Winter 1995

Jesus as Child and His Praise of the Child

Hans Urs von Balthasar

"It takes the Incarnation to show us that being born has not just an anthropological, but also a theological, eternal significance."

In antiquity, childhood was something akin to inferiority. For this reason, the Greek noun "pais" (a child between seven and fourteen years old) can also express the idea of slave or servant; both have a subordinate position in society. The gospel, which characterizes Jesus as remaining the Father's child in adulthood, brings with it a fundamental change of attitude. As the first great Father of the Church, Irenaeus, marvelously explains it, Jesus' being the Father's child, indeed, his everlasting birth from the Father, becomes not just an example, but a state which is necessary for all: "All men whom Jesus came to save through himself are newly born in God: infants, children, youths, young and old men. This is why he went through all the ages of life: as an infant among infants he sanctified them; as a child among children he sanctified this age and at the same time became a model of devotion and of just submission for children; as a youth among youths he became a model for them as well and sanctified them for the Lord. In the same way he also became an older man among other men, in order to be in every respect a fully accomplished teacher; not merely through preaching the truth, but also according to each age, in that he hallowed it and at the same time became a model for it."1

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1. Adv. Haer. II, 22, 4; cf. III, 18, 7. On the ages of Christ's life, see my Das Ganze im Fragment (Einsiedeln, 1963), 268-321.