Ever since I first spoke about Charlotte Mason’s The Saviour of the World at the 2013 CMI national conference, I have been trying to better understand Mason’s program for New Testament studies. In Towards A Philosophy of Education, she provides a brief overview:
The higher forms in the P.U.S. read The Saviour of the World volume by volume together with the text arranged in chronological order. The lower forms read in turns each of the Synoptic Gospels; Form IV adds the Gospel of St. John and The Acts, assisted by the capital Commentaries on the several Gospels by Bishop Walsham How, published by the S.P.C.K. The study of the Epistles and the Book of Revelation is confined for the most part to Forms V and VI. (p. 169)
This tantalizing summary asks as many questions as it answers. How were the Gospel of John and the Acts of the Apostles studied? How do these books relate to The Saviour of the World? How did the students actually interact with these books?
In order to obtain a more complete picture of Mason’s model for New Testament studies in the higher forms (Forms III through VI), I have analyzed all of the assigned New Testament readings in the PNEU programmes from 1921 to 1933. I have also examined certain Parents’ Review articles that shed more light on how Bible Lessons were conducted. This article is the first in a two-part series in which I share my findings. This article answers the question of when. The second article will answer the question of how.
At the outset, it is important to note the difference between Bible lessons and private daily Bible reading. All the programmes begin with a section entitled “Bible Lessons.” This section typically opens with the following instruction: “In all cases the Bible text must be read and narrated first.” Bible Lessons are the formal portion of the student’s education designed to lead him or her to the knowledge of God:
Now our objective in this most important part of education is to give the children the knowledge of God. We need not go into the question of intuitive knowledge, but the expressed knowledge attainable by us has its source in the Bible, and perhaps we cannot do a greater indignity to children than to substitute our own or some other benevolent person’s rendering for the fine English, poetic diction and lucid statement of the Bible. (Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 160)
In addition to these formal Bible lessons with the parent or teacher, young people are expected to spend time alone with the Word with God. The PNEU programmes explicitly call for students in Forms III to VI to follow a lectionary for “private daily Bible reading.” The lectionary that appears the most often in the programmes is the Lectiones by Spottiswoode. This lectionary is described as follows:
Therefore short passages called Lectiones have been selected by a committee composed mostly of schoolmasters; just ten or twelve verses are grouped round the festivals of the church; and are so selected that a boy does not say simply, “that’s over,” and get into bed, but he really thinks, “now that has meant something, there is a definite thought running through that, something that applies to my life and can be used in my life.” (PR18, p. 456)
So whereas Bible lessons are intended to help the student grow in the knowledge of God, these lessons do not take the place of the student’s personal relationship with God.
The Bible lessons for Forms III-VI cover both the Old Testament and the New Testament. However, the programmes make it clear that students are always to follow two separate tracks of New Testament studies concurrently. The first track is based on The Saviour of the World, and the second track is based on a reading plan to complete a book-by-book study of most of the New Testament. Based on what I have seen in the programmes, I would propose the following prototypical plan for a student to study the New Testament through the upper forms:
The Saviour of the World
|III-IV||1||1||Volume 1, pp. 1-52||John 1-7|
|2||Volume 1, pp. 55-104||John 8-14|
|3||Volume 1, pp. 107-159||John 15-21|
|2||1||Volume 2, pp. 1-54||Acts 1-4|
|2||Volume 2, pp. 57-122||Acts 5-9|
|3||Volume 2, pp. 123-174||Acts 10-13|
|3||1||Volume 3, pp. 1-65||Acts 14-17|
|2||Volume 3, pp. 66-126||Acts 18-22|
|3||Volume 3, pp. 129-187||Acts 23-28|
|V-VI||4||1||Volume 4, pp. 1-65||Romans 1-8|
|2||Volume 4, pp. 66-133||Romans 9-16|
|3||Volume 4, pp. 134-193||Galatians|
|5||1||Volume 5, pp. 1-63||Ephesians|
|2||Volume 5, pp. 67-128||Philippians|
|3||Volume 5, pp. 129-192||Colossians|
|6||1||Volume 6, pp. 1-55||James|
|2||Volume 6, pp. 59-124||Hebrews|
|3||Volume 6, pp. 125-185||1-3 John, Jude|
In a multi-age setting, Forms III-VI could all study of The Saviour of the World together. Forms III and IV would be combined for “Track 2,” and Forms V-VI would be combined for their “Track 2.” Thus, for example, a homeschool with students of ages 12, 14, 16, and 18 might coordinate through a year as follows:
|Term||The Saviour of the World with all four students together||Track 2 with the students of ages 12 and 14||Track 2 with the students of ages 16 and 18|
|1||Volume 5, pp. 1-63||Acts 1-4||Ephesians|
|2||Volume 5, pp. 67-128||Acts 5-9||Philippians|
|3||Volume 5, pp. 129-192||Acts 10-13||Colossians|
The programmes for Forms III-VI always follow the same schedule for The Saviour of the World. So it is clear that Mason did not believe that every student must start with volume 1. Instead, each student simply joins the rotation wherever it happens to be when he or she enters Form III. Of course, families homeschooling independently can simply start with volume 1 when their oldest student reaches Form III. But then the family would follow a single rotation as each subsequent child reaches Form III.
The last point to note is that “Track 2” always involved the use of a commentary. The programmes typically recommended the following commentaries:
|John||Commentary on the Four Gospels, by William Walsham How|
|Acts||The Acts of the Apostles, by Ellen Mary Knox|
|Epistles||One Volume Bible Commentary, by John Roberts Dummelow|
As I have taken a bird’s-eye view of the programmes, I have been struck by the elegance, simplicity, and logic of the structure:
Rather than rushing through any portion of the Bible, the programmes enable the child to linger with each New Testament book long enough to establish vital relationships with its characters and content.
Instead of jumping around, the programmes allow the child to read each individual New Testament book from beginning to end. Mason describes the satisfaction this brings to the child:
How delightful it would be that each birthday should bring with it a gift of a new book of the Bible, progressing in difficulty from year to year, beautifully bound and illustrated, and printed in clear, inviting type and on good paper. One can imagine the Christian child collecting his library of sacred books with great joy and interest, and making a diligent and delighted study of the volume for the year in its appointed time. (Parents and Children, pp. 111-112)
Through his or her educational career, the child begins with the narrative books of the New Testament before moving on to the epistles. When reading the narrative books, the child begins with the more concreate (the Synoptic Gospels) before moving on to the more abstract (the Gospel of John) and the Acts of the Apostles.
Never at any form or age are the children overwhelmed with too much material at any given time.
Without compromising any of the above gains, the programmes also afford the child the unique experience of journeying through the Gospel story in a chronological manner. In this way, the child is able to experience what Mason advises in Towards A Philosophy of Education:
Let us observe, notebook in hand, the orderly and progressive sequence, the penetrating quality, the irresistible appeal, the unique content of the Divine teaching; (for this purpose it might be well to use some one of the approximately chronological arrangements of the Gospel History in the words of the text). Let us read, not for our profiting, though that will come, but for love of that knowledge which is better than thousands of gold and silver. By and by we perceive that this knowledge is the chief thing in life; the meaning of Christ’s saying, “Behold, I make all things new,” dawns upon us; we get new ideas as to the relative worth of things; new vigour, new joy, new hope are ours. (pp. 337-338)
As parents, our desire for our children is that the grow in their love and reverence for the sacred text. And even more so, that they grow in their love and reverence for the Savior of whom the text testifies. The beauty of the programmes is that they lay out a simple and elegant way for us to facilitate that most important relationship of all.
Now that we have answered the question of when, the second article in the series will answer the question of how.