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A Dissent from CSL on love and marriage

I've been recently re-reading some portions of The Four Loves. I don't remember having very strong views about this book when I read it years ago. There certainly are some excellent parts, especially when he talks about the love of God.

But on the subject of love and marriage, it simply will not do. I think the biggest underlying problem here is that Lewis had at that time too rigid a view of what it meant to love one's spouse. He may (we can hope) have gotten more information later when he fell in love and got married himself. But at the time of writing The Four Loves, he seems to have thought of love between man and wife as either a mere tempest of emotion--hence, transient and unimportant--or as the settled unity of many years--hence, and by definition, impossible at the beginning of marriage. This view of Lewis's is quite evident in the following passage from a letter (April 18, 1940):

No one is going to deny that the biological end of the sexual functions is offspring. And this is, on any sane view, of more importance than the feelings of the parents....Surely to put the mere emotional aspects first would be sheer sentimentalism....The third reason [for marriage in the Prayer Book] gives the thing that matters far more than "being in love" and will last and increase, between good people, long after "love" in the popular sense is only as a memory of childhood--the partnership, the loyalty to "the firm", the composite creature. (Remember that it is not a cynic but a devoted husband and inconsolable widower, Dr. Johnson, who said that a man who has been happy with one woman cd. have been equally happy with any one of "tens of thousands" of other women. i.e. the original attraction will turn out in the end to have been almost accidental: it is what is built up on that, or any other, basis wh. may have brought the people together that matters.)
One finds the same near-contempt for love between newlyweds as mere emotion and the same implication that love between married people ought to grow over time as opposed to being sought before marriage in this passage, put into the mouth of Screwtape:
From the true statement that this...relation was intended to produce...affection and the family, humans can be made to infer the false belief that the blend of affection, fear, and desire which they call "being in love" is the only thing that makes marriage either happy or holy....In other words, the humans are to be encouraged to regard as the basis for marriage a highly coloured and distorted version of something the Enemy really promises as its result. Two advantages follow. In the first place, humans who have not the gift of continence can be deterred from seeking marriage as a solution because they do not find themselves "in love," and, thanks to us, the idea of marrying with any other motive seems to them low and cynical. Yes, they think that. They regard the intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life, as something lower than a storm of emotion.
This false dichotomy between love as unimportant emotion and love as a settled feeling built up over years even makes him write the following, to my mind highly distasteful, passage from The Four Loves which goes so far as to praise sexual intercourse without love.
Most of our ancestors were married off in early youth to partners chosen by their parents on grounds that had nothing to do with Eros. They went to the act with no other "fuel," so to speak, than plain animal desire. And they did right; honest Christian husbands and wives, obeying their fathers and mothers, discharging to one another their "marriage debt," and bringing up families in the fear of the Lord.
This is quintessentially and self-evidently a passage written by a male, and I would say, written by a male who knows little about women. It entirely ignores the strong connection for many women between emotions like affection and a sense of being cherished, loved, and protected, on the one hand, and sexual desire, on the other.

Moreover, Lewis assumes that there is nothing even remotely morally questionable about a husband's having intercourse with his wife when he does not love her and when she does not love him. The Catholic Church itself, which I consider fairly representative of (at a minimum) a paradigmatically conservative view on sexual subjects, holds that the sexual act between man and wife is supposed to serve, inter alia, a "unitive purpose," which would seem to raise questions about having intercourse with a spouse for whom you have no feeling, whom, perhaps, you scarcely know at all (which is at least one plausible scenario invoked by Lewis's picture of arranged marriage), and who has no feeling for you.

Then there is the question of the validity of marriages undertaken without the true freedom of the two principal people involved. Lewis's casual implication that untold numbers of young people perfectly validly married other people for whom they had no affection solely out of obedience to their parents is open to some question. Indeed, the abuses during the ages of marriages made in just that fashion are the entire basis of the present concern with due maturity and full freedom in enacting the marriage sacrament. Lewis simply o'erleaps all such worries and, in effect, says, "You're not going to say that all those people who married only semi-willingly and got on with the marital act willy-nilly, out of a sheer sense of duty, were wrong, are you?"

There is something not only unconsciously brutal but also foolish and crude about Lewis's whole approach to this subject. The nuances of feeling between members of the opposite sex--including various degrees of kindness, affection, protectiveness, admiration, respect, trust, and spontaneous commitment--seem lost on him. He seems not even to realize that all of these can be and to no small extent ought to be present prior to marriage, though they do, of course, grow over the years. To him, love between husband and wife is relatively unimportant because it is just a childish emotion. What's love got to do with it? It's all about duty, obedience to parents, and the desire to have children, and that's it.

Some time ago, I read an interesting article by Gilbert Meilaender in First Things about in vitro fertilization. (At least, I believe it was Meilaender. I am going by memory.) He made the excellent point that one problem out of many with in vitro fertilization is that it denies the primacy of the relationship between husband and wife. The existence of the child grows out of the parents' love for one another and is a result of the sexual expression of that love. The existence of a child is not an end for which one's wife (or husband) is to be used simply as a means. Exactly and precisely. Much better than "on any sane view, offspring are more important than the feelings of the parents." Meilaender, I suspect, could have taught Lewis a thing or two on this entire subject.

The fact that spouses should not merely use one another as a means to an end also seems to me to call into question Lewis's statements about marrying as a means of preserving chastity. Lewis fails to distinguish a) seeking marriage in general because one wishes to avoid sins against chastity and b) seeking marriage to some particular person because one wishes to avoid sins against chastity when one has no particular feeling favoring that person over other (reasonably attractive and well-behaved) members of the opposite sex. The former is perfectly sensible. We may be able to see the problem with the latter if we picture an imaginary marriage proposal a la Lewis cum Johnson. You gentlemen who are married, I ask you to imagine what would have happened if you had proposed to your wife in the following fashion:

Well, honey, I've decided that I lack the gift of continence, as the Prayer Book puts it. So it would be prudent for me to get married in order to avoid sexual sin. Dr. Johnson teaches us that a man who has been happy with one woman could have been happy with any one of tens of thousands of women. I think I can be happy with one woman, so I could probably be happy with any one of tens of thousands of women. It's not that I love you or think you are particularly special. But you are conveniently ready to hand, and I'm sure you'll do as well for the purpose as any. So what do you say? Will you marry me?

I sincerely hope that she would have decked you.

Cross-posted at Extra Thoughts

Comments (56)

I'm not going to defend Lewis's formulation in general, for I haven't read The Four Loves. But I do think your critique is somewhat off base, not because it criticizes Lewis for being somewhat cynical and utilitarian about the sacrament of matrimony, but because it seems to imply that love is a feeling.

Now, I'm well aware that the sensual emotions by which the sexes are innately attracted are an important element of eros, and that complete spousal love requires a healthy dose of that form. But the erotic urge is not the essence of love. Love is a choice. Christianity makes little, if any, sense if love is an emotion and not something we will freely. A man may enter a marriage with a woman a woman to whom he is not madly erotically attracted because he may consciously choose to love her regardless. It's been a couple of years since I've read Screwtape, but I do believe the old demon, in the same series of letters from which you quoted, encourages Wormwood to promote the belief that love is merely a dizzying emotive response to stimuli. Yet it is precisely because agape and eros are two sides of the same coin that the person who chooses to love his spouse can cultivate physical attraction at the same time.

PS -- I didn't propose to my wife that way, but it's formulation leaves ambiguity regarding my principle point: whether we're talking about love as a free choice or as an emotion.

I think the "love is a choice" vs. "love is an emotion" dichotomy isn't going to be terribly helpful here, for one simple reason: We are talking about _how_ you choose the person _to whom_ you are going to make a lifetime commitment. If we can really just say, "Love is a choice" and have that tell us all we need to know for _that_ purpose, then it's just a matter of choosing to love somebody. So why not throw a bunch of women's names in a hat, pick one out, and choose to love and marry that one?

Now, I don't think anyone wants to advocate that. But the problem is that Lewis comes rather close with his approving remarks about Dr. Johnson and "tens of thousands of women" and so forth. (I haven't looked up the Johnson passage, by the way.)

It should go without saying (but perhaps it doesn't, so I'll say it just to be sure I have made it clear) that once one has made a lifetime commitment to a person, one may not say, "Oh, I no longer love you anymore. G'bye." And in fact I think that was part of Lewis's concern: He thought that if you advocated marrying for love, then you had to advocate divorce upon "falling out of love." But that doesn't follow at all.

I think what we should say here is something like this: Loving a spouse is not the same thing as loving a child. God sends you the child, willy-nilly. It comes to you wholly by providence, even if in some sense you were hoping or "trying" to conceive. It is then your job, your responsibility, your duty, to love that child in act and in deed. Feelings matter only to the extent that they assist the deeds of love. Or to take a different example, suppose you take on as your ministry to help the homeless. Then you are choosing to act out of love for these people, regardless of any connection or lack of connection you happen to experience with some particular homeless person.

But if choosing a spouse were really like those things, then we should make ourselves as passive as possible, pick someone of the opposite sex more or less at random (to maximize the role of Providence and minimize the role of so-called "emotion" in our choosing that person), and then just decide to love that person and make a lifetime commitment to that person.

That is, to my mind, obviously all wrong. God set up the marital relationship to be founded on a male-female connection that involves all sorts of internal elements--esteem, respect, sexual desire, affection, commonality of interests and goals, and so forth. Whether we call these, or some of them, "feelings" or not, we should not allow the label to blind us to the fact that God does not send us a spouse in the mail, as it were, and order us to commit ourselves to that particular person for life, whoever it may happen to be wrapped up in the package. We choose the person, and in my opinion it is only sane, wise, normal, and right to choose that person in the first instance on the basis of some sort of particular _connection_ discovered between oneself and the other person. Different couples will find that connection composed of different elements to different degrees. And part of being sane and wise is making sure that those elements are included (such as similarity of fundamental commitments) that are likely to last and that sheer sexual desire is not the _only_ thing connecting the two people.

But let's not forget that Lewis is adamantly _not_ talking about and downplaying sexual desire when he pooh-poohs love as a basis for marriage. On the contrary, he is _contrasting_ sexual desire (which he calls "Venus") with love (which he calls "Eros"). As he views it, all those men down through the ages did right because they had intercourse with their wives, desiring them physically, *without loving them*. That should make anyone stop and think more than twice about his entire approach.

In other words,Lewis is all in favor of being sexually attracted to your wife. That's the "fuel" you have to use to bring yourself to the "act" which you are supposed to undertake for reasons of "discharging your marriage debt" and conceiving children. And on his view, the avoidance of sexual sin is a major reason for marriage anyway. So presumably he would raise some questions about marrying someone for whom one did not feel that "plain animal desire."

It's love he's pooh-poohing, not sexual attraction.

True, _he_ views love as a mere emotion, as I say over and over again in the main post, and as a particularly intense and short-lived emotion. To my mind, it's that narrow and reductionistic identification of love--yes, even spontaneous love, rather than a sheer act of the will--for a member of the opposite sex with the highest flights of initial excitement that is a big part of Lewis's problem. Even before one gets married, even early in one's relationship with a loved future spouse, one's spontaneous love for that person is and should be a compound of many different components, and it resists such a reductionistic view.


I wonder if this might be a case of you catching Lewis arguing against himself. In so many other places in his writing (I thinking Allegory of Love, for instance, not to mention A Grief Observed and Til We Have Faces, he shows himself to be an unabashed, classical romantic. But there was another side to him (not necessarily a thing incompatible, in itself, with his romanticism) that was a vigorous proponent of moral duty. He was always rather a Kantian in that respect, I think. He marries Joy Davidman in a civil marriage, and then ends up falling madly in love with her and having a Christian ceremony later on. His descriptions of their brief romance is positively florid. For instance:

One thing, however, marriage has done for me. I can never again believe that religion is manufactured out of our conscious, starved desires and is a substitute for sex. For those few years H. and I feasted on love--solemn and merry, romantic and realistic, sometimes as dramatic as a thunderstorm, sometimes as comfortable and unemphatic as putting on your soft slippers. No cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied. If God were a substitute for love we ought to have lost all interest in Him. Who'd bother about substitutes when he has the thing itself? - A Grief Observed

Interestingly enough, The Four Loves is published in 1960--the same year Joy passed away--and A Grief Observed comes out the following year. Perhaps he's busy making a case in one direction (to dethrone sentimentality and an unbalanced commitment to Eros) and he doesn't strike the right balance. I'd like to re-read a few books, including The Four Loves, with your critique in mind, to see what can't be discovered.

I think Lewis had a bit of a puritan streak in him. It didn't come out often and was well hidden but that's what this looks like to me.

I think Lewis may have been overstating his case, simply to provide some balance against the modern obsession with romantic love that places it above all considerations of common sense or morality.

That said, he does sound pretty puritanical, here.

Byronic, I think you are quite right about that. One certainly can quote passages of Lewis that sound quite different. Another irony is that one of his most influential pieces of scholarly work was his argument that Edmund Spenser (late 1500's) brought love into marriage. Now, Spenser writes very clearly and very positively of love as preceding marriage, and Lewis must have known that. Yet to hear the passages I quote in this post, Lewis thinks love before marriage is an invention of the 1900's.

I suppose Lewis himself could have said of his marriage to Joy that it worked exactly the way he says it should in his more puritanical passages: That is, that he married her for purely altruistic reasons without loving her and then fell in love with her latert. The main thing that experience may have given him an opportunity to learn (which your point about the dates shows that he may not have learned at an intellectual level) is that love between the sexes is a different compound from the one he says it is in Screwtape. That is, instead of being a compound of "affection, fear, and desire," it is a compound of those things (with the possible exception of fear) plus a great deal more--such as admiration, a desire to protect and serve, enjoyment of each other's company, a sense of common thinking, etc. Not that there is anything easily dismissible about affection itself. One wonders why it should be considered unimportant to have affection for the person with whom one is going to spend the rest of one's life!


That might not be too far off. After all, he did love John Bunyan and Milton, hehe. A Lewis biographer (A.N. Wilson, of all the Lewis bios his is perhaps the least reverent) thinks that there are two Lewis's. One the great humanist scholar and Christian fairy-tale writer, the man of heart and creative imagination whose best work is The Narnia books, and the other the Christian apologist. It is the latter that he blames for overwrought and simplistic arguments, too much influenced by his father, the court solicitor. Wilson thinks that Lewis loved debate too much, too much loved stepping on necks. Wilson has trouble hiding his disdain for such books as the dearly cherished Mere Christianity, with it's "Liar, Lunatic or Lord" case (one that had appeared often before Lewis--for instance in GKC's Everlasting Man--and often since). But as much as Wilson can be irritating to the lover of CSL, he may have a point hidden in there. In addition to his (possibly) latent Puritanism, perhaps Lewis got too involved in making an argument for the older social order (where Stoic duty was king) given the times in which he lived. He wasn't ashamed to play the middle-aged moralist to the 20th-century's neo-pagan hedonist. He rather delighted in being a "dinosaur" and as such perhaps wasn't always careful enough to guard against chauvinism. Whatever the case, it does seem that Lydia has caught something out that I never quite noticed before, at least in quite that way.

Lydia McGrew does a "feminist reading" of C.S. Lewis!

Call me a feminist again and I'll sue ya! :-)

Actually, I think part of what Lewis is missing in these passages is the differences between the sexes.

You know, there's something about A Grief Observed that really ties Lewis all together. Without that little book, there's something incomplete about him, for all his greatness. But there at the end of his life he almost comes full circle, seemingly near to atheism and yet actually never closer to understanding God and Christianity in its essence. For instance, I think one really must read GO right after The Problem of Pain. POP is a terrific work but one does get the sense that he draws his wisdom most heavily from his literary experiences, whereas GO is real life as it's going down almost in the moment, nearly unfiltered. As my anti-Catholic friends like to say, "What do a bunch of celibate old men know about love and marriage?" I often retort, "the spectator sees most of the game." But there is something to be said for having lived out a truth that one previously only knew by external observation and reflection.

That is, instead of being a compound of "affection, fear, and desire,"

That does sound a bit like an Oxford bachelor don talking, doesn't it? Lewis married late in life but i's not as though he didn't have opportunities as a younger man. One biographer (I think Hooper) tells of an attractive young Oxford undergraduate who really had a thing for Lewis during the time in which he had recently taken his fellowship at Magdalen. On this account, he was rather embarrassed by the whole thing--not so much a shyness but just a general uncomfortableness with the whole idea of actual romance and courtship. He loved it when he found it in literature, but perhaps couldn't quite make peace with it in actual life--until much later, when love surprised him.

Funny (and I should take care not to get carried away with my psychological reconstructions) but perhaps it's all got to do with his absolute fascination with the imaginative life. As Owen Barfield once said, "Lewis was in love with imagination, but I wanted to marry it." Was there something in Lewis that loved romance as long as it was like Faerieland--just beyond the vale, just over the next bend, and just out of reach--but that would have been destroyed by the idea of actually bringing it home to live and sleep? At the risk of being vulgar, for a guy of a certain type, this would be a typical guy hang-up.

Actually, I think part of what Lewis is missing in these passages is the differences between the sexes.

There is that. Let me ask, what do you think of his female literary creations? I've had a few sensitive female readers of Lewis say that Orual in Til We Have Faces is spot on. I always had rather a crush on Susan Pevensie, and was greatly saddened when she lost faith in Narnia. What a heartbreak for an 11 year-old to suffer!

Call me a feminist again and I'll sue ya! :-)

HA! I knew you'd like that one.

His description of marital love in Mere Christianity does have a hint of duality--that is, the initial phase of infatuation that is accompanied by an inability to eat or to think of other things, versus what he describes as a more mature, "settled" love that sustains a couple through long years (which he obviously prefers). I think his view of newlywed affection was that it is ephemeral, which is proven by both reason and by common experience. His principal complaint, I believe, was that emotionalism was not a sufficient basis for marriage, because if it is, then the lack of it could be said to be sufficient basis for its dissolution. Which is, in fact, the modern view of things. Most people divorce these days not because of any genuinely intolerable change of circumstance or abuse, but because they no longer are "in love."

And significantly, to my mind, it is primarily women who initiate divorces these days, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, the reason cited is along the lines of "I'm not emotionally satisfied anymore," or "We don't feel the way we used to." So all I would say is that we have as a society moved from Lewis to Lydia in our view of marital love, and are much worse off for it.

Sage, I think that's tremendously unfair.

For one thing, I have expressly disagreed any proposition that divorce is justified when one feels one has "fallen out of love." Nor does that follow (I dare you to try to show that it follows) from the premise that one ought to have love for the person one plans to marry before marrying that person.

Nor do I think you deal adequately with the truly radical nature of Lewis's position as expressed in these passages and with the various false dichotomies he commits himself to. For example, is it really true that all the things you feel for your spouse that would normally be included in "being in love with your spouse" as a newlywed are ephemeral? I say that it is false, unless you define "being in love with your spouse" in a reductionistic fashion and, in essence, define yourself into correctness.

Is it really true, as Lewis implies, that it is perfectly good and legitimate have sexual intercourse with your wife without loving her, merely in order to have children? I say that a man who does so is using his wife as a means for an end.

Please realize that Lewis is implying in these extreme passages that it is entirely legitimate to have _no connection_, _no special attachment_, _no particular affection_ of any kind for the person you marry, for that person to be chosen for you by others, perhaps even to be a stranger or virtual stranger to you, and for you not only to make lifelong vows to that person but also to go to bed with that person and have sexual intercourse with that person for whom you have no feelings, for whose "functions" any of tens of thousands of other women would have done just as well.

That is not only incredibly unwise, but I say further that such behavior is treating the other person as a customer treats a prostitute.

I think his view of newlywed affection was that it is ephemeral, which is proven by both reason and by common experience.

Really? To me, to say that newlywed affection is ephemeral and to dismiss it as unnecessary on that basis is a little bit like saying that Baby Tiger Woods was "ephemeral" because now he isn't cute and pudgy anymore. (I'm presuming he was cute and pudgy as a baby.) In other words, because the one thing doesn't look like the other, it doesn't follow that the one isn't a development of the other, with the youthful version being extremely important to the eventual existence of the mature version.

His principal complaint, I believe, was that emotionalism was not a sufficient basis for marriage, because if it is

Whoever said that emotionalism is a sufficient basis for marriage? What I have said is that it is important that one love the person one plans to marry and not marry a person one does not love. This is actually a far more traditional view than Lewis himself admitted. You can find it in so moralistic (in the good sense) a novelist as Jane Austen, for example, and implicit in Lewis's own special author, Edmund Spenser (as I mentioned). Contrary to Lewis's (and Sage's) curmudgeonly implication, the idea that it is important to love the person you marry is not some decadent 20th century invention.

So you love the person, and you look for things that will feed into that love and will strengthen it over the years, and indeed that should be part of that love. It seems to me rather interesting to ponder what sort of a marriage people have who have nothing in common whatsoever, or worse, who have entirely contrary ideas of what is good and right--say a Christian conservative and an atheist liberal. I think it's going to be hard for their love to have deep roots _from the beginning_. Their initial affection isn't going to have some of the aspects that I have already listed as _part of_ love.

Yet if one is obliged simply to be obedient and to marry the person your parents choose for you, then I suppose if they choose an atheist liberal for you to marry, then on the extreme view I'm trying to counter here, you should marry that person obediently and go to "the act" of marriage with no more "fuel" than "plain animal desire." And I ask you: How likely is that relationship to mature into anything good? If you go with what _I_ mean by "marrying for love," it seems to me that you are more, not less, likely to have a love that grows into something stronger and stronger as the years pass.

"I think Lewis may have been overstating his case, simply to provide some balance against the modern obsession with romantic love that places it above all considerations of common sense or morality."

I've read 'The Four Loves' at least 4x over the past 25 years, and that's the way I've always interpreted this part, as a somewhat hyperbolic blast against the modern notion of emotional "romantic" love. And I've heard other Christian pastors and theologians make a similar point, i.e., that being "in love" is the worst possible reason for getting married, etc.

that being "in love" is the worst possible reason for getting married, etc.

It's my opinion that deliberately overstating one's case can do more harm than good. Nor do I think Lewis really _meant_ to be hyperbolic. I think that it was his real, sober opinion. This interpretation is confirmed by the fact that some of the most cynical things he wrote are in the letter I quote in the main post. That's a letter. That's not the place where you would use hyperbole. He's trying to give real advice to a real person. He really means it. He means that you could be satisfied with any of tens of thousands of women, that the existence of offspring is important, that the feelings of the parents are totally unimportant--in other words, that it is virtuous to have sex with your wife to conceive offspring without having any feelings for her.

Now, when I say "he means it" I am saying that he means it intellectually. In his own life, as Byronic has pointed out, he showed more common sense as well as a more affectionate nature. And, yes, I mean common sense. The extreme position stated in these passages is not only repulsive but also stupid. It is only common sense that if you are going to commit yourself to spending life with someone, sharing a bed, and having and raising children, you should know something about that person and should have affection for and a strong general connection to that person.

I could say more about the above quoted statement about how "being in love" is the "worst possible reason" for getting married but must run. In brief, it depends on what you mean both by "being in love" and by something's being a reason to get married. For example, if you count, "Are this person and I well-suited to get along?" as being totally _outside of_ what you call "being in love," then obviously it has to be factored in as an additional concern. But in any event, you aren't going to find that out very reliably by letting somebody else make the choice for you and then blindly marrying somebody for whom you have no feeling.

Lydia argues against the view that love is fundamentally a choice or commitment, not a matter of feeling, in part, by claiming that that commits one to an arbitrariness about who one marries: "why not throw a bunch of women's names in a hat, pick one out, and choose to love and marry that one?" I think this overlooks the fact that feeling is not the only thing that can guide one's choice (or one's parents' choice in the case of arranged marriage). There are other factors that have historically figured just as prominently as eros (if not more so) with respect who one marries, e.g., the character of the person, the person's beliefs and values, as well as the person's ability to be a good parent, provider, and so forth. So saying that love is fundamentally a choice or commitment, not a feeling, does not imply some sort of arbitrariness. I think these considerations are lying behind what Lewis says, but perhaps I'm being too charitable. I read him as being intentionally a bit hyperbolic to counter the other extreme, as others have suggested above.

Michael, if you've read all of my posts in this thread, you will understand that part of what I am doing here is implying that those other factors you bring in are part of what goes into the mix of your loving that person before you get married. In other words, you love your wife before you marry her in part because you know her personally (i.e., she was not chosen for you as a stranger or semi-stranger by your parents) and you are already bonding to her emotionally in part as a result of things like your personal acquaintance with and admiration for her character, your sense of common beliefs and values with her, your excitement about the fact that she will be a good mother and about the thought of having children *with her* as a particular individual, not just having children with someone-or-other, and so forth.

I think a huge part of the misunderstanding here is that people assume that when we are talking about love qua eros, and when Lewis is downplaying it, he is talking about sexual attraction. Now as I've pointed out repeatedly here, and as the quotations in the main post make clear, this is *not a correct interpretation of Lewis*. I realize that in common usage in English, the phrase "erotic love" or "eros" typically means sexual attraction or excitement. In fact, it typically means _just_ sexual attraction or excitement. That makes understanding Lewis's statements in some ways difficult and his use of the term in some ways confusing. But that typical usage is _not_ how Lewis is using the term. In fact, he explicitly talks in the Four Loves about how one Roman writer (whom he at least has the grace to refer to as "beastly") said that being in love with a woman can _reduce_ your sexual enjoyment of her, because you are thinking too much about her and not enough about sensual experience!

What Lewis is talking about is rather narrowly that sort of soaring excitement, that light around the person, the sense of very intense affection, the desire to be with that person every moment, etc. Sexual attraction is only one part of this, and not even the greatest part.

Now, the problem is that from the fact that that degree and intensity of feeling matures into something that looks rather different most of the time (see my Tiger Woods analogy), Lewis draws the false inference that emotional connection and affection *in general* are not necessary or important as pre-conditions for making a wise marriage and that it was laudable and legitimate for people to marry people simply out of obedience to their parents and to have sexual intercourse with them with _no_ "fuel" other than plain sexual desire.

This is simply a false dichotomy. Even the most emotional newlyweds do not feel soaring excitement about each other at all times, yet there is still plenty of emotional and interpersonal "fuel" for their relationship, including their sexual relationship, in things like affection, enjoyment of the same things, friendship, admiration, tenderness, and so forth. And if there is none of this prior to marriage and they really "come to the act with no fuel other than plain animal desire," with no motivation other than the desire for children and obedience to their parents, then I say there is something very wrong.

He means that you could be satisfied with any of tens of thousands of women, that the existence of offspring is important, that the feelings of the parents are totally unimportant--in other words, that it is virtuous to have sex with your wife to conceive offspring without having any feelings for her.

Does it seem to anyone like this might be (in Lewis) a bit of the Augustine talking? Augustine famously turns away from the delights of sensual passion and romantic (he was an actual Roman) love, to a life of seeking the purity of the divine in which all other loves find their place. But he does, like so many of the Christian fathers, tend to talk about marriage as if it exists merely for procreation, and the marital act a mere discharging of duty. Not exactly the stuff of novels. One can forgive the fathers, but perhaps not Lewis (considering his scholarship and literary sensitivity), at least insofar as he is "guilty" of holding that view. Then again, Lewis was a medievalist, and his view of the tradition of "courtly love" includes the idea that the beloved, by definition, cannot be possessed. She must remain a distant ideal of the divine, and the divine remains to be enjoyed fully only in the next world (N.B. John of the Cross wanted Song of Solomon to be read on his deathbed, rather than the traditional last rites). Add that to Lewis' general Platonic cast--the notion of romantic love as a sort of insanity to be exorcised, and perhaps one sees how Lewis easily defaults to Kantian moral duty.

I love CSL, and apologize for him whenever I get the chance. But I really do think Lydia hitting on something here. "But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong."

Well, I think Augustine was more against sexual desire itself(that "plain animal desire") than Lewis was. Augustine expressly says that had Adam and Eve not fallen, children would have been conceived without sexual passion. He actually gets rather explicit about it in an attempt to make it sound as boring as possible. (No, Augustine doesn't use the word "boring." Instead, he says it would have been more enjoyable in the sense that one would have always been in control of oneself entirely, loss of self-control being, on Augustine's view, inherently unpleasant in some sense, something to be ashamed of, etc.) Now, Lewis actually appears to endorse Augustine's view in his discussion of sex in Eden in _Preface to Paradise Lost_. But when it comes to giving advice on marriage, Lewis doesn't try to dismiss the importance of sexual desire or to sneer at it or express disgust at it, as Augustine was very much wont to do.

In a sense, these passages of Lewis resemble the Fathers very much, except for the sex part. It's as though he shifts their distaste for sexual desire to, not a _distaste_ for being in love exactly, but to making fun of it, pshawing over it.

And to be more accurate, I should have said in the bit you quote, "that it can be virtuous to have intercourse with your wife without having any feelings for her." Not that you must be in that state, but that it's perfectly okay.

Interestingly, he gives a multicultural argument for this thesis. I forget which book it's in--it's in the immediate context of one of the passages I quote. He says that since love for one's wife before marriage is primarily a Western phenomenon, Christian teaching must be that such love is not important, since Christianity must be applicable to all cultures.

This seems to me misguided, inasmuch as other cultures have many other features woven into their warp and woof which Christian teaching roundly criticizes--polygamy, for example, just to pick one which is actually rather closely related to the whole web of marriage customs such as stranger spouses, child spouses, lack of feeling between spouses, etc.

Yes, there's something wrong here as far as your and my view of marriage is concerned. I agree. But your and my view is not a view that has prevailed for very long. As you know, in eras of arranged marriages, (including, as they do, nearly all our ancestors) romantic attachment to one's own spouse was a far more rare occurrence. Marriages were contracted on other bases than love, and by persons not themselves involved in the marriage. So, quite often, as Lewis says, one performed one's marital obligations with no other ammunition than animal passion because no other was to be had. For that reason, and others, the entire edifice of chivalrous romance -- the feudalization of love -- grew up as an emotional outlet and compensation. And, more often than not, one's lady, one's love, was not one's wife. For example, think of Dante and Beatrice, Petrarch and Laura, Michelangelo and Vittoria Colonna, Philip Sidney and Penelope Devereux. Interestingly, Dante, Petrarch, and Michelangelo all said plainly, flatly, repeatedly, and beautifully that this love led them to God. The entire Divine Comedy is based upon it, as is La Vita Nuova.

In my opinion, try as one might, in an era of arranged marriages one could not simply produce love in all situations merely as an act of will, as a decision. There simply are some persons whom, for countless reasons, one could not love romantically.

You'll recall that in The Allegory of Love, Lewis said that romance, as moderns now practice it, the falling in love kind of romance, where your eyes meet across a crowded room and violins begin to play, is an invention of the troubadours in southern France in the 11th century. (Yes, blame it on the French.) Before that, he says, no one ever loved in quite that way. It's learned behavior, not natural behavior.

But Lewis is not a puritan on the point of love, sex and marriage. You'll recall how he chastises Milton for a view in Paradise Lost that, in Lewis' words, "makes the blood run cold." Lewis then suggests that Milton "had better re-read St. Paul."

That's the long way of saying that you might be a bit too hard on old Jack Lewis. His book is a better book than maybe we're giving him credit for.

Augustine expressly says that had Adam and Eve not fallen, children would have been conceived without sexual passion.

Indeed, and Thomas expressly contradicts him, insisting that the pleasure of sex would have been much greater in the Edenic state. I side with Thomas. Von Balthasar seems to go Augustine one better, speculating that children would have been conceived without sex at all!

Prof. Bauman,

A very nice reading of Lewis et al, sir. I appreciated that. What a delightful thread. Beats politics/economics any day.

Yes, it is a good thread. And even though Lord Byron himself might not approve of what's said here, at least his modern namesake does, and that's quite good enough for me.

Dietrich von Hildebrand has some points similar to those of Lydia in his brief book Marriage -- which influenced the 2nd Vaticanum.


If in seeking to clarify what I believe CSL's (final) position to be, I have mischaracterized your own, then I apologize. If you do not believe that the intitial state of infatuation normally described as being "in love" is sufficient basis or justification for marriage, then very well. When I said that CSL objected to the modern position on marriage, I didn't mean to suggest that you were somehow a stand-in for the entire modern approach, so please do excuse me for being opaque. Let me clear one thing up, though:

I'm willing to concede the last word to you on what Lewis' more extreme and cynical expressions imply. But the position I laid out--the one he takes in his definitive work--does not, in fact, imply that newlywed love is unnecessary or to be dimissed. He likens it to the explosion that starts an engine--necessary, perhaps, for a beginning, but completely unsuited for sustained operation. The belief that this kind of head-over-heels, can't-eat-can't-sleep love should be expected to endure, or that it is the sign of "real" or genuine romance, is an unrealistic and harmful expectation. A person who expects this sort of thrill to endure is bound to be disappointed, and a person who is not willing to let that initial rush of exhileration die, as it naturally will do, is bound to lead a life of bitter regret and frustration.

Taking his statements together, it's probable that CSL regarded romantic love with a colder eye than you would, or probably I would. One interesting thought to ponder, though: As objectionable as you find the notion that a husband might make love to his wife without affection, do you find it similarly objectionable for a wife to make love with her husband without physical attraction or desire on her part? Maybe there's not really anything fruitful to be drawn out of the comparison. But you've obviously put some mental energy into this subject, so I'd be interested in your thoughts.

And again, I do appreciate your clarification.

Michael, I would not include Philip Sidney and Penelope in that list. Sidney's sonnets make it very clear that the lover is attempting to seduce the beloved, even though she is married. This is not a matter of a love that is likely to lead to God, and it is not fully in the heady, Platonic, or Dantesque "courtly" love tradition, which was usually not physical. I admit, though, that the tradition was mixed--consider Lancelot and Guinevere. But inso far as it involved actual or attempted adultery, it was usually supposed to be disapproved of and resembled Dante least.

As for Lewis's passage on Milton's view that "made the blood run cold," I actually think that ties in surprisingly well with what I've said in the main post, though in an interesting way, and I appreciate your bringing the passage back to my attention. Notice that in that passage, Lewis expressly contrasts Milton's "complacency" over male headship with a husband who is *miserable being married to his wife* and whose marriage is a *crucifixion." The latter, he says, most resembles Christ's love for the Church, because the Church is not lovable, yet Christ loves her. So here, too, Lewis is essentially praising a marriage which involves no friendship between the partners and no normal affection. To be sure, I agree with Lewis whole-heartedly that a husband who _discovers_ that his wife is like that after they are married and who is made very unhappy by her is responsible to stay married to her, that such a difficult marriage will provide him with great, though terribly painful, opportunities for spiritual growth, and that the analogy to Christ and the Church takes on in such a case a painful and rather profound meaning. However, if you tie in that passage with the other one on arranged marriage and lack of love *before* marriage, you get the disturbing conclusion that it might be something other than insane for a man deliberately to marry a woman _knowing ahead of time_ that his marriage to her is likely to be a "crucifixion," which I think is pretty much crazy. I wouldn't want to associate anyone else with all that I've said here, but in a thread on his own blog some time ago, Zippy said something like, "It's true. The person you marry has the power to ruin your life. Choose wisely."

Nor is it so far afield that a writer might actually praise marrying someone with whom you had reason to believe you would be miserable. Here I won't pin this express statement on Lewis but on another writer I admire, the Christian novelist Elizabeth Goudge. Goudge praised (and wrote a rather well-known, though in my opinion literarily poor) novel about a 19th century uncle of hers who accidentally wrote down the wrong woman's name when writing from Australia to England to ask that a young lady come out to Australia and marry him. The other sister--the one he'd accidentally named in his letter--came, one for whom he had no affection and whom he would never have asked to marry him. She sailed all the way to Australia, and he wrote later to a relative of how horrible a moment it was for him when he realized what had happened. In the novel, Goudge has the character of the woman who sailed be a difficult, miserable sort of person who passionately loves the man and by whom he is repulsed. He married her out of pity and because he couldn't bear to tell her what had happened. Goudge thinks this was wonderful and has him ending up happy after many yeas of living with her miserably. I disagree with Goudge heartily.

Byronic, I never said what I think of Lewis's female characters. Jane is literarily thin but ideologically instructive. I don't actually mind too much Lewis's using her to whip feminism. What I do mind in that book (_That Hideous Strength_) is the idea of her submitting to a man other than her husband, the Director, and being "bestowed" by him on her husband. That seems to me confused and indeed to show a way in which Lewis had been badly influenced by Charles Williams. I don't think Lewis himself realized how dangerous and even unnatural Williams's own non-marital relationships with much younger women were. I agree with your other female acquaintances in thinking Orual extremely well-done. The insight into the mind of a physically ugly and emotionally possessive, though fundamentally not evil, woman in that book is shockingly good.

Sage, that's a good question, and one I want to answer delicately and briefly:

As objectionable as you find the notion that a husband might make love to his wife without affection, do you find it similarly objectionable for a wife to make love with her husband without physical attraction or desire on her part?

I think I would parallel _affection_ on both sides. That is, I would say it is objectionable for _either_ partner to have intercourse without affection. Physical desire is rather a different matter and comes in all sorts of degrees, shapes, and sizes. Indeed, for a female, or at least for many females, the distinction between affection and physical desire is not nearly as sharp as it is for a male. So the short answer to your question would be "No, I think that is different." But I would hasten to add that there was always recognized (even in those old-fashioned days that Lewis alludes to) the notion of being physically _repulsed_ by the other person, sort of like having a toad in bed with you, which was even recognized as grounds for refusing an arranged marriage. And I think either husband or wife would and should want not to marry someone who felt that way or about whom they felt that way themselves. Finally, it does seem to me probably unwise (and here, as I said above, I think Lewis would be in agreement) to marry someone in the first place with whom there is no physical "spark" whatsoever, even a small one, not even occasionally. I think it may be courting disaster.

"the distinction between affection and physical desire is not nearly as sharp as it is for a male."

Precisely, and I think it in part explains the divergence between CSL and you on this point.

You'll notice that I didn't mention Sidney in the list of those who said that their love led them to God. I specifically left him out of that list. Sidney thinks that romantic love leads to a corrosion of virtue and is more like a sickness than a blessing. He tells his sister, and the world, as much in his Arcadia.

Lewis wasn't praising a marriage that's like a crucifixion; he was saying that, according to Paul's analogy, it's the one that most resembles Christ and the church. The analogy points out something true and real, but it's not meant to be an exhaustive comparison, either in its use by Lewis or by Paul, and neither is it praising a human marriage that "crucifies" either of the parties involved.


I have always thought Lewis was not quite right on love. Joseph Pieper, I think, is somewhat more perceptive of the truth in this regard. from what I recall, he makes the case that "being in love", at least when it really is love and not just lust with an overlay of affection that is mere accident, is something more right, and more real, than our typical standard relationship with another. He translates the internal act of being in love into (admittedly insufficient) language by an exclamation: "how good it is that you are!!" But this recognition about the beloved is, in a sense, a way of approaching towards God's own view of the beloved, HE who loves the object of my love even more than I do, and sees more thoroughly to the root loveliness of my beloved. (This makes MUCH more sense of the fact that sometimes people who are downright ugly (physically) can be the object of this love - the vision had in being in love is not the physically defective vision of rose-colored glasses which obscures the physical defects of the beloved. The vision is rather the superimposition of the higher-than-physical vision that sees the being of the beloved in addition to the physical expression of that being.)

It may, in some sense, be true that a person could fall in love with any of 10,000 people, not just this one. But in real life, this process takes time and energy, and opportunity, and these will all come together not higgledy-piggledy with all 10,000 people you run into over a lifetime, but one, or if you are incredibly lucky, 2. God's providence arranges those circumstances without our involvement (at least not much), and although He could have arranged such with many others than the one I did fall in love with, He DIDN'T.

Lewis also misses how the love that initiates with young romance and being newlyweds gradually grows organically deeper. He seems to see that deep-grown love as a different love - other in kind and number. It is not. Properly, it is the same early romantic love all grown up into an adult. The Virginian puts it very well when he objects to his girlfriend's wish that their romance should stay intact as it is - without marriage. He replies that each thing has its season, and cycle of life. Romantic love can no more hold steady and remain as a new-born than an apple can stay green and keep on the tree all through the winter, or an apple blossom remain a flower. Any attempt to keep it so will make it rot or wither, rather than grow into its proper development. Likewise, the new love between newlyweds grows organically into the deep, life-encompassing trust, faith, loyalty and affection that Lewis sees in older married couples, as a natural growing-up process.

This also shows the irrationality of the wife who complains that her husband never does anything romantic anymore - this of the husband who comes home from work and goes out to play ball with Johnny, comes in and helps Victoria with her science homework, and reads to the 3 and 4 year olds a story before bed. Every one of those acts IS THE GROWN-UP VERSION OF the early romance. They are the natural fruit of the early expressions of love in marriage.

Tony, I think you put all of that very well. I especially appreciate your point about the father's reading to the kids as the grown-up version of hearts and flowers. And here's an interesting point: In Lewis's explanation of Charles Williams's impenetrable poetry, Taliesin Through Logres, Lewis explains very much that point about seeing the wonder of the other person's existence. I think Lewis (following Williams here) saw that sort of insight as almost deliberately separable from marriage, though, in both directions: That is, as in the above passages, he saw it as rather important that we not think it important as a precondition for marriage. And following Williams (and to some extent Dante), he thought it perfectly appropriate for a person, married to one person, to develop that sort of connection with a totally different person. To my mind, both ideas there are at a minimum confused and at a maximum dangerous and highly objectionable. Dante gets away with it because he wrote a great poem based on his love for Beatrice, but I'm glad not to be Gemma. :-)


When I was a teen, a couple who I respected very much suggested that the process of becoming truly holy involved, at least in some sense, the widening of that sense of the wondrous beauty of another's being so that it encompasses many, or all, of the people one encounters. I still think this may be valid, but there is a way in which it is not.

The "nuptial" meaning of love implies a kind of union that is not intended to be identically held with regard to each and every neighbor you have, only with one. It is unitive, and that unitive love is singular. Whether that singular love and its devotedness is wholly expressed under the implications of the exclamation "How good it is that you are!" is perhaps debatable, but the vision that underlies such expression is a necessary element of singular unitive love. Therefore, it is a necessary condition for marital love in its perfection.

If it could be established that such singular devoted delight in the existence of the beloved of could be an expected as a natural result of making the appropriate choices of someone in the state of marriage, then Lewis might be right in saying that the singular vision constituted by being in love is not automatically a precondition before marriage was entered into. But sadly that is not the case. There are some cases where people have fallen in love with each other after marriage. But there are many cases where that has not happened. Therefore, it cannot be said to be a natural consequence of love understood in the sense of acts of the will, but depends in significant degree on things outside our control. If it is outside our control, then entering into marriage without it constitutes a kind of presumption, or perhaps (in one much older) a kind of despair as to whether this singular unitive love really is part of the object in marriage.

Perhaps there is truth in the fact that if you do with love the acts required by being in the state of marriage, the "in-love" kind of love is more accessible, more likely, to occur, and so may follow on eventually. But the inescapable fact is that there are also, even without deliberately defective acts to foment them, personality clashes and incompatibilities that make the prolonged continuation of truly loving acts and choices a near impossibility for a couple who does not, already, have the basis of being in love.

While it may be licit to enter marriage without being in love, we should be chary of suggesting that marriage in its perfection need not account for this most perfect form of natural love the world finds. Certainly in the ideal a true account of marriage would respect this sort of love as a sine-qua-non.

I wonder if we'd say we were married to Christ before or after we loved Him.


I thought we understood the CHURCH to be the bride of Christ, not each one of us individually.

When do we use a metaphor for marriage to Christ in respect to us as individuals?

Your point doesn't really change anything, Tony, nor does it answer the question, which I'll re-phrase for you: Was the church married to Christ before or after it loved Him (assuming that it actually does love Him at this point in time, which is at least open to debate).

Further, nuns do indeed think of Him as their spouse, and of themselves as His. Mother Teresa is a classic case in point, and she alludes to that relationship over and over in her book.

Lydia wrote:
Please realize that Lewis is implying in these extreme passages that it is entirely legitimate to have _no connection_, _no special attachment_, _no particular affection_ of any kind for the person you marry, for that person to be chosen for you by others, perhaps even to be a stranger or virtual stranger to you, and for you not only to make lifelong vows to that person but also to go to bed with that person and have sexual intercourse with that person for whom you have no feelings, for whose "functions" any of tens of thousands of other women would have done just as well.

My question: how were those who did acquiesce to arranged marriages and had no feelings for each other supposed to deal with their situation? Should they have simply refrained from sexual intercourse until feelings developed? Should they have divorced? What if there was no option for divorce? What recourse did they have?

They might have tried saying, "No" until they had a chance at least to get to know the person. I'm not saying this would have been easy, but if the marriages were literally forced, then they were null on a Christian understanding, in which case they should not have been followed by sexual intercourse anyway. And if they were not literally forced, then at least in principle the people involved had the opportunity to insist on some sort of relationship with the other person first, at which point they would have had a chance to decide whether this was a good idea or not based on further information.

Michael, if the idea is supposed to be that we can draw some moral for human marriage from the fact that God loved us while we were yet his enemies, then I disagree. That is stretching the analogy implausibly and in a direction that I see no reason to think St. Paul was implying. By the reasoning, "Jesus loved us humans when we had no love for him, were alienated from God and enemies of God's, and this means something about how we should set up our marriages," one would presumably conclude that it is legitimate for a man to marry a woman who is his avowed enemy in an attempt to turn her into something much better by his selfless love and sacrifice. That this would be crazy goes, I hope, without saying. St. Paul is clearly talking about how husbands should treat their wives, not about how unmarried men should choose their wives and wives choose their husbands.

It is perhaps worth noting that a marriage that has never been consummated can be annulled, and that this has been true, AFAIK, in both canon and civil law forever. The only difficulties were practical--that is, that it was easier for rich people than for poor people to get the ear of the necessary authorities to have their marriage declared null even on obvious grounds.

I think we should face the fact that there was a lot of using one another, perhaps chiefly of men using women, but also of guardians using orphan wards whose marriages they "owned" and of parents using children in order to obtain land and money. The whole question that you are raising, Christine, would have seemed entirely academic to a man who married a young heiress for her lands and in order that she might bear him an heir. If she had objected and asked that the consummation of their marriage be delayed until they could at least get to know one another and develop some affection for one another, he would have laughed at her and taken her willy nilly. Not because what she asked (if, indeed, any such bride would have thought to ask such a thing) was impossible but because such an idea would have seemed ridiculous. He married her for a reason and a purpose and was going to carry out that purpose. But this is using a person as a thing, and we might as well admit that a lot of using persons as things took place and takes place where love as a prerequisite for marriage is laughed to scorn.

I think your point is historically exactly right.

My point is that your theology of love and marriage, while it invokes the Pauline analogy, also rejects it. That seems to me to be theological opportunism. Here's what I mean: When Paul fits your view of love and marriage, all is well. When he does not, it's simply a case of pressing the analogy too far, whether we are talking about corporate or singular spouses for Christ, on the one hand, or about the proper sequence between love and marriage, on the other.

In other words, while it seems that you and I probably agree about the wisest ways to conduct marriage today, it's futile for us to try to read that practice back into Paul and his analogy regarding Christ and the church.

At any rate, Tony, blessings on you!
Michael Bauman

I don't know. I tend to think Lewis meant--though it was perhaps clumsily stated--that those who were in arranged marriages did right by remaining in those unions, being intimate, bearing children, and raising them to be good Christians. In the process, one hopes, of course, that the spouses grew to love one another. I don't think he was talking about two people who came together and were disgusted by each other; I think he meant two people who were, for one reason or another, bound in marriage but perhaps were not each other's first choice, who were not naturally attracted to each other. This happens quite a lot.

one would presumably conclude that it is legitimate for a man to marry a woman who is his avowed enemy in an attempt to turn her into something much better by his selfless love and sacrifice.

But that is precisely what God ordered Hosea the prophet to do--to marry Gomer, the prostitute, to love her and be faithful to her in the face of her ongoing infidelity, in order to mirror the longsuffering love God has toward his people. God asked this sacrifice of Hosea, the sacrifice of self, in order to highlight, among other things, that marriage is not about self-fulfilment, finding a soulmate, being enriched, or any of those other things that modern romance says it is. Marriage is, rather, a mirror of Christ's relationship to the Church (His people); it is a relationship of sacrifice, selflessness, and, in some cases, longsuffering. It is, in short, a relationship of love--but not love as we normally think of it. Love as perfectly embodied on the Cross: "For no man has greater love than this, than to lay down his life for his friends." Jn 15:13

I'm of the opinion that one can learn to love anyone at all, literally, anyone. If you accept that true love is an act of the will, and not emotion-based, and that we are called to love every human being with the sacrificial love of Christ, then I do think that Christians thrown together in marriage who don't have any particular chemistry or spark, and who even can be a source of pain to the other, can still learn to love the other with Christ's love, and that a marriage can be built on that. In some cases, people have absolutely no choice.

First of all, we aren't told one way or another whether Hosea and Gomer loved one another. It's actually possible that, at least initially, they did. But that really is beside the most important point, which is that Hosea's initial choice of Gomer is *obviously not* a model for human marriage but rather a case of an extraordinary revelation from God telling someone to do something that really would, normally, be crazy. I would hope that if your son said, "I'm going to marry a woman who I know is totally promiscuous and will run away from me and be a prostitute, just to show a great example of God's love," you would try to dissuade him. Hosea's decision to marry Gomer under direct divine direction is no more a model for choosing a spouse than Abraham's decision to sacrifice Isaac is a model for parenthood.

Look, we conservatives are hard-liners on all sorts of things about our contemporaries, and we also recognize, re. contemporary culture, that otherwise good people can be confused by the overwhelming cultural acceptance of certain things into doing what is wrong without realizing it. I believe that abortion is wrong even to save the life of the mother. I believe that couples may have to do without natural children if in vitro fertilization is the only alternative. And so forth.

For some reason, some Christians romanticize what are considered the "Ages of Faith" so that they have trouble realizing, similarly, of those ages that there were things that were widely accepted that were wrong. We're willing to be hard-liners about our own age but not about the "Christian" age.

To me, when you consider all the hard things a man may be called upon to do in life or to refrain from doing--sexually, economically, militarily, etc.--it seems pretty small potatoes to ask a man to refrain from sexual intercourse with women towards whom he feels literally nothing whatsoever, not even affection, nothing except, perhaps, "animal" attraction. To recognize that cold-hearted intimacy is wrong seems to me not so very hard, and in fact much more obvious than some sexual intercourse that I know some conservative Catholics tell people is wrong. (E.g., To pick a fairly esoteric example, I have seen a translated document from a pope of long ago saying that men who had been castrated, presumably against their will, but could still engage in sexual intercourse, must never do so and could never enter into valid marriage because their semen was infertile.)

Oh, one more thing: I'm not sure, Christine, what you mean by "in some cases, people have absolutely no choice." Certainly there are cases where people marry, wisely or unwisely but *willingly*, someone for whom they are not well-suited and later find themselves miserable. In that case, of course I agree that they have no choice but to make the best of it.

But I emphasize again that the Church itself (I'm Protestant, but this seems worth pointing out) recognizes that unwilling marriages are null. Sometimes I feel like traditionalists, again, in their romanticization of the Ages of Faith, don't really want to admit this or don't realize just how wide the ramifications of that may be for the nullity of large numbers of marriages contracted sometimes in *infancy* and often even against the will of the participants, in the medieval period.

Thanks for the thoughtful response. I do find it curious that you would infer, merely from my brief comment above, that I am a traditionalist, romantic, and that I do not recognize the nullity of marriages that lack free consent. I can only assume you’ve visited my website and make these assumptions based, perhaps, on my monarchy post. I may be a traditionalist, but that’s about where it stops. I don’t romanticize the Middle Ages nor arranged marriage, and I’ve studied Canon Law and understand that marriages lacking free consent are null and void, as they should be. (As to republicanism vs. monarchy, that’s a different subject for a different day.)

I do think we are talking about two different things. You’re talking about how to choose a spouse; I’m talking about how to love a spouse once he is already chosen, and there is no realistic option for annulment or divorce (the latter in which I do not believe anyway). How does one make the best of one’s lot?

According to Catholic tradition, there are two ends to marriage: to raise a family, and to learn to love one’s spouse with the love of Christ. These are inextricably linked. Back when I was a Protestant, I was ironically far more of a romantic; I placed a much greater emphasis on the latter, on finding self-fulfillment in a soulmate, and a minimal emphasis on the former. (Indeed, I even thought it legitimate to marry and deliberately choose never to have children.) This makes sense, because the 20th century understanding of marriage (which I had fully imbibed)—ever since the legalization and popularization of contraception, along with the change in stance of every major religious denomination except for the Catholic Church on the morality of its use—divorces the procreative aspect from the conjugal act, and makes the former merely an option, an afterthought.

These days, I see marriage in its unitive as well as procreative aspect, seeing both as essential, but recognizing that if the former is lacking due to human defect, one cannot then choose to cut off the latter. Not only do I agree with Lewis that this would be “sheer sentimentalism”, I think it would in fact be immoral to do so—to deprive one’s spouse of the conjugal act because he is not sufficiently “in love” with one. But I also think it immoral of a spouse to use the other for mere physical gratification. Ideally, the conjugal act should be one of mutual self-giving, and never a selfish act, as Pope John Paul II discussed extensively in his Theology of the Body. But we are all at varying degrees in achieving this, and there are certainly times in the best of marriages when one does not “feel” love for one’s spouse when physically intimate (this is as true for women as for men). We have a duty not to use the other selfishly; we also have a duty not to deprive the other of conjugal union simply because there isn’t as much of a spark as we would like.

Christine, I was not meaning actually to attribute any of those views to you other than traditionalism, which I think is a fair inference. I was bringing in the nullity of unwilling marriages because I think it is relevant to how we evaluate the ages of which Lewis is speaking and also because I think it is something he doesn't sufficiently consider. In further evidence of this, I bring a letter he wrote contained in _Letters to an American Lady_. His female correspondent was helping, in some unspecified way, a young Chinese woman get ready for her wedding. Lewis says something like this (this is by memory but is almost word for word): "It is rather surprising [or disturbing, I can't recall the exact word] that the Chinese girl doesn't want to marry anybody, but I imagine she'll feel different once she has a baby." Now _that_ is a failure to recognize the nullity of unwilling marriages!

I entirely agree that we must make a distinction between how to live out a marriage one is in and how to choose a spouse. In fact, I would make this distinction a very sharp one, almost a contradistinction. For example, it would be sheer madness for some people to choose to marry the spouses they in fact end up with if they knew ahead of time what they find out later. Yet it is still required that they stay with the spouse after they find those things out. I actually believe this is true. Both parts of it.

Next, I think you may possibly misunderstand what I mean by "love." Please notice above that when I use the term 'spark', I am answering what the person who asked it realized, and I realized, was a *different question* from the question of loving one's spouse--namely, the question of physical attraction or sheer sexual interest. And please notice that in that answer, I said that these were rather different things, and that what I considered indispensible was _affection_ (I might add to that things like tenderness and respect), and that sheer "spark" could come in different forms and should be dealt with in rather a different way. I said that I thought it was _unwise_ to choose a mate in the first place with whom there was no "spark" at all, but that is quite a different question, to my mind, from choosing a mate for whom one *does not care*, with whom one has no *connection as a person*.

So when I talk about cold-hearted sexual intimacy, I am not talking about intimacy in which one person is less excited or "sparky"-feeling than the other. That is really rather beside the point of what I am most concerned with here. And in fact, as I pointed out, it is rather beside the point of what Lewis is concerned with, because Lewis expressly imagines two people who _do_ have "animal passion" for one another but who *do not love each other*. This seems to me rather significant.

In other words, what concerns me here is marriage and sexual intercourse between spouses who do not care for one another, or at least one of whom does not care for the other one, as persons. That seems to me a problem, and a very fundamental one. I am not saying that there must be moonlight and violins or high flights of excitement, sexual or otherwise. What I am saying is that people must relate to one another as people, and that a wife has every right to object to a husband (or for that matter, a husband to object to a wife) who has no love whatsoever--where "love" includes at a minimum personal affection and a genuine and positive personal relationship--but who demands some sort of "marriage debt."


I think you’re erroneously identifying arranged marriages with unwilling ones.

In the age of arranged marriages, daughters were raised to give their consent to the choice of their fathers. To consent the judgement of the father was a mark of feminine virtue, and to resist will was almost unthinkable. Moreover, it is consent, and not choice, that is required for a valid marriage. Therefore, unless you can provide evidence of widespread withholding of consent by daughters, and subsequent forcing of marriage without consent by fathers - which I’m quite sure you can not - I think we can dismiss your suggestion that many marriages in the Middle Ages were invalid as unfounded

As far as I understand it, sometimes even the consent of the boys was temporarily withheld. You may object to my bringing in a novel as evidence here, but one of Edith Pargeter's, a rather grim one, is The Marriage of Meggotta (sp?). It tells the evidently true story of a young nobleman (I believe he was the heir to the earldom of Gloucester, which was quite a big thing)who was originally intended to marry the daughter of the king's favorite, the Earl of Kent. When Kent fell out of favor when the two children were something on the order of ten or eleven, the king did everything he could to make sure no such marriage took place, but later they claimed that they had been secretly married, and they consummated the marriage, also secretly, in their teens. The king separated the couple forcibly and kept the husband in prison, despite attempts to escape. The young wife eventually (and conveniently) died. The king then arranged a different marriage for the young nobleman. I think (though you may disagree) that it is a fair conjecture that the young nobleman was not exactly willingly entering this marriage but was beaten down by imprisonment over his previous marriage which the king hadn't liked.

And no, I am not saying that all arranged marriages are forced by definition. I'm far less sanguine than you, however, George, over the degree of true consent involved when it is "almost unthinkable" to refuse consent.

There are problems developing wiht this right now among Muslim immigrants. It was Mohammed who said that a virgin's silence gives her consent. This is really not a very hopeful road to travel.


Here is George R. earlier on the issue of freedom in medieval marriage. I leave it to the reader to interpret for himself. George R. first lauds medieval marriage despite saying, in so many words, "True, the former denied the girl freedom of choice..." That motivates the following, to my mind entirely appropriate, response from Zippy:


It might be of interest to note that the Church was formally condemning arranged non-consensual marriages at least as early as the 800's AD (see e.g. the declarations of St. Nicholas I in Denzinger).

George R. then goes into "distinguo" mode and says, "Off hand, I would respond that there is a difference between consent and choice. But I'll check into it. Thanks."

But, please, he expressly stated that arranged marriage "denied the girl freedom of choice" and sees this as a good thing. I can only conclude that George R. would disapprove of a young medieval girl who refused a marriage on the grounds that she didn't know the fellow, or knew him and disliked him, or disliked what she heard about him, or, even worse, had no feelings for him, and who continued so to refuse until Mr. Right came along, someone to whom she had some personal connection and for whom she had some affection. That would, after all, amount in practice to her having freedom to choose her mate, which heaven forbid.

In any event, George, I sense in this comment and the other no concern or solicitude in you whatsoever for the very real problems with this whole approach specifically as it concerns what you wish to call "free consent." While it is certainly possible to consent to something another person initially arranges for you, in a cultural situation where you are expected never to say "no," and in which many sorts of pressure, some of them highly unpleasant, can be brought to bear upon you to "consent," we must really wonder seriously about just how free that free consent is. You, quite evidently, have no such worries. That is a problem.


To be fair, I believe you must revisit George R.'s statement:

Lydia, I think you’re erroneously identifying arranged marriages with unwilling ones. In the age of arranged marriages, daughters were raised to give their consent to the choice of their fathers. To consent the judgement of the father was a mark of feminine virtue, and to resist will was almost unthinkable.

I believe you might be reading it with such modern gloss.

For in these modern times, daughters of families are allowed the benefit of such choices (to the extent of even murdering their unborn children -- but that's another matter altogether). However, in the past, their parents decided their fate from a very early age. Virtue, to them in those times, was a kind of responsibility (a duty to both God & to one's parents); i.e., to dutifully live out their lives ever so faithfully according to that "vocation" chosen for them.

The sort of introspective process of choosing one's "vocation" in today's world is a newly hatched animal of the modern, post-Christian society. In olden days, 90% of the time, it was all decided for you.

Yet (as one Christian put it), modern man, with his heightened sense of personal choice, finds this idea of responsibility hard to follow. But it is still the truth.

Aristocles, it is not "the truth" that it is by definition a young woman's duty to marry a man that her father has chosen for her. Nor is her father always a good picker. That will vary from father to father. Nor is it possible to deny that in the Christian ancient days of arranged marriages fathers and often guardians (plenty of orphan noble wards around) chose mates for the young for reasons that in many cases were only accidentally related to the best good of the ward/child--alliance between houses and nations, union of lands so they could be more profitably used, and so forth. And that's when we are just imagining the relatively more "noble" motives.

I think we need to be willing to admit that in some things, modern society has it more right than did medieval society. That's a hard thing to swallow, but I believe it is still the truth.

And please note, Aristocles, that since you chose to bring up the matter of killing one's child (I wonder why you did) there are plenty of cases nowadays where if a girl believes it is "feminine virtue" to do whatever her parents tell her, she will "consent" in an abortion which they demand.

Something to be said for individual conscience and judgement. In fact, a lot to be said.


I’m not going to pretend to be all that concerned about the girl’s freedom to choose her own mate, because we all know that I’m not. But the only point I was trying to make in the last post was that the overwhelming majority of medieval marriages were valid. That stipulated, we can move to the issue of whether or not the arranged marriage was wise:

I believe it was wise, because it reflects an understanding that familial authority is properly invested in the father, who has the responsibility to ensure and protect the well-being of the entire family. Moreover, it puts this all-important choice in the hands of someone who, in the great majority of cases, cares more about the well-being of the girl than anyone else in the whole world, and has the wisdom of age and enough emotional detachment from the situation to be, by any rational judgement, the most likely one to make a sound choice.

In my view, our modern disposition robs the father of his authority, destroys the cohesiveness of the family, and needlessly exposes young women shame and heartbreak.

I think you're right that this boils down to one's definition of love. You wrote: Lewis expressly imagines two people who _do_ have "animal passion" for one another but who *do not love each other*.

The question is, what did Lewis mean by love? In my reading of these passages, he seems clearly to imply a feelings-based love, which he rightly condemns as incorrect to base any sort of marriage on. You seem to go very far, though, in reading into this passage that Lewis meant it was ok not to care for one's spouse at all. I'm not sure I see that in what he writes. He speaks of "honest Christians" who, if they are truly honest Christians, would not deliberately neglect or harm their spouse. Thus, there would be some care; they would still be taking care of each other and attempting to get along--they just might not necessarily have the sort of affection or in-loveness that most people expect nowadays from romance.

Aristocles, it is not "the truth" that it is by definition a young woman's duty to marry a man that her father has chosen for her.

It was regarded as such in those times; although, I don't expect a modern to grasp that.

I think we need to be willing to admit that in some things, modern society has it more right... Something to be said for individual conscience and judgement. In fact, a lot to be said.

Yes, I'm well acquainted with the radical feminism that declares a woman's life along with her body as solely her property; the governance of which belongs under her purview alone whereupon she can perform whatever she wills no matter the evil.

A daughter of the old world who dutifully lived her life according to the dictates of both God & Parents then (Commandments?) was but a foolish, mindless child -- quite unlike the sophisticated women of the modern world! Surely, those of the Pro-choice variety must be the most sophisticated of them all given the utter determination of their will & the sheer independence they exhibit & inspire for the sake of all women everywhere!

Good grief, Aristocles, you must not know me at all. Or maybe you are just trying to annoy. It is hardly "feminist" to say that it isn't, actually, a girl's duty to marry whatever good guy, oaf, or axe murderer her father happens to pick just because her father happens to pick him. It's bare common sense to say that and entirely compatible with both Christianity and traditional morality, as well as (since you _insist_ on dragging this in) an extremely hard-line position on abortion, which you well know I hold, or should know by now.

Aristocles, I'm concerned with what's true, not with what this culture or that culture thought, with how it was regarded "back then." Frankly, the kind of weird semi-relativism of some traditionalists really gets my goat: "It's always good to follow your parents, even when you are grown up." "It's always good to follow tradition." To which I say, oh, yeah? What if your parents want you to marry a man thirty years your senior, known to be cruel to his servants and dogs, with an unrepented mistress whom he carts around everywhere, because he's an influential baron and a "good catch"? What if your "tradition" is animism and it would be "untraditional" to listen to the missionary who happens to come through your village? It just _isn't true_ that it's everyone's duty always to follow tradition, go along with what their parents arrange, and so forth, and it's sheer sentimentalism masquerading as traditionalism to imply that this is truth.


Christine, I agree with you that this is where Lewis starts--with a highly excitable and emotional state of infatuation. The point is that what he _says_ is that they had no fuel but "animal passion." Now, this is what I call in the post and repeatedly in the comments thread Lewis's false dichotomy: Either it it necessary for marriage that one hear violins in one's head whenever the other person's name is mentioned or else marriage is just a matter of obeying one's parents, wanting children, and having no feelings for the other person at all.

Several people have said that Lewis is exaggerating as a reaction to what he sees as modern views. I would say that he _believed_ that exaggeration, and I call in evidence here his _incredibly_ wrong-headed comment about the Chinese girl being prepped for her wedding who *didn't want to get married*.


(I'm hearing crickets chirping from the pro-arranged marriage crowd here about that, by the way. Perhaps that is because it's presumed that the Chinese girl's parents were Buddhists and that medieval Christian parents would never thus have pushed their daughter into an unwanted marriage. Cough. Cough.)


It is hardly "feminist" to say that it isn't, actually, a girl's duty to marry whatever good guy...

I think you're missing the point -- in today's modern world, such duty is clearly non-existent. That does not mean that it did not exist in those days where those women were concerned. Yet, I can understand why, as a modern woman, you would be so dismissive of such a view or even incapable of grasping the reality as it existed then for those women because in our modern world, such a view seems all too ludicrous.

Frankly, the kind of weird semi-relativism of some traditionalists really gets my goat: "It's always good to follow your parents, even when you are grown up."

Well, I've often believed that Christian tradition generally should always be ejected at the onset; that the spiritual guidance & moral standards conveyed by parents to their children (as well as any other parental instruction, for that matter) should either be rejected by children subsequently or rendered completely optional -- just like the Commandment concerning "Honor your father and your mother" (I take it God was also such the semi-relativist).

In all this, I wonder how exactly that anything or anybody that seeks to follow Christian tradition (be it Presbyterian, Anglican, etc.) could be considered even vaguely relativist while the Pro-choice feminine is being presented (albeit inadvertently, I would imagine) as the epitome of goodness and not that which is, on the contrary, thoroughly consonant with the wiles of relativism (i.e., "According to my objective truth, it's my body and, therefore, I can do as I deem fit since, to me, it's not murder; it's my right").

You're better than that, Lydia.

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