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The Church and Childhood.

The Church and Childhood. Papers Read at the 1993 Summer Meeting and the 1994 Winter Meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society. Edited by DIANA WOOD. Pp. xxiv+530. (Studies in Church History, 31.) Oxford: Blackwell, 1994. Hardback 39.95 [pounds sterling]/$59.95; paper 14.99 [pounds sterling]/$24.95.

THE Year of the Child, in 1994, followed a year scarred in Britain by children murdering a two-year-old. Dr Janet Nelson, of King's College London, did not wholly envisage such topicality when she chose the church and childhood as the theme for the Ecclesiastical History Society in her presidential year. Her own address ranges widely over 'Parents, Children, and the Church in the Earlier Middle Ages'. Like other contributors, she pays homage to Philippe Aries' pioneering of the history of childhood while dissenting from some of his salient conclusions, especially his denial of a 'sentiment de l'enfance' in medieval Europe--although she can point to no medieval Latin equivalent for our 'childlike', as distinct from 'childish'. The three-way relationship of her title found a key focus in baptism. Augustine's legacy did not preclude notions of children's purity and innocence, for example in the motif of the puer-senex, the infant with the wisdom of the senior citizen. The Carolingian elaboration of baptism, with an enhanced role for godparents, gave it 'an altogether higher profile in the self-representation of Christian culture, than it had ever had before'--higher, one may ask, than the fourth century's 'awe-inspiring rites of Christian initiation' (Yarnold)? The difference lies in the subjects of baptism; it is almost as if the history of baptism began anew once paedobaptism became generalized (surely later than the fourth century). 'The whole weight of the newly-elaborated Christian rites fell on early childhood.' Oblation, chiefly in vogue in the ninth and tenth centuries but unacceptable from the twelfth, was not a form of child abandonment, as John Boswell argued (although it served to accommodate princes surplus to requirement and otherwise to limit the number of heirs), but 'the parental gift of the living child' within a nexus of social and ecclesial relationships.

Many papers pick up themes in this learned and suggestive presidential address. John Doran discusses the ambiguities in the nature of oblation from the outset, which later canon lawyers tried to resolve. 'Rome's Busy Baby Box' turns out to be something like a large bank deposit chute in the wall of the hospital of Santo Spirito, linked by legend to Innocent III's concern in founding it to rescue children normally abandoned to the Tiber. When anonymous footsteps were heard approaching the rotating grille, so Brenda Bolton informs us, the attendant's urgent question was 'Has it been baptized?' Babies dying unbaptized in Byzantium were deemed 'worthy neither of the kingdom nor of punishment'. Pastors tried to prevent the problem but, when it occurred, could say nothing of the dead child in comforting parents. Jane Baun finds the reason in the unbaptized's lacking all identity, whether moral, personal, or spiritual. A more obvious reason, found in the fourth-century Fathers, is a more biblical view of baptism: since babies have no sin, original or as yet personal, to be forgiven, baptism confers on them positive gifts including the kingdom of heaven. Sacra infantia in medieval hagiography is the subject of Istvan Bejczy, identifying it in a saint's refusal to suckle as a baby--except perhaps on Fridays, or only from the left breast. The responsibilities of godparents in early modern England are surveyed by William Coster.

No reviewer can hope to do justice to all thirty-plus articles in a volume like this. Other thematic areas are worth highlighting. Choirboys and choirgirls in the Victorian Church of England (Walter Hillsman) complements T. N. Cooper's account of Lichfield's experience during the sixteenth century: the cathedral choristers declined from c. 1530, not long after their role had been at its peak. Its rise had accompanied that of the boy bishop's festival, which is studied for earlier centuries by Shulamith Shahar, with particular attention to the sermons boy bishops preached. Child precociousness of quite a different kind is analysed in Susan Hardman Moore's finely written picture of the child prophet Sarah Wight. Such 'extraordinary' receptivity to supernatural power could be transcribed into normal ideals of young spirituality. Alexandra Walsham is in similar territory with William Withers, even younger at eleven, in Walsham-le-Willows in Elizabethan Suffolk.

On a corporate plane, 'The Purley Way for Children' is Clyde Binfield's rollicking cameo of Purley Congregational's 'Children's Church', complete with its own robed choir, reed organ, and deacons. According to Brian Stanley, juvenile missionary organizations in English Sunday Schools in the nineteenth century were remarkable fund-raisers, contributing some twenty per cent of the Methodist Missionary Society's home income in 1901. The books these scholars might have got as prizes are analyzed by Dorothy Entwistle. I guarantee that most readers of JTS will not have heard of the three most-presented authors. The values they inculcated are reflected in this gem from Sabine Baring-Gould: 'What was Christ's first thought [on Easter Sunday]? To escape the tomb; to see his mother? No. He first folded up his grave clothes and put them properly in their proper place.' Readers will move naturally to Ruth Bottigheimer's paper promising the emergence and development of the Bible for children since 1550. Her title is in fact a trailer for her forthcoming monograph; the paper traces the changing treatment the genre accorded to Jael's murder of Sisera in a sequence summed up as 'philogynous inclusion, misogynistic commentary, and ultimate erasure'. Elizabeth Siberry looks at the heroic glossing of the fortunes of the children of the crusades in British historical novels and adventure stories in the last two centuries.

And there is more. The quality is almost uniformly good, the interest level high, and there is a useful index. All concerned are to be congratulated on the speed of publication, without loss of editorial accuracy. But a replacement note is needed on p. 24, and even here, alas, the Latin leaks. I appreciated 'women of slowly status' (p. 92).

D. F. WRIGHT
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Author:Wright, D.F.
Publication:The Journal of Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 1996
Words:1008
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