Motherhood, Aristotle, and the Trinity

If you are a mom (or anyone else for that matter), please bear with me in this initial section. It is tough sledding, but there is fruit at the end. Fred Sanders’ book on the Trinity has been an excellent read so far. Throughout the book he pulls in quotes and illustrations from many diverse sources. In the early chapters Sanders mentions Nicky Cruz, who was converted by David Wilkerson the author of the The Cross and the SwitchbladeJohn Bunyan, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Thomas F. Torrance, and Gerald Bray among others. In one section Sanders is talking about the difference between who God is and what He does. He notes that God did not have to create. He was glorious, good, and loving before the world ever came into being and would have remained so had he never created. One person he quoted struck me. Here are the quotes from that individual:

He is the great God, “the God of the spirits of all flesh,” the high and lofty one that inhabiteth eternity,” and created not angels and men because he wanted them for his being in itself , and as such must necessarily be infinitely happy in the glorious perfections of his nature from everlasting to everlasting; and as he did not create, so neither did he redeem because he needed us; but he loved us because he loved us, he would have mercy because he would have mercy, he would show compassion because he would show compassion.

In other words, the creation of this world was a gift of grace. God was not constrained to create in any way. This person goes on to explain why Aristotle was mistaken in his belief that world had eternally existed alongside God.  Aristotle said this because he felt that a good God demanded an outlet for that goodness and therefore matter had to eternally exist as a way for God to show his goodness. This person refutes Aristotle using the Trinity:

For had he [Aristotle] ever heard of the great article of our Christian faith concerning the Holy Trinity, he had then perceived the almighty Goodness eternally communicating being and all the fullness of the Godhead to the divine Logos, his uncreated Word, between whose existence and that of the Father there is not one moment assignable. 

The person’s point here is that God’s goodness did not need a created world to be expressed. It had been expressed between Father and Son for all eternity. It is clear that this person has a grasp of ancient philosophy, Trinitarian theology, and the Scriptures. It is also clear that this person understands and delights in who God is. Who do you think said these things?

The answer is Susanna Wesley.  I was fascinated by these quotes from Mrs.Wesley’s journal tucked away in Sanders’ book. I think Sanders was as well. He says, “Susanna Wesley’s skirmish with Aristotle is a pretty tidy speculative engagement with the philosopher, and it is worth remembering that Susanna was not a theology professor but a full-time homeschooling mother when she wrote it.” I read a little more about Susanna Wesley and found out the following facts: she had a hard life, she had nineteen children, of whom only eight were living when she died, and she taught all her children Latin and Greek, as well as many other classics subjects. Several thoughts popped in my head as I learned these things. Here they are in no particular order:

How much of John and Charles Wesley’s theological impact can be traced to their mother? Clearly she understood the deep things of God and passed that on to her children.

Why do we often assume that women only need a great education if they are going to have a career? (And let’s be honest Mrs. Wesley probably had a better education than most career women today.) If they are going to be stay at home moms we assume that Latin, Greek, theology, advanced science, and philosophy are a waste of time. But are they really? I am not saying these things must be taught to our daughters, but if we can teach them, why not? Surely the long term impact of John and Charles can be traced not just to their mother, but to their mother’s education.

Along those same lines, why do we often assume that mothers do not need to worry about or understand theology? I am not saying all women must be theologians. Different women have different leanings and bents. Some women love theology. Some do not. There are dangers with both these leanings. But all Christian women should understand and delight in the basics of the Christian faith including, the Trinity, the atonement, the Scriptures as the inspired Word of God, the Holy Spirit, baptism, the Church, etc. Men, why would we not want our wives to know these things? Why would we not want them to think deeply about God like Mrs. Wesley did?

I might add here that women who do study theology often do not connect it to their task as mothers.
They might study Calvin, Aquinas, the Trinity, Romans, or the atonement, but don’t see how their study connects to motherhood. How can this be? How can the great truths of the Scriptures given through the great men of the Church not have anything to say about the great task of shepherding little ones? If a woman is learned in these areas, it is assumed she must write, blog, or teach. Why? Is using this knowledge to raise children a waste? I am not saying writing and blogging are bad, but just because you study theology does not mean you need or deserve a public outlet for your thoughts. Feed your own soul and your children’s souls with the great truths you are learning.

The knowledge a mother has is never wasted on her children. My wife has a degree in theology. Many stay at home moms I know have degrees. Some have advanced degrees. The world would consider this a waste. Why get a degree and then stay home? Why learn about biology, chemistry, history, literature, sociology, and then just change diapers? Many husbands probably think it is a waste as well. The assumption behind this is that using what you learned to make money is more profitable than using it to bring up children.  But raising children is never a waste of time. A mother’s experiences, education, upbringing, knowledge, etc. should all be brought to bear upon raising up the next generation. This is the great work to which God has called her. What she knows is never wasted when she pours it into her children. By the way, I am not saying a college education is necessary or always good for a woman. But if God in His providence has allowed a woman to get one she should see this as an asset to mothering, not a drawback.

Finally, we must never forget the long term impact mothers have for good. Not all children are destined to be a John or Charles Wesley. But all of our sons and daughters can be a force for Christ in an increasingly ugly world. It is my prayer that there will be many women like Susanna Wesley, who are well educated, theologically informed, hard working, and godly, but will use these gifts to build the Kingdom through raising children.