Saturday, 6 January 2018

An Announcement - and Some Thoughts

As of Christmas day, I have become engaged to the love of my life, a woman of remarkable talent, beauty, intelligence, and strength of character, whom I have found to be a most fitting partner in my unique adventure of pursuing Wisdom. And by this I mean, not merely that she helps me in my studies (which she does very much, but that would be a poor reason to marry her!), but that, more than any other person I know, I have been able to share with her a life that is in pursuit of the best things, the noblest virtues, and contemplation itself. The last year of experience, in the context of a loving relationship discerning the possibility of marriage, has taught me a great deal about power of persons to transform life, to transform love, and to order it to the One who is Good. In perhaps the most important way, this is the very reason why I hope to marry the woman who is now my fiancé: in her I have discovered a common good - the common Good, and our love for each other has grown to define itself as a shared love of the Good. Of course, we still have much more growing to do, to an overwhelming degree. But this is, in a way, what marriage is for: it is one of God's chosen and most intimate ways of bringing persons together so that, by loving each other in Him, they may sanctify each other in being the vehicles through which they love God Himself more and more. 

Who are the persons involved? Of course, the man and woman are the most obvious. As a couple - the first of all multitudes - they discover their ability to share their lives to the greatest degree, and in the noblest degree, for the love of God. But of course, this therefore involves the person(s) of God in an intimate way as well: God loves His own Goodness most of all, because He is supereminent Goodness and Love Itself. All our love can only be a participation of His, for He is the principle and end of all true love. God is not merely the first and highest object of love; He is the principle of love, both the final and the agent cause, and first in both lines of causality. No love is possible if it is not both directed to Him as the final end, and rooted in Him as the first agent. In any human relationship, the human persons involved realize their greatest dignity as lovers only when they realize their status as secondary causes (both agent and final) in an order than transcends them both. Only the person of God is both first and last in the order of love.

Another person is involved, and that is the person of the child brought forth as the fruit of the marriage bond. In a remarkable way, the child of a marriage resembles God by dint of having the character of the common good. A few days ago, we celebrated the feast of the Holy Family, which is somehow the archetype of every family. In a discussion with my dear fiancee about the mystery of the day, I reflected on the fact that in the Holy Family, the child is none other than God Himself, the absolute and highest common good. Thus, I realized that every child is a symbol of God in this way, as the common good for which the parents share their love; the final cause of the parents' love; that which is most sacred and most divine about the marriage bond. The procreation of offspring is the first and primary of the ends of marriage, not over and against the union of the spouses, but as its very purpose and meaning. The birth and nourishment of a child, born in the image and likeness of God, is ultimately what makes the love and fidelity of the spouses meaningful and beautiful. Every love of persons for each other is made more beautiful by its common ordering to a common good, which reflects back upon the love itself and makes it more beautiful in its own right. In marriage, the common good, in the image of God is found in a concrete way first in the child, whose role in the family is thus most of all divine.

My fiancee and I have often found all of the above - principally the truth of love in relation to the common good - to be confirmed by our own experience together, in both the big and the smallest ways. We are indeed happiest, in some sense - in the most desirable, if not always the most obvious sense - when there is something beyond us, some third thing, some common good, in the enjoyment of which we may together participate. (It is, of course, important that we participate together, and not just happen to enjoy the same thing.) The common good is instantiated and encountered in many ways and in many different contexts - in children, in other persons, in philosophizing, in the contemplation occasioned by the arts of cooking, in classical music, in natural scenery, in prayer, and in the liturgy of the Church - and the list goes on. It is easy for persons in love to become heavily absorbed with themselves and each other, and to look no further. It is good, of course, for persons to love both others and themselves; but to become absorbed in oneself closes one off to the goodness of another; and moreover, for a couple - self and another - to become absorbed in themselves as a couple-unit, like the two halves of Aristophanes' two-faced spherical people in the Symposium, to the exclusion of the goodness of something other than the both of them, is to be closed off to the common Good. A romantic relationship is particularly prone to this temptation of enclosure with one another, in which the otherness of the common Good is forgotten, and the partners see only themselves and each other and nothing else. My beloved and I have found it important to look for other things besides ourselves, in order to keep our love open, holy, and pure. It is important to have good and beautiful things in life; in them, one finds the good instantiated. By cooking together, reading together, walking together through rolling hills, catching a sunset, or having some sort of activity to do together, we let our love for each other stretch itself by little increments towards the Good which is most common - straining to see more and more clearly the sunlight that is the Good itself.

I am happy to be embarking on this journey to the sunlight of the Good with another person. Although a philosopher is, supposedly, the most self-sufficient of any man, according to Aristotle (and I doubt whether this is true of me), there are few things more desirable than making the philosophic journey with another like-minded soul. This is proper to all virtuous friendships, of course; but inasmuch as in the relationship of marriage, there is such an intimate union for the sake of a common good, it seems to me that marriage is in some way an archetype of human friendships.* I have always been something of a romantic (although also, in my lesser moments, a calculative rationalist). My personality is somewhat introverted, my temperament melancholic; I think of myself as a rather private, solitary soul. A few years ago I would have preferred my own company to that of the friends I tried to make, but never seemed to get anywhere with. More recently, however, I have begun to appreciate more the value of friendship, inasmuch as I have begun to see how true friendship is built on contemplation itself, which is most highly valued by a solitary soul such as mine (either because I am melancholic or because I am a philosopher...). One of my favorite poems - which I once shared with my beloved near the dawn of our relationship - is a short sonnet on Solitude by John Keats, in which he praises solitude but begs to be able to share his solitary contemplation with a like-minded soul; and this is the root of their love:

O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep,—
Nature’s observatory—whence the dell,
Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
’Mongst boughs pavillion’d, where the deer’s swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell.
But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d,
Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.

Keats may not have been thinking of marriage here, I do not know... But I read this poem and I think of married love, as the archetype of shared contemplative love, par excellence. Few things are sweeter to me than the image of two lovers who together turn themselves towards beautiful things.

Jon and Greta
Christmas, 2017

*I have seen some controversy sometimes over the question of whether spouses ought to be "best friends." I can understand the sentiment of those who would answer nay, but at the same time, I see in marriage something which other friendships seem to have in a lesser degree, namely the intimacy of union in common love of a common good. Friendships may have this more or less; the degree of intimacy in which married spouses are united, for love of their children, is almost predetermined by the nature of that relationship, as a kind of archetype. This is, however, my own speculation on the matter... Anyone may challenge me on it.

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