The paper will provide a brief overview of the life of Jan Ámos Komenský (John Amos Comenius), a 17th-century Czech educational reformer, theologian and social thinker best remembered for his innovative methods of teaching. Seen against the general background of his life – a turbulent life lived, for a large part, during the Thirty Years War – many Comenius’s views and endeavors appear to be incited by the dark times.

The war completely changed the life of Comenius, both as a man and a theologian. His personal life was dealt a severe blow when he, outlawed as all Protestants in the Czech lands by an imperial edict of 1627, had to leave the country at the age of 36. Contrary to his hopes, he could never come back: he spent the rest of his life in Poland, England, Sweden, Hungary, and died in the Netherlands 42 years later, in 1670. As a theologian, a priest and the last bishop of the Unitas Fratrum (“Unity of Brethren”) church, he had to watch, helplessly, as the Unitas was being destroyed and its members forcibly converted to Catholicism or exiled. The war also represented a rather general theological and philosophical problem for him. Trying to understand why individuals, religious factions and countries, all believing in the same God, waged wars against each other, he designed a new system called pansophia, – a concept of universal education and harmonization of all knowledge, intended to improve human affairs and bring peace.

Peace on earth, he argued, would only exist if men stopped fighting, united and started to cooperate to realize God’s will. He was convinced that this could best be achieved through pansophical training of all men of all nations to see the underlying harmony of the world and to overcome its apparent disharmony. Comenius believed that pieces of God’s wisdom have been scattered in the world and men can be taught to find them and piece them together. In his words, men must gather “the pieces of the image of God found in things and put them together again in one wisdom, which would be a reflection of the Creator,” and to “start the light of wisdom throughout the world.”

Only the experience of perfect harmony,” he stated, “is the real wisdom, the true fruit of education.” Thus, in the end, thoughts about peace and improvement of human affairs led Comenius to his endeavor to reform education – an endeavor to which he devoted four decades of his life. His new methods and principles of teaching received international acclaim, but the fundamental concept of universal understanding and cooperation was – predictably – perceived as an unrealistic vision by the rulers of the disunited 17th-century Europe, and has remained so ever since.

Comenius’s quest for gathering pieces of wisdom no doubt found its reflection in his lifelong collecting of proverbs. The collection, never completed during his life, had a provisional but telling title Wisdom of Old Czechs As a Mirror Presented to Their Descendants and was organized into tens of detailed subject sections ranging from “general matters” (sky, fire, light) to individual plants and animals to parts of the body, crafts, trades, etc., as if to show – in harmony with Comenius’s pansophical proposition – that wisdom can be found in any small creature, object or activity.

Both the conception of the collection and Comenius’s tentative definitions of proverbs and other phrasemes will be discussed in more detail in the paper. The body of more than two thousand phrasemes included in the collection will be briefly characterized, with a special focus on differences between the proverbs found in Comenius’s collection and those used in modern Czech.