Friday, April 16, 2010

The Child in Dickens

'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 cannot 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 cannot 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.


Briana Monet Mahoney said...

It is so refreshing to hear someone talking about the victorious Christian life. It is amazing how many churches and Christians seem almost paranoid of the word “perfect”. Phrases like, “I sin, you sin, and don’t you dare say that you don’t.” are said from the pulpit and perpetuate the idea that we are allowed to disobey whichever commandment(s) is the most difficult and hard to keep. Where then is the power of God to keep us from evil and to perfect us to become more and more like him? What is going to make us salt and light to the world if there is no power over sin? The Bible wasn’t scared to say that Noah was “perfect in his generations” Gen. 6:9. Or to say to Abram,“I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be thou perfect.”Gen.17:1. Asa’s “heart was perfect with the Lord all his days”.1 Kings 15:14. Job was a “perfect and upright man one that feared God and eschewed evil.” Job1:1 David said to “Mark the perfect man and behold the upright” Ps. 37:37. Jesus said, “Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect” Mt.5:48. In Revelation 3:2-5 the church in Sardis is warned “for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels."
So I say with Hebrews, “seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
I want to clarify that I am not saying that we never have, or will sin. John 1:8 says “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Therefore we rely on God’s grace to save us since “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” I trying to say that sin should not be habitual or done on purpose as if we have no power through Jesus to overcome. The power of God is a changed life. “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.” Jude 24
Camille, I think you got me on my soapbox:). Sorry for such a long comment. Thanks for the great post!
As for Charles Dickens, my favorite aspect of his writing is his true love stories . The “self sacrificing with no hope of return” kind of love is so inspiring and wonderful. Of course the topic of true love could be a whole other big long comment:)

Katelyn LaRee Mahoney said...

Dear Camille,
I heartily agree with you. I enjoy hearing your views. Thank you so much for writing that post. It is encouraging to hear someone else talking about loving God and keeping his commandments. Obedience always brings blessings.
This is a poem that I really like, and thought that you and your family might enjoy. It reminds me of the verses in Ephesians 6:10-17, and Galatians 5:16-26.

True Heroism

Let others write of battles fought,
Of bloody, ghastly fields,
Where honor greets the man who wins,
And death the man who yields;
But I will write of him who fights
And vanquishes his sins,
Who struggles on through weary years
Against himself, and wins.

He is a hero staunch and brave
Who fights an unseen foe,
And puts at last beneath his feet
His passions base and low;
Who stands erect in manhood’s might,
Undaunted, undismayed,
The bravest man who ere drew sword
In foray or in raid.

It calls for something more than brawn
Or muscle, to o’ercome
An enemy who marcheth not
With banner, plume, and drum;
A foe forever lurking nigh,
With silent, stealthy tread;
Forever near your board by day,
At night beside your bed.

All honor, then, to that brave heart!
Though poor or rich he be,
Who struggles with his baser part,
Who conquers and is free.

He may not wear a hero’s crown,
Or fill a hero’s grave,
But truth will place his name among
The bravest of the brave.

I got this poem from “ The Ideals Treasury of Best loved Poems”

Camille Rose Wolaver said...

Dear Katelyn and Briana,

Thank you so, so much for your intelligent, lengthy, enjoyable comments! It is such a blessing to be able to interact with such like-minded people. Thanks for the beautiful poem and the many Bible verses. You girls are certainly very well-read scripturally! That is a very rare thing now-a-days, when most young people haven't cracked the Old Testament…or the New, for that matter.

Yes, the Bible makes it so very clear that our salvation is something that is salvific…it saves us, literally, continually, from our sin. Our post-modern church culture has accepted an idea that everyone sins continually, all the time, subconsciously and unconsciously, but thanks to the grace of God we are forgiven. But grace, in the real meaning of the world, means the giving of power…not mercy, as it is so often made synonymous with. God is merciful to us, but He is merciful to us by giving us the grace, or the power, to conquer our sins. And that is what leads us to the salvation that bears fruit that is Life and Light.

Too, people now-a-days think that the salvation experience is a one-time over-all occurrence, when the Bible makes it very clear that, though there is the definitive action of saying, "I believe in you, Jesus, and I will give my life over to you," and being baptized, from then on it is a forever onward and upward, becoming more and more close to God as we learn more and more about His ways and come more and more into complete obedience to Him. That is why God ordained the sacraments…Holy Communion, for instance, which is to be partaken of every week, in order to bring us more into God as we partake of Himself, or the spiritual disciplines: fasting, study, feasting, silence, solitude, memorization, etc. All actions, for what we do in the material world effects the spiritual world––another truth that our Platonist society has forgotten. Both Faith and Love are actions. In the Bible there are two kinds of 'Faith'. One is when we 'faithe' in the Father, meaning that every action is one of complete reliance on Himself…the other is 'faith' as in creed. Too, God is Love, because He is the Trinity…the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost loving each other through eternity. Therefore, if we love God, if we are truly His friends (for, as most people forget, he said we are His friends if we do what he commanded us), than we should obey Him. Of course, as you said, it's a very hard task…a life-long task. We are none of us without sin, but it is our duty to try not to sin, and to, hopefully, if we are pressed into God enough, to become more and more in line with His goodness and will.

It is a never-ending subject! Christianity is the one subject that you really can never grow tired of discussing, because it is so unfathomable and true and beautiful. As King David said, 'Holiness is the beauty of thy house, Yahweh, for all days to come.' 'Righteousness and bliss will kiss one another.' It is so wonder-full that goodness brings joy, that truth brings beauty, and that love is the fruit of it. May we never grow tired of immersing ourselves in the God of Love!

Thank you both again for commenting! I so do enjoy getting to discuss such things!