National Post

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Friday, July 30, 1999

'Original sin' seen in children

Elena Cherney
National Post

St. Augustine, the early Christian theologian, believed in infants' capacity for aggression and cited their "jealousy" and "bitter looks" as evidence of the Christian doctrine of original sin.

"St. Augustine is famous for saying that you can see in the behaviour of little children evidence of original sin," said Elmar Kremer, a professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Toronto.

In Book 1, chapter 7 of his Confessions, St. Augustine wrote: "in the weakness of the infant's limbs, and not in its will lies its innocence" -- an observation that fits neatly with the conclusions reached by the Montreal psychologists who studied the aggressive behaviour of toddlers and found that if the children were armed, they would be more dangerous than teenagers.

St. Augustine saw infant aggression as a clue in the quest for understanding moral growth.

"St. Augustine believed that when young kids did bad things, it was a sign of our built-in nature and he attributed it to original sin," said Prof. Joseph Boyle, who teaches philosophy at the University of Toronto and is principal of St. Michael's College.

Prof. Boyle said that he views the doctrine of original sin as meaning that children are born "alienated from God" because of mankind's fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. That alienation does not in itself explain why a child would hit or bite -- especially since after being baptized a child is considered to be free of original sin.

But Catholic doctrine holds that even after baptism, humanity is left "with a weakened mind and weakened will and an inclination toward evil," said Father Daniel Donovan, who teaches in the Christianity and Culture program at St. Michael's College.

In the 18th century, philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau proposed that babies are born innocent and learn evil from their environment.

Richard Tremblay, the lead author of the new study, argues that "Rousseau was wrong," and human nature works the other way: Children are born aggressive, and need to learn to curb this natural tendency.

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