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Document Details :
Title: The Infant, the Monk and the Martyr
Subtitle: The Death of Children in Eastern Patristic Thought
Author(s): DOERFLER, Maria E.
Journal: Le Muséon
Volume: 124 Issue: 3-4 Date: 2011
The high incidence of infant mortality in Late Antiquity encouraged patristic reflections about the fate that awaited these children. This article focuses upon a group of sixth-century theologians who argued that infants, regardless of their baptismal status, were akin to martyrs and monks in their claim to salvation. Jacob of Serugh in particular considered each newborn a new Adam, divinely formed and ready to inherit paradise. Jacob’s and his contemporaries’ views differ considerably from earlier patristic thought on this subject. What prompted such a change? This article argues that the reason for the status boost the untimely departed enjoyed in parts of the Christian East involves the increasing presence of children in the liturgy of these churches. The youths whose feast days feature prominently in late ancient martyrological calendars were celebrated as much for their purity as for their sacrifice. Liturgical language that had been reserved initially for child-martyrs like the Holy Innocents thus came to describe ordinary infants as well, resulting in a de facto re-appraisal of theological anthropology.