New Testament Studies in the Higher Forms

New Testament Studies in the Higher Forms

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:

Forms Year Term Track 1
The Saviour of the World
Track 2
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 they 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.

18 Replies to “New Testament Studies in the Higher Forms”

    1. Yes it would! The sequence, pace, approach, and structure of this multi-year study would have a profound impact on mature adults as much as it would on young adults. In fact, in 1923 E.A. Parish wrote regarding these lessons that “sometimes the teacher asks questions or points out some new aspect but more often she learns a great deal from the children”!

  1. Thank you for all the work that goes into what is shared on this site!

    A search on Amazon brings up Volumes 1-3 of Saviour of the World published by CreateSpace…. as I understand it, anyone can publish public domain books through CreateSpace—so my question about these three volumes is— are they trustworthy/non-pirated from the work of someone such as yourself and taken by another to be published? Do you know? I don’t see any links to printed books from this site hence my hesitation to support someone by purchasing those volumes through Amazon without clarifying. Thank you for any insight!

    (If those are legit, do you know of any plans to publish the remaining volumes?)

    Thank you again for this wonderful website and all that is freely shared with others!

    1. Dear Kim,

      Thank you for raising this important question. I am aware of three sources from which one may obtain Charlotte Mason’s The Saviour of the World today.

      1. Here on Charlotte Mason Poetry we offer free access to all six volumes in three different digital formats: transcribed PDF, facsimile PDF, and transcribed for Logos Bible Software. These transcriptions were done over many years by a large and diverse community and they are shared here with no restriction. I would be happy if someone would publish it.

      2. Deborah Hough of Simple Pleasures Press performed her own independent transcription of volumes 1-3. These are available as paperback from amazon.com with the publisher listed as CreateSpace. I have spot-checked some of the transcriptions and they seems accurate to me.

      3. Routledge Revivals has published new but pricey facsimile editions of volumes 1, 3, 4, and 5 in both hardcover and softcover. These are very nice little volumes if you can afford them.

      Sadly, there is no way to get volume 6 in print today, except by printing the PDF’s from Charlotte Mason Poetry.

      Thank you for the kind words about this site, and please keep coming back!

      Blessings,
      Art

  2. Thank you SO much for this amazing scholarship. So helpful to have this all mapped out for us. Would these students also have been reading the Old Testament during these years?

  3. Thank you for your continued dedication. It is always a delight to read and bring into my life and my family’s days (within all of our atmospheres, habits & life) the joyous knowledge unfolded within each posting. This article is no exception. I have been enjoying reading “The Savior of the World”, however, found it too difficult read the biblical passage in order of verse (book by book) and pair it in order of the volumes (of The Savior of the World). Placing a nice chart and brief explanation of the selections of both biblical passages and poetic narratives to be read and assimilated gave me a very nice picture in my “mind’s eye” of the separate “tracks”, not pairing. A great tool- so grateful.

    1. Thank you for your feedback and your kind words. I do think it is helpful to distinguish between the two tracks. The Saviour of the World track also involved its own Bible reading. I do have a chart connecting biblical passages to the poetic narratives in the first track.

      1. I ordered it this morning. While there are many on the market, I’m finding it a challenge to locate a commentary on John that would also make a good choice for students. I look forward to seeing why the PNEU might have chosen it.

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