Affected Childlikeness

rated R for coarse language

Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889–1977) wrote Transformation in Christ in attempt to explain what he saw as the challenges implicit in the individual’s choice of Christianity.


I was always critical of some common characteristics of Christians I met, because they seemed to me to be, as Holden Caulfield put it, phony.

For most of my life—even now?—I would have been happier to see scribbled on a wall, should I have found myself, like Salinger’s depressed teenage hero, hunkering down in a hallway at his sister’s school, the phrase “fuck you”, than “Jesus loves you”. The latter has always struck me as phony, and no man I’ve ever loved, that has loved me, has ever said to me, “Jesus loves you,” and yet, I have had true friends (am I mistaken?) who have spoken with enough sincerity to tell me to fuck off.


Affected childlikeness is not true simplicity

The second variety of illegitimate simplification consists in passing bay all problems in a falsely childlike manner, a kind of deliberate innocence—frisch, froh, fromm, frei (“in a brisk, joyous, candid, free way”) as the Germans sometimes put it. Such a person fails to take account of the distance he must travel in order to rise from a lower mode of being to a higher one; he would skip the indispensable phases of maturing and growth; his life, if we may put it thus, is full of short circuits. He sets much store by his childlike innocence, an attitude in which he is fully at his ease, and mistakes it for true simplicity.

He thus goads himself into a simplified and debased conception of the road to eternal salvation, which in fact is a steep and narrow one. He approaches God without a properly discriminating reverence for the mysterious majesty in which he resides concealed. Misinterpreting the evangelical words, “Unless ye become as children,” he enjos his pose of being childlike and construes his petty and simplifying conception of the metaphysical situation of man, of the mysteries of salvation, and of our transformation in Christ, as a specifically direct relationship with God.hid


My wife had a miscarriage today. I was at work, and she sent me an e-mail. I decided to come home, to be with her, but just as I was preparing to leave the office, she e-mailed me to tell me that she was going to visit a friend.

I decided to go there and surprise her. She had only been there five minutes, with all the kids, when I arrived.

Our friend was not at all taken aback. “Now everybody’s here!” she said, although, unfortunately, her husband—a good friend—was at work. She went into the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee.

I hugged my wife and she started to cry. After a minute or two, our friend sensed something wrong, and asked. My wife told her, and she embraced her, speaking softly into her hair as she did.

Later, after we had come home, my wife said, “Thank you for coming home from work to be with me. It was weird, I somehow was expecting to find you at [T———]’s house, but you weren’t there when I got there, so I guessed it was just wishful thinking. I guess I heard you thinking when you decided to come.”

“[A———] suggested I go home, so I did,” I said simply. “You hadn’t told [T———]?”

“No; I had just gotten there five minutes earlier. I probably wasn’t going to say anything. We were supposed to be talking about curricula. I’m glad I did.”

“Friendship is sharing pain,” I said. “Pretending that everything is fine all the time is telling the other that he is not your friend. It may even been a greater act of charity to share your pain than to help a friend to carry his.” I thought for a moment. “Certainly to dissemble happiness is not as great an act of charity, if it is charity at all, as permitting another to help you bear your pain, which certainly is, since we have the paradigm of charity himself doing just that.”

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.

Karolus requiescat in pace.


About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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