Today, I am posting an article written by Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira (b. 1908- d. 1995) for it is a veritable treasure trove of long forgotten Catholic common sense. It is titled: The Happiness of An Idealistic Child. It is one in a series of articles that Dr. Plinio wrote on the topic of True and False Paths to Happiness. We talk much about happiness and how to obtain it; yet it often eludes us. This article might be of assistance in finding it. The source of Dr. Plinio’s article is noted at the end. The article now begins:
In a famous sonnet titled “My Eight Years” (Meus oito anos), the Brazilian poet Casimiro de Abreu yearns “for the dawn of my life, for my dear childhood that the years no longer bring”:
Oh! What longing I have for the dawn of my life,
For my dear childhood that the years no longer bring!
What love, what dreams, what flowers, in those tranquil afternoons,
In the shade of the banana trees, under the orange groves!
How beautiful the days are from the dawn of existence!
The innocence soul breathes like the flower perfumes;
The sea – a serene lake – the sky – a blue cloak,
The world – a golden dream – life – a hymn of love!
It is difficult to find persons who do not look back with longing upon this time of their life. A kind of nostalgia for our boyhood, somewhat like a lost paradise!
No one yearns for their 20s as they do for their time as a child. But why does one long for that time?
The good child is moved by the principle that life is consistent, and that life is worth living because life is something grand. Even though there is suffering, everything in the end has its explanation and this is true.
The result is a kind of optimism that characterizes childhood. The child is full of hope, readily believes what he is told, and is completely turned toward submitting, serving, admiring. Quite the opposite of the stingy 50-year-old man who says: “No, my old age is around the corner. Now is the time when I must accumulate money and more money, so I don’t run the risk of being poor!”
The good child has nothing to do with silly children. Because he is very pure and full of candor, whenever evil appears, he rejects it. He becomes belligerent in face of evil.
He does not believe in unbelief. If someone says to him, “Listen here, there is no God…” he does not believe it.
Deep down, the child has a virginal sense of the distinction between truth and error, good and evil, which can later become dulled as he moves through life.
The first certainties of the child
The virginal sense of the child’s state of soul gives his reasoning a kind of rectitude and natural certainty. His first certainties resemble, for example, the candor with which he runs to his mother when he feels some danger.
He does not make the following reasoning: “This lady is stronger than I am. I am weak. Therefore, I need her support.”
It is a natural reaction that is not yet reflective. There is nothing blameworthy in this; it is just that he considers reflection superfluous. The clarity of his possession of the first principles of reality is such that a pondered exploration is not necessary.
The reasoning is very fluent, very clear, very methodical, so fluent and clear that the question of method does not even arise. It is a type of transparency.
Imagine a very candid and virginal child, standing by a river where there are some stones. The water plays with the stones, making shadows, splashes of light… At some point the boy will say: “Why am I thinking? What is thought?”
And a response soon emerges as if arising from the evidence. This happens in such a way that when the mother tells him that there is God, he naturally accepts it and exclaims: ” Ah! The something that explains everything is God! It is true!”
He did not have to be told St. Thomas’ five proofs of the existence of God, but when he becomes aware of them later, it seems like something he has already seen; it just became explicit.
The child has, in the unfolding of his innocence, an implicit notion of the existence of God: A searing, tremendous and luminous notion of God.
Then, he is told that Jesus Christ came into the world. He hears about the Infant Jesus. The child believes in the Infant Jesus. Because everything confers so well with what is in his mind, it does not even occur to him to ask why Baby Jesus was born and what proof there is for it. He thinks it is so natural that the Infant Christ was born that he needs no proof.
The tendency of children to see everything in a marvelous way
This first order in an innocent child is the notion that such a thing is beautiful, that something else is good, that one must do this or that.
When it has to be shown that fairy tales are not true, the child has an enormously greater facility to accept that than to believe that Our Lord did not come to earth. For he easily realizes that the fairy tale is a story; still he likes to hear the tale that is a lie because it tells him something that is true. It is a fanciful envelope that carries a magnificent, hidden truth.
From this we see the child’s tendency to see in a marvelous way the things that he sees. He tries to see in what way concrete things confer with the matrix that is in his soul, which for him is perfect. Since the concrete thing is not perfect, the child seeks to see it from its best sides to fulfill a perfectly logical need of the spirit. What is not perfect does not matter to him at the moment.
We are not speaking of a dream world, nor an erroneous subjectivism, but rather a completely legitimate, logical operation existing in the child’s mentality.
Hence, there is a kind of heavenly happiness, which comes from the idea that he was placed in an innocent paradise where everything seems perfect.
Faithfulness to the first certainties
In this first stage, perfection seems co-identical with innocence: His father is perfect, his mother is perfect, his crib or even the afternoon stroll is perfect, the toy is perfect, the little flower he picks in the garden is perfect.
The child has a certainty and a force of logic that is one of the greatest jewels of the spirit and is the opposite of the putrid egoism of a decrepit old man.
This force and energy of logic thus produce a flurry of initial certainties that can make the soul, if it is true to itself, be gifted its whole life with certainty and light, also with energy and the capacity a perfection in his to feel happy despite tribulations.
This way of being of childhood innocence does not take place with all children exactly as described here. In the 20th century soul emptiness made its entrance in History, which has only become worse with time. But something still exists.
Because of the graces of Baptism, childhood is an apogee. The question becomes whether a man’s life advances from apex to apex, or if he takes a different direction…
The ‘golden boy’ and the Queen
We can give an example with this photo published in an Italian magazine. In it one can see the Queen of England in grand ceremonial dress in a horse-drawn open carriage. Watching her pass is a boy on the sidewalk. He is in a profoundly contemplative and rapt position before the Sovereign. Involuntarily, he takes an attitude of prayer. He raises and grasps his hands in the prayer position, his gaze unspeakable: a mixture of reverence, respect, affection.
He is attentive, his eyes fixed on the Queen. Everything in his face, his expression, is a mixture of contemplation and prayer.
For him, something in life completely transcends the vulgarity of everyday life, and that something is a reflection of God on Earth.
He is not thinking about himself at all. He is only considering the Royalty. It is an attitude of prayer and, at the same time, an attitude of affection. He does not want to be king or take advantage of anything in the Monarchy; nor does he want to stand out in the scene.
In contrast, there is a girl near him who has realized that she is being photographed and is posing. She is all excited about what is happening. If she were told that she was going to be queen she would be happy. But the boy has no desire to be king. What he wants is for a king to exist.
He is a good image of unpretentiousness: He is a person who looks at something other than himself and is capable of being completely enchanted by it.
This boy could say to the Queen: “Your Majesty, I thank you. I am grateful to you for being the Queen.” It would be an echo of what is said in the Gloria of the Mass: Gratias agimus Tibi propter magnam gloriam Tuam – We give Thee thanks, O God, for Thy great glory.
He is truly a golden boy!
It was about children like this that Our Lord said: “Let the little ones come to me, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Mk 10:14) And then He said that whoever was not like this would not enter paradise (cf. Mt 18:2-4). That is, only those who keep their souls in this primeval state and improve it until the end of their days will go there.
This is the notion of primeval innocence, the first innocence that fills us with enthusiasm for the things that really merit admiration.
And it also fills us with happiness. (source)
Dr. Plinio leaves the reader with the idea, the Catholic idea, that it is imperative to happiness, and eventual entrance into heaven, that a person make their way back to (or stay in) the state of first innocence.
It is here that I would note: if innocence has been lost in your life, do not be alarmed (all have fallen short), but make a return to the Box of Life, the Confessional. There, in that green place, all is forgiven through the merits of Jesus Christ, and innocence is restored.
May you have a good day.