Thursday, January 26, 2006

By the Renewing of Your Minds

Ellen Chary

Anselm used love and discipline (in that order) as the instruments of choice in character-training. The point was to win the pupil’s trust and loyalty before imposing discipline. And he taught others to do so as well. Eadmer tells how Anselm corrected a brother abbot who misguidely preferred rigorous discipline to love. The abbot complained to Anselm that he was at the end of his tether with the ‘incorrigible ruffians, the stupid brutes’ entrusted to his care, because repeated beatings did nothing to cure them. Anselm observed that the abbot had succeeded in raising beasts instead of men and helped his peer to understand why through the use of analogy:

"’Now tell me, my lord abbot, if you plant a tree-shoot in your garden, and straightway shut it in on every side so that it has no space to put out its branches, what kind of tree will you have in years after when you let it out of its confinement?’

‘A useless one, certainly, with its branches all twisted and knotted.’

‘And whose fault would this be, except your own for shutting it in so unnaturally? Without doubt, this is what you do with your boys. At their oblation they are planted in the garden of the Church, to grow and bring forth fruit for God. But you so terrify them and hem them in on all sides with threats and blows that they are utterly deprived of their liberty. And being thus injudiciously oppressed, they harbour and welcome and nurse within themselves evil ad crooked thoughts like thorns, and cherish these thoughts so passionately that they doggedly reject everything which could minister to their correction. Hence, feeling no love or pity, good-will or tenderness in your attitude towards them, they have in future no faith in your goodness but believe that all your actions proceed from hatred and malice against them. The deplorable result is that as they grow in body so their hatred increases, together with their apprehension of evil, and they are forward in all crookedness and vice. They have been brought up in no true charity towards anyone, so they regard everyone with suspicion and jealousy.’"

Seeing that the abbot still did not grasp the point, Anselm spelled out his own educational philosophy: ‘the weak soul, which is still inexperienced in the service of God, needs milk – gentleness from others, kindness, compassion, cheerful encouragement, loving forbearance, and much else of the same kind.’

From chapter 7 of By the Renewing of Your Minds – the pastoral function of Christian Doctrine, published by Oxford 1997
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