Sursum Corda in Natural Law

 (This post was originally written for and posted at the ChildLight USA blog.)

What I desire to set before the reader is a method of education based upon natural law.(Mason, 1955, p. 3)  
Last year at the CLUSA conference during a lecture on education models, the speaker mentioned that Mason's curriculum is based on natural law.  The woman next to me leaned over and whispered, "So, what exactly is natural law?"  I quickly whispered back something about natural law being the set of laws not necessarily written down anywhere, but that people everywhere would acknowledge.  She looked at me quizzically.  I resolved to look into it.

Mason writes about natural law in the physical and the moral/mental sense.  In the physical sense, she speaks of the importance of good health, nutrition and atmosphere.  Everyone would acknowledge that these things are important whether they adhere to them or not.  Mason (1955) states,
 In the first place, we have considered some of the conditions to be observed with a view to keep the brain in healthy working order; for it is upon the possession of an active, duly nourished brain that the possibility of a sound education depends. (p. 95)
A curriculum based on  natural law in this sense will utilize short, varied lessons and will pay attention to how a child learns best, taking heed that the child's physical being and surroundings are optimal in order for him to learn. 

Mason talks about natural law within the curriculum.  Of mathematics she (Mason, 1954) says, "that two straight lines cannot enclose a space is a fact which we can perceive, state and act upon but cannot in any wise alter, should give children the sense of limitation which is wholesome for all of us, and inspire the sursum corda which we should hear in all natural law" (p. 6).  Sursum corda is Latin for "to lift up your hearts".  There is something in natural law that should cause our hearts to soar!

 As for the moral/mental area of natural law, here Mason has so much to say.  Ideas!  Relationships! Behavior of mind! Image bearers! Duty! Authority! Habits!  C.S. Lewis, a proponent of natural law principles called this "universal morality".  He (1952) says:
These then are the two points that I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in. (p. 21)

Mason recognized these universal principles (or universal morality, as Lewis calls it) and framed her curriculum around them.  As Lewis states, you can know about natural law but ignore it.  She says, "We labour under the mistake of supposing that there is not natural law or inherent principle according to which a child's course of studies should be regulated" (Mason, 1989, Vol. 6, p. 156).  In fact,  if we don't subscribe to natural law, the curriculum will end up in the one of the following camps which are either utilitarian or materialistic in nature:

·         The three Rs - reading, writing and arithmetic
·         Class etiquette - those things proper for a gentlemen to know   
·         Vocational work - training for an occupation
·         Latest fad or theory - children as experiments
·         Achievement  tests and scholarships - test prep

Mason calls for a curriculum based on natural law - a complete curriculum that is suggested in the very nature of things.  Her basis for natural law is found in Truth. Perhaps this is why so many of us experience sursum corda when we study her writings and apply her philosophy

Lewis, C.S. (1952).  Mere Christianity.  New York:  MacMillan Publishing Company.
Mason, C.M. (1954). An essay towards a philosophy of education. London: J.M. Dent & Sons LTD. (Original published in 1925).
Mason, C.M. (1955). Home education:  The education and training of children under nine. Oxford:  The Scrivener Press, LTD. (Original published in 1886).


  1. Thanks for this beautiful explanation. Now I know the name for what I feel when natural law learning happens here. SURSUM CORDA, it sounds beautiful.
    *Just thinking out loud. This Natural law, with capital "N", is not at all materialistic, but the contrary, based on the one and only Truth, right? Because He created nature and us, that is why we possess that universal morality.

  2. She certainly was inspired by God and her thoughts are in depth. Her words do "lift up our hearts". Thank for digging in and helping me see things that are hard for my brain to wrap around. It is enlightening to read your posts. Always..

    "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend."

  3. mmmmmm, good thoughts! As I started reading I couldn't help but think of Lewis and was tickled to see you worked it in as well. Very thought-provoking, and it's sometimes hard to be discerning about what is natural vs. fad, prep, etc. Thanks for nudging me upward!

  4. Nancy, you have done it again - reached right across the years and the philosophies and put the truth (via the Truth) right in our laps. I love these servings from your portion!

  5. Wonderful post. Yes, I've felt that uplifting feeling when I started learning about and applying CM's philosophy to our homeschool.

    Thank you for submitting your article to the next CM blog carnival.

  6. I came upon this because I knew the term and am very much an uplift and uplifted sort of person. And heart centered.
    I am considering homeschooling my one child. But I am concerned about uplifting her in a class of one.
    If anyone has any insights into a homeschool class of one, and whether it is even good and right to undertake such a thing, please do email me your thoughts at agoodmama@gmail.com
    Grandpa will pay for any school we want. But....for homeschooling we are on our own. Can I truly choose to homeschool one child at home? it would uplift my heart, but...what about hers?

  7. Flora,

    I know many others have walked this path before you with great success. Here is an interesting Parents' Review article for you to consider:

    Ring true,

  8. The Uncle Eric books teach this concept masterfully - particularly 'Whatever Happened to Justice' I kept reading about these books on different homeschool blogs and so I bought one to read ('Whatever Happened to Penny Candy'). It was so fantastic I had to buy the whole set. I think these are the best books I have bought for our homeschool! http://bluestockingpress.com/

    1. Thanks! Yes, we have these and have enjoyed them, also.