Tuesday, September 13, 2016

From the archives: Charlotte Mason, salvation, and service

First posted December 2014

In a post of January 2013, on Philosophy of Education (Volume 6), chapter 3, I wrote this: "[Charlotte Mason] believed that Christian thought had previously over-emphasized the issue of personal salvation, to the neglect of concern for 'the community, the nation, the race.'"

In Ourselves Book II (Volume 4), Chapter XI "Freewill," she sends that message home loudly and clearly. She has been talking about the need for mature adults (not young children who are still developing "the way of the will") to doeverything deliberately, even if everything just means choosing which habits you acquire. 

She scolds not only those who swallow current "intellectual and moral fallacies," but those who settle for "commonplace respectability which never errs, because every act conforms to the standard of general custom; not by choice of will, but in lazy imitation." 

No risk, no pain, but no gain, and even more, no real giving or serving, no object outside of themselves. Aha. She admits that those entrenched in commonplace respectability are "excellent citizens," but sees that they mostly follow the rules, embrace that conventionality, for their own good.
And for her that wasn't good enough. "Life, circumscribed by self, its interests and advantages, falls under the condemnation,––'He that saveth his life shall lose it.'"
"And this reverence must be paid even to those sinners whose souls seem to be dead, because it is Christ, who is that life of the soul, who is dead in them: they are his tombs, and Christ in the tomb is potentially the risen Christ. For the same reason, no one of use who has fallen into mortal sin himself must ever lose hope..." -- Caryll Houselander, A Rocking Horse Catholic (quoted in Elizabeth Goudge, A Book of Comfort)
"Therefore, Christ ate with publicans and sinners, and pronounced woes against the respectable classes because the sinners might still have a Will which might rise, however weakly, at the impact of a great thought, at the call to a life outside of themselves." -- Charlotte Mason, Ourselves
So much for the sinners: what of the respectable, impeccable ones she was talking about before? She uses the word "unconscious," referring to quick and unthinking decision making vs. using the Will, but "unconscious" can also refer to that state of lifelessness that she saw in those who did not consider themselves sinful. In outright sinfulness, there was at least the potential for repentance; complacency seemed more difficult to fight against.

But this is where is gets deeply theological, and those who have ever questioned Charlotte Mason's commitment to Christianity must have missed this passage. I'm paraphrasing here for the sake of length: if you have to serve somebody, God or man, you might possibly end up serving God somewhat without using the Will IF your personal goal is to help other people. That's possible.  BUT you cannot just "drift into the service of God" (her phrase) if your main interest is yourself, EVEN if that main interest is your own salvation. No two ways about it."Will must have an object outside of itself, whether for good or ill; and, therefore, perhaps there is more hope for some sinners than for certain respectable persons." 

In her theology, salvation was important (vital); but the aim of the Christian life was to serve God.

She concludes by saying that you cannot catch hold of the Will and analyze it, define it, count all its parts; like a leprechaun in a field, trying to trap it will elude you. Is it then something that you have to allow to sneak up on you, perhaps like grace that can catch you unaware? Without getting into Calvinist/Arminian Lutheran/Baptist arguments, yes, you are caught by grace, but that grace, she says, may come in the form of an idea or a call that your Will responds to, "however weakly." So there is an act of choosing, of answering and following, and that choice brings you to life "outside of yourself."

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