Vital Signs

Mere Children

There is a profound difference between the ancient and medieval view of children and the modern cult of the child. The Rousseauean idolatry of nature and worship of savages, popularized through a certain brand of sentimental poetry, helped to establish a picturesque ideal of the innocent, angelic child. St. Augustine was not inclined to hold the same view. For him, the anger, mischievousness, and impatience of little children were so many signs that human nature is not inherited free of the effects of Adam's sin. The modern emphasis on letting children "be themselves" (even though it often turns out to be lip service), as well as rhetoric about "recovering one's childhood," belie a peculiarly rosy estimation of the innate goodness of man.

Once the doctrine of original sin had been largely eradicated from the daily mindset of Catholics as well as Protestants, it was inevitable that shrines would be erected to The Child, nature's favorite, a piece of charming fantasy confirmed in the popular mind by Victorian paintings of an effeminate Jesus caressing the golden locks of cherubic ten-year-olds. The gradual shift from the Christ Child, who deserves our reverence, to The Child can be seen in some of Wordsworth's verses and those of other Romantics who profess the innocence of the "man of nature" and the perfectibility of the human species. In our age of educational Prometheanism, which still...

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