Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Luke 1:17, "to turn the hearts of fathers toward children"

Gabriel's fascinating annunciation to Zechariah of his future son John the Baptist using Mal 4:6, "to turn the hearts of fathers toward children" receives immediate application in Zechariah's pronunciation recognizing his son, "His name is John" (1:63) and the so-called "Benedictus"of 1:68-79.

Another application might be in a later description of how children were treated in a monastic setting.

In a celebrated scene in Eadmer’s Life of St Anselm, a fellow abbot described to Anselm his difficulties with the child monks. ‘They are incorrigible ruffians. We never give over beating them day and night, and they only get worse and worse.’

Anselm retorted that his philosophy of education was radically at fault. ‘Are they not human? Are they not flesh and blood like you? . . . Consider this. You wish to form them in good habits by blows and chastisement alone. Have you ever seen a goldsmith form his leaves of gold and silver into a beautiful figure with blows alone? I think not . . . In order to mould his leaf into a suitable form he now presses it and strikes it gently with his tool, and now even more gently raises it with careful pressure and gives it shape. So, if you want your boys to be adorned with good habits, you too, besides the pressure of blows, must apply the encouragement and help of fatherly sympathy and gentleness.’

The goldsmith created an impression, an image; and elsewhere, we are told that Anselm ‘compared the time of youth to a piece of wax of the right consistency for the impress of a seal . . . If it preserves a mean between . . . extremes of hardness and softness, when it is stamped with the seal [matrix], it will receive the image clear and whole.’ The goldsmith passed a message to his patrons – and, if his work survived, to posterity; the man who makes the impression on the seal creates an image which can be recognized from that day to this as the legal signature of a community or a king – and perhaps too by its beauty it may be an expression of the culture of its day.

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