Do Children Know God Without Being Taught

Powerful Essays
Do Children Know God Without Being Taught?

The Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) writes of a vision in which a four-sided form, representing the wisdom of God, is connected by a channel to a fetus in the mother’s womb. Through this channel to the child a “fireball” is transmitted, which “pours itself through all the limbs of the person and gives the greenness of the heart and veins and all the organs to the entire body as a tree gives sap and greenness to all the branches from its root...A fireball possesses the heart of this child. Because the soul, burning with the fire of deep understanding and not having the form of human members, discerns different things in its journey of understanding. The fireball…comforts the heart of the human being because it exists so to speak like the foundation of the body” (Fox, 55.) Hildegard’s vision confronts us with the idea that God may be communicating with us well before we are born. This thought, as well as my own observations of children and my own experiences of God, have led me to ask, “Can we know God without being taught?” The prevalent theories of faith development, and the curricula for Christian education that have evolved from them, stand in opposition to the idea that we innately know God. As well, the history of Christian thought about children has promoted the idea that children are far from holy and in dire need of instruction. In this paper, after reviewing historical lines of thought regarding children’s spirituality, and the faith development theories of James Fowler and John Westerhoff, I present alternative ideas about faith that allow or support the theory that children know God without being taught. This idea is then examined in light of Scripture.

Tradition: The Child in Christian Thought

For centuries Christians have understood humanity to be marked by original sin. In the West this has been interpreted by Augustine (354-430) and Reformed theologians as a statement



Bibliography: Abrams, M.H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1975. Austrian, Sonia G., ed. Developmental Theories Through the Life Cycle. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. Berryman, Jerome W. Godly Play: An Imaginative Approach to Religious Education. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1995. Brekus, Catherine A. “Children of Wrath, Children of Grace: Jonathan Edwards and the Puritan Culture of Child Rearing.” In Bunge, Marcia J., ed. The Child in Christian Thought. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001. Cavalletti, Sofia. The Religious Potential of the Child: Experiencing Scripture and Liturgy with Young Children. Chicago: Archdiocese of Chicago, 1992. Coles, Robert. The Spiritual Life of Children. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990. Coogan, Michael D., ed. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. DeVries, Dawn. “ ‘Be Converted and Become as Little Children’: Friedrich Schleiermacher on the Religious Significance of Childhood.” In Bunge, Marcia J., ed. The Child in Christian Thought. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001. Ford-Grabowsky, Mary. The Concept of Christian Faith in the Light of Hildegard of Bingen and C.G. Jung: A Critical Alternative to Fowler. Princeton Theological Seminary dissertation, 1985. Fox, Matthew. Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen. Sante Fe, NM: Bear & Co., 1985. Guroian, Vigen. “The Ecclesial Family: John Chrysostom on Parenthood and Children.” In Bunge, Marcia J., ed. The Child in Christian Thought. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001. Hay, David, with Rebecca Nye. The Spirit of the Child. London: HarperCollins, 1998. Hoffman, Edward. Visions of Innocence: Spiritual and Inspirational Experiences of Childhood. Boston: Shambhala, 1992. Loder, James E. The Logic of the Spirit: Human Development in Theological Perspective. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998. Pitkin, Barbara. “ ‘The Heritage of the Lord’: Children in the Theology of John Calvin.” In Bunge, Marcia J., ed. The Child in Christian Thought. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001. Sasso, Sandy Eisenberg.  “When your Children Ask – A Jewish Theology of Childhood.”  In Erricker, Jane, Cathy Ota and Clive Erricker (eds.) Spiritual Education. Portland, OR: Sussex Academic Press, 2001. Traina, Cristina L. H. A Person in the Making: Thomas Aquinas on Children and Childhood. In Bunge, Marcia J., ed. The Child in Christian Thought. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001. Westerhoff, John H. Will Our Children Have Faith? Harrisburg, PA: Anglican Book Centre, 2000.

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