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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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The Message of the Moment

by Charlotte M. Mason
Volume 27, no. 6, June 1915, pgs. 429-436


I venture again to discuss some of the problems of "Peterkin" and of the wider problems that concern "Peter." There are one or two fallacies abroad, carried on the breath of good and sincere people, which distress tender consciences; and as these come in the way of children it may be well to consider them. It is said that had we disarmed, instead of arming, early in August last, [England joined WWI in Aug, 1914] the moral spectacle would have been so impressive that the nations must have abstained from war. In the words of an able and learned exponent of the Pacificist movement,—"In the depths of my fanatical heart I dream of a day when our army will go out, not to war, but, if need be, to martyrdom and when that army will consist of every man and woman in England. I doubt if a Hun could be found to 'durch hauen' that silent defenceless band." We wonder what form the demonstration would take,—perhaps the Apotheosis of Peace might be made as impressive as that other apotheosis on the Champ de Mars; that great lover of Peace, the Kaiser, would take part in the ceremony with effusion, but would believe doubtless that the walls of our Jericho had fallen before his trumpets and that it remained for him to walk in and possess. It would not be for the first time that "La Paix Perpétuelle" (A.D. 1515) had been concluded, but not until the lion shall lie down with the lamb, will the terms of such treaty be binding. The fact appears to be that the undue exaltation of negations, like Liberty, Peace, Progress, is necessarily unprofitable and probably unwholesome. We have learned to respect an opinion which has grown venerable through ages of maintenance by a virtuous and generous Community; but a Pacificist propaganda is another matter, and we are led to inquire into the nature and worth of that Peace whose rites we are asked to celebrate. Peace is not; she is only the absence of war; while there is peace, men flourish, and so do the vices of men, some of these thriving more in times of peace than they do "at the Front." We think of peace and prosperity as together forming the ultimate good of men, and so we forget that life is of the spirit, not of the flesh.

War is a horrible and immeasureable evil, but some evils are remedial; and, better the "shining faces" of the men, dons and under-graduates, going forth to war from our Universities than that other unctuous shining which comes of over much well-being. Well for him who,—

"When called upon to face some awful moment,
Is happy as a lover,"

and well for the nation which can number her Happy Warriors by the million!

No doubt we could have escaped war, but at the cost of subjection to the militarism which to-day oppresses the Allies of Germany. But the position is not worth discussion; every child knows that peace with honour was impossible and that therefore war was inevitable for us, and no more moral or immoral, Christian or unchristian, than the recent earthquake. Our motives in undertaking, our conduct of the war, these are Christian or unchristian, but a non-aggressive war becomes as it were a natural catastrophe like earthquake, famine, flood or other distress of nations, whose object, like that of the falling of the Tower of Siloam, we may not understand but may yet believe that it is for the glory of God.

But is the assumption justified that peace which is merely the absence of war is especially Christian? St. Paul prays that the peace which passeth understanding may be with his friends, but that is a peace which affects men's "hearts and minds," and is not associated with prosperity (a good which does not pass any man's comprehension). Christ gives peace "not as the world giveth," but what we call civilisation and progress, which war interrupts, are of the world. Now, it is possible that there is more of this supernal peace in the trenches to-day than in some prosperous boroughs. "The men want God," writes in The Guardian a Chaplain at the Front; and perhaps we may venture to add to "Ask and ye shall receive," "Want and ye shall have." It may be that the war is not only a revealer of spiritual values, but a liberator of spiritual forces; it is good to read that "there are no empty churches in France now," that the Russians, always a religious people, are experiencing a new religious impulse; that at the recent Middlesex Assizes there were only five cases to be tried, and of the Judge's remark, that, as compared with this time last year, crime had decreased by 90 per cent.

If indeed the Spirit of God is moving upon the face of the waters we must see to it that the children are aware. We know that Divine Love can,—

"Make his mansion in the mild
And milky soul of a soft child";

we would not hurry children into the pains and joys of deep religious emotion; but the moment is making demands upon the higher life in boys and girls.

"The perturbations of a youthful mind
Under a long-lived storm of great events"

are matter for serious consideration. Valour is in the air, loyalty and devotion to cause or hero are everyday matters; might it not be ours to touch the heroic impulse in the Name of the King of Kings? It is a King to serve and follow that young spirits cry for, rather than an Almighty Benefactor; indeed, could we find the secret of the enthusiasm of service which is abroad, we should know the power of the new life and could interpret that hint of heavenly adventure—"these shall follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth." Anyway, we can conceive of the virginal heroes we shall not see again in the flesh as still pursuing high quests and doing knightly service in the train of their Captain.

These things are for them who believe, and faith is like the light of a torch to be passed from hand to hand; but, alas! criticism quenches the torch or leaves it only a smoking brand; yet, who knows. What Germany brought us in the spirit of negation, she may take from us again when we perceive the incompetence of the critical spirit to afford any light of life, not so much as should enable a nation to perceive those things which she ought to do.

There are two aspects of the religious life which command our attention just now. Perhaps the Iliad is a more warlike book than even the Bible, but the spirit of conflict on a great scale, that is, war, penetrates the latter from cover to cover; and Christ is the Captain of our Salvation. But that is spiritual warfare, it will be said; and is not this which we are now waging spiritual warfare also? Let us ask the mothers and wives of men who have gone to the front if the spiritual conflict is less for them than for their men. Men have had their hearts discovered to them; suddenly, their country, of which they had hardly thought, turns out to be more to them than even wife or child; nay, they perceive that every man's inalienable right to his own country is a cause for which to die. "How beauteous is mankind!" we cry with Miranda; and, after such a revelation of the greatness of men, we feel that our presentation of religion to ardent young souls must be adequate: they must learn to embrace the discipline of the Army, no doubt, to be faithful to their duties as Churchmen; but the moving spring is passionate loyalty, the spirit of proud obedience, to the Great Commander.

The Enemy has been our enemy in this also; he has damped the fervour of our faith, and though we would not be ranked with the unbelievers, we give a cold, tentative assent to matters we do not understand. But what is there that we do understand? Is it that we, too, are suffering a little from swelled-head, and, therefore, make our understanding the measure of possibility? Anyway, now is our time to propose to the young the enthusiasm of religion, which we can do only in proportion as we possess it.

One other point concerning the religious upbringing of the young I should like to urge. Our present experiences bring home to us in a curious way the parable of the rich fool. We, too, have prospered exceedingly; we have built our greater barns—our manifold inventions and discoveries,—and laid up goods for many years. Most of us are better than the man in the parable, for we are willing to pay toll by advancing the better condition of the people. But nothing is said to the man on that score. Possibly improved conditions are not the things that matter most. Let us notice the majestic irony which causes the man to invite his soul to eat, to drink, to take her ease. His poor soul has no capability for these things; to know, to feel, to think, to pray,—these are the functions proper to the soul which is mockingly invited to eat and drink. And that night the soul was summoned, a soul which was "not rich towards God."

In these days of sudden summonses, when "our lovely Sons" are required to appear in thousands, the question is forced upon us in regard to those who remain,—Are we bringing them up to be rich towards God? "He never learned anything great," was said by the historian (Dr. Stubbs), of a certain King of England. Perhaps this remark, though it hardly seems pertinent, may help us to an answer.

That we bring nothing into the world, and certainly shall carry nothing out of it, may be true of such tangible things as go-carts and motor-cars; but we bring vast wealth in the shape of spiritual possibilities, and to realise these possibilities to the glory of God and for the service of men is probably our business here. That being done, we go hence rich and carry our gains with us. The old ideas of heaven and hell, of reward and punishment, still obsess us so far that we think our little works of mercy and of public and private benefaction are laid up in store for us, and that we go to find those riches accredited to us elsewhere. Good works are no doubt required of us, and we get our reward, but is it not immediate, coming with the sense that "ye have done it unto Me"? That which we take with us seems to be of another sort; it is spiritual "substance," that which we are when we go, as proportioned to that which we were fitted to become when we arrived.

If we believe that we are to go on, in what we lamely call "a Future State," we shall realise that the chief business of education and self-education here is to give such a training in mind and manners, in aims and pursuits, that we shall be happy denizens of that place which is prepared for us. There seems no reason to expect that "a sea-change into something new and strange" will pass upon us. We are not subjected to arbitrary dealings here nor probably shall we be there. "He that is unjust, let him," it is said, "be unjust still," and therein may lie our chastisement or our reward, in continuing to be that which we are.

Our future estate has become so imminent, with hardly a screen of matter, an interval of time, separating the flower of the nation from the unknown hereafter, that we do well to ask, What next? and to make such investigation as we may into the character of the transportable riches which we may take with us; this is true especially for us who are concerned with children that we may know how to educate for the aeons of the world without end. Certainly, it must not be said of the young people still with us that they never learned anything great; else, how shall they play a worthy part in the high society of the other world? We know of the three which abide, and the greatest of these is charity, the love which goes out to all loveliness in man or angel, in nature or art, and, as pity, to all sadness and distress, the love to which the binding "Inasmuch" is attached. Next among the things which endure may possibly be that other great affection, the Justice which distinguishes between things that differ, discerns, appreciates, and is proof against fallacies: out of the interplay of these two comes wisdom. Children are often very wise because they observe very heedfully, but knowledge gained from many sources is doubtless necessary, for without knowing, how shall we love? without judging, how shall we discriminate? and it is only as we love and discern that wisdom arrives to us.

Possibly we get a new idea of the function of education when we regard it, not so much as fitting us to get our living here, but as making us "rich towards God," as providing material for the spiritual life of love and reflection. This is the best that can come to us here, and thus we lay up capital, so to say, for the life to come. But, it will be said, men must live, and to prepare for the life that now is, is the first consideration in the order of time at any rate; the rest will take care of itself. It is true that the rest will take care of itself; but let us attend first to that which is of primary importance, and we shall have made provision for the life which now is and for that which is to come. The more a child learns great things, the more of a person does he become; and personality is the qualification for success here and affords, perhaps, a measure of fitness for the after life; "Histories make men wise," says Bacon; that is, when men learn through histories to love men and nations, and to form just judgments about many things; the man of loves is the wise man; his heart expands in many directions, and knowledge is precious to him. For this life, the more that a man is, the more capable is he of that which his hand finds to do; and to make our entrance on the other life without interests and pursuits of a kind to be carried forward would seem to be rash. A man should be fit for his company.

If we hope that a long Eternity will greet our bliss, and realise that in this life we lay the foundations of manifold knowledge to be pursued hereafter, it follows that the knowledge of God is the principal knowledge, and the question is, how shall we pursue it? We English are brought up upon the Book of Common Prayer; to it we owe saintly and sensible women ready for much sacrifice, devout and courageous men with a high sense of duty. These offer that ideal of English character and conduct which affects all classes both within and without the communion of the Church of England. School, School-Chapel, and Confirmation do their full share in building up this idea, and the result is, on the whole, a godly, righteous and sober national life of which we are modestly proud, and for which we recognise our indebtedness to the Church.

But we are, perhaps, limited in two directions; we do not generally obtain that knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ, which should make our religion a passionate enthusiasm, nor do we obtain that broad, sane, sweetly reasonable philosophy of life—the only practicable philosophy available—which should be the possession of diligent students of the teachings of Christ. It is necessary that we should follow the gradual unfolding of the Divine Personality in the Old Testament; also, that our knowledge of Christ should not be confined to a knowledge of the three or four great incidents of the Gospels, the Incarnation, the Temptation, the Atonement, and the Resurrection. Our Lord's teaching is curiously paradoxical, and the phrase we use so glibly to establish our point is probably contradicted by another phrase of equal use to our opponent; now we may believe that this is not without intention, but points to the necessity for a detailed and diligent study of the Christian Philosophy as a whole—at least as diligent as that which students bestow upon Plato. While the Prayer Book is too precious to us as a rule of life for us to forego one jot or tittle of its teachings, its interpretations of the Bible, it is perhaps necessary that we should become serious Bible students, also, for there appears to be much which we cannot get through any other medium.

Here comes in our work as teachers; and, at once, two or three difficulties occur. In the first place, the Bible is a good deal discredited; how are we to deal with the results of the Higher Criticism? I knew a girl long ago who was terribly heartbroken because Geology seemed to confound Genesis, and because that wicked "Colenso" played havoc with Numbers! Children, boys and girls, should be saved from such shocks, they are too exhausting and distressing; but after all, are they not a consequence of our tacit insistence upon verbal inspiration,—a doctrine which we are nowhere required to receive? Allowing for the play of human intelligence under the guidance of the Divine Spirit, we shall understand how holy men of old spake as their own knowledge and education warranted, and yet spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, and so we get, mixed up with the knowledge and ideas of the times in which men wrote, an amazing unfolding of the Divine Nature, purposes and methods, to prepare man for the final revelation in Christ. Fortified by some such view of the ways of God with men, children will pursue the knowledge of God through the pages of the Old Testament and will receive all fully ascertained results of criticism without being sensible of shock.

In the Gospels we feel that we have entered upon holy ground; we may not, perhaps, present questions concerning miracles and miraculous events until we have found some way of accounting for that Unique Personality, which is still rejected of men, and has still the sole power to "draw all men unto Him."

But everyone will see for himself ways of bringing forth from his treasure things new and old, and that, without devoting more time than is already given to the subject of "Divinity."

The imminence of Eternal Life is the message that the war brings to me, together with the necessity for educating boys and girls to enter upon the new State with minds and hearts attuned if not prepared.


Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, July 2008