The Age Of Reason

At what age does the human being (fondly designated homo sapiens by naturalists, at least by human ones) become what the philosophers used to call an animal rationale? According to Roman Catholic tradition, one attains the “age of reason” at about seven years of age. After that it is possible to receive the other sacraments, in addition to baptism, and also to commit actual sin.

But reaching the age of seven does not guarantee the attainment of reason. According to Jonah, in the Nineveh of his day (as the capital of a powerful but hard-pressed and much disliked empire, no doubt comparable to Washington, D. C.) there were “more than six-score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand” (Jonah 4:11). Some interpreters take this to mean that there were 120,000 children, no doubt plus the necessary associated adults—but this would be a bit unusual, for it is more common in the Bible, when listing only a part of the population, to give the number of “men who draw the sword,” rather than children. Others, less charitable, assume that the Ninevites as a group had some difficulty distinguishing between right and left, and this would fit in to the parallel with Washington. Be that as it may, it is evident that the mere attainment of a certain chronological age does not guarantee that homo will be rationalis, much less sapiens.

On the other hand, being below the “age of reason” does not mean that one cannot understand important things. Parents frequently wonder at what age their children can begin to grasp spiritual truths, and most people who have talked seriously and frequently with little children are convinced that they frequently understand even rather subtle theological ideas ...

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