Parenting Little Children in Paradise

Anthony Zimmerman
1991 12 31
Reproduced with Permission

Saint Augustine (d. 430) would likely say that parenting would have been a breeze in Paradise, had Adam and Eve not sinned. He speculated that their children and descendants would have been born into a completely blissful world, had they remained faithful. Let us explore the peerless Paradise of Saint Augustine:

How fortunate, then, were the first human beings! They were not distressed by any agitations of the mind, nor pained by any disorders of the body. And equally fortunate would be the whole united fellowship of mankind if our first parents had not committed an evil deed whose effect was to be passed on to their posterity, and if none of their descendants had sown in wickedness a crop that they were to reap in condemnation. Moreover, this felicity would have continued until ... the number of the predestined saints had been made up; ... In this state of bliss there would have been the serene assurance that no one would sin and no one would die, and the life of the saints, without any previous experience of toil, or pain, or death, would have been already what it is now destined to become after all these experiences, when our bodies are restored to incorruptibility at the resurrection of the dead (CITY OF GOD,14,10, trans. Penguin Classics.)

In Augustine's Paradise children are conceived and born in the state of grace, and are good automatically. No great need for parental worries, it seems. We need not follow Saint Augustine in this line of speculation; he had read Genesis too literally, not yet guided by Pope Pius XII who explained that Genesis reveals some of its deeper truths by an artifice of telling delightful and meaningful stories. The full weight of the Church Magisterium had not yet dealt adequately with Genesis.

St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) denied that any earthly Paradise would be fully sin-proof, and insisted that only heaven is like that:

I answer that it does not seem possible that in the state of innocence (the first Paradise) children would have been born confirmed in righteousness ... For the rational creature is confirmed in righteousness through the beatitude given by the clear vision of God (SUMMA THEOLOGICA 1,100,2).

The bearing and rearing of children even in a sinless Paradise, I think, would require skills which only good parents have, and years of hard work on their part. It may be something like this:

Edenite babies would surely pass through the typical phases of growing up that we know so well: the phases of easy laughter, of wonder at everything new, of bashfulness, of tantrums, of learning the language, asking a million innocent questions, of volunteering sensitive information that conventional people box up as taboo. But these innocents would not be born as saints confirmed in grace, just as our infants come from baptism sanctified but not yet saints. It is for the parents to teach the arts of humanity and of sanctity.

Parents usually teach endearingly and with love, but occasionally reenforce lessons by applying a bit of disciplinary pain. We expect Edenite babies to know what pain and crying mean. In a sinless Eden the parents would, by definition, be orderly and dutiful people, and the children would imitate what they see and experience. The best teaching parents can give is just to be good. The children soak up the goodness as though by osmosis (Zimmerman, ORIGINAL SIN: WHERE DOCTRINE MEETS SCIENCE, Vantage Press, 1990, p.217).

For example, parents, whether inside of Paradise or outside, would have to help children to adjust aggressive drives; to moderate them but not to suppress them harmfully; to assert the true self, but to stop short of becoming destructive. As today, so in Eden, the art of parenting is establishing the kind of love relationship with the child which will induce the child to want to please the parents most of the time. When child misbehavior hurts parents, then it should hurt the child too. Sometimes a scolding, a slap, a show of anger puts the child back on the straight and narrow; at other times parents wait until a propitious teachable moment arrives; parents learn to play by ear, whether to come in strong, whether to judiciously ignore contrived child antics; whether to confront aggressive behavior, or to leave slack while a tantrum or surliness resolves itself; whether to slap, or to distract; how to protect, but not overprotect and so smother private initiative. At any rate, children in Eden would have to grow up, as children do today, with the help of their parents. Then as now, children would become good mainly by wanting to please the parents most of time. And parental love would help the children to sort out their behavior, whether right, or wrong, or just okay.

Today's Children Deserve Your Home-Made Paradise

Genesis teaches us deep truths about how homes should be today. Sin wrecked the joys of marriage for Adam and Eve. They could have saved themselves much trouble had Eve looked the other way when the snake spoke; had Adam remained firm against Eve's seduction. Before the sin they were greatly in love, were on wonderful terms with God, enjoyed the poetry of life; God even came to them for walks in the cool of the evening breeze (see Gen 3:8). Sin turned their lives upside-down and inside-out. Sin made them see evil where only good had existed before. Their eyes were opened, relates Genesis with a touch of sarcasm, and they saw that they were naked; they were ashamed and afraid, so they covered themselves with fig leaves. It means, I think, they no longer trusted each other. And when they heard God draw near, they scurried to hide in the woods. Had God not called them, who knows whether they might have divorced; whether they would missed being our first ancestors. But God did call them; and when they had made their confession, they were back together once more.

This means for couples today as then: first of all, don't sin; but if you do sin, confess; then start again. Did you notice Adam's initial sulk: "The woman you put here with me gave me the fruit" (Gen 3:12). In a way he is blaming God and Eve for his sin. He was being nasty. Eve, not in a mood to face Adam, blamed the snake. But God stood there anyway until He heard both of them confess: "I ate it." Both made a valid confession. God, a good Confessor, was satisfied.

A confession cleanses. Adam cherished Eve once more, and she returned to him to resume marital ties: "Adam named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all the living" (Gen 3:20). Eve, despite trouble in pregnancy and pain in giving birth, had intercourse with Adam, then thanked God: "By the Lord"s help I have gotten a son" (Gen 4:1). This teaches that love for God and for the partner embraces children as well.

Genesis tells us more: when tragedy struck, Adam and Eve held on tight. Their son Abel was found dead; worse, their son Cain had murdered him. Cain left them for good. But for them, life must go on despite the tragedies. And so we read: "Adam and his wife had another son. She said, 'God has given me a son to replace Abel, whom Cain killed.' So she named him Seth. Seth had a son whom he named Enosh" (Gen 4:25). Finally, after a lurching and jolting start, the human race was safely on its way.

We can imagine that Adam and Eve chased every snake away form their little son Seth. Similarly, watchful parents today keep a sharp eye on snakes trying to sneak into the home via TV and other media; and on companions or even teachers who might seduce their children. God gives children directly to parents - not first to the school, not first to the State, and surely not first to Planned Parenthood. It is directly to parents that God gives the first duty to educate their young children.

The Church stands by to help. The good news is that Christ gives us back more grace than we ever lost through original sin. And in such a redeemed world, parenting is a great vocation:

Sin came into the world through one man, and his sin brought death with it. As a result, death has spread to the whole human race... Adam was a future of the one who was to come. But the two are not the same, because God's free gift is not like Adam's sin. It is true that many people died because of the sin of that one man. But God's grace is much greater, and so is his free gift to so many people through the grace of that one man, Jesus Christ.

Note: Bible quotations are from THE NEW CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE, Thomas Nelson Publishers.