Famously, Charlotte Mason’s own triggering epiphany, the flash of insight that illuminated her already-developing ideas about education, occurred as an interaction with a fresco in the Dominican Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, dominated by the figure of Thomas Aquinas. This is St. Thomas, the “Angelic Doctor” of the Church, the great mind whose synthesis of Aristotelian reason with unquestioning faith has given us the discipline of theology and an entire system for parsing reality. This fresco on the chapel’s west wall, in which Thomas sits enthroned above figures representing the branches of learning, is positioned directly beneath the depiction, in the west vaulting, of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Scholars have suggested that the Book of Wisdom which Thomas holds is meant to echo, or even to name, the Holy Spirit of the Pentecost fresco, so that the fresco of the “Great Recognition” represents a sort of intellectual Pentecost, in which the Holy Spirit enters into the act of learning, even as He has entered into the apostles. The “Great Recognition” allegorizes that very synthesis of faith and reason for which Thomas is rightly venerated. The source of all knowledge, as Thomas himself says, whether arrived at by reason or received by divine inspiration, is the Holy Spirit. If grace animates any divine revelation that we receive, the same grace, having created our reason, also moves our reasoning. There simply can be no knowledge outside the reality of God. This is the foundational truth from which Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education develops, and it is why we have made use of this image at Mater Amabilis.
…the Florentine mind of the Middle Ages went further than this: it believed, not only that the seven Liberal Arts were fully under the direct outpouring of the Holy Ghost, but that every fruitful idea, every original conception, whether in Euclid, or grammar, or music, was a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit, without any thought at all as to whether the person so inspired named himself by the name of God, or recognised whence his inspiration came.”
Charlotte Mason, Parents and Education, p. 271