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Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski (c. 1503–1572)
Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski - ON THE REFORM OF THE COMMONWEALTH
ON THE REFORM OF THE COMMONWEALTH
Andrzej Frycz was from a nobleman's family in Wolborz. He attended a parish school in his native town and later in Cracow. In 1517 Frycz entered the Cracow Academy, two years later received a baccalaureate (with distinction), and continued his studies. In 1523 he entered the court of Jan Łaski, primate of Poland, and worked as notary to the bishop of Poznań.
From 1531 to 1535 Frycz studied in Wittenberg, where he became acquainted with Philip Melanchthon, Luther's associate, and then, until 1540, lived in Germany. In 1537 he was engaged in making arrangements to transport Erasmus's library, purchased by Jan Łaski, a nephew of the primate, from Basel to Poland. After returning to Poland, Frycz was supporting himself by the income from his prebends. In about 1547, he became a royal secretary, serving also as a diplomatic envoy. He returned to his native Wolborz in 1553 and devoted himself to writing. Criticized and threatened for his ideas, Frycz had to leave his home for some time. His writings were placed on the church index.
De poena homicidii
Punishment for Homicide
) (1543), Frycz advocated, well ahead of his time, a uniform penal code for the gentry and the plebeian, as he considered all citizens equal before the law. In his major work
Commentariorum de Republica emendanda libri quinque
(1551–1554), translated into Polish as
On the Reform of the Commonwealth
, Frycz Modrzewski was mainly concerned with the mores, considered as a set of ethical motivations of each citizen. He also discussed laws, war, church, and school, drawing up a blueprint for the ideal state.
Many sections of Frycz's work speak to our current concerns. In Chapter VI Frycz discussed the role of parents in bringing up children, while in the section
On guardians of the poor
, he analyzed a welfare system that would be fair and acceptable to society.
Book I, Chapter VI
How to care about good upbringing of children and youth
Let us begin this discussion with childhood, about which I have just talked, namely what habits and thoughts it should be filled with so that it becomes like a strong foundation for a forthcoming honest, spotless, and praiseworthy life. For nothing is instilled in the souls of people more firmly than what they got used to in childhood. For if something harmful is grafted on when they are young and yielding, then it will stay with them forever, as if you saturated with poison a graft which later will grow into a big tree; the fruits of that tree will be poisonous and will in large measure pass down the ability to do harm to the seeds, which will not be much better. Parents, when they bring up their children, should bear in mind the picture of Christ who rebuked His disciples for not wishing to let children come to Him, saying: "Let the children come to me for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs. Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. And putting His hands on their heads, He blessed them."
Is it not evident from these words how much God cares for children? He takes them in His arms, He commends them with prayer to the Heavenly Father, calls all who want to enter the kingdom of heaven to emulate their simplicity.
What crime is committed by parents who neglect good upbringing for the progeny born of them and destined to the kingdom of heaven? For what reason was Eli the priest together with children punished by God's hand?
Was it not because he neglected to bring them up properly and to lead them? And for those who corrupt their children and are a stumbling block for them, would it not be better if they, as Christ says, had a millstone fastened to their necks and were drowned in the depths of the sea?
So parents should take care to instill in children such teachings and bring them up in such a way that from the earliest years they would learn to understand what is honest, and what is shameful, what to strive for, and what to avoid.
They should strongly lead them away from pleasures, because wherever they rule, there is no room for virtues.
They should prescribe for them moderation in food, which should be light, plain, and not inflaming the insides. This age burns with an inborn heat and there is no need to add fire to fire. This will help not only in restraining the bodily desire but also in maintaining a strong and healthy body and soberness of mind.
They should make them get used not only to moderation in food and drink, but also to bearing of cold and heat, and to hard bedding (so long as this would not be a detriment to their strength and good body condition, which should be taken care of, in order for the mind to be in good form and active).
They should not allow them to associate with bad people.
They should form their language and all deeds after a model of beauty, justice, mildness, kindness and human civility.
And they should tell them to avoid ugliness, abuse, anger, envy, pride, and cruelty.
They should restrain their chatter, because immeasurable garrulity and empty talk are born of it, disgusting at any age. Just as they do not allow wicked deeds, they should not permit them indecent talk. They should demand that they are aware of what they say and do. Parents would do a useful thing if they encouraged the young, by insisting on virtue and citing examples of it, and if they praised them even more than was true, because as Ovid says:
Excellence grows with praise
And applause is its immense stimulus.
Commonly known sayings about virtue and fulfillment of one's duties, numerous in every language, have great influence on a child's soul, so long as it is still pure and not stained by evil thoughts. Those sayings are, for example: "One should eat to live, not live to eat." Or: "Improperly gained, improperly lost." Or: "A hand washes a hand, a city lives for a city." Or: "Strive for offices with virtue, not through supporters; he who acts beneficially has enough friends." Or: "It is hard to be victorious over others, but it is even greater to be victorious over one's own soul and restrain one's impetuosity." Or: "Just as one bridles the wildness of the horse by tiring it and taking away its oats, one tames excessive desires by work and fasting." Or: "What is not proper to do is improper to think and talk about" – which is truly correct, because honest deeds must stem from honest will and thought.
This is why parents who want to open the way to righteousness in everything for their children should firmly lead them away, as much as they can, not only from evil deeds and unpleasant words, but also from thinking about bad things. They will not achieve it in any way more easily than by not allowing them to be idle.
They should therefore be careful that boys and girls do not spend their first years in idleness; they should always attempt to give them some work, and should also demand that they account for it. There is no wrong in combining work and play, so long as the play is not disagreeable. One can choose fables or riddles or stories, which would encourage the children to work; if they are too listless and slow, it is proper to reprimand them, and those who avoid chores even more to punish with a rod. King Solomon, great sage, says: "Do not allow the child to shun discipline. He will not die from a rod. You beat him, and save the soul from hell."
Since it is the inborn human nature to seek rest, recreation, and a breathing spell after work, parents should make sure that the children's games are appropriate. It will be easier to do, if parents themselves are present while they play or entrust the task to someone older and honest, whom children respect and in whose presence they will not dare to say or do anything unpleasant or disagreeable. One should try as hard as possible not to have boys take part in girls' pastimes, especially when they become adolescent, because this age in itself spurs them to desire. These habits of play, youthful loves and frenzies which inflame them at the age when they do not recognize yet what is right cannot but be immoral; with years they get stronger and it rarely happens that they can be rooted out.
Boys should not neglect horseback riding or foot exercises, such as running or jumping, or throwing stones, or playing with a ball or discus and other such sports, provided they are done moderately. For moderate activity and exercise invigorate, fortify and improve health, strength, and robustness of the body; if, however, they are too intense and violent, they weaken and injure it. Doctors teach that exercises of this kind should be done either before meals or not soon after, so that food, when the body is full, does not spoil on account of exertion and does not create harmful moistures or even grave diseases in the body.
But as I said all pastimes should be appropriate; they should not be effeminate, licentious, foolish, shameless. Children should also be taught what they are due others, what is due their parents, countrymen, commonwealth, also how they should keep peace and company with other people, how to behave towards their superiors, inferiors, and equals, towards companions, friends, family and relatives, towards public servants, noblemen, and attendants, and even towards enemies and opponents, both in private as well as in public life.
The most important, however, is to fill the youth with respect for immortal God, just as Christ indicates in the words quoted above, when he tells children to come to Him and blesses them. Children should be shown Christ and imbued with knowledge of God, so they would know from whom they could expect all that is good, with whose nod everything happens, who punishes evil and rewards good. They should be taken to churches and services so they would learn holy rites and ceremonies, worship sacraments, have opportunities to pray and become devoted to this which merits Almighty God's grace and people's affection. In this way they prepare for themselves remedies against all solicitations of the devil, body, and this world.
When parents recognize and observe a young man's talents, they should direct him towards the subjects to which, in their belief, he is naturally inclined, so that he can begin to learn and love the rudiments of those works that he will later be occupied with during his whole life. And if by any chance they want to send the young man to foreign lands, they should very carefully prepare him for this experience and instill in his heart to strive not so much to get to know as many people as possible in each country nor to become close to many, but to learn what is just in customs, law, and discipline in neighboring countries, so that he would observe everything and after his return could explain them in order to reform these matters in his homeland.
Since the young learn how to behave from older people, especially from parents, not only with their ears but also with their eyes, parents should make every effort to appear in their children's eyes much the same as they would like them to be. Surely a father who is a drunkard will not manage to arouse in his son a love of temperance; a squanderer and fancy dresser will not recommend thrift to children; nor will a violent man, who in anger becomes cruel, bloodthirsty, and homicidal, be able to prescribe to his children the laws of gentleness or conciliation and humaneness, because the young are attracted to follow in the footsteps of their parents and to be like them. I would be pleased to see all parents examine themselves if they did not corrupt most the morals of their children.
Sons of great lords are brought up for the most part too leniently and in too much freedom: they spend time dancing with girls, playing lutes and singing indecent songs, surrounded by ingratiating courtiers and teachers. From the earliest years they absorb pride and haughtiness and get to know silk garments before they begin to speak; they admire gold chains and numerous servants, since childhood they think of nothing but ruling, pomp, various feasts, vindictive irritability. Because of excessive leniency, they completely lose common sense and although they were never taught to listen, they would like to command.
They are laughable dunces who flatter the children of rich people and bedazzle them with wealth, power, splendor of their family house, and who first instill in them pride and haughtiness before they gain some understanding of honesty and moderation. Would it not be much better if children did not know about it, and learned from teachers what is more helpful to virtue and solid work, rather than what fills them with puffed up pride? Because if they develop such habits and absorb such instruction, no teacher will be able to remake, no Mercury to change, no Vulcan
to recast them, and their whole lives they will hold to that which they in a way have sucked with their mother's milk. To be sure such people have usually the name of virtue on their lips, but they rarely know anything about virtue, which must be acquired in utmost toil, and even more rarely approach it in their actions. To put it briefly: forbearance of fortune and a way of life full of corruption do not allow them to reach anything good either in childhood or when they are growing up or when they reach manhood or when they become old, because the charms of vice stand in their way.
For it is not easy to get used to good behavior, if one has been accustomed to evil (similarly it is not easy for the Ethiopian to change black skin for a different one), and that cannot happen at all, unless, as the Holy Scriptures bear witness, by some exceptional grace of God.
It would then be necessary to reform bad habits in young hearts and to instill the true concepts of things since, as I have already said and will frequently talk about, there is nothing more destructive to good habits than false understanding and ignorance of the truth. And there is nobody who would not know, as I said, how limited parents are in this respect. How many are there who would properly bring up their children or, even if they wanted, know how to do it?
Our laws have not decreed anything about this matter and there is only a custom that the one who wants his children to gain glory owing to virtues sends them either to the masters at school or to the courts of great lords or to someone whose company could provide, in his opinion, a good education.
Translated by Michael J. Mikoś
Matthew 19:14–15, 18:3. All biblical references in this volume are to
The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New Revised Standard Version
(Ed. by Bruce Metzger and Roland Murphy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), unless stated otherwise.
"Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels; they had no regard for the LORD or for the duties of the priests or the people." (1 Samuel 2:12–13)
"If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of sea." (Matthew 18:6)
"(...) excellence, when approved of, still increases. / Applause, too, gives an immense stimulus."
The Pontic Epistles of Ovid
, tr. by Henry T. Riley. London: George Bell and Sons, 1903, 4, 2, 35, 444. In the notes I quote the classical authors following the usage of
The Oxford Latin Dictionary
Mercury was the Roman god of trade, commerce, and travel. Vulcan was the god of fire and metalworking.
Frycz Modrzewski, Andrzej.
O poprawie Rzeczypospolitej
. Ed. by Stanisław Bodniak. Translated into Polish by Edwin Jędrkiewicz. Warszawa: PIW, 1953, 110–115.