Pliny the Elder is, James Mumford says, indignant and offended at babies, perhaps especially at the thought that he once was one ( Ethics at the Beginning of Life: A phenomenological critique , 111). In Natural History , he writes, “man alone on the day of his birth Nature casts away naked on the naked ground, to burst at once into wailing and weeping, and none among all the animals is more prone to tears, and that immediately at the very beginning of life . . . . This initiation into the light is followed by a period of bondage such as befalls not even the animals bred in our midst, fettering all his limbs; and thus when successfully born he lies with hands and feet in shackles, weeping - the animal that is to lord it over all the rest.”

Pliny bluntly expresses what seems to be a perennial offense, perhaps especially in Enlightenment thought: The fact that we are not born autonomous and strong, but weak, dependent, weeping.

And why? Why don’t we spring from the earth full grown, or at least with enough vitality to fend for ourselves? The answer must lie in the fact that human beings are made in the image of God, which in this case means two things: First, to be the image of God is to be a being in need of other beings, to be essentially a member of a community; autonomous animals are lesser precisely in their autonomy. Second, to be image of God means that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, individual development anticipates and recapitulates the history of the race, from infancy to sonship to adulthood (Galatians 3-4).

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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