The Invention of Childhood

Dear Reader,

I am intrigued by this quote from “Deschooling Society” by Ivan Illich (read my review of the article here):

“Childhood as distinct from infancy, adolescence, or youth was unknown to most historical periods. Some Christian centuries did not even have an eye for its bodily proportions. Artists depicted the infant as a miniature adult seated on his mother’s arm. Children appeared in Europe along with the pocket watch and the Christian moneylenders of the Renaissance. Before out century neither the poor nor the rich knew of children’s dress, children’s games, or the child’ immunity from the law. Childhood belonged to the bourgeoisie. The worker’s child, the peasant’s child, and the nobleman’s child all dressed the way their fathers dressed, played the way their fathers played, and were hanged by the neck as their fathers were. After the “discovery” of childhood by the bourgeoisie all this changed. Only some churches continued to respect for some time the dignity and maturity of the young. Until the Second Vatican Council, each child was instructed that a Christian reaches moral discernment and freedom at the age of seven, and from then on is capable of committing sins for which he may be punished by an eternity in Hell. Toward the middle of this century, middle-class parents began to try to spare their children the impact of this doctrine, and their thinking about children now prevails in the practice of the Church.” (p. 21)

Illich is not a Christian and this idea is a small part of his article, but I am intrigued by it. In fact, I would place the age of accountability well before seven. Children, like adults, as much as adults, are called by worship and acknowledge their Creator. Jesus suggests to us that perhaps they do this at times more ably than adults. But does this mean we should become as children? I think rather we bring them along with us. We expect them to worship, to repent, to believe, to think even. My observation has been that children who are excluded from the public worship of God’s people, sometimes even until age 12 or 13, are not more but less ready to take their place with God’s people when the time comes. Jesus himself argued with the teachers at age 12. John the Baptist leapt with joy at his Savior’s presence while still in the womb. Faith, we are told, can come to nursing infants and unborn children. So why then do we treat them as something different and separate them from the body of Christ?



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