I Was So Much Older Then...
I am once again reminded of this by Maritain, who suggests that we consult these great souls "because we want to hark back to a freshness of vision that is lost today."
Jesus makes a point of counseling us to be as children, but surely he doesn't mean this in any pejorative sense, e.g., credulous, naive, easily led, Democrat.
For what is a child? Well, for starters, it is what man uniquely is, in the sense that -- alone among the animals -- he specializes in immaturity because his neoteny never ceases.
Except when it does, which is when man dies, precisely. In other words, man is quintessentially an open system, not just biologically (which is obvious), but psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. To the extent that one becomes closed, or at equilibrium, in any of these areas, then one is dead on that particular level.
To say neoteny is to say neo-nate, which simply means "new birth." Thus, to say that man must be "born again" implies that one must not conflate, say, biological and spiritual birth.
Now, one of the soul's most important powers is, of course, abstraction. For example, we may consider physical and spiritual birth, and ask ourselves, what is common of the two? Birth as such represents the crossing of an ontological caesura; it is a kind of new being in a new environment -- except that something of the old being must persist, otherwise there would be nothing to undergo the change, which would be absurd.
"I was blind, but now I see." Among other things, this is a statement about birth. A new being has been born, but it is nevertheless the same "I" who was once blind but now sighted. So don't you ever forget it!
Anyway, Maritain writes of the ancients that "No treasuring up of experience, none of the advantages, none of the graces of thought's advancing age can possibly replace the youth, the virginity of observation, the intuitive upsurge of intellect, as yet unwearied, toward the delicious novelty of the real."
Allow that to sink in for a moment. While you're at it, allow something else to slink out.
I remember reading a record review of a new anthology of a musician who had peaked some half century ago. It doesn't matter who the artist was, but the critic said words to the effect that he envied the person who would be hearing this music for the first time, with fresh ears: "And when they say, 'Uncle, this has changed my life,' you can reminisce about how it changed yours as well."
However, as we know, one of the magical properties of grace is to "make all things new." It especially makes love new, but also knowledge and beauty. In the absence of this vertical renewal, life would pretty much be the worst day ever, gosh!
Speaking of which -- no, not Napoleon, but Jacques -- the latter recognized this unpleasant truth by the age of 20 or so. He must have been a rather intense lad, for
"In 1901, Maritain met Raïssa Oumansoff, a fellow student at the Sorbonne.... Both were struck by the spiritual aridity of French intellectual life and made a vow to commit suicide within a year should they not find some answer to the apparent meaninglessness of life. Bergson's challenges to the then-dominant positivism sufficed to lead them to give up their thoughts of suicide, and Jacques and Raïssa married in 1904. Soon thereafter... both Maritains sought baptism in the Roman Catholic Church (1906)."
Once again we see confirmation of my point about the only cure for cynicism being more of it. I too arrived at this completely skeptical and cynical point of view by my twenties, at least in terms of mind and spirit, or what we may know and who we are. Perhaps I was saved by my emotional immaturity, which caused me to remain rather innocent and viscerally (and even painfully) idealistic in that area. Compared to emotional reality, one's mental superstructure (if not grounded in the transcendent real) is just a shack in a hurricane, so I couldn't find that old crackerbox now if I tried.
Camus made the point that the only important philosophical question is whether or not to commit suicide. He's right. It doesn't mean you have to kill yourself all at once. Rather, you can spend your whole life doing it, like the finest rock stars and jazz greats. Or, more to the point, once one has committed spiritual suicide, then one is a dead man walking this way anyway, a grotesquely living corpse, like Steven Tyler.
Now a child, just because he is constantly learning and therefore "permanently immature," is not thereby a nothing. Rather, he represents our very own eros shot into the heart of the divine center, and my, getting bigger each day! -- which is to say, more height, more length, more breadth, and more depth (which are the measures of the soul's dimensions).
Schuon expresses it beautifully in observing that the child "of whatever age remains close to the paradise not yet fully lost": “And it is for that reason that childhood constitutes a necessary aspect of the integral man: the man who is fully mature always keeps, in equilibrium with wisdom, the qualities of simplicity and freshness, of gratitude and trust, that he possessed in the springtime of his life.”
Or, in the words of our young unKnown Friend,
"There is nothing which is more necessary and more precious in the experience of human childhood than parental love.... nothing more precious, because the parental love experienced in childhood is moral capital for the whole of life.... It is so precious, this experience, that it renders us capable of elevating ourselves to more sublime things--even divine things. It is thanks to the experience of parental love that our soul is capable of raising itself to the love of God."