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Who doesn’t love a baby?

I have no idea how to live with kings, but I have lived with babies—and such a realization immediately changes how one thinks of God and of heaven.

(us.fotolia.com/Romolo Tavani)

Twice this year I’ve had two students, both new mothers, come to me to request alternate arrangements because they thought they had to miss my classes when childcare arrangements fell through unexpectedly. Twice I refused to make such arrangements. Instead, strongly convinced that babies and children must be welcome on Catholic campuses, I invited both mothers to bring their babies to class. Both were surprised but ultimately delighted by this arrangement.

It was, truth be told, partly my own delight I was secretly serving. For my youngest child is now almost nine and my wife and I are nearing fifty, so the next lot of babies we are likely to see will be some time in the future if, God willing, our children give us grandchildren. But I still want to see babies now, to marvel over their tiny fingers, their wandering eyes, their herky-jerky motions, their delicious cheeks, which you can’t help but kiss or stroke, and perhaps above all, their little odd and random noises that are somehow enchanting. Who doesn’t love a baby?

Sure enough, one baby, slumbering out of sight under a blanket in his car seat in my classroom, would utter little sighs and moans during my lectures on the first four ecumenical councils, up to and including Chalcedon in 451. That council attempted to settle various disputes by insisting that Christ had both a human and a divine nature. How might He be both divine and human? This is a question all students, from Chalcedon to our own day, continue to ask and ponder. The council’s decree is very sparing in detail. As Sergius Bulgakov said, Chalcedon’s declaration comes with little more than four negatives: the two natures exist inconfusably, unchangeably, indivisibly, and inseparably.

Those are rather abstract words. They do not warmly beckon others to think fondly on this oddly double-natured person. Who of us has two natures, or knows of any other living being that does? This seems too hard for us to think about for too long and so, as many historians have said for centuries, Christians tend, in their imagination, to collapse the tension, preferring to concentrate on either a “high” Christology (Christ the Pantocrator, as we call Him in the East, or Christ the King in the West) or a “low” one, where Jesus the man is front and center.

Of the two, my entire life’s liturgical and psychological sensibility has always gravitated towards the “high.” (This was aided, no doubt, by a strong streak of monarchism in my youth, when I could rattle off arcane details about Tudors, Stuarts, and the rival claimants to many thrones.) With a king, one knows how to behave. There is distance and majesty, which is regally reassuring. The king is “up there,” safely seated on his throne and not likely to get down to disturb my thankfully insignificant life.

With a baby, however, one is on less certain ground. One can be startled by their random and often unclear crying. One feels less confident of what to do. One suddenly, if uncomfortably, holds tremendous power over this virtually helpless infant.

In which of these two forms does God choose to reveal himself to us, and why?

In my disordered imagination, I think I know the attractions of grandly entering the world as an omnipotent monarch. Who among us has not entertained dark fantasies of sweeping down into our enemies’ territory at the head of a fearsome caravan, smiting all who have hurt us, and demanding tribute from the cowering crowds? Which of us, if we are honest, does not have a secret list of enemies we would dispatch to the Tower of London or exile to the far reaches of Siberia?

Contrast all this with how God actually enters the world. He comes not as conqueror but as baby. Few can have reflected on this more movingly than Pope Benedict XVI’s masterful and compelling homily on Christmas Eve 2006:

God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness.

“He takes away our fear of his greatness.” He does not demand anything of us. He does not make us cower. Instead, the pope continues, he simply asks for “our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him.”

This has forced me to think anew about how “to live with him.” I find myself abandoning the rather high and coldly regal Christology of my imagination, for I have no idea how to live with kings. But I have lived with babies, and such a realization immediately changes how one thinks of God and of heaven, and of the whole vexatious problem of power. If my monarchist tendencies were once drawn to the glorious vision of heaven at the end of the Bible, where there is constant and frightful reference to God’s throne (a word that appears nearly fifty times in the Book of Revelation), today those vision leave me cold. I cannot pray to such a God.

Instead, my meagre prayer has become: Let me, O Lord, be the one who brings you a bottle of milk when you are hungry at 3:00 a.m. and nobody else is around. Let me scrub the floor you just puked on. Let me be a cook and bottle-washer hidden away in the halls of heaven, and that will be enough—more than enough—while the angels do their singing in the throne room: Gloria in excelsis Deo!


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About Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille 85 Articles
Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille is associate professor and chairman of the Department of Theology-Philosophy, University of Saint Francis (Fort Wayne, IN) and author of Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy (University of Notre Dame, 2011).

10 Comments

  1. What a lovely article! “He takes away our fear of his greatness.” Yes, I, too, find it easy to adore Jesus as Divine Infant, and I indulge this love till Candlemas, reflecting on God’s great desire for intimacy with us as I gaze tenderly with a mother’s eyes upon the Baby in the Manger. It helps prepare me for Lent to follow my Teacher and Master with less intimidation, more trust, and matured adoration as my grown up Brother and Savior.

  2. Who does not love a baby? Tons of people, and I’m one of them. (I went on to have three.) They are mostly grown now, and I am not especially looking forward to grand-motherhood.
    .
    Children aren’t my “thing” either. Pretty sure they are not my husband’s.
    .
    There may well be an unsettling reason for this. From what I’ve read, having/raising children is partly learned behavior. I was the youngest in my family (ditto the husband). My experience with children younger than I was severely limited and with babies non-existent. As eager as I was to have that first baby, once he came, it was awful.
    .
    I learned a few things by the time two and three came, but I still do not care much for babies. They make me nervous.
    .
    I fear once a society doesn’t see babies around much, society is much less baby friendly. China had a one child policy for many years. Now that it has ended, people are not too much interested in having more, and the government is set to encourage child birth, possibly by coercion. (https://www.pop.org/china-begins-mobilizing-the-masses-to-reproduce/)
    .
    Larger families may be desired by TLM goers and the Amish, but that is a fairly small part of the reproductive demographic. I know many, many younger people who do not want children.
    .
    Allowing babies into his (Dr. DeVille) classroom was probably more important, in the long run, than any lecture he could ever give. Babies need to be seen, heard, and gotten used to…or there will be no one left to teach.

    • “Larger families may be desired by TLM goers and the Amish, but that is a fairly small part of the reproductive demographic. I know many, many younger people who do not want children.”

      Granted that young people may not desire children if they want to be moral and avoid hell then outside of NFP and not getting married, it’s not really up to them.

      I haven’t been able to track down the source, but I have read that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that a house is not perfect, if it is not bursting with children.

      As the youngest child in my immediate family by far (the next oldest of 3 other siblings being about 13 years older), I have missed having siblings to live with.

    • Yay Kathryn! Thank you for this comment, so honest and very relevant! It is true. Many, many people no longer want children. Furthermore, many, many young people no longer associate sex with child bearing. Many, many young people don’t associate sex with risk at all.
      Christ said to go preach to ALL nations. I’m certain He did not exclude those who do not practice NFP. It’s time we Catholics got off our high horse, acting like we’ve got (God and) the world by the tail. God despises pride. Perhaps evangelization should start with seeing what people need first:
      Education about risk and child care for starters. Safe child care is the most difficult part of child rearing for most parents today. Dr. DeVille knows. I know. And I love babies.

      • Stevie said “Christ said to go preach to ALL nations. I’m certain He did not exclude those who do not practice NFP. It’s time we Catholics got off our high horse, acting like we’ve got (God and) the world by the tail. God despises pride.”

        Given that contraception is a mortal sin (and all sin comes through pride), Catholics certainly should be preaching that it is wrong. God wants people to know that contraception is wrong regardless of whether they practice NFP. It is those who are sick (using contraception) who most need a doctor.

        “Perhaps evangelization should start with seeing what people need first:
        Education about risk and child care for starters. Safe child care is the most difficult part of child rearing for most parents today.”

        What people need is to save their souls, so the truth will serve them best. They must become Catholics to have a good chance at going to heaven.

        As for safe child care, the training manual “To Train Up a Child” would be a very good start. Discipline needs to be used to keep children safe from dangers.

      • Why would Catholics not preach to those who contracept? Or mutilate themselves through sterilization surgeries, etc? Certainly we should share the truth with everyone.

        You know, the Amish are the fastest growing denomination in North America because they have large families and a high retention rate. Sure, the Amish, traditional Catholics and orthodox Jews, etc. are smaller demographic populations today but when few others are bothering to reproduce themselves it doesn’t take long for that data to change.
        Our fertility rates are abysmal. And that’s the case for most of the globe today.
        When cultures lose hope they lose the inspiration to pass that on to another generation.
        The Church has the full teachings of Christ and we should never be ashamed to share those in their entirety.

  3. Today most young people are much more interested in “Self”.Hence the popular non stop “Selfie” addiction.Instead of children they opt for pets {dogs,cats,& goldfish}The Dogs especially are dressed up in clothes of one sort or another and
    their dog dropping are picked up or MOT.Much easier then cleaning up a babies butt and potty training.I have found in my observations these pets have taken the place of babies.Problem is pets don’t pay taxes and in most cases are unable to care for their owners in the aging out of the owners.

  4. Dreaming …:) , that the small seed that Dr.Adam has planted would bring forth rich fruit , of families becoming very much part of the every day life in churches .
    We have the good example of the Holy Father , being there in the midst of the ordinary , in Vatican . True , families have big expenses for child care ..and there are vacant spaces ,esp. class rooms , in most churches during the week ..
    The couples who are doing NFP can come , for few hours of evening adoration , listening to the good hours long deliverance prayer sites all the while, asking for freedom from all sorts of unholy soul ties and such , also be given supplemental Magnesium, to deal with its widespread lack, leading to unruly appetites 🙂
    The kids too can come along , for an evening of mini camp out like good atmosphere .
    The negligence of Adoration , inspite of Catholic churches having the Real Presence in the tabernacles – now thankfully getting remedied in more places and let us hope that same would continue to produce rich fruit , in churches becoming places for families , to become more fully the domestic churches that they are meant to be ..and the abuse crisis would be a distant memory .
    God bless !

  5. G.Raff
    Today most young people are much more interested in “Self”.Hence the popular non stop “Selfie” addiction.Instead of children they opt for pets…”
    ************

    I think that’s because in their minds they’re still the child. Adolescence has morphed into “adult-escence.”

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