Voices of the Past: A Mother's Advice
Children are a heritage from the Lord (Psalm 127:3), and a very important role of Christian women is the training of these precious treasures in the faith. Numerous Scriptures speak of the parental responsibilities to train children in God’s truth. Parents were to teach the commandments of God “diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (That means all the time! Deut. 6:6-2). Children were encouraged to hear “your father’s instruction and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” (Proverbs 1:8).
There are many women in Christian history who can be models and encouragers for the Christian woman of the 21st century in the teaching and instruction of children. One such woman, named Dhuoda, lived in France over a millennium ago. Dhuoda took steps to ensure her fourteen-year-old would remember her words by writing them out in a Manual for My Son. Her words are a beautiful example of a Christian woman’s wisdom and passion to fit her son for a life which was both “of service to the world and at the same time can always, through every action, give delight to God.”
Dhuoda, who was born in the Year of our Lord 824, had married Bernard of Septimania, a second cousin to Emperor Charlemagne and involved in the political and military struggles among Charlemagne’s heirs. When feudal allegiance required that their son William live at court, Dhuoda could no longer personally give advice or guidance and wrote the Manual. She recognized that others could teach her son many lessons, but none could teach in the same way as his mother, “with the heart burning within, as I with mine.”
Dhuoda began her manual by writing of the love and sublimity of God, for she recognized that the fear of the Lord was the beginning of all wisdom. The love of God should take precedence over everything else in life. She wrote at length about faith, hope, and charity, as well as personal virtues and vices. She examined various trials of life – false riches, persecution, temptations, sickness, and danger. Whatever the trial, Dhuoda emphasized that God could be glorified through it. Drawing on both Christian and secular writers, Dhuoda outlined for William fifteen stages on the path to maturity. Throughout her instruction, Dhuoda referred to Biblical principles and people. She held up Samuel and Daniel as youths full of wisdom, Jonathan as an example of faithfulness, and Absalom as a symbol of rebellion. Scripture references abound in Dhuoda’s moral instruction. As God took the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7), so William should show deference to both the great and lowly. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), for God casts down the mighty and raises the lowly (Luke 1:36). Dhuoda encouraged William to remember that the strong should be helpers of the weak (II Corinthians 8:14).
Dhuoda’s Manual included extensive instruction on prayer, advising her son to pray for civil and religious leaders, his family, and even his enemies. She wrote that reading the psalms could bring comfort and light to every situation, and all personal prayer should be based on the Psalms. Dhuoda wrote out a simply prayer which William could say at any time:
“Mercy-giving and Merciful, Just and Pious, Clement and True, have pity on Your creation, whom You created and redeemed with Your blood; have pity on me, and grant that I may walk in Your paths and Your justice; give me memory and sense that I may understand, believe, love, fear, praise and thank You and be perfect in every good work through proper faith and goodwill, O Lord, my God. Amen”.
There are some hints in the Manual that Dhuoda’s health was not the best when she wrote, and it is doubtful she ever saw William again. Her last words to her son, the conclusion of her Manual were:
“Have frequent recourse to this little book. Always be, noble child, strong and brave in Christ! … Here ends, thanks be to God, the Manual of William, according to the word of the Gospel: ‘it is finished!'”
Dhuoda’s Manual for My Son is fascinating, not only because of her passion for bringing up her son in the fear and admonition of the Lord, but because of the fact that this model of a Christian mother comes to us from over 1100 years ago.
What legacy are you leaving for your children? In what ways are you personally and actively teaching and proclaiming God’s commandments and character to them? Like Dhouda, we live in a sinful society filled with political turmoil. May we, like Dhouda, provide our young people with the guidance from Scripture needed to both be of service in the world and give delight to God.
Dr. Diana Severance is the Director of the Dunham Bible Museum at Houston Baptist University and the author of Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History (Christian Focus, 2011). She has taught courses in the history of Christian women at SWBTS since 2004. Her greatest joy, besides the Lord Jesus, is being married to Gordon.
 When writing Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History (Christian Focus, 2011), Dhuoda was one of the most fascinating Christian mother to me. http://home.infionline.net/~ddisse/dhuoda.html has information and links to studies on Dhuoda.
 Excerpt found in Amy Oden, In her Words (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 96.
 In Her Words, 98.