Sunday, 10 February 2019

Jarred Mercer: Losing Our Innocence: The Spirituality of Children in Augustinian Perspective

In the early Christian period children were often held up as a spiritual exemplum. Following Christ was to ‘become like a little child’ (Matt 18.3). Early Christians expressed what this looked like in various ways, and often made sense of the command to childlikeness by equating it with a call to innocence—as embracing a call to innocency that can be seen in children before they are corrupted by sin (often in particular sexual sin; e.g. Tertullian De monogamia8). Much of the Christian understanding of childlikeness (and therefore in some sense Christlikeness) became dependent upon a vision of the child as innocent and pure. The emphasis on the child’s innocence in this context is seen clearly throughout the early Christian centuries from New Testament texts, to the Shepherd of Hermas, to Irenaeus, Clement, Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian, Chrysostom, Leo, and many others. In and following Augustine’s developments on how Christians understand sin and its transmission, how do people begin to explain the spiritual quest to ‘childlikeness’? Augustine’s view that children are indeed not innocent, as previous tradition had overwhelmingly assumed, causes significant difficulty to Christian communities seeing themselves as moving toward holy and right living by ‘becoming like a child’. However, the concept is much too ingrained in the Christian imagination to lose it’s hold. This paper will explore how the Augustinian perspective comes to terms with previous tradition’s emphasis on the spiritual nature of children as the aim of the Christian life.

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