The Innate Qualities of the Child

Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. (1877-1964) was one of the greatest theologians of modern times. He was a staunch anti-modernist, who engaged and exposed the twerpy upstarts responsible for the neo-modernist Nouvelle Théologie (“New Theology”). Much more than a controversialist, the Dominican Friar could write of the deepest spiritual truths with a relish and lucidity that make his theology engaging to study.

In a series of three Ad Rem, I purpose to present his thoughts on “spiritual childhood.” This first selection, I think, serves a double function. Not only does the theologian establish the necessary foundation for the analogy of childhood, but he also preaches a wonderful mini-sermon on Catholic parenting.

(from Volume II of The Three Ages of the Interior Life)

What are ordinarily the innate qualities of a child? In spite of his little defects, we find in a child, as a rule, simplicity and consciousness of his weakness, especially if he has been baptized and is being raised in a Christian manner.

The simplicity, or the absence of duplicity, of a child is wholly spontaneous; in him there is no labored refinement, no affectation. He generally says what he thinks and expresses what he desires without subterfuge, without fear of what people will say. As a rule he does not pose; he shows himself as he is. Conscious of his weakness, for he can do nothing of himself, he depends in everything on his father and mother, from whom he should receive everything. This awareness of his weakness is the seed of humility, which leads him to practice the three theological virtues, often in a profoundly simple manner.

At first the child spontaneously believes what his parents tell him; often they speak to him of God and teach him to pray. Innately the child has confidence in his parents, who teach him to hope in God even before he knows the formula of the act of hope, which he will soon read in his catechism and recite morning and evening. Finally with all his heart the child loves his parents, to whom he owe  everything; and if his father and mother are truly Christian, they lift the lively affection of this young heart toward God, our Lord, and His holy Mother. In this simplicity, this consciousness of his weakness, and this simple practice of the three theological virtues, there is the seed of the loftiest spiritual life. For this reason, when Jesus wished to teach His apostles the importance of humility, setting a little child in the midst of them He said: “Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” In recent years we have seen realized the prediction of Pope Pius X: “There will be saints among the children,” called at an early age to frequent Communion.

Later on, during the awkward age, the child often loses his simplicity, the consciousness of his weakness, and wishes to act prematurely like a man; he gives evidence of pride and duplicity. And if he delights in speaking of certain virtues, it is less of the theological virtues than of human virtues, like fortitude and courage, which lend importance to his budding personality, and a certain prudence which he does not know how to distinguish from false prudence, and which, in his attempt to hide disorders in his life, may turn into deceit.

The harsh experience of life then reminds him of his weakness; at times he meets with injustice, which shows him the value of a higher justice. He suffers from lies that are believed, thus discovering the value of uprightness. Finally, if he reflects, if he has not ceased to pray a little every day, he understands Christ’s words: “Without Me you can do nothing,” and the profound meaning of the Our Father again becomes apparent to him. He repeats this prayer of his childhood, sometimes spending ten minutes saying the Our Father once from the depths of his heart. He has again found the road of salvation.