Friday, October 03, 2008

C.S. Lewis--odd on love

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 feeling 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 rather brutal and even 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, 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 an 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.

A somewhat longer version of this post, including an imaginary Lewisian marriage proposal, has been cross-posted at What's Wrong with the World.


The Social Pathologist said...

It's a shame that Lewis is so negative on "infatuative" love, since I believe that it is probably the only type of love that actually mirrors the feelings we will have should we glimpse the beatific vision. I suppose the central feature of this type of love is the total "other centeredness" of its nature and our sudden inadequacy with with our solitary being. Perhaps we experience it as God's way of showing us that alone, we are incomplete.

I'm with the Troubadours and think that they had more insight into the matter than many a moral theologian.It is a natural sentiment put there by God that is there to prepare us for marriage, therefore it is not to be dismissed so lightly. Marrying for "romantic' reasons is probably the best and most "natural" reason for marrying and therefore the best. It's God's way of doing things.

Is it necessary for marriage? No, since the sacrament is a spiritual welding process predicated on the mutual free consent of the parties. I imagine a lot of those "arranged" marriages in the past were pretty brutal affairs for both husband and wife and suboptimal with regard to Christian ideals.

Oh, as far as I understand it, the "unitive" dimension of marriage was only preached relatively recently by upper level management. The natural law view, of marriage as a contract through which babies were made and sin avoided, was the official position.

Still there is much to be said for this view as the sacrament of marriage does come with obligations, something people who have lost infatuation with each other seem to forget.

Returning to matters beatific, some sense of heaven, purgatory and hell can be reasonably understood by meditating on this sentiment.

When Percy Sledge--When a man loves a woman--sings about the privations a man wants to go through in order gain the affections of his love, he is in a roundabout way preaching the Catholic theology of purgatory. Separated from our love, we feel pain, but through our efforts we eventually will be united.

Likewise a glimpse of Hell can foretold by spurned romantic love. Nothing satisfies the spurned lover who is filled with bitterness and despair. Life aches because the beloved has been permanently separated from his beloved.

Lydia McGrew said...

Hey, SP! Glad to see you around. It's been a while. Thanks for coming by.

Ultimately, what I would insist on is something less exciting than infatuative love but far more humane than "brutal" marriage to someone one cares nothing about. I'm trying here to apply the idea (which I know a number of Catholic documents have used) that persons are to be treated as ends and not as means. Brutal marriages do exactly the wrong thing, here. The husband who marries a woman for her lands and takes her to beget an heir upon her, caring nothing for her as a person, does wrong. I do not hesitate to say that, and I don't care how many times it was done through the ages, by how many Christian people, or with how much societal approval in supposedly "better" ages than our own.

On the other hand, I don't want to be understood as saying that stars have to light in your eyes and your heart race whenever you think of the person or else you must not get married. And I hope I haven't been unclear about that. I think my position has been made clearer in the comments thread on the companion post to this over at W4.

What I'm saying is a sine qua non is knowledge of one another (that is, the two people are not simply strangers until they are thrown in bed together), affection, kindliness, tenderness, what I call on the other thread a _connection_ between the two people. Those kinds of things. This need not mean wonderful sexual chemistry or even infatuation. But they need to be to at least some threshhold degree connected to one another *as people*, not simply as breeding animals. That can be a sort of "seed" connection that will deepen over the years, but there should be something there where the two people are looking at one another as persons, not things, where they are not merely avoiding thinking of one another as individuals and trying to turn on the sexual arousal so as to beget children and consummate the marriage so it's a "done deal," where the marriage was entered into for entirely pragmatic and impersonal reasons.

And it would, if it comes to that, have been possible for the two people to take some time to get to know one another and develop some affection for one another after vows were said and before the marriage was consummated. In fact, if the two were married literally as children, the marriage couldn't have been consummated immediately anyway, and there might have been time for this to take place. In the meanwhile, an unconsummated marriage could have been annulled.

One thing that I'm trying to avoid is the idea that traditional conservatives can't make any sweeping criticisms of what was widely done long ago, because those ages are just supposed to be so Christian. There, I think, SP, you will be likely to agree with me.

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The Social Pathologist said...

One thing that I'm trying to avoid is the idea that traditional conservatives can't make any sweeping criticisms of what was widely done long ago, because those ages are just supposed to be so Christian

Yes, I agree.

By "infatuative", I meant the type state where we have a desire to unite with the other party(on may different planes). The marriage is hence a result of the attraction process; a desired for state in itself.

I still think that you are right in objecting to Lewis's view. Not necessarily because in your opinion you feel that some degree of "romantic" attachment-be it ever so mild--is necessary to validate a legitimate union, but because I feel the traditional conception of marriage may itself be incomplete. Just as the "unitive" purpose of the sexual act seemed to be acknowledged in the late nineteenth century, the romantic component of marriage still waits to be asserted. My own view, for what its worth, is that marriage is a sacrament which perfects the couple, and of secondary importance, a state through which children are legitimately born. A childless couple can still have a "good" marriage. Its biological purpose is secondary to its spiritual dimension. Lewis was singing the praises of an inferior version of legitimate marriage.

Theologians make the distinction between perfect and imperfect contrition, perhaps we should look at marriages in the same way: perfect and imperfect. While imperfect marriage--like an imperfect contrition--still opens the door to God's grace and is hence valid, we should approach the sacrament as God intended, with perfect love for our partner. Anything less is second best.

Lydia McGrew said...

I think you have an interesting idea, there, SP. I think a childless couple _certainly_ can have a "good" marriage but that there is something sad about it, at least there is unless they married after they were both past the age of childbearing in any event.

But I agree with you too that ideally there should be a lot more than what I was talking about as a "bare minimum." In fact, one thing I sometimes feel frustrated about with myself is that the blog context makes me feel pressed to draw lines that are sometimes more minimal than what I would actually like to say. So I start out defending love as a prerequisite for marriage and end up saying, "Look, people, don't you think that _at least_ the people should care about each other _to some extent_? Aren't you _revolted_ by the idea of intercourse between people who care _nothing_ about each other? Doesn't this seem extreme?"

And yet that's where one ends up. Over at W4 right now, I fully expect to go back to the thread and find a couple of commentators in full medieval-era-defense mode telling me how much better the world was back when young girls could scarcely conceptualize the notion of refusing whatever oaf their father happened to choose for them. (Well, no, they won't put it that way. In fact, they aren't much into talking about the fact that fathers and guardians sometimes chose oafs because they didn't care about the girl either.) Yet they also want to make a heavy distinction between "consent" and "choice." How charming--so the girl was still giving consent even though she felt she had no choice but to consent. Something a bit odd there.

Dealing with what I might call hyper-traditionalists sometimes has, I fear, a falsifying effect on my own rhetoric. Yet at the same time I don't feel justified in just letting rip.

The Social Pathologist said...

I think a childless couple _certainly_ can have a "good" marriage but that there is something sad about it

It's sad in the same way that a fecund marriage can be loveless. I imagine the ideal is a happy, fecund marriage, deviation from this ideal is a privation, and hence the sadness. Love is meant to be intrinsic to marriage, its deficiency a venial privation.

The assumption of all the "traditionalists", who sing the perfection of the medieval period, was that this truly was the period of spiritual enlightenment and everything since then has been its darkening. I don't hold that view, the medieval period had both its virtues and its vices and hence should not be considered the end state of Christian society. The renaissance and enlightenment bought some needed to reforms to medieval Christian society.

Particularly with regard to the treatment of women. I suppose the only correct "choice" that these women had according to the hyper-traditionalists, was the choice to be treated as chattel. In other words they were given the right to chose to be a means to an ends. Unfortunately, the recognition of women, as rational, thinking and feeling human beings was more aggressively pushed by the enemies of Christianity. In fact, Christianity seemed to respond to these developments rather reluctantly after the fact. That's why, I, like you, feel that the truth takes priority over tradition. The old ways are not necessarily good.

Lydia McGrew said...

I think your parallel is legitimate, SP. In fact, a joyful but childless marriage is in many ways less sad than a miserable but fruitful marriage.

As for women's being treated as chattel in the "good old days," I think there is some truth in that (at the risk of sounding like a feminist). To be fair, a) Zippy has unearthed condemnations from the church of literally unwilling marriages as long ago as the 800's, which was definitely a step in the right direction, and b) my impression is that boys, too, could be compelled into marriage and sometimes were. Noble wards of either gender could be, and I strongly suspect sometimes were, treated as chattel.

The Social Pathologist said...

The Middle ages weren't really a great time for personal rights.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick comment . . . You write of Lewis, "He may (we can hope) have gotten more information later when he fell in love and got married himself." _The Four Loves_ was published in 1960, not only after Lewis's marriage to Joy but nearly coincident with her death.

English Lady said...

As a Medievalist, and an ardent Lewis fan, I would beg to contribute here. I think there is a lot of misinformation and incorrect assumption about Marriage and women's 'right's' in the Medieval period being bandied about on this forum.

Firstly, we have the common- although I believe fundamentally flawed assumption that arranged marriages could never possibly have been happy, or the parties had any modicom of affection for one another. History shows us this was not so. Edward I's marriage to Eleanor of Castille was one of political convenience- but most historians recognize that he was utterly devoted to her and loved her deeply until her death, and by all accounts, she seems to have loved him too.
A similar situation seems to have existed with Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York, as well as other noble and royal marriages of the Medieval age.

Secondly, we have the assumption that people married those they never met. This may have been the case with some, but according to at least two prominent historians of the period it was usual for there to be a period of courtship for noble couples, in which they could 'get to know and like each other'. In fact, if people married those from within thier own communities or social circles, it was not unlikely that they would have known each other already anyway.

Third, Medieval women - at lest Englishwomen- had more rights than is often recognized. They could sue and be sued in the courts, they could inherit land, and pass it on, they often took a leading role in estate management and were expected to do so.
Medieval court records show them as having been active in pursuing and defending thier legal and moral rights when it came to marriage. For instance, wards not infrequently marriage people other than those thier gaurdians chose or wanted, and widows people other than those King or Lord might have favoured. To put it another way, the records are peppered with references to women and young men exercizing thier freedom and choosing thier own spouse for their own reasons.
They could (and did) even take abusive spouses to court, or men who had seduced them with promises of marriage, then renounce the marriage afterwards.

Lastly, the form of love glorified and celebrated by the trobabdours tended to verge on the adulterous.....based on the notion that romantic fulfillment was best found outside marriage. In other words, their ideas might be considered as much as literary trope as the above might be in modern romantic fiction or fictionalised depictions of Medieval marriage.

English Lady said...

I would also add that concerns about the maturity of marriage partners are not exclusively 'modern'.
Even in the Middle Ages, there was discussion and concern over marriage between persons of very young age, which sometimes involved questioning the validiity of marriages made under the age of consent.
The principle concern in such cases seems to have been whether the couples were really capable of freely giving thier consent to thier (usually unconsummated) marriages- free consent having been the principle basis for legal marriage.

In fact, if I recall, underage marriage was a ground for annulment, and indeed, many child marriages were annulled.

Lydia McGrew said...

I don't have any intention of launching into a full-scale discussion of whether people were sometimes/ever/often/never forced into marriage in the Medieval period, etc., etc.

My main post (you may have noticed) did not give any opinion on that point at all.

As to your last point, while unconsummated child marriages were annulled, some weren't and went on to be consummated later. For example, the marriage of Isabella of Valois to Richard II. The very idea that a seven year old can be considered legally married in any sense at all is fairly bizarre and argues a _greatly_ different culture both than our own and than a rightly ordered one.

But I never made any sweeping pronouncements such as that no arranged marriages were happy, that they all were forced, that the bride and groom typically knew nothing of each other, etc. To make sweeping pronouncements on the other side (e.g., that they virtually always loved each other or were never forced or virtually always had a time to get to know and like each other first, etc.) about a culture where marriages were *undeniably* made among the aristocracy and royalty for their children for reasons of political alliance (one's eyes would fall out if one tried even to read a list of all such) is also unjustified.

So my position is moderate, and now, I don't have any more time to argue this old issue on this old thread.

English Lady said...

Sadly, many people do hold to such 'sweeping pronoucements' and they are generally accepted as 'truth'. Please note also, I did not make any 'sweeping pronoucements' on the other side.

Nor, I hasten to add- do I know of any evidence that Richard II's marriage to Isabella was ever consummated, and it would not have been expected until she was older.

Yes, girls could be married at an early age, but I would argue that the fact that it was expected for one or both parties to wait until they or the other were pysically mature and ready says they were not, perhaps, as barbaric as we would think.

Lydia McGrew said...

They should not have been considered married at all at the age of seven. Yes, that means I'm judging another culture, but I'm good at that. And waiting for consummation until mere puberty is not waiting long enough, nor should such an issue be left to the behind-closed-doors decision of the parties involved (chiefly the husband, in practical terms). I have no doubt that Richard II was kind to Isabella, and I'd be willing to bet you are right that the marriage was never consummated. That's not the point. It was a flawed system to treat a girl as married at seven and to leave it to her and her "husband" to decide when a young girl would be having sex with an adult man, not to mention considering it perfectly fine for the answer to that latter question to be "thirteen." I'm not going to start throwing the word "pedophilia" around in this context (though I would for Mohammad, for whom the answer was "nine"). But it was not a well-ordered system. The participants were too young.

English Lady said...

Hmmmmm- I was considering the hypocrisy of our own society on this issue myself today. We are outraged at the idea of girls being married and maybe having children in thier early teens-- yet we have no problem with schoolgirls of the same age being sexually active with boys of thier age, getting pregnant and having abortions.

We are quite happy to hand them out contraceptives, and say its OK to have sex at thirteen as long as you are 'careful'.

Need I even mention that there was frequently not a huge disparity in age between marriage partners in the Medieval period? Not unknown for them both to be young teens or pre-teens?

Lydia McGrew said...

As the old saying goes, who do you mean by "we"?

You don't know much about me if you think I'm fine with kids being sexually active. I emphatically am not.

Sometimes there was a big disparity in age (as in the case of Isabella) and sometimes there was not.

In any event, they were deemed married if "married" _before_ puberty, and then it was a matter of ad libbing when to consummate. A bad situation all around even if it sometimes worked out all right.

Our present society has many pathologies, many of which I write about, and its sexual pathologies not the least. But there's no point in idealizing the past, which had its separate problems, as a golden age.

English Lady said...

I do not by any means 'idealize' the past as a 'Golden Age'- but I believe in being accurate, balanced, and I hate unfairness, double standards and hypocrisy.

The point I have been trying to make here is that women in the Middle Ages were not always passive, voiceless and helpless when in came to marriage or sex. They could, and frequently did make thier own choices, and stick up for themselves.
When a teenage girl (or older woman) made her own choice about who she married, you can probably be quite sure she had a say in other aspects of the marriage too. Even when it was consummated, it was probably when she was ready and willing.

Yet our society as a whole assumes that this could not have been the case- that our own time is a 'golden age' for women's rights, and those of past ages were almost universally downtrodden, oppressed, ill-treated and abused.
We almost cannot concieve of them actually having been assertive, or knowing their own minds and getting what they wanted.

It is our society that was the 'we' in this situation.
Which, considering its own problems and moral issues, really has little or no basis to pass moral judgements on other societies. That was the point about schoolgirls, as made above.

Lydia McGrew said...

I am an individual with a brain and a moral compass. I am not bound to bear some sort of corporate guilt for the society into which I was born and which has, indeed, changed badly just within my lifetime. Much less to be silenced by the bare fact of the sins of others in that society. And I sure as heck retain the right to pass moral judgement on other societies, as I have the right to pass judgement on my own.

English Lady said...

I am not saying you don't, and I don't have 'corporate guilt'. Again the point is that there might be more that is postitive and relatable in past societies than many today tend to think. 'Some' shall I say rather than 'we', like think we are better than everyone else, and look down on them, but that viewpoint might not actually be that accurate or well-informed.

I think Prof. Lewis might have had something to say on the subject too.

Lydia McGrew said...

Actually, it was Lewis's rather grim portrayal of arranged marriages as more or less emotionally loveless that kicked off this entire post, years ago. If you read back through the quotes, you will see that, though he _did_ think there was much to be said in favor of Medieval society, this was probably an area in which his interpretation of their marriage customs would differ substantially from yours. I myself suspect that he may have exaggerated in that regard precisely in order to be contrary against his own society, which he thought prized romantic love too much. My own disagreement with him concerns the importance of love and the varieties of love. I didn't bother to question his probably somewhat caricatured portrayal of medieval love (namely, the lack thereof) between husband and wife.

English Lady said...

Hmmm, that is interesting. I am inclined to wonder whether his viewpoint may have had some grounding in Medieval Literature- which itself is probably quite exaggerated and one-sided in its portrayal of marriage and relationships.
Am I right in thinking Lewis did some work on 'The Romance of the Rose'- a work which was debunked by Christine de Pizan in the fifteenth century for its rather unflattering and jaundiced portrayal of women?

Lydia McGrew said...

Yes, Lewis specialized, inter alia, in Medieval Literature. He is rather well-known among Renaissance scholars (not the postmodern kind, but the kind who read Lewis at all) for his thesis that it was Edmund Spenser, the 16th century English poet, who first connected love and marriage at all. (See The Allegory of Love.) My specialty in graduate school was Spenser, and I was very interested in Lewis's work on the subject, though in the end I concluded that he had exaggerated somewhat even considering the literary side of the matter.

His Secret Obsession said...