IMG_1879 copy

James Saurin was a pastor in The Hague. He died in 1730. In his sermon “The Perfection of Christian Knowledge” (published in English in 1784), he laments that those who teach the children are too often the least skilled:

The carelessness that prevails in our choice of the first sort of teachers, cannot be sufficiently lamented. The care of instructing our children is commended to people more fit for disciples than masters, and the meanest talents are thought more than sufficient to teach the first principles of religion. The narrowest and dullest genius is not ashamed to profess himself a divine and a catechist.

And yet what capacity does it not require to lay the first foundations of the edifice of salvation! What address to take the different forms necessary to insinuate into the minds of catechumens and to conciliation their attention and love! What dexterity to proportion instruction to the different ages and different characters of learners! How much knowledge, and how many accomplishments are necessary to discern what is fundamental to a child of twelve years of age and what is fundamental to a youth of fifteen years of age! What one child of superior talents cannot be ignorant of without danger, and what another of inferior talents may remain innocently unacquainted with!

Heads of families, this article concerns you in a particular manner. What account can you render to God of the children with whom he hath instructed you, if, while you take such pains and are at so much experience ot them them the liberal arts, are at so much negligence in teaching them the knowledge of salvation? Not only in the a future state ought you to fear the punishment of so criminal a conduct; you will be punished in this present world. Children ignorant of religion will but little understand their duty to their parents. They will become the cross, as they will be the shame and infamy of your life. They will shake off your yoke as soon as they have passed their childhood, they will abandon you to the weakness, infirmities and disquietudes of old age, when you arrive at that distasteful period of life, which be rendered agreeable only with the care, tenderness, and assiduity of a well-bred son.

Let us all unite in endeavors, my dear brethren, to remove this evil. Let us honor an employment, which nothing but the licentiousness of the age could have rendered contemptible. Let us consider that, as one of the most important truths of the state, one of the most respectable posts of society, which is appointed to seminate religious principles in our children, to inspire them with  piety, to guard them against the snare that they meet with in the world, and, these, by means, to render them dutiful in childhood, faithful in conjugal life, tender parents, good citizens and able magistrates.

James Saurin, “The Perfection of Christian Knowledge,” in Attributes of God: Volume I, 2nd ed., trans. Robert Robinson (London: E. Fawcett, Black Friars, 1784), 70-71.