Johann Heinrich Alsted (1588–1638)

Being one of the most important encyclopedists of all times, Johann Heinrich Alsted – Comenius' master in Herborn – published a large amount of pansophist works with the purpose of reforming early modern scholarship and education. In doing so he was a distinct representative of the 17th-century Ramism simultaniously applying the medieval Ramon Llull's method, especially in his youth and during the last Transylvanian period of his activities. His early Clavis artis Lullianae (Strassburg, 1609) is one of the most important documents of 17th-century Lullism. Alsted was a significant Christian Hebraist and cabbalist alike. As a scholar deeply involved in reforming the methods of contemporary education, Alsted seriously engaged himself with the questions of mnemotechnics and the art of combination, namely, with a special combination of early modern Lullism and the Christian cabbala.

Perhaps he is best known for his giant Encyclopaedia published in Herborn, in 1630, however the earlier works – such as Systema mnemonicum duplex (Frankfurt, 1610) – that prepared the way of this 'magnum opus' were more revolutionary and original.

In the field of theology Alsted worked with the same encyclopedical obsession, one of the best results of this effort is his biblical encyclopaedia, Triumphus bibliorum (Frankfurt, 1625). As a Calvinist theologist he was strongly involved in preparing polemical works such as his Transylvanian publications Turris David (Hanau, 1634), Prodromus religionis triumphantis (Gyulafehérvár, 1635, 1641) and the posthumus Turris Babel ( Herborn, 1639), wherein he confuted the ideas and doctrines of several other Christian religions, of Judaism and of heretics like Antitrinitarians and Socinians. His best known book however, belongs to religious topics is the Diatribe mille annis apocalypticis (Frankfurt, 1627), probably the most popular Millenarian and Chiliast work ever with an enourmous impact, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world.

Alsted is of special importance to the Hungarian early modern intellectual history, since after accepting the invitation of prince Gábor Bethlen, he became the leading professor at the Collegium Bethlenianum Gyulafehérvár between 1630 and 1638. Besides his theological labour he was in fact involved with pansophist activities while preparing several grammar books of the three sacred languages, inventing combinatorial devices for mechanising and formalising the encyclopaedia. Hence, in Transylvania – with his "reborn" pursuit of the art of combination for instance – he somewhat returned to his pansophist obsession of his youth.