In 1 Corinthians 13:11, which is the first Epistle (letter) of Saint Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians he says:
‘When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.’
What does he mean?
In the Geneva Study Bible it gives this small but helpful note:
‘He sets forth that which he said by an excellent similitude, comparing this life to our infancy, or childhood, in which we mutter and stammer rather than speak, and think and understand childish things, and therefore have need of such things as may form and frame our tongue and mind. But when we become men, to what purpose should we desire that stammering, those childish toys, and such like things, by which we are formed in our childhood by little and little?’
This seems to suggest that being obsessed with sight, taste, smell and the pleasure of words and the body is childish. Being an adult is concentrating on higher pleasures like the seeking of knowledge and truth. This evidently doesn’t have to be a religious message, it applies to everyone suffering the human condition. Although the message is more meaningful in context: that of trying to obtain a virtuous habit and working past the obsessions of our body and childish evolutionary-based mind and desires. Even the Virtuous-Pagans like Aristotle and Plato could get behind such a message, as is proven by their philosophical systems concerning Ethics and Metaphysics. It is a universal story of the change in humans as they grow and mature.
However, there is more to this message than simply the immaturity of Hedonism. When we consider ‘I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.’, this not only speaks about the infantile thinking we have as a youth, but also the limited scope of our thinking in general when we are fully mature. Our fully developed human reasoning is still tied-down and fractured by the axioms which are inherently flawed and circular at their foundation. This does not mean we cannot reason, nor does this mean we cannot put away childish things in order to become a better thinker, as well as a fuller human being. What Saint Paul seems to be suggesting is that there is more than the physical maturity of our reason and body, which as children helps us to mature, but leaves us with a limited grasp and understanding of reality. It also leaves us with a disposition towards touch, smell, sound, taste and sight. Rather than the higher pleasures of contemplation and extending our thinking to the metaphysics which trouble and fluctuate throughout our entire life and existence.
The Platonic ideal and theory of forms with Plato’s allegory of the cave as an example is a demonstration of what Saint Paul is getting at. You may think you know reality and the forms of what you experience, but when you escape the cave and see things in the sunlight you will consider your previous position ignorant. Yet while in ignorance you couldn’t have possibly seen how ignorant you were. This verse of the Epistle is bringing reality and the physical world into doubt by pushing the idea that there is more to it than the simplistic and Hedonistic view. There is the plane of ideas to contemplate, and the challenge of making sense of what seems to us impossible to figure out – that which is outside of our experience and reality. Not only do you need to mature out of being a child, and out of childish ways, you also will need to get in touch with conceptual thought, the bigger reality of existence and being, and also to dwell and consume yourself by the spiritual and practical life.
The only way a child can grow up is to go through life and carry on, while taking heed of adult’s life and experience, and education based on culture and history. The only way a childish adult can become a spiritual and practical man is to dwell in the religious life and Church (community). A complete and full man who has put away childish things, is the man which lives the spiritual and practical life. He must transcend solipsistic existence and step outside of his own experience, shoes and think in terms of universals. By pondering these universals the child thinks like a man. By putting away the ways of children we have the kind of men who become the perfect universal man who is ethical, contemplative and practical. With a firm awareness of the duty towards man and the higher purposes and virtues: Christ.