Don’t you love it when various ideas from different books you are reading hop off the pages and dance around together? I didn’t get as much reading done as I had hoped last week — my husband and youngest were out of town, and apparently he (my husband) is the organizing force in my life and so it all falls apart when he’s gone — but what I did read was so interesting.
As I mentioned before, I decided to tack about 10 minutes of Church reading onto my morning Bible reading so that I am able to read any of it at all. My focus is mainly ancient or historically important works of the Church. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but put off because I thought I needed more concentrated time. I made my peace with 10 minutes per day, and now it’s going swimmingly.
So I’m reading Augustine’s Earlier Writings, mainly because I already own it. I bought it years ago in order to read De Magistro as part of my research for my talk Aquinas’ Big Picture of Education: Charlotte Mason’s Great Recognition that I’ve given a number of times now. But I hadn’t read the rest of it, even though I fell in love with De Magistro, hence my determination to do so now during my 10 minutes each morning.
At the same time, as part of my research for another talk I’ll be giving, I’m reading Awakening Wonder. I didn’t really expect it to dovetail with Augustine, but that is the power of reading multiple books at a time! In Awakening Wonder, Dr. Stephen Turley spends some time discussing Pseudo-Dionysius the Aeropagite (long story short, he’s called “Pseudo” because the writer called himself after the real Dionysius the Aeropagite — he was using a pseudonym). Dionysius the Aeropagite follows in the footsteps of Plato by comparing the Good to the Sun:
Think of how it is with our sun … by the very fact of its existence it gives light to whatever is able to partake of its light, in its own way. So it is with the Good. Existing far above the sun, an archetype far superior to its dull image, it sends the rays of its undivided goodness to everything with the capacity … to receive it. These rays are responsible for all intelligible and intelligent beings, for every power and every activity. (p. 30)
Would you believe that only a day before, I had read the part where Augustine compares God to the sun? Here is part of his discussion of the analogy:
[T]he earth and light are visible, but the earth cannot be seen unless it is illumined. Anyone who knows the mathematical symbols admits that they are true without the shadow of a doubt. But he must also believe that they cannot be known unless they are illumined by something else corresponding to the sun. About this corporeal sun notice three things. It exists. It shines. It illumines. So in knowing the hidden God you must observe three things. He exists. He is known. He causes other things to be known. (p. 32)
It’s funny because I felt after I finished writing my Aquinas talk, that was supposed to be it. I was done. Talk written and delivered, and now just filed away waiting to be given again the next time. But that isn’t how it has worked out. I feel like I keep revisiting the ideas it contains — which is really what is embodied in Charlotte Mason’s 20th principle.
Dionysius the Aeropagite is speaking in a more general sense than Augustine, true. He’s speaking about general Goodness in all forms. But still, the connection between what he wrote and what Augustine wrote (and surely he had read Augustine) is fascinating.
We are a prideful people, and we so often take credit for what we know. I read this book. I attended this seminar. Look at me who knows so much.
And we do know something, it’s true.
But we forget where it comes from. Knowledge is hidden all around us — especially in books — but does that mean we always see it? Of course not! One of the reasons I can read certain books over and over is because I never fully get it — on each reading, I understand a bit more.
We forget that we need the sun — we need illumination. Dionysius said that “the rays of its undivided goodness [are sent] to everything with the capacity to receive it.” Augustine said that math isn’t understood without “something corresponding to the sun” — something to illuminate. And of course he immediately compares the sun to God, who Himself illumines.
So what’s the point?
Knowledge and understanding come from God, at least in the ultimate sense. They are one more thing in the list of what the Reformers called Common Grace — epitomized in God sending the sun to rise on both the evil and the good. This is why Charlotte Mason could look at a fresco in which pagans represented knowledge and conclude:
[E]very 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.
And why Augustine over a thousand years before her wrote:
[T]here is no teacher who teaches man knowledge except God according to what is written in the Gospel, “One is your teacher, even Christ.”
I think there are a few applications of this. The first would be humility — we realize that God is our teacher (rather than our own genius), and nothing we learn comes as any surprise to Him. The second would be gratitude — our learning is a grace from him, and our “aha” moments should be followed by “thank you, Lord.” The third is supplication — He sent the Holy Spirit to be our Helper, and it’s easy to over-spiritualize that and forget that we (and our children!) can ask for help with a grammar lesson, a math problem, a Latin translation.
So we read and we study and we come to know. Yes. But let us not forget the Sun, by whom we see in the first place.
This post is yet another Summer Diaries entry.
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