Despite the fact that we live annus domini, “in the year(s) of our Lord”, those of us who call ourselves Christians continue to label ourselves and the world as “fallen”, viewing ourselves and the world with a suspicious and wary eye, lamenting and apologizing for our ever-prevalent sinful natures, and strategizing ways in which it can be tamped down, manipulated, rebuked, politically consensus-ed or will-powered away. How can this be?
I think of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, in which one reads the phrase “the thaw has begun”. I think of Jesus’ parable of the leaven in the loaf, the treasure in the field, the wine in the wineskins. I think of a song from our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium: “The Kingdom of God is neither yea here, nor yea there. The Kingdom is among us!” The signs are everywhere! Can’t you hear the “drip, drip, drip” of the Sunshine melting the ice? Yet we continue to identify so much more with the Fall of Man rather than with the Redemption of Man. We’re keen on ferreting out the imputed sin of Adam, but reluctant to embrace the imputed righteousness of Christ, the new Adam.
The question asked at our last conference — “Do constructivists believe in God?” — reveals the assumption, commonly held by Christians, that ideas that emerge from the “secular” realm are automatically suspect, especially when they challenge existing paradigms our faith communities hold as sacred. In the case of constructivist thought, we too quickly assume that the realization that humans have limited and necessarily skewed access to reality must question, at its logical end, the existence of an objective reality. While this may be the unfortunate conclusion of some constructivists, we impoverish ourselves by not standing beside them, seeing what they see, and adjusting our own existing ontological and epistemological doctrines to account for what a fellow image-bearer has happened upon.
Knowledge is visited upon those who bend their knees and bow their heads to Him and to those who don’t. It’s the nature of grace, and the nature of living in this “now-but-not-yet” time of the tares growing up with the wheat. Do we believe that there will be a harvest? Do we believe that, in spite of the presence of tares, the wheat is flourishing as well? I choose to, and I think that Charlotte would agree.
Consider this from Parents and Children:
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 are satisfied 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.
The Great Recognition––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 outpouring 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 as 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.
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? Yet 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; and, if there are claims which definitely oppose themselves to the claims of intellect, those 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 (emphases mine; Mason, 1904).
Few Christians would eschew the discoveries of 21st century medicine or modern marketing, not because we acknowledge that all knowledge—that of both secular and sacred truths—come from the Holy Spirit, as we learn from the fresco in the Spanish Chapel in Florence, Italy via Charlotte Mason and John Ruskin. We do this because our highest ideals are utilitarian, not moral. We live the “separate life, the life apart from God, a division of ourselves into secular and religious.”
We’re quick to embrace discoveries about the physical world—the visible world as the definition of ‘secular’ tells us—yet we shrink back when it comes to less empirical, more abstract categories such as epistemology and ontology– the study of what constitutes knowledge, and how it is that things exist. But “the Thaw” is all-pervasive. “Drip, drip, drip …” Do you hear it?
We are the body of Christ now, here on earth, to care for, to heal, to speak the truth, to bear each others’ burdens, and to continue to cultivate and develop what was interrupted by The Fall. I adjure you, fellow Christians and CM devotees, to look for the wheat amongst the tares, to trust that good and redemption are the rule of the day now that Christ has come and we are in annus domini—the years of our Lord—living by faith in our efforts to steward the earth and fellowship with the Father.