A Child

ANTHONY ESOLEN

Everywhere outside of Christianity, wrote Hans Urs von Balthasar, the child is automatically the first to be sacrificed. Only for Christians is the adult the imperfect child.

Everywhere else the child is the imperfect adult, and falls subject to our lust for domination.

It is easy to see why. Men who do not know the true God, or who turn away from Him, do not therefore cease to worship. For God Himself, as Augustine says, gives us the delight in praising Him: He has made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. 

We turn then to the false gods, and since no man bows down before what he believes is beneath him, we inevitably turn towards what is in our eyes great, powerful, even ruthless. Men summon demons not because they find their company agreeable. They summon them, Chesterton noted, because they believe the demons have no nonsense about them. They get things done.

What use, then, can we have for the helpless child? We have, from Carthage, no delightful amulets portraying the god Moloch in an attitude of joy, for having received from the people his quota of children. Moloch wants the child-flesh, roasted or broiled, but not the children. 

Even the Greek gods, those glorious forms of male and female beauty, do not condescend to take note of children, at least until the boys are old enough to compete in the games at Olympia or Delphi. "Children are our greatest resource," goes the ghastly and insincere saying, as if they were minerals to be mined and put to use.

Many among us are ready to deny children their full humanity, on the grounds that they can't do anything. And because we worship the demonic getting-things-done, instead of the almighty God who chose to dwell among us as a weakling babe, we are now reverting to the weary old pagan wisdom. 

Precisely because the child is weak, we allow it to be vulnerable to our designs. It is not yet one of us, and so we can exert upon it our sovereign power, to mold it as we will.

True, we don't inhale the narcotics and beat the timbrels, while placing in Moloch's arms the poor man's baby we've "adopted," to cut the economic deal with that horrid king. What point would there be in that? We all agree now that Moloch was only a demon of man's fevered imagination. Moloch can't get anything done. 

But if getting things done — accruing raw power for ourselves — is the aim, then the child is either constantly in the way, or is the one who suffers the exercise of our power. We murder children in the womb. Why? The child would, in his very helplessness, destroy our aims. 

We can't drop out of school now. We can't quit our important work. We can't tie ourselves down with marriage. Or, to consider the decision from beforehand, we will do as we please with our bodies, and if something unfortunate happens despite all our technological precautions, we have a technological solution for that, too.


We haven't yet regressed so far as to murder children outside the womb. We retain a superstitious regard about that. The ancients believed that the lion was too noble a creature to kill a sleeping man. We are in this regard the reverse of the lion. We are those cowardly beasts that will kill a child sleeping in the womb, but will duck and shrug and grouch once it has come awake. 

It must be so, since He, who was once a child, never ceased to be that child. 

But if we can't murder children yet, we can certainly murder childhood. That murder follows naturally upon our decision to worship the false god of prowess. When Macbeth murdered the good King Duncan in his sleep, it wasn't just the single man's death he was guilty of. No, the doughty Thane of Glamis and Earl of Cawdor hears a voice crying out,

Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor
Shall sleep no more: Macbeth shall sleep no more.

In killing the sleeping man, Macbeth has murdered the very principle that allows us to sleep in peace: our trust that our weakness will be honored, and that we will be protected. 

So too, once we agree to subordinate the child to our dreams of power, then childhood itself is scotched as it were in the egg. We wish to design our children, as we draw up blueprints for a banking house or a factory. We institutionalize them as early as possible, because we want to "make something" of them, or because we want them out of the way while we are "making something" of ourselves. 

We are the tools of our tools. We subject these simple children to batteries of tests, regardless of the waywardness of the child's developing mind. We murder their innocence every day by exposing them to what is lewd, vicious, and demeaning, justifying it because, we say, that's the world they're going to have to live in. Is the child sensitive to the holiness of his body? Too bad, kid.

How far this is from the family huddled in the stable, and the child wrapped in swaddling bands! In the child Jesus we do not see God hiding his power so much as revealing what it is, really, to be mighty: for power divorced from the magnificent self-lavishing of love is demonic, and is finally futile and empty. 

Rummage for human empires in the garbage heap of history. "Unless you become like little children," said Jesus, "you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven." It must be so, since He, who was once a child, never ceased to be that child. He wants for us that innocence, that wonder before the glory of God, because then we will be filled with that mighty and Holy Spirit that plays forever in the love between the Father and the Son.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Anthony Esolen. "Saints of the Child Jesus." The Catholic Thing (February 1, 2012).

Reprinted with permission from The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info@thecatholicthing.org.

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THE AUTHOR

Anthony Esolen is a professor of English at Providence College, where his classes are featured in the college's Western Civilization Core Curriculum. He is the author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, Ironies of Faith: Laughter at the Heart of Christian Literature, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization, and is the translator of several epic poems of the West, including Lucretius' On the Nature of Things: de Rerum Natura, Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata, and the three volumes of Dante's Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. Anthony Esolen has published many scholarly articles and essays, including several on Renaissance literature. A graduate of Princeton and the University of North Carolina, Esolen is proficient in Latin, Italian, Anglo-Saxon, French, German and Greek. He lives in Rhode Island with his wife Debra and their two children. Anthony Esolen is a member of the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2012 The Catholic Thing




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