where he is ill for months. Then he travels via Groningen to Amsterdam.
1657 Received with honour by the Amsterdam municipal government.
He turns down the offer of a professorship at the Amsterdam academy. However, he lives in the city with his family, financially supported by the de Geer merchant family. Immediately publishes further works: Lesnae Excidium anno 1656 (The Destruction of Leszno in the Year 1656); Panegersia (Universal Awakening), Panaugia (Universal Light).
The lord protector of England, Scotland and Ireland, Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658), offers Comenius and the remaining members of the Unity of Brethren refuge in Ireland. Comenius, however, declines to leave the Continent.
Publication of his impressive collection of his writings on education, Opera Didactica Omnia (The Complete Didactical Works), in Amsterdam
Lux in Tenebris (Light in Darkness), a new attempt to persuade powerful political figures to take political and military action.
Traditio lampadis (The Passing On of the Torch) to younger educational Theorists, who are expected to continue the work of pedagogical reform.
De principis Transylvaniae ruina judicium (Judgment on the Fall of the Transylvanian Prince). The aim of this work is to explain the catastrophic defeat of Transylvanian Polish campaign.
1659 Vindicatio (Vindication) against Nicholas Arnold (1618–81), professor of theology at the University of Franeker in the Netherlands, who had publicly turned against Comenius following the publication of the Lux in Tenebris, a work of political prophecy edited by Comenius.
Further writings: Kancyonál (Hymnbook).
Cartesius, cum sua naturali philosophica a mechanicians eversus (Descartes and his Natural Philosophy, Brought Down by Mechanics), and others.
1659–61 Intense quarrels with the Unitarian Socinians. He publishes tracts against them: De irenico irenicorum (On the Peaceful Writing of those who Desire Peace), Socinismi speculum (Mirror of Socinianism): De iterato sociniano irenico iterata ad Christianos admonitio (A Repeated Admonition to Christians on the Repeated Peaceful Writing of the Socinians); Oculus fidei. Theologia naturalis (The Eye of Faith. Natural Theology). An abridged edition of a work by Raymond de Sabunde († 1436), the 15th century French doctor an a theologian.
1660 De bono unitatis et ordinis (The good of unity and order).
1661 Warning to the Anglican church not to split, with negative examples of what had happened on the European continent: An Exhortation of the Churches of Bohemia to the Church of England (printed in London 1661).
Lux in tenebris presented by Comenius’ envoy, Johann Jakob Redinger (1619–88), to the French king, Louis XIV (1638–1715) and the archbishop of Paris. Attempts to win the politically powerful for the ideas in Lux in tenebris. Comenius wishes to promote a new military alliance against Austria, so as to be able to return to his homeland with the Unity of Brethren.
Appeal to Charles II (1630–85) of Great Britain and Ireland to release the funds collected in England for the Unity of Brethren.
Johann Jakob Redinger travels for Comenius to the Hungarian camp of the Turkish grand vizier, Ahmed Köprülü (1633–1676).
1663 Die letzte Posaun über Deutschland (The Last Trumpet over Germany), a political appeal, printed anonymously in German, addressed to the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire in Regensburg. Comenius calls for internal reform and resistance to the threatening Turkish invasion, which had already reached his homeland, Moravia. In a departure from his previous stance, he pleads for co-operation even with the Holy Roman Emperor.
1664 Call to King Louis XIV of France to convene a European peace conference.
1665 Syllogismus orbis terrarum practicus (Practical Syllogism on the World).
1665–70 Clamores Eliae (Exhortations of Elias), an extensive but fragmentary collection of thoughts, notes, letters, quotations.
1667 Tract calling for an end to the second Anglo-Dutch maritime war, Angelus pacis ad legatos pacis (The Angel of Peace, to the Envoys of Peace), a plea for a Peace League of European states, addressed to the English and Dutch envoys at the Conference of Breda in May 1667.
Further writings, including Bibliorum Turcicorum dedicatio (Dedication for the Turkish Bible).
1668 Printing of Via Lucis, written in London in 1642, with a new introduction: Illuminati seculi phosphoris nascenti reali philosophiae feliciter obstetricanti Regiae Londinensis Societati (To the Torch Bearers of this Enlightened Age, Members of the Royal Society of London). Comenius sends three copies to the Royal Society in London.
Judicium de judicio Serarii (Judgment on the Judgment of Serarius), a work which mainly takes issue with René Descartes.
Unum necessarium (The One Thing that is Necessary). For the last time, Comenius depicts the scientific, political, and religious labyrinths of his time, and also his own labyrinths. He dedicates this work to the son of the exiled King of Bohemia, Prince Rupert (1619–82), admiral of the English fleet in the second and third Dutch Wars (1665–67 and 1672–74), and cousin of King Charles II of Great Britain and Ireland.
1669 Comenius quarrels with the Dutch theologian, Samuel Maresius (1599–1673), becoming involved in bitter polemics during the last month of his life. On account of his pansophical reform proposals Maresius declared him to be a “Fanaticus, Visionarius, Enthusiasta in folio”.
He replies with autobiographical apology Admonitio fraterna J. A Comenii (Brotherly Admonition of Comenius) against Maresius, and also a second apology: Continuatio admonitionis fraternae (Continuation of the Brotherly Admonition) (1669/70).
1670 In the spring Comenius becomes seriously ill. He is now 78. Despite considerable pain he continued to work on his Triertium catholicum (The General Triune Art). In September, he made a final entry in his collection of notes, Clamores Eliae.
November 15th: Dies in Amsterdam. Buried in Naarden, near Amsterdam, in the Walloon Church: today a place of remembrance with a permanent exhibition on the life and work of Comenius.
For some time the manuscripts of his main work, Consultatio catholica, were lost. A handwritten version was finally discovered in 1934 in the German town Halle an der Saale, in a library in which they had been deposited early in the 18th century. Of the seven subdivisions of the Consultatio, the second last, Panorthosia, is the most important, because it shows how Comenius hoped to achieve a genuine reform of human relations and durable pacification of the world.
Compiled by Werner Korthaase and Jürgen Beer