As I begin my readings of the church fathers specifically to understand their written treatment of children and childhood, I find it helpful to identify a few early research assumptions on my part. Remember, these are early assumptions, which implies my understanding that I could be wrong. Any bona fide patristics research scholars are welcome to offer their feedback in the form of correction or affirmation in the comments. My assumptions are as follows:
- The church fathers do not conceptualize childhood as we do in contemporary thought. That is, it is not seen as a research discipline or a topic of concern in its own right. Rather, the treatment of children, their discipline and life training, and their spiritual training are all interwoven into the fabric of larger topics within their writings.
- Children are not viewed as having spiritual lives all their own. Rather, their spiritual formation is treated in the context of family and society and is considered important insofar as it contributes to their progression toward adulthood, rather than something of singular importance to their childhood.
- The church fathers do not directly address reading children as an audience. They address adults, particularly parish leaders and parents (esp. fathers).
- Where children are mentioned, training (discipline and instruction) children and protecting them from specific systemic evils seem to be the predominate themes.
In the weeks ahead as I continue my readings I will refer back to this post to interact with my early assumptions and make corrections as I continue my learning journey. I begin with the apostolic fathers: Clement of Rome, Mathetes, Polycarp, Ignatius, Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus.