This isn’t just the last part of this portion of the book (Charlotte Mason’s Home Education: Training and Educating Children Under Nine), but it is also the last part of the book proper, period. There is an appendix, full of study questions, and you can take a look at them online if you so desire. Me? Well, this is just the first of the three works in my self-imposed summer study course, so I need to keep on keeping on if I’m going to finish and get school planned by the end of August.
Thus far, we’ve talked about the big picture of the internal life, and we’ve focused in on the will and the conscience. Today, we’ll discuss the influence of the Divine Life, and then we’ll wrap it all up.
To Whom is the Soul Loyal?
The will, as we have learned, carries out the judgments of the conscience. But the conscience, we shall see, does not exist in isolation, but is informed by the Word of God, and what Charlotte calls “the Divine Life” within the child:
Conscience, we have seen, is effective only as it is moved from within, from that innermost chamber of Mansoul, that Holy of Holies, the secrets of which are only known to the High-Priest, who “needed not that any man should tell Him, for He knew what was in man.”
The spiritual nature of the relationship between parent and child is another of those great mysteries of life. God has given parents a certain amount of influence. (Or perhaps it is better said that God has predestined these children to be influenced by their parents. There. That should satisfy any fellow Calvinists reading this post.) Just as, by virtue of being born into a believing family, the children necessarily have a relationship with the Church from the day of their births, so do they necessarily have a relationship with Him.
I do not pretend to completely understand this. But Charlotte seems to assume it, and, especially to those raised with an entirely baptistic mindset (like me), this concept can be a foreign one.
Enthroning the King, Inducting the Priest
Charlotte has taught me that parents have a huge amount of power, but a sort of power which must be rightly understood. Our power is not the type that forces. We are not gods that we might make things happen. Our power, then, lies in subtleties. It is one of influence. We cannot force, but we, more than any other people in the early years, can encourage, woo, introduce, instruct, feed, water, and nourish.
It is necessary, however, that we should gather up crumbs of fact and inference and set in order such knowledge as we have; for the keys even of this innermost chamber are placed in the hands of parents, and it is a great deal in their power to enthrone the King, to induct the Priest, that every human cries for.
What can we parents do? Like the rest of her educational plan, even here Charlotte’s philosophy treads lightly with bare feet. The steps we take are minimal, but calculated for huge impact over the course of the child’s life. You see, the life of the soul needs the same sort of encouragement from parents as the other parts of life:
As the conscience, the will, the reason, is ineffective till it be nourished with its proper food, exercised in its proper functions, so of the soul; and its chamber is dull, with cobwebbed doors and clouded windows, until it awake to its proper life; not quite empty, though, for there is the nascent soul; and the awakening into life takes place, sometimes with the sudden shock, the gracious miracle, which we call conversion; sometimes, when the parents so will, the soul of the child expands with a gentle, sweet growth and gradual unfolding as of a flower.
Christian parents cannot decide not to offer their children soul nourishment:
[I]t does not rest with the parent to choose whether he will or will not attempt to quicken and nourish this divine life in his child. To do so is his bounden duty and service.
What is this “Divine Life?”
The truth is too ineffable to be uttered in any words but those given to us. But it means this, at least, that the living soul does not abide alone in its place; that place becomes the temple of the living God.
What Must be Done?
Thankfully, Charlotte doesn’t give us an extensive list of detailed instructions in this area shrouded in mystery. Instead, she gives us principle:
But what can the parent do? Just this, and no more: he can present the idea of God to the soul of the child. Here, as throughout his universe, Almighty God works by apparently inadequate means.
She uses the parable of bees pollinating apple flowers (and by extension creating future apple trees) to explain the simplicity of what we do, and the great potential outcome at the end.
Accept the parable: the parent is little better in this matter than the witless bee; it is his part to deposit, so to speak, within reach of the soul of the child some fruitful idea of God; the immature soul makes no effort towards that idea, but the living Word reaches down, touches the soul, –– and there is life; growth and beauty, flower and fruit.
Even here, we are to trust not in our own sufficiency, but in the sufficiency of God’s Word. Or maybe it is better to say especially here.
Choose Ideas we Know
Here Charlotte says we must not bumble. There is no room for clumsiness. We must teach the children what we know, and only what we know. Well, what if we are new to the faith, and know very little? Then we must teach the one simple thing God has taught us so far. Charlotte assures us that by the time we have imparted the one thing which we know, God will have been faithful to teach us another.
Along these same lines, we mustn’t allow other people to teach the children falsehoods about God (this is another danger concerning careless nurses and governesses which Charlotte raises). They must not present our Father in heaven as the child’s judge and punisher, frowning at the child from above.
Charlotte knows how tender and receptive children are, not only to true ideas, but to damaging falsehoods as well:
[The mother] will most likely forbid any mention of the Divine Name to the children, except by their parents, explaining at the same time that she does so because she cares so much that her children should get none but right thoughts on this great matter. It is better that children should receive a few vital ideas that their souls may grow upon than a great deal of indefinite.
We offended irritated others (unintentionally) on more than one occasion in our early marriage because we wouldn’t put our children in a church nursery at churches to which we did not belong (this is apparently more common now, for we seem to raise fewer eyebrows than we once did, and of course it helps to just stay home and attend our own church). The reason we have made this decision is because we do not take lightly the instructing of our children in the ways of the Lord. We wouldn’t trust such things to those who are strangers to us.
Other “Don’ts” and “Dos” from Charlotte
Knowing God is different from knowing His morality. We mustn’t mistake moral instruction for intimate knowledge of God.
Do not bepreach the child to weariness about ‘being good’ as what he owes to God, without letting in upon him first a little of that knowledge which shall make him good.
Some ideas are more appropriate for children than others.
Christ the Joy-giver is more to him than Christ the Consoler. And there are some few ideas which are as the daily bread of the soul, without which life and growth are impossible.
On Religious Instruction
So much of this depends on tact and wisdom, which we do not have in ourselves, but can ask for from God.
[H]e must be built up in the faith, and his lessons must be regular and progressive; and here everything depends upon the tact of the mother. Spiritual teaching, like the wafted odour of flowers, should depend on which way the wind blows … It is as the mother gets wisdom liberally from above, that she will be enabled for this divine task.
Our goal, more than anything else, is to kindle love for the Father and His works. I am reminded, once again, of one of my favorite little board books: What a God We Have. This book has taught me more about commending God’s works to my children than a thousand parenting books ever could. In this book, Matthew’s Grandma models her delight in God by exclaiming “What a God we have!” at the perfect moments. This is Grandma’s response to times of wonder.
I think Charlotte would approve.
Bible reading is a major source of nourishment for the soul, and Mommy’s chattering through the reading is the equivalent of putting soy fillers in our hot dogs and lunch meat (which is often done, but really shouldn’t be). When we talk and talk to the children about the Bible, we keep them from … hearing the Bible. (This is different from answering a question.) Charlotte has great faith in the ability of the Word to work in the child’s heart.
The Word is full of vital force, capable of applying itself. A seed, light as thistledown, wafted into the child’s soul will take root downwards and bear fruit upwards. What is required of us is, that we should implant a love of the Word; that the most delightful moments of the child’s day should be those in which his mother reads for him, with sweet sympathy and holy gladness in voice and eyes, the beautiful stories of the Bible; and now and then in the reading will occur one of those convictions, passing from the soul of the mother to the soul of the child, in which is the life of the Spirit. Let the child grow, so that,
“New thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven,”
are a joy to him, too; things to be counted first amongst the blessings of a day. Above all, do not read the Bible at the child: do not let any words of the Scriptures be occasions for gibbeting his faults. It is the office of the Holy Ghost to convince of sin; and He is able to use the Word for this purpose, without risk of that hardening of the heart in which our clumsy dealings too often result.
I recently began following Charlotte’s precise instructions. We read an “episode” from Genesis most mornings. I try to read it well, in my best reading voice and with reverence, rarely interrupting myself with explanation. The children listen. They say what they need to say (my eight-year-old gives a full narration). And then we move on with our catechism and hymn singing. My son recently told me that he loves reading the Bible this way. (He made sure I knew exactly how bad the old way was in comparison.) Once again, I see that Charlotte knows what she is talking about.
The Vital Truths
If you remember the quote above, Charlotte said that there are a few ideas which are sustenance for the soul, and without which the soul will not grow. When I read this, I felt like Charlotte knew a great secret! Thankfully, she does not neglect to share it with us.
- Father and Giver: It is here that Charlotte gives us the equivalent of Matthew’s Grandma. “Our Father has given you a great birthday today, child!” Recognizing the great and small joys of life as coming directly from God is a must for spiritual growth.
Out of this thought comes prayer, the free utterance of the child’s heart, more often in thanks for the little joys of the day counted up than in desire, just yet. The words do not matter; any simple form the child can understand will do; the rising Godward of the child-heart is the true prayer. Out of this thought, too, comes duty — the glad acknowledgement of the debt of service and obedience to a Parent so gracious and benign — not One who exacts service at the sword’s point, as it were, but One whom His children run to obey.
- Loyalty to a Person: In the end, the nature of Christianity is one of loyalty. We hail Christ as our King. Not ourselves. Not a false, invented deity. When we clear away all the catechisms and memorized prayers, the children must possess this idea about the faith.
Christ, our King. Here is a thought to unseal the fountains of love and loyalty, the treasures of faith and imagination, bound up in the child. … Let us save Christianity for our children by bringing them into allegiance to Christ, the King. How? How did the old Cavaliers bring up sons and daughters, in passionate loyalty and reverence for not too worthy princes? Their own hearts were full of it; their lips spake it; their acts proclaimed it; the style of their clothes, the ring of their voices, the carriage of their heads — all was one proclamation of boundless devotion to their king and his cause. That civil war, whatever else it did, or missed doing, left a parable for Christian people. If a Stuart prince could command such measure of loyalty, what shall we say of “the Chief amongst ten thousand, the altogether lovely”?
- Jesus is our Savior: Let His salvation be a consolation to even their small failures. Let the reality of His saving work be the salve for the wounds of their day.
‘My poor little boy, you have been very naughty to-day! Could you not help it?’ ‘No, mother,’ with sobs. ‘No, I suppose not; but there is a way of help.’ And then the mother tells her child how the Lord Jesus is our Saviour, because He saves us from our sins.
It is fitting that from their earliest days, they take comfort in the fact that they belong to God, that He has set them free.
The Indwelling of Christ is a thought particularly fit for the children, because their large faith does not stumble at the mystery, their imagination leaps readily to the marvel, that the King Himself should inhabit a little child’s heart. ‘How am I to know He is come, mother?’ ‘When you are quite gentle, sweet, and happy, it is because Christ is within, —
“And when He comes, He makes your face so fair,
Your friends are glad, and say, ‘The King is there.'”
Thank You, Charlotte
What can I say? Miss Mason’s work is truly a masterpiece. In a world where so many of us stumble around, she offers a clear vision for a proper, wholesome, nourishing, sound, challenging, Christian upbringing. (I have heard of nonbelievers attempting an atheistic version of Mason-style education, and I am sure it is better than what is generally accepted as educational, but to remove Christ from Charlotte Mason’s philosophy is to remove all of its foundation and its reason for being. Charlotte’s approach is distinctively Christian.)
In the course of the next week or two, I hope to finish up Norms and Nobility. I noticed that Cindy has finished, but I haven’t read her posts because I like to write mine before I read hers (so that it is only after I have written that I find out what I should have said).
Once I’ve completed that, I hope to fly through School Education before doing my school planning. If it is even half as brilliant as this first volume, I will consider the time spent pondering it to be time well spent.
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