The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Great Recognition

by Charlotte Mason.
Volume 7, 1896, pgs. 52-59

[This was published as chapter 25 in Charlotte Mason's Volume 2, Parents and Children.]

Mr. [John] Ruskin has done a great service to modern thought in interpreting for us the harmonious and ennobling scheme of education and philosophy recorded upon one quarter of what he calls the "Vaulted Book," i.e., the Spanish Chapel attached to the Church of Sta. Maria Novella, in Florence.

Many of our readers have probably studied under Mr. Ruskin's guidance the illuminating teaching of the frescoes which cover roof and walls; but all will like to be reminded of the lessons they have pondered with reverence and wonder.

    "The descent of the Holy Ghost is on the left hand (of the roof) as you enter. [View it here.] The Madonna and Disciples are gathered in the upper chamber: underneath are the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, etc., who hear them speak in their own tongues. Three dogs are in the foreground--their mythic purpose, to mark the share of the lower animals in the gentleness given by the outpouring of the Spirit of Christ . . . On this and the opposite side of the Chapel are represented by Simon Memmi's hand, the teaching power of the Spirit of God and the saving power of the Christ of God in the world, according to the understanding of Florence in his time.

    We will take the side of intellect first. Beneath the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit in the point of the arch beneath are the three Evangelical Virtues. Without these, says Florence, you can have no science. Without Love, Faith and Hope--no intelligence. Under these are the four Cardinal Virtues . . . Temperance, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude. Under these are the great Prophets and Apostles . . . Under the line of Prophets, as powers summoned by their voices are the mythic figures of the seven theological or spiritual and the seven geological or natural sciences; and under the feet of each of them the figure of its Captain-teacher to the world."

We hope our readers will continue to study Mr. Ruskin's exposition of the "Vaulted Book" in Mornings in Florence: it is wonderfully full of teaching and suggestion. Our immediate concern is with the seven mythic figures representing the natural sciences, and with the figure of the Captain-teacher of each. First we have Grammar, a gracious figure teaching three Florentine children; and, beneath Priscian. Next, Rhetoric, strong, calm, and cool; and below, the figure of Cicero with a quite beautiful face. Next, Logic, with perfect pose of figure and lovely face; and beneath her, Aristotle--intense keenness of search in his half closed eyes. Next, Music, with head inclined in intent listening to the sweet and solemn strains she is producing from her antique instrument; and underneath, Tubal Cain, not Jubal, as the inventor of harmony--perhaps the most marvellous record that Art has produced of the impact of a great idea upon the soul of a man but semi-civilised. Astronomy succeeds, with majestic brow and upraised hand, and below her, Zoroaster, exceedingly beautiful--"the delicate Persian head made softer still be the elaborately wreathed silken hair." Next, Geometry, looking down, considering some practical problem, with her carpenter's square in her hand, and below her, Euclid. And lastly, Arithmetic, holding two fingers up in the act of calculating, and under her, Pythagoras wrapped in the science of number.

    "The thoughts of God are broader than the measures of man's mind."
    [From the hymn, "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy" by Frederick William Faber, 1814-1863.]

But here we have the wealth of minds so wide in the sweep of their intelligence, so profound in their insight, that we are almost startled with the perception that here we have indeed a true measure of the thoughts of God. Let us glance for a moment at our nineteenth century conception of education. In the first place, we divide education into religious and secular. The more devout among us insist upon religious education as well as secular. Many of us are content to do without religious education altogether, and content ourselves with what we not only call secular but make secular, in the sense in which we understand the word, i.e., entirely limited to the uses of this visible world. Many Christian people rise a little higher; they conceive that even grammar and arithmetic may in some, not very clear, way be used for God; but the Great Recognition, that God the Holy Spirit is himself, personally, the Imparter of knowledge, the Instructor of youth, the Inspirer of genius, is a conception so far lost to us that we should think it distinctly irreverent to conceive of the divine teaching as co-operating with ours in a child's arithmetic lesson, for example. But the Florentine mind of the middle ages went further than this: it believed not only that the seven Liberal Arts were fully under the direct out-pouring of the Holy Ghost, but that every fruitful idea, every original conception, whether in Euclid, or grammar, or music, was a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit, without any thought at all as to whether the person so inspired named himself by the name of God, or recognised whence his inspiration came. All of these seven figures are those of persons whom we should roughly class as Pagans, and whom we might be lightly inclined to consider outside the pale of the divine inspiration. It is truly difficult to grasp the amazing boldness of this scheme of the education of the world, which Florence accepted in simple faith.

But we must not accept even an inspiring idea blindly. Were these people of the middle ages right in this plan and conception of theirs? Plato had some such thought in his contention that knowledge and virtue are fundamentally identical, and that if virtue be divine in its origin, so must knowledge be also. Ancient Egypt, too, was not in the dark in this matter. "Pharoah said unto his servants, can we find such a one as this, a man in whom the Spirit of God is." Practical discernment and knowledge of every-day matters, and of how to deal with emergencies, were not held by this king of Egypt to be teachings unworthy of the Spirit of God. "The Spirit of God came upon him and he prophesied among them," we are told of Saul, and we may believe that this is the history of every great invention and every great discovery of the secrets of nature. "Then David gave to Solomon his son . . . the pattern of all that he had by the spirit, of the courts of the house of the Lord." We have here a suggestion of the source of every conception of beauty to be expressed in forms of art. But it is not only with high themes of science and art that the divine Spirit concerns himself. It sometime occurs to one to wonder who invented, in the first place, the way of using the most elemental necessaries of life. Who first discovered the means of producing fire, of joining wood, of smelting ores, of sowing seed, of grinding corn? We cannot think of ourselves as living without knowing these things; and yet each one must have been a great idea when it first made a stir in the mind of the man who conceived it. Where did he get his first idea? Happily, we are told, in a case so typical that it is a key to all the rest.

    "Doth the plowman all day to sow? Doth he open and break the clods of his ground? When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rie in their place? For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him. For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod. Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen. This also cometh forth from the Lord of Hosts, which is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working."--Is. xxviii. 24, etc.

In the things of science, in the things of art, in the things of practical every-day life, his God doth instruct him and doth teach him, her God doth instruct her and doth teach her. Let this be the mother's key to the whole of the education of each boy and each girl; not of her children; the divine Spirit does not work with nouns of multitude, but with each single child. Because He is infinite, the whole world is not too great a school for this Indefatigable Teacher, and because He is infinite, He is able to give the whole of this infinite attention for the whole time to each one of His multitudinous pupils. We do not sufficiently rejoice in the wealth that the infinite nature of our God brings to each of us. And what subjects are under the direction of this Divine Teacher? The child's faith and hope and charity--that we already knew; his temperance, justice, prudence, and fortitude--that we might have guessed; his grammar, rhetoric, logic, music, astronomy, geometry, arithmetic--this we might have forgotten, if these Florentine teachers had not reminded us; his practical skill in the use of tools and instruments, from a knife and fork to a microscope, and in the sensible management of all the affairs of life--these also come from the Lord, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working. His God doth instruct him and doth teach him. Let the mother wrap the thought as an illuminated scroll round her new-born child, and let her never contemplate any kind of instruction for her child, except under the sense of the divine co-operation. But we must remember that here as everywhere the infinite and almighty Spirit of God works under limitations. Our co-operation appears to be the quite indispensable condition of all the divine workings. We recognise this in what we call spiritual things, meaning the things that have to do more especially with our approaches to God, but the new thing to us is, that grammar, for example, may be taught in such a way as to invite and obtain the co-operation of the Divine Teacher, or in such a way as to exclude His illuminating presence from the schoolroom. We do not mean that spiritual virtues may be exhibited by the teacher and encouraged in the child in the course of a grammar lesson; this is no doubt true, and is a point to be remembered; but perhaps the immediate point is that the teaching of grammar by its guiding ideas and simple principles, the true, direct, and humble teaching of grammar, without pedantry and without verbiage, is, we may venture to believe, accompanied by the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, of whom is all knowledge. The contrary is equally true. Such teaching as enwraps a child's mind in folds of many words, which his thought is unable to penetrate, which gives him rules, and definitions, and tables in lieu of ideas--this is teaching which excludes and renders impossible the divine co-operation.

This great recognition resolves that discord in our lives of which most of us are, more or less, aware. The things of sense we are willing to subordinate to the things of spirit; at any rate, we are willing to endeavour ourselves in this direction. We mourn over our failures and try again, and recognise that here lies the Armageddon for every soul of man. But there is a debateable land. Is it not a fact that the spiritual life is exigeant, demands our sole interest and concentrated energies? But the claims of intellect, mind, of the æsthetic sense, taste, press upon us urgently. We must think, we must know, we must rejoice in and create the beautiful. And if all the burning thoughts that stir in the minds of men, all the beautiful conceptions they give birth to, are things apart from God, then we, too, must have a separate life, a life apart from God, a division of ourselves into secular and religious--discord and unrest. We believe that this is the fertile source of the unfaith of the day, especially in young and ardent minds. The claims of intellect are urgent; the intellectual life is a necessity not to be foregone at any hazard. It is impossible for these to recognise in themselves a dual nature; a dual spirituality, so to speak; so, if there are claims which definitely oppose themselves to the claims of intellect, these other claims must go to the wall, and the young man or woman, full of promise and power, becomes a free-thinker, an agnostic, what you will. But once the intimate relation, the relation of Teacher and taught in all things of the mind and spirit, be fully recognised, our feet are set in a large room; there is space for free development in all directions; and this free and joyous development, whether of intellect or heart, is recognised as a Godward movement. Various activities with unity of aim bring harmony and peace into our lives; more, this perception of the intimate dealings of the divine Spirit with our spirit in the things of the intellect, as well as in those of the moral nature, makes us as keenly alive in the one case as in the other to the insidious promptings of the spirit of evil; we become aware of the possibility of intellectual sin as of moral sin; we see that in the region of pure reason, also, it behoves us to see that we enter not into temptation. We rejoice in the expansion of intellect and the expansion of heart, and the ease and freedom of him who is always in touch with the inspiring Teacher, with Whom are infinite stores of learning, wisdom, and virtue, graciously placed at our disposal.

Such a recognition of the work of the Holy Spirit as the educator of mankind in things intellectual, as well as in things moral and spiritual, gives us "new thoughts of God, new hopes of Heaven," a sense of harmony in our efforts and of acceptance of all that we are. What stands between us and the realisation of this more blessed life? This: that we do not realise ourselves as spiritual beings invested with bodies, living, emotional, a snare to us and a joy to us, but which are, after all, the mere organs and interpreters of our spiritual intention. Once we see that we are dealing spirit with spirit with the friend at whose side we are sitting, with the people who attend to our needs, we shall be able to realise how incessant is the commerce between the divine Spirit and our human spirit. It will be to us as when one stops one's talk and one's thoughts in the spring time, to find the world full of bird-music unheard the instant before. In like manner, we shall learn to make pause in our thoughts, and shall hear in our intellectual perplexities, as well as in our moral, the clear, sweet, cheering and inspiring tones of our spiritual Guide. We are not speaking here of what is commonly called the religious life, or of our definite approaches to God in prayer and praise; these things all Christian people comprehend more or less fully; we are speaking only of the intellectual life, the development of which, in children, is the aim of our subjects and methods of instruction.

Supposing we are willing to make this great recognition, to engage ourselves to accept and invite the daily, hourly, incessant co-operation of the divine Spirit, in, to put it definitely and plainly, the school room of work of our children, how must we shape our own conduct to make this co-operation active, or even possible? We are told that the Spirit is life; therefore, that which is dead, dry as dust, mere bare bones, can have no affinity with Him, can do no other than smother and deaden His vitalising influences. A first condition of this vitalising teaching is that all the thought we offer to our children shall be living thought, no mere dry summaries of facts will do; given the vitalising idea, children will readily hang the mere facts upon the idea as upon a peg capable of sustaining all that it is needful to retain. We begin by believing in the children as spiritual beings of unmeasured powers, intellectual, moral, spiritual, capable of receiving and constantly enjoying intuitions from, the intimate converse of, the divine Spirit. With this thought of a child to begin with, we shall perceive that whatever is stale and flat and dull to us, must needs be stale and flat and dull to him, and also that there is no subject which has not a fresh and living way of approach. Are we teaching geography? The child discovers with the explorer, journeys with the traveller, receives impressions new and vivid from some other mind which is immediately receiving these impressions; not after they have been made stale and dull by a process of filtering through many intermediate minds, and at last find their way into a text-book. Is he learning history? his concern is not with strings of names and of dates, nor with nice little reading-made easy stories, brought down, as we mistakenly say, to the level of his comprehension; we recognise that his comprehension is at least equal to our own, and that it is only his ignorance of the attendant circumstances we have to deal with as luminously as we can. We recognise that history for him is to live in the lives of those strong personalities which at any given time impress themselves most upon their age and country. This is not the sort of thing to be got out of nice little history books for children, whether "Little Arthur's," or somebody's "Outlines." We take the child to the living sources of history--a child of seven is fully able to comprehend Plutarch, in Plutarch's own words (translated), without any diluting and with little explanation. Give him living thought in this kind, and you make possible the co-operation of the living Teacher. The child's progress is by leaps and bounds, and you wonder why. In teaching music, again, let him once perceive the beautiful laws of harmony, the personality, so to speak, of Music, looking out upon him from among the queer little black notes, and the piano lesson has ceased to be drudgery.

It is unnecessary to go further into details; every subject has its living way, with what Coleridge calls "its guiding idea" at the head, and it is only as we discover this living way in each case that a subject of instruction makes for the education of a child. No neat system is of any use, it is the very nature of a system to grow stale in the using; every subject, every division of a subject, every lesson, in fact, must be brought up for examination before it is offered to the child as to whether it is living, vital, of a nature to invite the living Intellect of the universe. One more thing is of vital importance; children must have books, living books; the best are not too good for them; anything less than the best is not good enough; and if it is needful to exercise economy, let go everything that belongs to soft and luxurious living before letting go the duty of supplying the books, and the frequent changes of books, which are necessary for the constant stimulation of the child's intellectual life. We need not say one word about the necessity for living thought in the teacher, it is only so far as he is intellectually alive that he can be effective in the wonderful process which we glibly call "education." *


* The Editor has received a communication which seems to make it desirable to remark that the Parents' National Educational Union does not commit itself to any opinions on the subject of evolutions, or, indeed, of any scientific question. Opinions advanced by any author (the Editor, or others), carry only the weight of the individual writer.

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