Thursday, January 15, 2015

G. K. Chesterton on Marriage

This is from the July/August 2014 number of Gilbert, which they put into a question and answer format.  The topic is, shall we say, synodically relevant.

The questioner wanted the marriage to be a standard commercial contract.  Said GKC:

Now I quite understand this commercial theory of marriage, but I thought I had at least made it clear that it is not my theory of marriage. I contrasted marriage with a mere contract; I said it was not a mere contract, or even a mere promise, in the sense that it is the ordinary basis of mere contract. I said it was something which is more than a promise, and is called a vow. Two people make a unique and absolute agreement, not to exchange this or that, but to share everything, including any evil that may befall either.   Personally I think people's heads must be very dull and their hearts very dead, in the days when the very thought of so absolute and audacious an adventure does not move them like a trumpet. But it is not a question here of what I feel, but of what I said. I said the vow was a unique thing, distinct from a contract or even a promise. 

And then the questioner wants to tweak the text of the vows to make them a tad more modern.   ("Obedience?"   "'til death us do part?"  Seriously?)  GKC saith:

It never seems to occur to you that others might omit the wedding. What is the point of the ceremony except that it involves the vow? What is the point of the vow except that it involves vowing something dramatic and final? Why walk all the way to a church in order to say that you will retain a connection as long as you find it convenient? Why stand in front of an altar to announce that you will enjoy somebody's society as long as you find it enjoyable?   You talk of reasons for omitting some of the words, without realising that it is an even better reason for omitting all the words. In fact the proof that the vow is what I describe, and what you apparently cannot even imagine, a unique thing not to be confounded with a contract, can be found in the very fact that the vow becomes verbally ridiculous when it is thus verbally amended. The daring dogmatic terms of the promise become ludicrous in the face of the timidity and triviality of the thing promised.  To say "I swear to God, in the face of this congregation as I shall answer at the dreadful day of judgment, that Maria and I will be friends until we quarrel" is a thing of which the very diction implies the derision. It is like saying, "In the name of the angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven, I think I prefer Turkish to Egyptian cigarettes:' or "Crying aloud on the everlasting mercy, I confess I have grave doubts about whether sardines are good for me:'
Obviously nobody would ever have invented such a ceremony, or invented any ceremony to celebrate such a promise. Men would merely have done what they liked, as millions of healthy men have done, without any ceremony at all. Divorce and re-marriage are simply a heavy and hypocritical masquerade for free love and no marriage.