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Spontaneous Activity in Education
by Maria Montessori
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In this moral confusion, where man "loses sight of God," as in hell, what strong spirit is stimulated to develop all his precious activities and cultivate his own heart? All are lost, the strong as well as the weak; few indeed are those who possess an individual instinct capable of saving them, who do not succumb to the temptations of prizes, threats of punishment, to the continual suggestions of emulation and of fraudulent rivalry, and who come out with their powers still intact and their hearts pure, sensible of the great facts of humanity. Those who pass through the ordeal untouched by its empty glories and persecutions, and set forth on the path of a productive life which attains to beauty and goodness by internal energy and is susceptible to truth—these are they whom we hail as men of genius, as benefactors of the human race.

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When we come to analyze good and evil positively, we feel that in reality much of the "evil" we theoretically deplore in individuals may be resolved into external causes. The depravity of the masses resolves itself into the combined effects of pauperism and drunkenness; crime into degeneration; the faults of children and scholars arise from the darkness of prejudice. But as these causes are not absolute and immutable, but are related to transitory states which may be altered, the ancient philosophic conception of evil resolves itself partially into so many social questions and actions. To give work and combat the drink habit—this it is which contributes largely to morality by removing so many causes of evil. To undertake the regeneration and education of the degenerate, is to combat crime, and therefore to promote morality.

Thus, if in schools the dense darkness of prejudice is the cause of innumerable moral ills, to reform the school by the help of natural principles will be the first step towards its moralization.

It is in this direction, then, that we must face the great question, not by analytical examination of the system of prizes and punishments, of the principle of emulation, of the most opportune and practical manner of inculcating moral principles, nor by the creation of new decalogues. That which we have hitherto regarded so lightly as a didactic problem is, on the contrary, a great and veritable social question.

When a moral problem is limited to the effects of preventable causes, it is merely apparent. Thus, for instance, let us imagine for a moment a populous quarter, where pauperism is rampant and the poor will fight for a piece of bread; where dirt, drinking-shops and civic neglect degrade the inhabitants; where all, men and women alike, give way readily to vice. Our sole impression of such people at the moment is: "What wicked people!" On the other hand, let us take the modern quarter of an industrious city, where the houses of the people are hygienic, where the workpeople receive a fair remuneration for their labor, where popular theaters, conducted with a true sense of art, have taken the place of public-houses, and let us enter one of the restaurants where workpeople are enjoying their food in a quiet, civilized fashion; we should be inclined to say: "What good people!" But have they really become good? Those who ameliorated their social conditions were the good people. But the individuals who have benefited by their exertions "live better"; they are not, strictly speaking, "more meritorious" in the moral sense.

If they were, we should only need to imagine a society in which the economic problem had been solved, to behold men who have become "moral" solely in virtue of having been born in a different age. It is obvious that the moral question is a very different one; it is a question of life, a question of "nature," and one which cannot be solved by external eventualities. Men may be more or less fortunate, they may be born in more or less civilized surroundings, but they will always be men confronted by a "moral question," which goes down deeper than fortune or civilization.

It is very easy to be convinced that the so-called "naughtiness" of children is the expression of a "struggle for spiritual existence"; they want to make the men within them live, and we try to hinder them; we offer them the poisons of darkness and error. They fight for their spiritual bread as the poor fight for material bread; and degrade themselves by falling victims to our seductions just as the poor degrade themselves by succumbing to the fascination of alcohol; and in this struggle and this degradation children have revealed themselves as the "poor" and "needy," neglected and destitute. None has ever demonstrated more clearly than they that "man does not live by bread alone," and that the "question of bread" is not the real "question of man." All the suffering, all the struggles, all the claims of society in the past with regard to bodily needs are repeated here with amazing clarity in connection with spiritual needs. Children want to grow, to perfect themselves, to nourish their intelligence, to develop their internal energies, to form their characters and to these ends they need to be liberated from slavery, and to conquer "the means of life." It is not enough to nourish their bodies: they are hungry for intellectual food; the clothes which protect their limbs from the cold are not enough for children: they demand the garments of strength and the ornaments of grace to protect and adorn the spirit. Why have we adults stifled these wants till we have almost come to believe that the economic question is the true solution of the problem of human life? And why have we never imagined that, even after such a solution, strife, anger, despair, and degradation might reappear as a result of higher desires left unsatisfied? Such strife, anger, despair and degradation we encounter continually in the children of to-day, who are nevertheless well fed, well clothed and well warmed, in accordance with the standards of perfected physical hygiene.

To respond to the intellectual needs of man in such a manner as to satisfy them is to make an important contribution to morality. Indeed our children, when they have been able to occupy themselves freely with intelligent work, and have also been free to respond to their internal wants, to occupy themselves for a long time with chosen stimuli, to perform abstract operations when they were sufficiently mature, to concentrate their minds in meditation, have shown that order and serenity have been evolved within them; and after this, grace of movement, the capacity for enjoyment of the beautiful, sensibility to music, and finally, amenity in their relations to each other, have sprung up like a jet of water from an internal fount.

All this has been a work of "liberation." We have not made our children moral by any special means; we have not taught them to "overcome their caprices" and to sit quietly at work; we have not inculcated calm and order by exhorting them to follow the examples of others, and explaining how necessary order is to man; we have not lectured them on mutual courtesy, to instil the respect due to the work of others, and the patience with which they should wait in order not to infringe the rights of others. There has been none of all this; we have merely set the child free, and helped him to "live." It is he who has taught us "how" the child lives, and what other needs he has besides his material wants.

Thereupon an activity formerly unknown among little children, together with the virtues of industry, perseverance and patience, manifested themselves amidst crises of joy, in an atmosphere of habitual serenity. These children had entered upon the paths of peace. An obstacle hitherto opposed to nature had been removed.

And just as men satisfied by nourishing food and removed from the dangers of poisons, have grown calmer, and have shown themselves capable of preferring the higher pleasures to base and degrading indulgence, so the child, his internal needs satisfied, has entered the sphere of serenity and has shown his tendency to ascend.

All this, however, has not touched the roots of the moral question; but it has stripped and purged it of all the dross that encumbered it. The more fully a man's wants are satisfied, the happier he is; but he is not already "full of merit," as we divine that a man gifted with a lofty moral sense ought really to be. Rather have we deprived man of his merits; "goodness" has disappeared as well as "wickedness" at the advent of social reform. When we discovered that many forms of goodness were forms of good fortune, and many forms of evil-doing were forms of misfortune, we left man absolutely naked, stripped bare by truth. He must then take up his real life at its roots and "acquire merit." At this point he will begin to be born anew morally, emerging from the pure and essential chrysalis of the "hygienically" living man.

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If the whole structure of our educative method starts from an act of concentrated attention to a sensory stimulus, and builds itself up on the education of the senses, limiting itself to this, it would evidently not take the whole man into consideration. For if man does not live by material bread alone, neither does he live solely by intellectual bread.

The stimuli of the environment are not only the objects, but also the persons, with whom our relations are not merely sensory. In fact, we are not content to admire in them that beauty to which the Greeks were so sensitive, or to listen to their speech or their song. The true relations between man and man, though they are initiated by means of the senses, are established in sympathy.

The "moral sense" of which positive science speaks is to a great extent the sense of sympathy with our fellows, the comprehension of their sorrows, the sentiment of justice: the lack of these sentiments convulses normal life. We cannot become moral by committing codes and their applications to memory, for memory might fail us a thousand times, and the slightest passion might overcome us; criminals, in fact, even when they are most astute and wary students of codes, often violate them; while normal persons, although entirely ignorant of the laws, never transgress them, owing to "an internal sense which guides them."

Positive science includes in the term "moral sense" something complex which is, at the same time, sensibility to public opinion, to law, and to religion; and multiplying it thus, it does not clearly define in what "moral sense" consists. We talk of it intuitively; each one has within himself something that "responds" to the appellation; and by this internal response he must understand and decide in what this "moral sense" consists. But religion is simple and precise: it calls this internal sense which lies at the root of life, Love. Social laws do not enter into this any more than does the entire universe. Love is the contact between the soul and God; and when this exists, all the rest is vanity. Good springs therefrom naturally, as sunbeams radiate from the sun. Creation itself has been given in charge of this wellspring of love, and it is love which maintains it, as the contribution of the creature to the provident forces of nature.

Those biological studies which seek to probe the secrets of nature have also recognized love as the key of life. Scientists have at last perceived, after much research, this most evident fact: that it is love which preserves the animal species, and not the "struggle for existence." In fact, the struggle for existence tends to destroy; and as regards survival, this is not the exclusive privilege of the "fittest," as was at first supposed. But existence is indeed bound up with love. Indeed, the individuals who struggle and conquer are adults; but who is it that protects the new-born creature and infant life in process of formation? If a hard and horny covering is the natural protection of his species, he does not possess it; if it is strength of muscle, he is weak; if it is tusks, he is without them; if it is agility, he cannot yet move; if it is fecundity, he is not yet mature. Therefore, all species should have become extinct, for there is none so strong but that he once was weak; and there is no infancy which is not more feeble than any adult life. It is love which protects all this weakness, and explains "survival." Maternal love, indeed, is studied to-day with the deepest attention by our scientists as a natural phenomenon. If the struggle for existence presented to us a uniform picture of destruction, the phenomena of maternal love are to-day revealed to us in the richest and most fascinating forms, which almost represent the occult and sentimental aspect of the marvelous varieties of forms in nature. It is seen at last to be one of the "fundamental characteristics of the species," which should be recognized by all students.

Even insects, which Fabre has described with such a wealth of detail, small and remote as they are from ourselves, exhibit wonderful phenomena of maternal love. One of the first articles published by a naturalist on these phenomena, La Psychologie d'une Araignee (The Psychology of a Spider) might serve as the motive of a drama. The spider, as is well known, makes a bag of threads, which she generally attaches to the backs of leaves, and in it she deposits and preserves her eggs; she gets into it herself together with the eggs, to protect the treasure of the species. If the bag should be broken at any point, the spider promptly repairs it. By way of experiment, a spider was taken out of the bag, and kept at a distance for twenty days. What is a spider? A few cubic millimetres of a dark, flabby substance without brain or heart, whose life is so short that twenty days constitute a very long interval for it; but this small creature never relaxed her efforts to escape, and her agitation never abated; finally, when she was liberated at the end of the twenty days, she fled to the bag, hid herself in it, and repaired the walls. Where was all this love and memory concentrated? This mother-spider was then removed from the nest, and another spider was introduced, which at once adopted the offspring, acted the mother, defended the nest from attack, and repaired the walls if they were damaged. There must therefore be a maternal instinct in the species, independent of actual maternity. But when the real mother approached the adopted bag, not only did the foster-mother make no attempt to defend it, but she fled and gave up her place. By what phenomenon of telepathy did the visitor concealed in the bag feel the maternal power approaching? The following was the end of the experiment: the little spiders were hatched, and remained in the bag together with their mother; the experimenter tore the bag to see what would happen; the little spiders fled in every direction, but the mother remained crouching on the tattered fragments of the nest, and died, almost violently, killed by the destruction of her offspring. Maternal love, therefore, does not require complicated organs; it needs neither brain, heart, nor senses, and seems almost to exist without matter; it is the force which life assumes to protect and preserve itself, a force which seems to exist before and to accompany creation, like that wisdom of which Solomon speaks: "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.... When there were no depths, I was brought forth.... Then I was by him as a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him.... Whoso findeth me findeth life."

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But long before biologists perceived that love is the powerful force which protects the species, and explains its survival, religion had pointed to love as the force which preserves life. In order to live, it is not enough to be created; the creature must also be loved. This is the law of nature. "He who loveth not ... abideth in death." When Moses gave the decalogue which was to guide the Hebrews to salvation, he preceded it by the law: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself." When the Pharisees came to Christ, asking Him to declare the Law, He answered: "Do you not know? Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself"; as if to say: the law is evident and unique, it is the law of life, and for this reason must always have existed, from the very beginning of the world. But to St. Peter, who was to be the head of the new religion, love the transition from the old to the new order was more fully explained: "Love," said Christ, "even as I have loved you," that is to say, not as you are capable of loving, but as I am capable of loving. There is a deep gulf between the manner in which men are able to love themselves and that in which Christ can love men. Men often rush headlong to their own perdition; they are capable of confounding good with evil, life with death, food with poison. Little confidence can therefore be felt in the injunction: "Love thy neighbor as thyself." And it was in truth a new commandment that Jesus gave, when He said: "Love even as I have loved you."

Moses, indeed, had been obliged to supplement the law of love by a decalogue of practical injunctions: "Honor thy father and mother, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet." Christ, on the other hand taught that it will be enough if we do not demand measure for measure in love, and that there will no longer be any need of the support of rules. We must let the measure overflow; and behold! this in itself opens to man the door of salvation. "If ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again, and ye shall be the children of the Highest" (St. Luke vi, 32-35).

Set yourselves free from all bonds and all measurements and lay hold of the one thing needful: to be alive, to feel; this was the revelation made by Christ when, like Moses, He went up into the mountain, but without hiding Himself from the people, calling the crowd indeed to follow Him, and openly expounding all the secrets of truth: Blessed are those who feel, even if they suffer, for to suffer is to feel, to live. Blessed are those who weep, blessed are those who hunger for righteousness, blessed are the persecuted, blessed are those whose hearts are pure and free from darkness. For he who feels shall be satisfied; but he who cannot feel is lost; woe to those who lie down in comfort, woe to those who are full, woe to those who laugh—they have lost their "sensibility." And then all is vanity. What is the use of knowing all the moral laws, and even practising them, if the heart be dead? It is as if we should whiten the tomb of a corpse. The moral, self-satisfied man, without a heart, is a tomb.

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The education of the moral sense.—Thus the conception of moral education, like that of intellectual education, must include a basis of feeling, and be built up thereupon, if we are not to lead the child towards illusion, falsity and darkness. The education of the senses, and liberty to raise the intelligence according to its own laws on the one hand; the education of feeling, and spiritual liberty to raise oneself, on the other—these are two analogous conceptions and two parallel roads.

Consider our position in relation to children. We are their "stimuli," by which their feeling, which is developing so delicately, should be exercised.

For the intellect, we have the various objects, colors, forms, etc.; but for the spirit, the objects are ourselves. The pure souls of children must derive nourishment from us; they should fix themselves on us with their hearts, as their attention is fixed upon some favorite stimulus; and by loving us they should exalt themselves in their intimate spiritual creation.

When interest leads the child to take the box of colors, and keeps him absorbed in them, the objects lend themselves passively to his manipulation, but the colors reflect the luminous rays of the sun, which then strike the virgin retinae of eyes not as yet completely matured and adapted. So, too, when the child's heart turns to us, and fixes itself, asking nourishment from our souls, we ought to be always ready, like passive objects, inasmuch as we should never, through our egotism, fail to respond to the child's needs; we should respond with all our intimate energies, to reflect upon him the luminous rays required by his pure soul, as yet unadapted to life.

We ought not to call him by name, and offer him our affection, inviting him to accept our help; but, like the material objects which attract him by their smoothness, their luster, and their varied and interesting forms, and by ocular demonstration of the means of lofty intellectual exercise, as in the colored alphabets and the rods which contain the first secrets of numeration—we, too, should wait; not coldly, but rather making the child feel that we contain a rich material which is at his disposal, ready to be taken as soon as he stretches out his hand to grasp it. Our "response" to the child should be as full, as prompt and as complete as that of the objects which he may manipulate, but which at every touch give an upward impetus to the intellectual life of the child.

How many persons must have noted that on some occasion when they have caressed children, the little ones have retreated, as if repelled and offended; and many must also have remarked that when the affectionate impulse of a child has been checked, he shrinks into himself, humiliated, like the mimosa when touched. Now the respect we owe to the spiritual liberty of the child should manifest itself as follows: we must never force our caresses on him, greatly as we may be attracted by his fascinating graces; nor must we ever repel his outbursts of affection, even when we are not disposed to receive them, but must respond with sincere and delicate devotion. We are the "objects" of his love, the objects by means of which he is organizing his life. The most perfect teachers and mothers will be those who will take the didactic material for their model, and imitate this by filling themselves in every sense with moral riches and being full of response in every detail; passive in abnegation, yet active as wellsprings of affection. And if all the sensorial objects combine all possible vibrations accessible to man—the vibrations of light and color, as also those of sound and heat, so too should they combine in themselves all the vibrations of internal sensibility, waiting for the thirsty soul to choose among them.

It may be asked: And how shall we make the child love us; how shall we make the child "feel"?

If a child could not see colors he would be blind; and no one could give him sight. And so if the child could not feel, no one could give him sensibility; but since Nature has united mother and child not only by the flesh, but even more closely by love, it is indubitable that at birth the child brings with him not only flesh but love. Now he who loves, even though it be only a single object, has in himself a sense which is capable of receiving impressions ad infinitum; he who sees an object possesses sight, therefore he who sees an object will see. He who loves a mother or a son, "loves"; that internal sense vibrates, and certainly not only to the object present to it at the moment.

Even that poor spider, artificially deposited in the bag of another mother, adopted and defended the alien eggs, because the spider is capable of maternal love.

Therefore the child whom his mother has loved and who was helped by that love, has that "internal sense" by means of which he is capable of love. The "human objects" which present themselves to that sense have reflections from it.

We should "wait to be seen" by him; the day will come when, among all the intellectual objects, the child will perceive our spirit, and will come to us to take his ease within us. It will be to him a new birth, akin to that other awakening, when some one of the objects first attracted him and held him. It is impossible that that day, that moment, should not arrive. We have performed a delicate work of love towards the child, presenting to him the means which satisfy his intellectual needs, without making ourselves felt, keeping ourselves in the background, but always present and ready to help. We have given great satisfaction to the child by succoring him; when he needed to clarify the order of his mind still further by language, we offered him the names of things, but only these, retiring at once without asking anything from him, without putting forward anything from ourselves. We have revealed to him the sounds of the alphabet, the secret of numbers, we have put him into relation with things but restricting ourselves to what was useful to him, almost concealing our body, our breathing, our person.

When he felt a desire to choose, he never found an obstacle in us; when he occupied himself for a long time with an exercise, we were careful to protect the tranquillity of his work, as a mother protects the refreshing sleep of her babe.

When he made his first plunge into abstraction, he felt nothing in us but the echo of his joy.

The child found us always indefatigable when he called upon us, almost as if our mission to him were to offer him what he requires, just as it is the mission of the flower to give perfume without limit or intermission.

He found with us a new life, no less sweet than the milk he drew from his mother's breast, with which his first love was born. Therefore he will one day become sensitive to this being who lives to make him live, from whose self-sacrifice his freedom to live and expand is derived.

And undoubtedly the day will come when his spirit will become sensitive to our spirit; and then he will begin to taste that supreme delight which lies in the intimate contact of soul with soul, and our voice will no longer be heard by his ear alone. The power to obey us, to communicate his conquests to us, to share his joys with us, will be the new element in his life. We shall see the child who suddenly becomes aware of his companions, and is almost as deeply interested as we are in their progress and their work. It will be delightful to witness such a scene as that of four or five children sitting with spoons arrested over the smoking bowl, and no longer sensible to the stimulus of hunger because they are absorbed in contemplation of the efforts of a very little companion who is trying to tuck his napkin under his chin, and finally succeeds in doing so; and then we shall see these spectators assume an expression of relief and pride, almost like that of a father who is present at the triumph of his son. Children will recompense us in the most amazing manner by their progress, their spiritual effusions, and their sweet obedience. The fruit they will cause us to gather will be abundant beyond anything we can imagine. Thus it comes to pass when the secrets of life are interpreted. "Give and it shall be given unto you: good measure, pressed down and shaken together, and running over shall men give into your bosom."

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The essence of moral education.—To keep alive and to perfect psychical sensibility is the essence of moral education. Around it, as in the intellectual education which proceeds from the exercise of the senses, order establishes itself: the distinction between right and wrong is perceived. No one can teach this distinction in all its details to one who cannot see it. But to see the difference and to know it are not the same thing.

But in order that "the child may be helped" it is essential that the environment should be rightly organized, and that good and evil should be duly differentiated. An environment where the two things are confused, where good is confounded with apathy and evil with activity, good with prosperity and evil with misfortune, is not one adapted to assist the establishment of order in the moral consciousness, much less is one where acts of flagrant injustice and persecutions occur. Under such conditions the childish consciousness will become like water which has been made turbid, and more poisonous than is alcohol to the life of the foetus. Order may perhaps be banished for ever, together with the clarity of the consciousness; and we cannot tell what may be the consequences to the "moral man." "Whoever shall offend one of these little ones, it were better for him ... that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." "If thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut it off and cast it from thee."

However, the properly organized environment is not everything. Even in intellectual education it was not the spontaneous exercise alone which refreshed the intelligence; but further, the lessons of the teacher which confirmed and illuminated the internal order in process of development. On these occasions she said: "This is red, this is green." Now she will say: "This is right, this is wrong." And it will not be unusual to find children like the one described above, who make good and evil the center of consciousness, and, placing it above material bread and intellectual nourishment, will propound the question more vital to them than any other: "What is good? and what is evil?" But we must not forget that moral lessons should be brief; and that Moses, the father of the sages, in order to inculcate morality, not in a child, but in a race, gave ten simple commandments, which to Christ seemed superfluous. It is true, however, that at the head of these was the "law" of love; and that Christ substituted for the Decalogue an amplification of that law, which comprises within itself all legislations and moral codes.

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It is possible that good and evil may be distinguished by means of an "internal sense," apart from cognitions of morality; and in such a case, of course, the good and evil in question would be absolute; that is to say, they would be bound up with life itself and not with acquired social habits. We always speak of a "voice of conscience" which teaches us from within to distinguish the two things: good confers serenity, which is order; enthusiasm, which is strength; evil is signalized as an anguish which is at times unbearable: remorse, which is not only darkness and disorder, but fever, a malady of the soul. It is certain that the laws of society, public opinion, material well-being, and threats of peril would all be powerless to produce these various sensations. Often serenity is to be found among the unfortunate, whereas the remorse of Lady Macbeth, who saw the spot of blood upon her hand, gnawed at the heart of one who had acquired a kingdom.

It is not surprising that there should be an internal sensation which warns us of perils, and causes us to recognize the circumstances favorable to life. If science in these days demonstrates that the means for preserving even material life correspond to the moral "virtues," we may conclude that we shall be able to divine what is necessary to life by means of the internal sensibility. Have not the biological sciences demonstrated an analogous fact? The biometer applied to man has made it possible to reconstruct the absolutely average man, that is to say, the man whose body gives average measurements in every part; and these average measurements have been found, by means of the statistical and morphological studies of medicine, to correspond to "normality." Thus the average man would be a man so perfectly constructed that he has no morphological predisposition to disease of the organs. When the figure of a man was reconstructed in accordance with average biometrical proportions, it was found to correspond in a remarkable manner to the proportions of Greek statues. This fact helped to give a new interpretation to "aesthetic sentiment." It was evidently by means of aesthetic feeling that the eye of the Greek artist was able to extract the average measurement of every organ, and to construct a marvelous and exact whole therewith. The "enjoyment" of the artist was his enjoyment of the "beautiful"; but he felt even more profoundly that which contained the triumph of life, and distinguished it from the errors of nature, which predispose to illness. The triumph of creation can give an intimate pleasure to him who can "feel it"; errors, even slight, will then be perceived as discords. Aesthetic education is, in short, akin to the mathematical approximation towards the absolute average; the more it is possible to approach to the true measure in its extreme limits, and the closer we can get to this, the more possible does it become to have an absolute means of comparison for the consideration of deviations. The great artist is thus able to recognize the beautiful in a detail even in the midst of other discordant details; and the more capable he is of possessing an absolute sense of the beautiful, the more readily will he perceive any disproportion of form.

Something of the same sort may happen in the conscience in relation to the distinction between good and evil; the more so as the good stands for real utility in life far more directly than the beautiful, and the evil may be roughly said to represent danger. Have not animals, perhaps, an acute instinct of self-preservation, which dictates infinite details of conduct to them, both for the maintenance of life and for its protection? Dogs, horses, and cats, and generally speaking, all domestic animals, do not await the imminent earthquake quietly and unconsciously, as does man, but become agitated. When the ice is about to crack, the Esquimaux dogs which draw the sleighs detach themselves one from the other, as if to avoid falling in; while man can only observe their amazing instinct with stupefaction. Man has not by nature these intense instincts; it is by means of intelligence and the sensibility of his conscience to good and evil that he constructs his defenses and recognizes his perils. And if this intelligence of his, which is actually capable of transforming the world, raises him to such a supreme height above animals, to what a lofty eminence might he raise himself by developing his moral consciousness!

But on the contrary, man to-day is reduced to the point of asking himself seriously whether animals are not better than he. When man wishes to exalt himself, he says: "I am faithful as a dog, pure as a dove, strong as a lion."

Indeed, animals have always that instinct which is admirable, for it confers on them a mysterious power; but if man lacks sensibility of conscience he is inferior to the animals; nothing can then save him from excesses; he may rush upon his own ruin, upon havoc and destruction in a manner that might fill animals with stupefaction and terror; and if it were in their power they might set themselves to teach man, that he might become equal to themselves. Men without conscience are like animals without the instinct of self-preservation; madmen rushing on destruction.

What shall it profit man to discover by means of science the law of physical self-preservation in its most minute details, if he has no care for that which corresponds in man to the "instinct" of his own salvation? If an individual has a perfect knowledge of hygienic feeding, of the manner in which to weigh himself in order to follow the course of his own health, of bathing and of massage, but should lose the instinct of humanity and kill a fellow-creature, or take his own life, what would be the use of all his care? And if he feels nothing more in his heart? if the void draws him to it, plunging him into melancholy, what does his well-nourished and well washed body avail him?

Good is life; evil is death; the real distinction is as clear as the words.

Our moral conscience is, like our intelligence, capable of perfection, of elevation; this is one of the most fundamental of its differences from the instincts of animals.

The sensibility of the conscience may be perfected, like the aesthetic sense, till it can recognize and at last enjoy "good," up to the very limits of the absolute, and also until it becomes sensitive to the very slightest deviations towards evil. He who feels thus is "saved"; he who feels less must be more vigilant, and do his utmost to preserve and develop that mysterious and precious sensibility which guides us in distinguishing good from evil. It is one of the most important acts of life to examine our own consciences methodically, having as our source of illumination not only a knowledge of moral codes, but of love. It is only through love that this sensibility can be perfected. He whose sense has not been educated cannot judge himself. A doctor, for example, may be perfectly informed as to the symptoms of a disease, and may know exactly how cardiac sounds and the resistance of the pulse are affected in diseases of the heart; but if his ear cannot perceive the sounds, if his hand cannot appreciate the tactile sensations which give the pulse, of what use is his science to him? His power of understanding diseases is derived from his senses; and if this power is lacking, his knowledge in relation to the sick man is vanity. The same holds good of the diagnosis of our own conscience; if we are blind and deaf, innumerable symptoms will pass unobserved, and we shall not know on what to found our judgment. The tedium of futile undertakings will oppress us from the first moment.

On the other hand, it is "feeling" which spurs us on towards perfection.

There have been persons with an extraordinary power of recognizing good and evil, just as the Greek artists showed extraordinary powers of recognizing the normal forms of the body under the guidance of the aesthetic sense. Saint Teresa tells us that when some worldly person who was not good approached her, she suffered as if she were inhaling a bad smell. She explained that of course she did not smell anything at all, in the material sense; but that she actually suffered, not merely in imagination; her suffering was a real spiritual distress which she could not tolerate.

More interesting still is the following story which refers to the early Fathers of the Church, who lived in the desert. "We were seated at the feet of our Bishop," says one of the monks, "listening to and admiring his holy and salutary teaching. Suddenly there appeared on the scene the leading 'mime,' the most beautiful of the public dancers of Antioch, covered with jewels; her bare legs were almost concealed by pearls and gold; her head and shoulders were uncovered. A throng of persons accompanied her; the men of the period never wearied of devouring her with their eyes. An exquisite perfume which exhaled from her person scented the air we breathed. When she had passed, our Father, who had looked steadfastly at her, said to us: 'Were you not fascinated by so much beauty?' We were all silent. 'I,' continued the Bishop, 'experienced great pleasure in looking at her, for God has appointed that some day she shall judge us. I see her,' he added, 'as a soiled and blackened dove; but this dove shall be washed and shall fly heavenwards, white as snow.' As a fact, this woman returned and asked to be baptized. 'My name is Pelagia,' she said, 'or such is the name my parents gave me, but the people of Antioch call me The Pearl, because of the quantities of jewels with which my sins have adorned me.' Two days later she gave all her goods to the poor, put on a hair shirt, and took up her abode in a cell on Monte Oliveto, which she never left until her death." (Montalembert, Les Moines d'Occident, vol. 1, p. 86.)

* * * * *

Our insensibility.—How remote are we from that delicate sensibility which responds to evil by suffering and to the good perceived in others as it were miraculously, by a feeling of pleasure! In our society it is possible for us to live for a long time with a criminal, to esteem him, press his hand, etc., until he is at last exposed by the scandalous discovery of his misdeeds. Then we say: "Who would have thought it? He always seemed an excellent person."

And yet it is impossible that the criminal showed no signs, no perversities of feeling, no heartlessness which should have revealed him to us from the outset. No one will say that we ought all to become wonderful aesthetes like the Greek sculptors, or as sensitive as the saints; but if we admit that it is a barbarous thing to pass by the beauties of art without perceiving them; that it is the mark of defective civilization to confound horrible coarseness and monstrosity with ideal beauty, to be unable to distinguish the strident noise of the tram-car wheels, or the deafening crash of ill-tuned instruments from the harmonies of Bellini or Wagner; that each of us would blush for such insensibility, and would conceal it—how is it we do not perceive that such obtuseness is habitual to us in moral matters? We see that we are capable of confusing virtuous persons and criminals, without any foreboding. How is it that so often in the case of judicial errors, the voice of the innocent did not resound in our ears, although his trial was a public one, and we allowed him to languish in prison for years? How is it that goodness should be so obscure a thing that we confound it with prosperity? How is it that those rich men of whom the gospel says "Woe unto you, rich men, for ye have your reward," can think of "improving the morals" of the poor, without any examination of their own moral lives or the lives of those belonging to them? almost as if they believed that the rich are essentially good and the poor essentially bad.

If such darkness as this reigned in the intellectual field, we should be unable to conceive the form of madness which would present itself to our eyes. There are confusions in the moral field which it is impossible to imagine in any other domain of life. If some day the youth of the nations, more clear-sighted than those of to-day, hear that the Christmas feast was kept on the battlefields of the European war, they will understand the origins of the war itself. In such a situation, David (to whom indeed it would have been inconceivable) would have accepted the taunt of his enemies as well deserved, when they asked him: "Where is now thy God?" "We have lost God" would have been a fitting lamentation. But to celebrate His festival indifferently under such conditions is to be unconscious of having lost Him. How long ago did the soul die, and when did the building up on death begin? What a terrible episode of madness is this monstrous slaughter, upon which the tree of peace was planted in honor of the Savior!

Far indeed are we from the delicate sensibility to evil of Santa Teresa, or the keenness of spiritual vision which enabled the man of God to see the white dove beneath the soiled feathers of the sinful woman. The difference is not as that between the taste of a peasant and that of an artist, but as that between a corpse and a living man. It is evident that we have suffered death, albeit we are unconscious of having died.

Here, then, and not in hygiene, must we find the secret of our life. We have something more corruptible than our bodies, a life more fragile than our physical life; and the peril of darkness hangs over us. This is the secret of man.

If man loses the light that leads him on towards a better world, he falls into an abyss far below all created animals.

He who loves, therefore, will bestow all his care on these wellsprings of life; how frail are the lungs of a new-born infant, how easily can an unnatural mother deprive him of air and so suffocate him! Yet what is this easily accomplished act, which nevertheless destroys a life, in comparison with the infinitely easier and more deadly act by which we may procure the death of the soul?

The death of the soul, like that of the body, may be readily distinguished from a state of insensibility; in vain do we apply a red-hot iron to a corpse; there is no response.

He who is alive, however, is not only capable of reacting to a stimulus very much less intense than a red-hot iron; he who lives and feels may perfect himself—and this is life.

It is enough that souls should "feel." How, then, could they live quietly amidst evil? If under the windows of our house people were piling up refuse until we felt that the air was being vitiated, could we bear this without protesting, and insisting on the removal of that which was causing us to suffer? If, moreover, we had a child, we should clamor still more loudly, and should even set to work to clear away the nuisance with our own hands, in our solicitude for his health. But if the bodies of mother and child lay dead, they would no longer be conscious of the pestilential air.

It is characteristic of "life" to purge the environment and the soul of substances injurious to health. Christ was called "the Lamb that taketh away the sins of the world," not the Master who preaches, but He who purifies. And this is the morality that springs from sensibility: the action of purifying the world, of removing the obstacles that beset life, of liberating the spirit from the darkness of death.

The merits of which every man feels he owes an account to his conscience are not such things as having enjoyed music or made a discovery; he must be able to say what he has done to save and maintain life.

These purifying merits, like progress, have no limits.

"Leave all ties and follow Me," said Christ to those who asked Him what they should do.

For man can reinforce his own strength by other powers which will urge him on upwards towards the infinite; before him who sleeps is the invisible ladder of Jacob, trodden by angels who call him heavenwards, that is, towards the supernatural life. Yes, to be more than man. This is a dream to him who lacks faith; but it is the realizable goal, the aim of life, to him who has faith.

To Friedrich Nietzsche, the superman was an idea without practical consequence, strange and erroneous even when tested by the very theories of evolution which inspired him. His conception offered no help in overcoming the ills of humanity; rather was it as a chain binding man to earth, there to seek means to create of himself the man superior to himself; and thus leading him astray into egotism, cruelty and folly.

But innumerable saints have felt and acted in accordance with their profession of faith: "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."

If, as our poet says, man is "the chrysalis destined to become the angelic butterfly," there is no doubt as to the road he must take: spiritually, he must either ascend or die.

Hence it is not the whole of life to obey the laws of hygiene, physical and psychical; but it is only life which can draw from its environment the means of its own purification and salvation; that life, however, which is supernatural, asks of love and divine light the strength necessary for its transformation.

Of a truth, it is not ecstasy which characterizes the saints; it is the real and victorious struggle of the higher against the lower nature.

* * * * *

Morality and religion.—It is well known that in strong religious impressions, such as the crises of what is called conversion, the phenomenon is characterized by "an inner light," an "order" which suddenly establishes itself, and by means of which that which was before unseen becomes manifest: the distinction between good and evil, and hence the revelation of oneself. Indeed, the converted, at the moment when the revelation takes place, seem little concerned with divinity, or dogmas, or rites; they are persons given over to a violent commotion, who seem forgetful of all their physical and intellectual life, and who are absorbed in contemplation of themselves in relation to a central point of their consciousness, which seems to be illuminated by some prodigious radiance. The cry of the convert in the majority of cases is: "I am a sinner!" It seems as if darkness had fallen away from him, together with all the evil which was corroding, weakening, and suffocating him, and which at length he saw, when it was separated from him, terrible, obscure, and full of hideous dangers. It is this which agitates him, and makes him weep; it is this which urges him to seek some one who can understand, comfort, and help him. The converted want help, as do the newly born; they weep and struggle like men who are born to a new life, and who are restrained by no human respect, by no restriction. It is their own life they feel; and the value of their own life seems to them greater than the riches and convenience of the whole world. They feel an ecstasy of relief at having escaped from a great peril; their chief anxiety is that they may be liberated from the evil that oppresses them. Before they can take another step forward they are obliged to reconsider the terrible time when evil was rooted within them, and they felt nothing of it.

"And as a man with difficult short breath Forespent with toiling, 'scaped from sea to shore, Turns to the perilous wide waste, and stands At gaze; e'en so my spirit that yet fail'd Struggling with terror, turn'd to view the straits That none hath past and lived." (Carey's translation of Dante's Inferno, Canto I.)

This evil had held captive all the treasures of the spirit, which, set free at last, seem to refresh and reanimate the whole world before their eyes:

"And what I saw seemed even as a smile. Irradiating all the universe...." (Dante's Paradiso, Canto XXVII.)

One of the most singular cases of conversion I ever heard described was the following: A monk, famous for his oratorical gifts, was preaching in a crowded church to a congregation which was listening to him with devout admiration. Suddenly he was interrupted by a loud sob, and a man in the crowd cried aloud, stretching out his hands towards the pulpit: "I am a great sinner!" The monk, as is usual in such cases, came to the help of the convert, and received all the outpourings of that soul, as it stripped itself of the evil which had been corroding it. Then, curious to know what argument had touched the heart of this man, he asked him what part of the sermon had specially borne upon the prodigy. "Ah!" answered the convert, "I never heard a single word of what you were saying; I entered the church without knowing why; at that moment you pointed your finger at me emphatically. Yes, it is true, I cried, I am a sinner, and I felt as if a heavy cloak of lead which had been oppressing me had fallen from my shoulders; then an uncontrollable flood of tears rose from my heart." Thus no intellectual element played any part in this conversion; it was not a "conviction," nor even new "knowledge," which had acted; what had happened was purely a spontaneous phenomenon of the conscience, which, perhaps after an unconscious preparation, divided the light from the darkness and initiated the creation of the new man.

The convert feels more clearly than any other that evil is an "obstacle" to a form of enjoyment higher than the loftiest enjoyments man can taste. He has not only been purified, but his purification has transformed him. He is like a diamond embedded in dross and mire which is suddenly separated from the overlying substances, and brought to the surface, clear and brilliant; it is not only a purified and magnificent stone; what really transforms it is the sun, which can now be reflected in it and make it sparkle. This is the unsuspected splendor which is added to it naturally, and has nothing to do either with the dross that has been removed, or with the intrinsic qualities of the gem. The dross not only defiled it, but prevented it from encountering the rays which should give it its characteristic beauty.

All devout persons know that evil is a "chain" for us, holding us down beneath the earth as in a tomb, and that sentiments hostile to love are so many obstacles which impede our expansion and our free contact with the divine essence which is within us. The slightest alloy, the most minute infiltration, suffices to impair our brilliance and to cause our ejection from the casket of the elect: a single glance which judges our brother instead of absolving him, a feeling which hardens our heart against him, or, finally, the envy which generates devouring hatred and fury.

"The works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: ... hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, witchcraft, murders." To approach the altar with a heart suffering, be it ever so slightly, from some seductive stimulus against charity is vain; it is as if a wounded hare should rush to her form, bearing the arrow that has pierced her through and through; she goes, not to save herself, but to die in her form. "Likewise thou, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee ... go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."

He who forgives an offense does not perform a logical act of justice, nor does he benefit the person he forgives; hence it is waste of time to consider whether the offense deserves pardon or not, and whether the person who committed it needs absolution from us or not. We must pardon, not from a sense of justice nor for the benefit of the offender, but for our own sakes; he who forgives has divested himself of envy and resentment, of all that oppressed and fettered the spirit, making it powerless to rise. This is why we must forgive: that so we may burst the bonds which impede our free movement, our ascent. When we cut the cable of a balloon, we do not consider whether this is just towards the earth, and whether the cable deserves it; we do it because it is necessary, to enable the balloon to rise. He who ascends, moreover, enjoys the marvels of a spectacle which cannot be enjoyed on earth. Who would strike a balance between this gain and the sacrifice of the cable?

Forgive, and you will feel universal absolution rising to you from the whole world, in token of your ascent Haec est vera fraternitas, quae vicit mundi crimina.

* * * * *

The religious sentiment in children.—But few researches have been made into the crises of conscience and the spontaneous religious sentiment of children. It is true that of late years, during the remarkable religious movement which took place in England, most surprising instances of religiosity in children occurred; it was after the little Nelly, aged five, asked for the Eucharist on her death-bed that Pius X allowed it to be administered to children, irrespective of their age. But the subject forms a very inconsiderable part of the positive studies of to-day.

The solitary study of this kind which has been brought forward in public congresses on psychology was that which was considered during the Premier Congres International de Pedologie, Bruxelles, aout, 1911: Quelques observations sur le developpement de l'emotion morale et religieuse chez un enfant, Ghidionescu, Doct. en Philosophie (Bucharest). The child who was the subject of observation had received no religious education whatever. One day he was seen to burst into a sudden fit of weeping, for no apparent reason. When his mother asked why he was crying, the child replied: "Because I remember how I saw a puppy ill-treated two months ago, and at this moment I feel it." A year and a half later a similar crisis took place. He was looking at the moon one evening from the window, when he suddenly burst into tears. "Do not scold me," said the child in great agitation; "while I was looking at the moon I felt how often I had grieved you, and I understood that I had offended God."

This interesting study reveals successive phases of a spontaneous phenomenon of moral consciousness: the first was the revelation of the lively feeling which provoked a fit of weeping two months after the event which distressed the child: he felt the sufferings of the cruelly treated puppy. And a long time after this activity of the conscience had been initiated comes the establishment of order: the child distinguishes between good and evil actions, and recognizes the fact that he has incurred the displeasure of his parents; this displeasure was probably not very serious, indeed it was so slight that the child had been unconscious of it at the time; but at the moment when he is purging himself of these trivial impurities he feels God: "I understood that I had offended God," he said, and he knew well that he had not offended his parents. Now, no one had ever talked to him about God, or trained him to examine his conscience.

During my experience I have had no opportunity of witnessing a similar cycle of spiritual development. My experiences in religious education have necessarily been limited hitherto; indeed, in the Children's House kept by the Franciscan Sisters of the Via Giusti the religious education was given by the ordinary methods, and it was not possible to make original studies or observations. On the other hand, the dominant political party in the municipalities has abolished religion from the public schools with a sectarian rigor which causes the word "God" to be feared as bigots fear the word "devil."

My experience has, therefore, been limited to some of the children I have received privately in my own house, children belonging to non-religious families, who had consequently undergone no religious influence. [9]

One of my little pupils was just over seven years old, when a friend of his family, noticing his intelligence, and knowing that he had been educated in "freedom," thought he would test him by describing to him briefly animal evolution according to the principles of Lamarck and Darwin. The child followed his explanation very attentively and then asked: "Well, then, man comes from the monkey, and the monkey from some other animal, and so on; but from whom did the first creature come?" "The first," answered his friend, "was formed by chance." The child laughed aloud, and, calling his mother, said excitedly: "Just listen; what nonsense! Life was formed by chance! That is impossible." "Then how was life formed?" "It is God," replied the child, with conviction.

[Footnote 9: At present some very interesting experiments in religious education are being carried out in the "Escola Montessori" at Barcelona, under the direction of the Provincial Deputies of that city.]

This same child was prepared, with his mother's consent, for Holy Communion, together with his sister; a highly educated young priest of much aesthetic knowledge undertook the task. I was curious to hear what objections the child had raised; but I was not admitted to his lessons. I was only present on one occasion, when the course of instruction was almost at an end. The priest spoke of the reservation of the wine and of the practical situations in which the celebrant may find himself during the holy office. I thought such a dissertation entirely unsuitable for children, and one which was likely to distract their attention from the end in view; but I saw with amazement that their faces were turned intently to the altar; they were evidently unfamiliar with such minute explanations, but they were penetrated by a sentiment which attracted them; the chalice with the divine blood appealed to these souls ready to receive it, as it did to the innocent Parsifal. When they made their first Communion, I was convinced that their souls received the mysteries with the sweetest faith and with absolute simplicity, as if all that is of God were comprehensible to them, and only that which denies Him an absurdity. Their spiritual conquest accompanied them in life.

A little cousin of these children, who was prepared to receive the Communion a long time after them, and who had had no religious training in her own home, said one day, when she was working enthusiastically in class: "How beautiful the anatomy of a flower is! I like arithmetic and geometry so much! But religion is the most beautiful thing of all."

There was an older child in the school, whose parents, both father and mother, were positively hostile to religion. This child, although she showed great interest in the school exercises, was always restless. Later, when some wonderful children's parties were given in the villa where she lived, which were arranged with great skill and were veritable works of art, she became still more restless and cynical, almost as if she were suffering from some disillusionment. One day she called an orphan child from Messina, who was one of our children who had come from the school in the Via Giusti, and took her away into a quiet corner, asking her to repeat the Lord's Prayer. The orphan recited it, while the rich child gazed at her eagerly. Then, as if in obedience to an inspiration, she went to the piano to play; but her hands trembled; she threw herself on one side, with her elbow on the keyboard and her head hanging, unable to conceal her agitation any longer. Her soul was seeking to satisfy its yearning; nothing could give her peace but the one thing those who loved her wished to withhold from her. Her heart was still alive and eager: "Like as the heart desireth the water brooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God."

As yet the coarse scoria evolved from darkness, which makes it so difficult for the adult to embrace the mysteries of the spirit like a little child, had not formed around her. Later, such mysteries become incomprehensible; as to Nicodemus, who replied to Christ: "How can a man be born again? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb?"

But this rapid survey will suffice to make us understand that the little child has other needs, in addition to his intellectual wants, and that long before his intelligence is developed and satisfied, his pure and open spirit reflects the divine light. He is perhaps the Parsifal for whom we are waiting, depressed and sick at heart, while because of the impurity of our hands the dove can no longer descend in the Holy Grail towards the chalice filled with the blood of Peace. [10]

[Footnote 10: The moral question is barely indicated and is not even comprehensively indicated. Such a work, indeed, represents an experimental contribution to the education of the intelligence. At present an experimental study of the moral and religious education of children has only just been initiated at Barcelona (Spain). A book on this subject should form a sequel to this volume.

I cannot foresee whether I and my colleagues will be able to bring such a heavy task to a successful conclusion.]

THE END

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