There are times in a person’s life where they are simply struck by the force of beauty in a way that is transformational. In 1894, Charlotte Mason had one of these moments as she traveled to Florence with John Ruskin’s book in hand and found herself in front of a painting then already 530 years old depicting the ideas around which she had based her educational philosophy. This piece of art would go on to hang prominently in her school for teachers, and as Essex Cholmondeley wrote:
Charlotte built this ‘great recognition’ deep into the foundations of the students’ life and training there. It formed the special teaching of Whitsunday afternoon. A reproduction of the frescoes had its place in a central position for all to live with. The students called it the ‘creed picture,’
In 2013, I was introduced to this painting at the CMI National Conference where Dr. Deani Van Pelt spoke on it. I think they allotted 2 hours for her talk, but no one in the room wanted to move as time ran out and we all could have chatted for many hours more. I spoke to my dear friends and told them that other moms needed to hear this story! At our 3-day summer intensive, I presented what I had learned and what I had found out since that day. Further study of the painting as well as further reading of Mason’s many references to it filled me with delight. Since that day, I have visited the painting twice and presented on it myself at the CMI National Conference last year. In my four years of studying this painting, I have still not nearly exhausted its many insights, but I will share with you the one I treasure most: Unity.
Here we have the scheme of a magnificent unity. – Charlotte Mason
The things of God have long been understood as those that are Unum, Bonum, Verum, Pulchrum. Unity, Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. While we may often hear of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness spoken of in homeschooling circles, the transcendental of Unity is lesser known, yet encompasses so much of what God is (a Unity of one God in three Persons) and what he commands of us:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. -St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 4:1-6
This is so much the case, that our word Devil comes from the Greek Diabolos, one meaning of which is “to scatter, disperse, separate”. God unifies, sin divides. God gathers, sin scatters. Now, as a fallen people prone to sin, we step into this error all the time: we divide and subdivide ourselves over all sorts of things. Though we see the warnings throughout Scripture and we are warned by St. Paul:
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment… Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? -St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 1:10, 13
This painting, as Charlotte noticed, shows a great scheme of unity. The artist shows it as a unification of faith and reason, the sacred and the natural, Divine revelation and natural law. Charlotte sees this as well and discusses this throughout the volumes – the fact that there is no division between the sacred and the secular, between science and religion, piety and intellect. The unity comes in when we realize that “every fruitful idea, every original conception, whether in Euclid, or grammar, or music, was a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit”1. Our God has a plan so large and His thoughts are so unlike ours that He can work though any soul, even those “whom we might be lightly inclined to consider as outside the pale of the divine inspiration.”2
That’s a lot to chew on. I know it is for me. “It is truly difficult to grasp the amazing boldness of this scheme of the education of the world which Florence accepted in simple faith.”3
Would you like to spend some time learning about who is depicted in this painting, the painter, the Florentines, and Charlotte’s writings on it? I’d love to have you join me for a webinar on March 21 at 8pm. It will be the presentation I gave last year, reworked to make some time for discussion and questions at the end.
Grab a glass of wine and enjoy some mother culture.
- CM Vol. 2, p. 271
- CM Vol. 2, p. 271
- CM Vol. 2, p. 271