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The best of a bad situation

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Genesis 50.20

If the name John Amos Comenius sounds vaguely familiar, it may be on account of the slew of prizes offered in his name and inspired by his educational reforms everywhere from China to the United Nations. But who was he? According to historian Howard Louthan, Comenius' life was as surprising as it was complicated. From an obscure village in south eastern Moravia and raised in a (now defunct) Brethren community, Comenius emerged as a promising student with a personality to match. Opportunities came his way and he made the most of them. But tragedy - both personal and more general, occasioned by the turbulent years of 17th century Central Europe - conspired to dash his prospects time and again. He suffered persecution and exile, the loss of not one but two wives and watched his children die of disease.

A lesser person might have given in to despair. But not John Comenius. He confronted these setbacks as opportunities to take stock and re-orient his life, as if transforming them into stepping stones: of reflection, reappraisal, inspiration, relaunch and so on. He communicated his ideas through an astonishing volume of books and treatises. In Labyrinth of the World (1623) he offers a scathing satire exposing the hypocrisy of the great and the good of his day. The Bequest of the Unity of Brethren (1650) is an affectionate expression of loss - of family, homeland and church. While it all sounds rather negative, Comenius finds strands of hope in even the most dire of circumstances and so does not lose his faith, either in God or in his fellow humans.



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