The training of children baptized in infancy, and, likewise, that of those who had remained unbaptized, was assigned by the Old Church altogether to the Christian home. It followed in this respect the example of Israel, which, likewise, viewed the home as the sphere of education for the young. Here reading was taught; here the Ten Commandments were committed to memory; here psalms were taught and the more important prayers impressed upon memory (Deut. 6,7). Here, from time to time, the Holy Scriptures were read in the circle of children. Paul knows that Timotheus had been trained in the Scriptures from his youth. No change was made in this respect in the Jewish-Christian home, and the Pagan-Christian. Paul may assume in the case of the Gentile Christians that the children had been taught the Ten Commandments (Eph. 6,4; Col. 3,21). He admonishes parents to bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6,4; Col. 3,21). Care was taken to circulate copies of the Holy Scriptures in the houses of the Christians, whereby the home was enabled to fulfill its educational task. Moreover, we possess a mass of testimonies concerning the fact that the Holy Scriptures were read with diligence in the bosom of the family, especially in connection with the noonday or the evening meal, when the family were gathered together. Christian brethren were occasionally sent into the houses of the poor, in order that they should read from the Scriptures to the family, the children included. Origen was held to hear and to read for himself the Holy Scriptures every day, also daily to memorize and recite a few passages therefrom (Eusebius, His eccl. VI, 2, 6 f. ed. by Schwartz, 1908). Something similar is told of Basil; and the Apostolic Constitutions exhort parents (IV. 11): “Teach your children the Word of God thoroughly, and deliver to them every divine writing”. With special predilection the psalms were sung with the children and committed to memory by them. While the religious knowledge thus acquired was, no doubt, often rather fragmentary, the Christian spirt, wherever prevalent, served in large measure as compensation.
A change took place after 325. It is hardly an accident that no author of the Old Church furnishes so many examples of exhorting to greater care for the adolescent youth as Chrysostom. The reason for this, alongside of his love for the young and his exquisite understanding for them and their nature, is the wide neglect of Christian home training for the young in that period. He never wearies in appealing to the hearts of his flock by showing ever new aspects of this most important of tasks, so fraught with consequences for the future. A common reading of the Scriptures at family worship, joint participation in the Sunday services, discussion and contemplation in the bosom of the family of the content of the sermon — these are to him the most important elements of the education of the young. With this he desired to have combined instruction in Biblical History, to be given by the father. Nor did he think too highly of himself to write a booklet about the education of children, showing therein, in an exemplary manner at the hand of elaborate models, “how a father should tell his children the stories of the Bible”. Here, feeling his way as it were, he laid down principles such as these: The selection made from the stories of the Bible is to depend upon the capacity of the children; the form of presentation should be that of free and elaborate narratives in which proper deference is shown to the imaginative faculty of the child; education is to stimulate the mind of the child to action, and to set forth the fundamental, moral and religious truths of each story.
J. Michael Reu
Catechetics p 54-56