The Eagle and Child: S1E18 – “Christian Marriage” (Part 1)



Following on from last week’s episode on the virtue of chastity, today we look at the Christian teaching on marriage with C.S. Lewis. Matt and I got rather carried away on this chapter, recording far more material than normal, so this chapter will be divided into two parts.

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Episode 18: “Christian Marriage (Part 1)” (Download)


— Show Notes —

• My outline for today’s chapter is available here. Thankfully, once again, there’s a C.S. Lewis doodle for this episode!

• The Drink-of-the-week today was sponsored by two listeners of the show, Rachel and Megan. They gave Matt a Shock Top: Ruby Fresh and I received a Fathom IPA from Ballast Point. We’re always open to other listeners buying us drinks!

• This was our Quote-of-the-week:

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you”

– C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

• Lewis approaches the subject of marriage with some trepidation, and for two reasons:

1. Christian teaching is extremely unpopular

2. He wasn’t married himself, although he would later marry Joy Davidman. So this is a chapter concerning marriage… written by a bachelor… and being discussed by two bachelors! So, take this as you will…

• The Christian understanding of marriage is based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19:1-9 concerning the “one flesh” union of man and wife:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one’? So they are no longer two but one”

– Matthew 19:5-6

“The Christian idea of marriage is based on Christ’s words that a man and wife are to be regarded as a single organism… when He said this He was not expressing a sentiment but stating a fact-just as one is stating a fact when one says that a lock and its key are one mechanism, or that a violin and a bow are one musical instrument”

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Book 3, Chapter 6)

• It is because a husband and wife are a single organization, that fornication (sex outside of marriage) is wrong:

“…those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union. The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again”

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Book 3, Chapter 6)

This argument against separating out the different kinds of union is the same argument Christians have historically used against contraception, since it attempts to separate the procreative and unitive aspects of the marital act.

• Christianity teaches that marriage is for life. However, this is not the belief of contemporary culture. While there are differences in this teaching between the different Christian denominations concerning marriage, Christians still generally take the permanent nature of marriage much more seriously than those in the secular world:

“…they [the Christian denominations] all regard divorce as something like cutting up a living body, as a kind of surgical operation”

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Book 3, Chapter 6)

I paraphrased the quote given in Episode 3 from the encyclical Ut Unum Sint: What unites us is much greater than what divides us”.

Matt tells the story of a retreat he went on with John Eldridge, the author of popular books such as Wild At Heart. The sexual act is like gluing two pieces of paper together and then trying to separate them again. It ends messily…

• Jack explains that he doesn’t base the permanence of marriage on chastity, the virtue we discussed in the previous episode. Instead, he founds the permanence of marriage in one of the cardinal virtues which we discussed in Episode 14. He roots it in Justice since, when we get married, we promise to stay with that person in sickness and health until death.

Some people would say that they didn’t really mean the promises they made on their wedding wedding day. Who were they trying to hoodwink? God? Their partner? Their partner’s parents? God? None of these are good choices! Matt and I went on a little tangent for a while talking about Avalon, a board game entirely based around deception, rather similar to another game called Mafia.

• Lewis suggests that sometimes one or both parties in a marriage are trying to deceive society:

“They wanted the respectability that is attached to marriage without intending to pay the price”

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Book 3, Chapter 6)

In response to this, Lewis rather shockingly says that perhaps it best that those with this mindset not marry at all:

If people do not believe in permanent marriage, it is perhaps better that they should live together unmarried than that they should make vows they do not mean to keep.. one fault is not mended by adding another: unchastity is not improved by adding perjury.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Book 3, Chapter 6)

I pushed back a bit on this idea, suggesting that help, both natural and supernatural, might come to those even with an imperfect conception of marriage.

• We then took a little bit of time to offer some qualifying statements to Lewis’ rather stark the intent to “deceive” in marriage. What Lewis is describing here is not every marriage that ends in divorce. He’s also going to flesh things out further as the chapter goes on. Finally, I brought up the issue of “raw materials” which we discussed in the episode on morality and psychoanalysis.

• Some might object to Lewis’ caricature and say that people get married when they think themselves in love. However, when they find themselves no longer in love with that person, it makes sense to end the marriage. After all, why stay married to someone whom you don’t love? In response to this, Lewis asks, if we only stay married based upon how we feel, why make the promises at all?

If love is the whole thing, then the promise can add nothing; and if it adds nothing, then it should not be made… A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions: no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way. He might as well promise never to have a headache or always to feel hungry

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Book 3, Chapter 6)

Promises are not alien to lovers:

As Chesterton pointed out, those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises. Love songs all over the world are full of vows of eternal constancy. The Christian law is not forcing upon the passion of love something which is foreign to that passion’s own nature: it is demanding that lovers should take seriously something which their passion of itself impels them to do.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Book 3, Chapter 6)

• Love is a choice, not simply a feeling. Matt explained this is terms of our relationship with God, bringing up the example of St. Teresa of Calcutta who endured a “dark night of the soul” during her final years, when she felt an absence of the feeling of God’s presence…and she yet continued with her mission regardless.

• Why might you want to keep a couple together who no longer feel the same kind of love for each other as they did in the early days? Lewis offers three practical reasons, notably focussed on the wife and children:

1. Provide a home for the children.

2. Protect the woman who will have sacrifice much

3. Protect the woman from just being dropped

• It’s not that “being in love” is a bad thing. It’s just not the best thing:

[They] like thinking in terms of good and bad, not of good, better, and best, or bad, worse and worst…What we call “being in love” is a glorious state, and, in several ways, good for us. It helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty, and it subordinates (especially at first) our merely animal sexuality; in that sense, love is the great conqueror of lust. No one in his senses would deny that being in love is far better than either common sensuality or cold self-centredness.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Book 3, Chapter 6)

It’s not the best thing because feelings never least, at least in the same way or with the same intensity:

Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Book 3, Chapter 6)

Matt complains about Millennials for a while… 🙂

• Love is seeking the good of the other person, even if it costs you something…even a lot.

Love in this second sense-love as distinct from “being in love” is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both parents ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Book 3, Chapter 6)

We do this for our own selves all the time, loving ourselves even when we don’t like ourselves. I quote the Catholic speaker Jackie Angel (nee Jackie Francois) who wrote about wanting to punch her husband in the face sometimes! 😉

• The feeling of “being in love” and this “willing to love” are then contrasted:

They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be “in love” with someone else… It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Book 3, Chapter 6)

I extended this analogy, contrasting the behaviour of a car engine when you first turn on the ignition to when you’re cruising on the freeway. You might also use the analogy where you contrast the explosion necessary for a spaceship to break the earth’s orbit and then the piloting of the craft once it is in space.

• Since the episode was running long and we had finished our beers, Matt and I opened his bottle of Glenfiddich 12 scotch.

• Some listeners might argue that we simply don’t know what we’re talking about when it comes to marriage. To quote Lewis, “You may quite possibly be right”! However, Lewis asks those to object to make very sure that they are objecting based on their own experiences, rather than on what they have read in novels and seen in movies.

Matt rambles on about The Notebook, a Nicholas Spark’s novel, which was made into a very popular movie. Please pray for him!

• The same feelings of love cannot last, but they can be transformed into something else beautiful:

if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest. 

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Book 3, Chapter 6)

• Movies and novels often tell us that falling in love is irresistible, but Lewis doesn’t think this is really the case. We can admire good qualities in others, but he still thinks it’s largely a matter of will to choose whether or not to indulge these feelings. Having said that, there are ways to encourage this indulgence…

No doubt, if our minds are full of novels and plays and sentimental songs, and our bodies full of alcohol, we shall turn any love we feel into that kind of love

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Book 3, Chapter 6)

This chapter will be completed in the next episode!


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