Everyone sees youth as the key to the future; everyone talks about education. And it matters. Aristotle put it: “states of character arise out of like activities. . . . It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference.”[1] But what education do we need? With so many theories and books out there, how do we navigate the formation of our children?

I have been reading a thin brown book by Frederick Wilhelmsen called Hilaire Belloc, No Alienated Man: A Study in Christian Integration. Wilhelmsen was a father, professor, writer, sailor, and apologist for the Catholic Faith who died in 1997. Wilhelmsen outlined a philosophy of human nature, drawn from Belloc’s novel The Four Men: A Farrago. In this novel, Belloc relates how the character Myself decided one day to return to his home and on the way met up with three fellows. Grizzlebeard is a man who knows, accepts, and loves his identity. He is Tradition, and he brings purpose to the group. The Sailor is a lover of life, existence, beauty, song, and adventure. He brings humor, wonder, and common sense. The Poet is deeply spiritual, always looking beyond, and speaking of his elusive “own country.” Chronicling their songs, stories, and conversations, this lesser known work of Belloc’s is a remarkable study in human nature. Wilhelmsen found in these characters the three essential aspects of the human personality. Nourish these and you offer a fully human formation. Stunt these and you get a broken individual.

Wilhelmsen found in Belloc and his characters a description of something he believed was dying in our culture—Tradition, contact and affirmation of reality, and the desire for God. He believed that individuals of modern culture were isolated and sad, with a depression that extended from the poorest to the intelligentsia who seem “driven to carve the human form into pieces, and then to worship in trembling the suffering.”[2] In the Sixties, Christopher Dawson said our culture was not simply anti-religious but sub-religious: we were “no longer conscious of any spiritual need for Christianity to fulfill.”[3] But even if you think there are no problems in our culture, Wilhelmsen’s vision is compelling and fresh. He understands what we have valued in the communities, heroes, and works of past cultures. You can take his ideas and stand them against every delightful character—real or fictional—and say—“Yes, that is what makes a good person, and that is what I like about that character.” Wilhelmsen explains what it means to be human.

I have taken Wilhelmsen’s vision and Belloc’s characters, sketched out fuller explanations, and suggested some ways we could implement the vision in a plan of formation. This plan would form man naturally, laying a foundation for grace to build upon. Christian Integration offers us a start in rebuilding the absolutely essential foundation for human formation, one we might not realize we are missing. So its suggestions might seem primitive, odd, unexpected, when they are in fact, simple, robust, and exciting.

While you could buy my book, it is not yet published. See the poll to remedy that, and in the meantime--explore this site: an online fieldguide to the world of Christian Integration.


Gwen Adams
[1] Aristotle, The Nichomachean Ethics, trans. W. D. Ross, in The Basic Works of Aristotle, edited with an introduction by Richard Mckeon (New York: Random House, 1941), Book II, Ch. 1, 1103b21-26.
[2] Frederick Wilhelmsen, Hilaire Belloc, No Alienated Man: A Study in Christian Integration (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1953), 14.
[3] Christopher Dawson, The Crisis in Western Education (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1961), 172.


Andrew said...


I recently read the Wilhelmsen's book on Hilaire Belloc. I agree that Belloc, Wilhelmsen, and Dawson all provide very keen insights into humaninty and culture.

This is the first that I came across your website. I'll be reading more of what you have to say with interest.

Pax Christi


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