'No, I hold myself in quiet and silence, like a baby in its mother's arms, like a baby, so I keep myself.' – Psalms 131: 2
St. Aurelius Augustine once said that when he himself, as a baby, beat his mother's breast while nursing, it was really the showing of the secret desire rankling in his heart to murder his mother. He believed that a child's sin was determined before he ever acted sinfully, and would go to everlasting damnation if he died before his infant baptism.
The idea, termed original or ancestral sin, was not taken seriously until the Enlightenment, when Martin Luther and John Calvin took the words of St. Augustine to be theological truths. "Original sin," Calvin said, "therefore appears to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused through all the parts of the soul, rendering us obnoxious to the divine wrath and producing in us those works which the scripture calls works of sin. ' God, therefore, was deemed a terrible deity who would damn innocent children for sins which they had not committed.
This belief developed. Sinfulness was said to be present even after baptism. We were deemed to be sinning all the time, even when we were not conscious of it, and therefore had an excuse to never combat our sin. As Martin Luther said, "Be a sinner and sin on bravely, but have stronger faith and rejoice in Christ, who is the victor of sin, death, and the world. Do not for a moment imagine that this life is the abiding place of justice: sin must be committed. to you it ought to be sufficient that you acknowledge the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, the sin can not tear you away from him, even though you commit adultery a hundred times a day and commit as many murders. '
Never mind the words of Jesus: 'Go and sin no more.' 'Be ye perfect, even as thy heavenly father is perfect.' 'Whoever holds to my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home in him.' Of Paul: 'Those controlled by the sinful nature can not please God.' Of John: 'We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commandments.' Or the fact that, if sin-guilt was inherent in all Life and not just in action, that Jesus Himself could not have been sinless, as He chose to enter the world through a woman's womb.
To the detriment of all this, the beliefs of Calvin and Luther and Augustine were widely accepted in the Protestant and Catholic church, and continue to be today. This belief in the evil propensities of a child was accentuated by the Enlightenment's divorcing of the spiritual and material aspects of life, of Darwin's treatise on the animalism of man, and the amalgamation of both of these in the Industrial Era, which treated the child as sinful animals without character, emotion, or goodness.
In fact, in the world of the early 1800s, children were not even viewed as human beings until the age of seven. Sanitation was so primitive that it was extremely rare for a child to live to seven-years-old, and therefore they would not be intellectually counted as mind-full until they were proved to live through their infancy. They were deemed as being the essence of sinfulness, thus disregarding Jesus' declaration to 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.' In the original Greek, the last part of the sentence literally reads 'the kingdom of God is this [the little child].'
However, there were some people who struck out against the Enlightenment's painting of children. They were a part of the Christian Romantics, who adhered to the belief that the spiritual was inherent in matter, and that whoever welcomed a Child welcomed Jesus and therefore welcomed Elohim. Thus William Wordsworth declared, "Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might Of heaven-born freedom on thy being's height." And William Blake expostulated, "When the voices of children are heard on the green And laughing is heard on the hill, My heart is at rest within my breast And everything else is still. '
The aggression against the Calvin-Luther-Augustine theology was continued with great force by the Victorian author, Charles Dickens. It was he that paved the way for the Victorian's return to the love of the child, the sacredness of the mother, the unit of the father-mother-child, when 'the Child is Father of the Man', as Wordsworth termed it. In his books he wrote about little children who possessed thoughts, feelings, goodness, and the longing for love and acceptance. Pip, Biddy, David Copperfield, Amy Dorrit, Little Nell, Sissy Jupe, Esther Woodhouse … the list goes on. He shows how the innocence of these children may be tainted by the sinfulness of their parents (Hard Times), through the cruelty of schoolmasters (David Copperfield), by the brutality of women (Great Expectations, Bleak House), or the negligence of fathers (Little Dorrit, Old Curiosity Shop). But he did not just make an example through negatives. He showed the true joy that might come when the family is as it should be. When the family models the Holy Family: the father as protector and provider, the mother as comforter and caretaker, the child as the holy fruit of their love.
This is seen in no greater book than in A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge – the epitome of the anti-emotion movement started in the Enlightenment and followed through in Industrialization – comes to realize the sacredness of Love and therefore the fruit of Love, the Child, through the example of the beautiful, lovely family of Tiny Tim. As Dickens said, 'It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.'
And thus Dickens ushered in the true enlightenment of the Victorian era.