Locke’s advice on teaching

The great skill of a teacher is to get and keep the attention of his scholar: whilst he has that, he is sure to advance as fast the learner’s abilities will carry him; and without that, all his bustle and pother will be to little or no purpose. To attain this, he should make the children comprehend, (as much as may be,) the usefulness of what he teaches him; and let him see, by what he has learned, that he can do something which he could not do before; something which gives him some power and real advantage above others, who are ignorant of it. To this he should add sweetness in all his instructions; and by a certain tenderness in his whole carriage, make the child sensible that he loves him, and designs nothing but his good; the only way to beget love in the child, which will make him hearken to his lessons, and relish what he teaches him.

John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, 161

Book Review: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

This, my friends, is a real romance novel. By that I mean this is a real novel, which means a story told in prose, about a real romance, which means the courtship and development of love between a man and a woman. While the world and writing of Jane Austen will undoubtedly seem antiquated and foreign to a generation of readers who believe that a novel is a string of monosyllabic words strung together in with semi-coherency and that romance is the literary equivalent of pornography, Austen has a great deal to teach readers — and would-be lovers — today.

There are undoubtedly aspects of Victorian social mores which deserve some criticism. The customs which governed the relations of the sexes, however, are not among them. Instead, what we see are a set of rules that reinforced the mutual respect of men for women and women for men. The result was a harmony of the sexes. It is only when the proper decorum is violated — when the woman behaves with unreasonable flirtatiousness, when the man refuses to take responsibility, and when the family is treated with disdain — that the results are unhappiness and disorder. The marriage of Mr. Collins with Lydia is, of course, the case in point. When women behave with decency and men are responsible and respectful, however, the effect is the obverse: a truly happy and fulfilling marriage.

All of this is not to say that Austen does not engage in a critique of contemporary customs. In her presentation of Lady Catherine as an overbearing busybody, she presents to us the rust that had grown up on certain traditional institutions. But Austen would not have us throw away the baby with the bathwater, as can be seen by the benevolent patriarchy of Elizabeth’s father, and his representation as a reasonable and goodhearted head of his family.

While I believe that anyone who enjoys a good story with enjoy this book a great deal, I recommend this book in particular for young teenagers. Young ladies and young gentleman today would benefit a great deal from imbibing the lessons that Austen has to offer us. They would also, of course, have the privilege of reading one of the greatest novels ever written in the English language.

Man is close to God

Man knows a trace of the love that moves God, or that is God’s movement within himself: as he moves not from need, but from superabundance, from generosity, one might even say from playfulness. Man will cherish animals from which he derives nothing of use; he will potter about a flower garden for delight in the flowers; his heart will soar at the strains of music; he cheers at the sight of a big and boisterous family. Unlike every other creature on earth, man needs what he does not need, and loves where he does not lack — and he feels that he loves more fully from his plenty and strength, from his fascination with life, and from his will-to-beauty, than from his sense of incompleteness and insufficiency. In those high-hearted moments, man is close to God.

Anthony Esolen, Ironies of Faith, pp. 305-6

New to the world

I do not deny the rapes, murders, and slaughters that can be laid to the charge of people professing to be Christians. But the world has always known rapes, murders, and slaughters. The Holocaust, the Cultural Revolution, the starving of the Ukraine, the genocidal wars of the Turks in Armenia — these evils are not new. But a Father Damien of Molokai, a Belgian priest who connives for the opportunity to minister among lepers in Hawaii, in a place so ridden with disease and crime and the immorality of the hopeless that no sensible person would want to go near; a David Livingstone, making his way to the heart of the Congo, alone, to bring the natives the word of God; a Mother Teresa, loving and tending the destitute of Calcutta, even the pariahs whom a good Hindu of higher caste was forbidden to touch — these are new to the world.

Anthony Esolen, Ironies of Faith, p. 253

Christianity’s ethical transformation of antiquity

Christianity bequeathed to its members a pervasive sense of a personal God’s direct interest in human affairs and vital concern for every human soul, no matter what level of intelligence or culture was brought to the spiritual enterprise, and without regard to physical strength or beauty or social status. In contrast to the Hellenic focus on great heroes and rare philosophers, Christianity universalized salvation, asserting its availability to slaves as well as kings, to simple souls as well as profound thinkers, to the ugly as well as the beautiful, to the sick and suffering as well as the strong and fortunate, even tending to reverse the former hierarchies. In Christ, all divisions of humanity were overcome — barbarian and Greek, Jew and Gentile, master and slave, male and female — all were now as one. The ultimate wisdom and heroism of Christ made redemption possible for all, not just the few: Christ was the Sun, who shone alike on all mankind. Christianity therefore placed high value on each individual soul as one of God’s children, but in this new context the Greek ideal of the self-determining individual and the heroic genius was diminished in favor of a collective Christian identity. This elevation of the communal self, the human reflection of the Kingdom of Heaven, founded on the shared love of God and faith in Christ’s redemption, encouraged an altruistic sublimation, and at times subjugation, of the individual self in favor of a greater allegiance to the good of others and the will of God. Yet on the other hand, by granting immortality and value to the individual soul, Christianity encouraged the growth of the individual conscience, self-responsibility, and personal autonomy relative to temporal powers — all decisive traits for the formation of the Western character.

In its moral teachings, Christianity brought to the pagan world a new sense of the sanctity of all human life, the spiritual value of the family, the spiritual superiority of self-denial over egoistic fulfillment, of unworldly holiness over worldly ambition, of gentleness and forgiveness over violence and retribution; a condemnation of murder, suicide, the killing of infants, the massacre of prisoners, the degradation of slaves, sexual licentiousness and prostitution, bloody circus spectacles — all in the new awareness of God’s love for humanity, and the moral purity that love required in the human soul. Christian love, whether divine or human, was not so much the realm of Aphrodite, nor even primarily the Eros of the philosophers, but was the love, epitomized in Christ, that expressed itself through sacrifice, suffering, and universal compassion. This Christian ethical ideal of goodness and charity was strongly promulgated and at times widely observed, an ideal certainly not lacking in the moral imperatives of Greek philosophy — particularly in Stoicism, which in several ways anticipated Christian ethics — but now having a more pervasive influence on the mass culture in the Christian era than had Greek philosophical ethics in the classical world.

Robert Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind, pp. 116-7