age of reason

What does it mean when the Church speaks of a child reaching “the age of reason?” Does it imply the ability to sin (the corollary being that a child under the age of reason cannot sin)? Or an ability to understand certain concepts?

Catholic Dictionary

The time of life at which a person is assumed to be morally responsible and able to distinguish between right and wrong. It is generally held to be by the end of the seventh year, although it may be earlier. With the retarded it will be later.

Thanks, adfrift. Can you help unpack that a little. Does that mean a toddler is incapable of sin? How would one respond to the claim that even a four year old knows it’s wrong to bite someone, and therefore is able to distinguish between right and wrong?

Yes, a toddler is incapable of sin. While they might know that they are not supposed to bite, they do not understand the moral reason behind it. A three year old simply does not understand the concept of Good vs Evil or Moral vs Immoral.

They might have some basic understanding of Good vs. Bad, but they are really just reflecting the training their parents are providing them.

Think of it this way, a child can memorize that “10 x 10 = 100.” But that doesn’t mean they understand why 10 x 10 = 100. Until they understand the concepts of multiplication, they really can’t multiply. Memorizing your multiplication tables isn’t the same thing as being able to multiply.

Hope this helps and God Bless.

A child of four knows only if he is taught to bite that it is not socially acceptable. They don’t understand nor are they capable of understanding the moral implications. They know that one shouldn’t bite because they are told that it is wrong but they don’t understand why it is wrong. They do not have the concept of consequences. They understand that to bite someone hurts which they can understand but that to intentionally harm someone is to harm themselves by sin is something beyond their capabilities. Left on their own they can not reason that something is wrong. They don’t bite someone because they know it is wrong but because they fear punishment or wish to please. They do not understand the concept of sin. They cannot reason why things are right and why they are wrong.

I do hope someone else will join in this conversation and explain it better.

Based on what a priest once told me, I think it would be the age at which you can commit sin because you know you are doing something bad.
I am not sure, but it may also be the age at which you understand concepts…then again, sin is a concept, I suppose.

At common law, below age 7 is incapable of evil (incapax doli) ; age 7-14 is rebutably incapable of evil, 14 and 14+ is capable of evil (IF I remember this correctly from law school!).

I think that these are all good answers.

I used to work with Preschoolers and we had to talk them through the situation addressing their feelings when they did something wrong, when trying to get them to understand what they did.

For example, if one of them hit another child, we would have to tell them not to do it, and then ask the one who hit, if he/she knew how it felt to be hit, and if she/he would like being hit, too?

They would stop and think about it and say something like, “it hurts.”

Usually that would be enough to stop the behavior.

Their thinking is still rather simplified during these years.

At the same time, science has also shown that certain decision-making and behavioral areas of the brain don’t reach full maturity until the early 20’s. This isn’t an argument for raising the age of reason that far, but I would suggest that neither is age 7 a “magic bullet” in terms of full moral culpability. There have been threads here in the past regarding the likelihood that a 7-year-old could go to hell, an idea which I find repugnant on its face.

God would know if they are Morally responsible. Jesus knows our Hearts. A good 7 year old (or any age) who died after committing a mortal sin could be saved by Jesus, if Jesus forgives them based on the context of their heart.

God Bless

What would you say about a child that does actually understand this kind of reasoning by the age of 3 or 4? I only ask because I did have such ability by the age of 4, though I know it was because of a near death experience. Prior to that experience I knew what my parents expected in the way of behavior and accepted it. But after that experience I knew that there was much more going on than what they taught me.

I would say that while the Church has set the “age of reason” to typically be 7, it could be earlier or later based on the individual. In the grand scheme of things, only God knows our hearts.

Very true. My primary reason for mentioning this, is that I believe adults do not generally give young children enough credit for understanding things as well as they do. Consequently we fail to teach them as much as we can and should. I am continuously amazed at what children do understand, if they are given the chance to express that understanding and to develop it further.

Yes! I have 5 children, ages 11, 10, 7, 5 and 3. Each has reached the level of understanding (and thus responsibility) at different ages, but each of them has certainly reached it before age 7. My 7 year old son, who is preparing for Confession, asked me a few weeks ago if he could just go to Confession now. We asked our priest, who questioned him briefly about his understanding of the Sacrament, and heard his first confession a few minutes later. Shortly after that, my daughter, who turned 5 in November, asked me “Shouldn’t Confession be for everyone?” She knows right from wrong, she knows what the purpose of the Sacrament is, and she desires God’s forgiveness. Although I don’t think it is strictly necessary, I am not going to deny my child who earnestly desires this sacrament and neither will my priest.

It bothers me that in most places, children are prevented from receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation before 2nd or 3rd grade. I don’t think a 7 year old is capable of mortal sin, but I have no doubt that most 7-year-olds are capable of sin. Even canon law acknowledges this, stating:

[quote=] The age of reason, also called the age of discretion, is the age at which children become capable of moral responsibility. On completion of the seventh year a minor is presumed to have the use of reason (canon 97 §2 of the Code of Canon Law),
[/quote]

“On completion of the 7th year” means “by the 7th birthday”, not “at the end of 2nd grade” or “at the end of 3rd grade” or “before First Communion”. Canon 989 also binds those above this age to annual confession:

[quote=]All the faithful who have reached the age of discretion are bound faithfully to confess their grave sins at least once a year.
[/quote]

Again, I don’t believe that 7 or 8 year old is capable of having grave sins to confess, but shouldn’t we give them the opportunity to experience God’s love and mercy in this sacrament as early as possible? Shouldn’t they know that this is the remedy for sin as soon as they have the understanding of sin?

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