Thursday, February 21, 2008

Christ the Educator

St Clement of Alexandria, in Book One, Chapter One, of Christ the Educator (The Pedagogue) writes:
O you who are children! An indestructible corner stone of knowledge , holy temple of the great God, has been hewn out especially for us as a foundation for the truth. The corner stone is noble persuasion, or the desire for eternal life aroused by an intelligent response to it, laid in the grounds of our minds.

For, be it noted, there are three things in man: habits, deeds, and passions. Of these, habits come under the influence of the word of persuasion, the guide to godliness. This is the word that underlies and supports, like the keel of a ship, the whole structure of the faith. Under its spell, we surrender, even cheerfully, our old ideas, become young again to gain salvation, and sin in the inspired word of the psalm: "How good is God to Israel, to those who are upright of heart." As for deeds, they are affected by the word of counsel, and passions are healed by that of consolation.

These three words, however, are but one: the self-same Word who forcibly draws men from their natural, worldly way of life and educates them to the only true salvation: faith in God. That is to say, the heavenly Guide, the Word, once He begins to call men to salvation, takes to Himself the name of persuasion (this sort of appeal, although only one type, is properly given the name of the whole, that is, word, since the whole service of God has a persuasive appeal, instilling in a receptive mind the desire for life now and for the life to come); the Word also heals and counsels, all at the same time. In fact, He follows up His own activity by encouraging the one He has already persuaded, and particularly by offering a cure for his passions.

Let us call Him, then, by the one title: Educator of little ones, an Educator who does not simply follow behind, but who leads the way, for His aim is to improve the soul, not just to instruct it; to guide to a life of virtue, not merely to one of knowledge. Yet, that same Word does teach. It is simply that in this work we are not considering Him in that light. As Teacher, He explains and reveals through instruction, but as Educator He is practical. First He persuades men to form habits of life, then He encourages and reveals through instruction, but as Educator He is practical. First He persuades men to form habits of life, then He encourages them to fulfill their duties by laying down clear-cut counsels and by holding them up, for us who follow, examples of those who have erred in the past. Both are must useful: the advice, that it may be obeyed; the other, given in the form of example, has a twofold object – either that we may choose the good and imitate it or condemn and avoid the bad.

Healing of the passions follows as a consequence. The Educator strengthens souls with the persuasion implied in these examples, and then He gives the nourishing, mild medicine, so to speak, of His loving counsels to the sick man that he may come to a full knowledge of the truth. Health and knowledge are not the same; one is a result of study, the other of healing. In fact, if a person is sick, he cannot master any of the things taught him until he is first completely cured. We give instruction to someone who is sick for an entirely different reason than we do someone who is learning; the latter, we instruct that he may acquire knowledge, the first, that he may regain health. Just as our body needs a physician when it is sick, so, too, when we are weak, our soul needs the Educator to cure its ills. Only then does it need the Teacher to guide it and develop its capacity to know, once it is made pure and capable of retaining the revelation of the Word.

Therefore, the all-loving Word, anxious to perfect us in a way that leads progressively to salvation, makes effective use of an order well adapted to our development; at first, He persuades, then He educates, and after all this He teaches.

St Clement's argument runs like this: He locates three activities in man: habit, deed, and passion. Habits require persuasion; deeds are affected by counsel; and passions are healed by consolation. Persuasion, counsel, and consolation are all one thing: the Word. This Word is Christ the Educator, Who leads us progressively through these three stages. It is significant that one needs to be cured of the sickness of the passions before one can properly gain knowledge. Only once the soul has been cured of the passions "does it need the Teacher to guide it and develop in its capacity to know, once it is made pure and capable of retaining the revelation of the Word."

Richard M. Gamble, editor of the volume from which I take this passage, notes the following in his introduction:
In Clement's hands, the humble Greek or Roman pedagogue – a slave hired to conduct a child safely to school each day and guard his morals – is transformed into a master teacher. The apostle Paul provided the precedent for this adaptation; he spoke of children's "paideia in the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), of God's word as a "paideia in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16), and of the Old Testament law as a faithful paidagogos leading men to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Clement of Rome, a church leader of the last first century, also referred to "paideia in Christ" in his letter to the Corinthian church. Similarly, for Clement of Alexandria, Christianity is the true paideia, and Christ is the ultimate Pedagogue. In the selection that follows, the Greek word paidagogos is translated as "educator," but it is helpful to keep in mind the fuller image of leading, shepherding, and conducting from one place to another.
This is a wonderful image of Christ's kenosis, and a reminder to teachers of their true role as educators.

The fresco above, from the catacombs, depicts Christ as Educator.

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