Historical Background

The history of ideas of the Greek speaking regions in the Ottoman Empire from the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Greek Revolution of 1821 has been linked with the educational policies articulated by the Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The sciences in the educational institutions - higher schools (see map) which did not have the status of universities and which were under the jurisdiction of the Church throughout this period - were introduced as part of a modern curriculum where ancient Greek thought was projected as the precursor of all the glorious developments in Europe.

The introduction of the sciences served both to "enlighten" the youth as well as to help create a national consciousness through the establishment of an intriguing continuity : from the ancients through Byzantium to the present leading to a future when "glory" will be re-established again in Greece.

Thus, from the early years of the 17th century, the introduction of the sciences was subservient to the political and, to a certain extent, ideological reorientations of the Church and of the newly emerging social groups.

Immediately after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Sultan Mohammed II - Mohammed the Conqueror - recognised the Patriarch - the religious head of Eastern Christendom - as the legal head of the Orthodox Christian millet (nation) and the Patriarchate was granted full jurisdiction over the education of the Orthodox Christian populations in the Ottoman Empire.

The Orthodox Church was at the time the only organised institution which could represent Christian nations of the Balkan peninsula in their dealings with the Ottoman administration. Furthermore, the Patriarchate had already created - during the Byzantine era - a structured ecclesiastical hierarchy which allowed control of even the smallest Christian community in the area. Apart from the Church, the Greek speaking Orthodox Christian population did not have any centrally administered institutions.

The Sultan, appointed as the new Patriarch Gennadios Scholarios (1400-1460). Gennadios Scholarios was a well-known jurist, rhetor and philosopher, and played an important role in political life during the last years of the Byzantine era. As a philosopher, he was of aristotelian orientation, a follower of Aquinas and an opponent of Pletho''s platonism. Gennadios undertook the task of reviving the intellectual life of the city. He founded the first official school, the Patriarchal Academy, which was the continuation of the Pandidakterion of the Byzantine era, and appointed Mathaios Kamariotis as its first director. There is no information concerning the initial curriculum of the Academy.

By the end of the 16th century and within the context of counterreformation after the Council of Trent (1545-1563), Rome defined a new policy towards the Greek population of the Ottoman Empire, designed to prevent any rapprochement between the Protestants and the Orthodox. In the beginning of the seventeenth century the Patriarchates, of both Constantinople and Jerusalem, became fields of contention between the Catholics and the Protestants.

During the same period, the Protestants were trying to increase their influence in the eastern Mediterranean, especially through the activity of the ambassadors of England, Holland, Germany, and Sweden. Not unexpectedly, they offered support to the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Jerusalem. Their shared hostility to Catholicism brought the Protestants and the Greek Orthodox close to each other. In 1620 Kyrillos Loukaris (1572-1638) became Patriarch of Constantinople. During the early stages of the 30-year war, Loukaris planned a series of political moves to consolidate the survival of the Orthodox Church.

He felt that there were unmistakable signs of an impending alliance between Catholic France and the Ottomans. He saw such an alliance as the main danger against the Orthodox Church, and he sought supporters among the Protestants, especially the Dutch. The ambassador of Holland to the Ottoman Court turned out to be a very co-operative ally. Loukaris, also, proceeded to write a notorious leaflet arguing for the common theological grounds between Calvinism and Orthodoxy. Many serious theologians - and not only his adversaries - accused him of adopting Protestantism.

Being convinced that the Catholic propaganda was effective because of its educational institutions, Loukaris upgraded the Patriarchal Academy and introduced what came to be known as «religious humanism». He himself had studied at the Greek school of Venice, under Maximos Margunios, from 1584 until 1588 and he had completed his studies at the University of Padua in 1593.

Religious humanism was an attempt to synthesise the teachings of ancient Greeks with the teachings of the orthodox church fathers, considering the intellectual traditions originating in Greek antiquity and those of Christianity as a unity. Religious humanism became the means for moulding a kind of national consciousness by reclaiming Hellenistic roots through Greek Orthodox Christian teaching. In the prevailing conditions of intense national reorientations and regroupings in Europe, such a strategy aimed at upgrading the political role of the Patriarchate by providing an institutional expression to the ties between orthodoxy and Hellenism. Such initiatives led not only to the establishment of new educational institutions, but, eventually, to the furthering of the church''s dominance through the articulation of a new ideological and political agenda. The idea that the Orthodox Church must safeguard the great intellectual tradition of the nation and protect Hellenism from the "Ottoman despot and the propaganda or the contrivances of Catholicism" was given a theoretical justification and an institutional expression.

In 1622 Kyrillos Loukaris appointed a renowned neo-Aristotelian, Theophilos Korydalleas (1570-1646), to the directorship of the Patriarchal Academy. He had studied in Italy during the first decade of the seventeenth century. In 1604 he attended classes at the Greek College in Rome. He went on to study at the University of Padua, at a time when Cesare Cremonini was the dominant figure and the articulate defender of Aristotelianism, especially against the new science of his colleague there, Galileo Galilei. Korydalleas received his doctorate in Philosophy and Medicine, around 1608. In the Patriarchal Academy Korydalleas reorganised teaching along the ways practised in Padua. A central place was assigned to philosophy - as distinct from theology - and to the interpretation of the commentaries on the main works of Aristotle. Korydalleas'' humanistic brand of philosophy contained the potential for a rupture with a strictly theological approach to nature and to human affairs. But at the same time, there was a conscious policy to contain and develop this new approach exclusively within the framework of neo-Aristotelianism, during a period when such a framework was being undermined and redefined elsewhere in Europe.

Most of the second half of the 17th century and a large part of the 18th century was a period of educational and economic rejuvenation of many sectors of Greek society. In this period the Fanariots - basically the Greeks who lived in Constantinople - would play a dominant role. The beginning of this period is characterised by the completion of the Ottoman expansion and the creation of some of the prerequisites for the economic development of a new Hellenism. From the end of the 17th century, the Fanariots acquired an increasingly important role in the administration of the Ottoman state. At the outset of the 18th century representatives of the Fanariots were appointed by the Sublime Porte as governors and hospodars in Wallachia and Moldavia. The Fanariots would soon take the lead among all the other Greeks dispersed in the Balkans; their political dominance would reinforce the already strong influence of the Greeks in the economic as well as cultural spheres in these regions, while at the same time as administrators and as diplomats they would take the line commonly referred to as enlightened despotism.

This period is characterised by three interdependent developments. First, the increasing involvement of this group of Greeks in the administrative affairs of the Ottoman Empire undermined the almost exclusive role of the clergy in mediating the relations of the Christians with the Court. The second characteristic of this period is the increasing receptivity for the new ideas coming from Europe by the Fanariots, whose relative autonomy from the Patriarchate was further strengthened by an agenda of «europeanization». The third characteristic is related to the rise of a new social group. In addition to the Fanariots, the merchants started to assert themselves socially and played a rather significant role in the intellectual orientations of the period. The symbiotic relationship between the merchants and the quasi-administrative group of Fanariots was not always without conflict. Often, for example, they were at odds concerning the exertion of influence on the Patriarchate. The social and economic prominence of these groups slowly led to the weakening of the absolute control the Church had on the schools and in their curricula. The Fanariots, for example, took many initiatives for the establishment of new schools (see map).

At the same time, Greek scholars started moving all over Europe. Italy ceased to be the almost exclusive place for their studies. Greek scholars started travelling to the Germanic countries, Holland, and, Paris. They were, thus, intellectually influenced by a multitude of traditions and schools - and that was true for their training in the natural sciences as well. Interestingly, it was during that period that we witness a strong tendency of the scholars to return home after the completion of their studies abroad. From the middle of the 18th century, economic well being of the Greek communities within the Ottoman Empire with the accompanying social transformations brought about a number of changes in the educational system. The reception and appropriation of the new scientific ideas went on within an environment of social unrest and ideological confrontations.

One cannot talk about educational reform, since the attempts were local initiatives rather than a centrally dictated policy to be applied to a homogeneous educational system. While in the seventeenth and at the beginning of the eighteenth centuries all schools were religiously oriented, the coming years saw the emergence of schools whose curriculum could cater for the social and political agendas of the merchants or the Greeks involved in the administration of the Ottoman state. The systematic introduction of the sciences was reinforced by renewed faith in man''s ability to acquire knowledge of the world with his own means, and all these found support in the expectations of the assertive merchants and in the political ambitions of the Greek officers of the Danube region.

The French Revolution did not sit well with the Fanariots'' political agenda. Many of them considered the Revolution and its consequences as endangering their prospects of increasing influence within the Ottoman Empire. As the French Revolution was more and more projected as the realisation of the political and social ideas of the Enlightenment, the Fanariots'' belief in and attachment to the ideas of the Enlightenment started to weaken. Also, as the anticlericalist positions of the Revolution were associated with the spirit of the Enlightenment, many scholars - who, on the whole, were men of the Church - became less and less willing to be identified with the ideas of Enlightenment. There was, of course, no radical change which was adopted by all concerned: quite a few scholars, especially teachers, continued to remain strong adherents of the new scientific ideas. But, at the same time, there was a change of heart among many scholars in their strong backing of the ideas of the Enlightenment, which, as a result, allowed a greater leverage to those in the Church who were strong opponents of these ideas from the very beginning.

The jurisdiction of the Church over educational matters, its initiatives for sending scholars to Europe to be educated and the kind of dynamics created as the intended and, most interestingly, the unintended result of their scholarly work - whether by writing books or teaching - all need to be assessed within the overall particularities of the Greek case. The content of what was taught was not solely determined by the church. It was, rather, the confluence of largely similar but at times conflicting aims of the religious hierarchy, of the social groups with significant economic activity and of the scholars themselves. And in order to comprehend what appeared to be a unified educational policy of the church, it becomes necessary to articulate the relatively autonomous agendas of each of these religious and social groups.

There appeared many different trends, each claiming ideological or political leadership of this process aimed at preserving religious identity and inspiring national consciousness. These trends were at times in conflict with each other and at times they were complementary. Scholars following the scholastic aristotelian tradition co-existed with neo-aristotelians. Scholars adopting the ideas of the Enlightenment came into conflict with those who viewed these ideas as undermining the conditions for religious and ideological survival.

The introduction of the sciences and their subsequent teaching necessarily reflected a confluence of all these trends. The developments of the new sciences in western Europe became an interesting but expected corroboration of the programmatic declarations of Aristotle. Social groups who found confidence in the ideas coming from Europe for their political future, turned against the ideas of Enlightenment after the French Revolution took an anti-clericalist stand. And the Patriarchate which reflected and conditioned these changes, progressively became less receptive to ideas and policies that it had welcomed about two centuries earlier.

The introduction of the new scientific ideas in the Greek speaking world was a process almost exclusively directed to their appropriation for educational purposes. The apparent aim was to modernise the school curricula, but this did not mean a neutral attitude as to the possible ideological uses of these new ideas - especially the need to establish contact with the heritage of ancient Greece. Thus the predominantly productive role of the scientists in the centre has to be contrasted with the predominantly educational role of the scholars in the periphery. The educational agenda of the scholars played a rather decisive role since the discussion and the dissemination of the sciences was being exclusively realised within the educational institutions and many a times in reference to issues pertaining to education.

Understanding the character of the resistance to the new scientific ideas becomes of paramount importance. In the case of the Greek speaking regions the issue of resistance cannot be discussed independent of the character of the break with ancient Greek thought. Ideological and political contingencies of Christian societies under Ottoman rule during the Enlightenment, together with the dominance of the Greek scholars in the Balkans, called for an emphasis not on the break with the ancient modes of thought, but rather, on establishing the continuity with ancient Greece.

The Greek scholars saw the new developments in the sciences in Europe as evidence of the triumph of the programmatic declarations of ancient Greek thought with its emphasis on the supremacy of mathematics and rationality, rather than a break with the ancient mode of thinking and the legitimation of a new way of dealing with nature. The developments in the sciences were not viewed as an intricate process which among other things involved a break with Aristotle, but rather, as developments which came to verify the truth of the pronouncements of the ancients.

Most analyses of the Scientific Revolution and, especially, of the developments regarding the new sciences during the Enlightenment in the various countries in Europe take into consideration a host of questions related to the formation of state institutions. Issues, for example, concerning patronage, the establishment of academies and the usefulness of the new sciences for economic production are couched within the context of the formation of state institutions.

The situation appears to be radically different in the Greek speaking regions and the Balkans which were under Ottoman domination. The new scientific ideas were introduced to a national community which was under occupation and which had no national state institutions of its own.

This is a very unusual situation: in the absence of national state institutions, the community lacked the conditions which would allow the effectiveness of the educational system and of the training of students in these sciences to be socially assessed. Lacking such a corroborative framework where the usefulness of these sciences would be under continuous vigilance, ideological and, in fact, philosophical considerations became the dominant preoccupation of the scholars. Hence, the embedding of all these new ideas within a philosophical context strongly at variance with that of the European scholars became an aim in itself ; there was no other sense in which the new ideas could be legitimated.