Thursday, January 02, 2014

The Consolations of the Flesh.

One of the things which moved me in Augustina's comment is the realisation that despite the good moral polarity of the woman, her life was a emotional struggle against her fleshy instincts. Whilst she may have had joy through her children, her joy as a woman--as someone who was loved by a man--was destined to elude her.  Caritas and the grace of God may have given her peace but her ultimate psychic deficiency remained. To quote;
I don’t get much out of my marriage. For all intents and purposes I am like a single mother, and I often wish I had romance in my life. I have never had romantic love, and doubt that I will ever experience it in my life. 

Perhaps I am devoted to a higher cause: my family. I have devotion to him, and fondness for him. I recognize now what a struggle it was for him and that he is not at fault for his ‘failings.’ But it is not based on ‘tingles’, attraction, previous romantic feelings or any other such thing. I took vows to love and honor him, in good times and bad and in sickness and in health. So be it.
Some commentators are wont to disparage the legitimacy of the "tingles", but it is the "tingles" which provide for the natural attraction in marriage and which give it, and life, some of its felicity. The rush of love--and lust--is one of life's joy's, and a life absent of these things is a life deficient. Procreation out of duty is a different beast to procreation out of desire and dutiful marriage, devoid of the pleasures of the flesh--and here I mean more than just actual physical pleasures--is dry and barren. Augustina describes a marriage in which Caritas is present but is devoid of Eros.

Caritas perfects all things, including Eros but perhaps due to historical circumstances or inappropriate theological developments Christianity has put the two in opposition.  Nietzsche's comment, "Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it, certainly, but degenerated to Vice" has some legitimate traction in my opinion.  Benedict tried to the defend the Church in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, but I felt that his defence was weak, dismissive of the accusation more than a tackling of it. To his credit, Benedict put out the encyclical as a discussion document more than a definitive statement of things. These musings are my two cents on the matter.

Spiritual writers on the topic of marriage tend to emphasise the spiritual nature of it. It's all Caritas and zero Eros.  John Paul II--in his theology of the body--in my opinion, tried to "mystify a carnal act" in order to justify it. It was as if sex couldn't just be sex, rather, it had to be a reflection of some kind of divine relationship in order to be legitimate.  The Church asserts that the created world is good but when it comes to sex it needs added justification.

One of the consequences of the "All Caritas zero Eros" approach to marriage is that our traditional cultural understanding of it has tended to downplay--in fact disparage-- its carnal dimension. Wives are meant to have sex with unattractive husbands out of Caritas, without any reference to whether Eros is satisfied. Husbands who stray when their wives have become sexually repulsive for whatever reason, bear all the guilt for their act. Never is there a consideration of the legitimacy of Eros in a marriage or the recognition that one can sin against it.  

Morever, what Eros is divinely ordered to desire is no given no consideration whatsoever; it's as if we are all spirit and no flesh. Christian writers have always emphasised the war of the Spirit against the flesh but this does not imply that the Spirit is meant to kill the flesh, rather, it is to overcome it and control it, not pretend that it is not there.  Caritas perfects, it cannot destroy. It can reign in our sexual desires but cannot eliminate them.  Caritas does not turn a man into a eunuch. 

Wives submit to your husbands, is always quoted by traditionalists without any reference to a woman's biology. A good Christian wife may choose to submit to her husband but there is no way of guaranteeing that she will enjoy the subsequent relationship because the flesh controls the underlying neurobiology. Augustina lays the case out better than I can,
Flash forward fifteen years or so. I had finally had it. I wanted to be the good Christian wife, and be submissive to my husband. But there was nothing to submit to. [ED] He didn’t lead. He drifted. It was like being on a ship, but with no captain to guide it. And the waters are full of icebergs, rocky shoals, submerged reefs, and vast stretches of the doldrums. It was terrifying to have my now large family on a ship with no one to navigate these waters.

He was passive, hesitant, didn’t lead as a father should, couldn’t discipline the children, and still couldn’t support his family. I was forced to make every decision, to consider our options with no input from him. I would wait for his input, request his input, but never got it. 
This was clearly a victory of the spirit over the flesh, Augustina stayed with her man--despite the promptings of the flesh--but how much easier would it have been for Augustina if Eros was not in rebellion? This spiritual victory is still a human tragedy since the joy of a happy marriage eluded Augustina.  Don't get me wrong, the type of love Augustina gave her husband is the type of Divine love that really matters, what she missed out on, though, was human fleshy love.

Adultery and fornication are ever present realities of the human condition and are perpetuated by the pleasures achieved in their execution. Desire, lust, anticipation, the feeling of being "in love" all feel so damn good that men are willing to burn in Hell just to experience them. But the problem with Eros is that eventually leaves one unsatisfied. Chasing poon becomes boring. One girl is just like the other. The repetitive high that women get from bedding hot men gets boring as well. Even girls who have only slept with only18 guys want something more permanent.

The central theme in the novels of Michel Houellebecq is love in a world without caritas.  There is plenty of sex in his books but each of the characters ultimately ends up alone and fending for themselves. It's an atomised existance and profoundly depressing. Caritas means that we are never alone and that there is always someone who cares for us. Deeply happy marriages can exist on Cartias alone, but the blessed ones have a healthy dose of Eros as well.

 *I not criticising Augustina's husband here. He is suffering from a medical condition. It just that Augustina's comment illustrates how much hard work a good woman must put in to a marriage without Eros, and how such a state of affairs can tempt one to divorce.


 

10 comments:

Bob Wallace said...

The Greeks thought Eros gave order and harmony to Chaos. So without Eros, everything reverts to Chaos.

unmaskingfeminism said...

A struggle against fleshly instincts seems more that is should be a struggle for monks, than for those in a marriage. A marriage without Eros may survive, but it doesn't mean that is should be held up as a beacon for a healthy, thriving marriage.

"Christian writers have always emphasised the war of the Spirit against the flesh but this does not imply that the Spirit is meant to kill the flesh, rather, it is to overcome it and control it, not pretend that it is not there."

And to pretend or be in denial that it is not there can cause some a sort of existential crisis when one wakes up to the void in their life. A void meant to be filled in marriage.

"This spiritual victory is still a human tragedy since the joy of a happy marriage eluded Augustina."

To assure an all around joyful marriage, Eros is the horse that needs to go before the cart.

I don't doubt that women can survive in these marriages but it takes a near saint or monk like spirit.

Spanking Emmeline said...

It’s unwise to impute victimhood to Augustine by linking her story to an absence of Eros. There are too many questionable elements in her story to draw this conclusion. Apart from the long time gaps, in which must exist a great number of qualifying and mitigating factors, her husband could not have been the obscure neglectful creature she describes and still enable such sacrificial devotion from her. She doesn't speak of God, so to what is her devotion?

She writes:

"I wanted to be the good Christian wife, and be submissive to my husband. But there was nothing to submit to."

Where is Christ in this? She displays none of the character of the sacrificial servant who seeks to build worth in her marriage. She writes only of her response to perceptions of worth in her husband. The sacrificial relationship - the character defined by covenant marriage - is absent prior to his illness.

Notice that she doesn’t write of being submissive, merely of wanting to be. Wifely submissiveness is not a desire but an action. A good Christian wife doesn’t submit to her husband because of anything he does or is. She submits to him because it’s what God wants from her. Christian love in all of its forms - Eros, Agape, Filia, Storge, and Caritas require sacrifice of one's own desires for the benefit of the other. They impute self-abasement, humility and gratitude. There's a strong sense of charity in the latter part of Augustine’s story, but where’s the self-abasement, humility and gratitude?

Augustine seems to have married for her own purposes. On what basis is she entitled to God blessing through Eros? That she spent no time with her husband before agreeing to marry him suggests her desire to be married and have lots of children were more important to her than serving God. Procreation is not the same as serving God. This attachment to Mother Earth is very likely the fundamental source of every woman's rebellion; Augustine shows no sign of understanding this.

What of her behaviour in the fifteen years she perceived her husband to be failing at leadership? Was she generous, patient, kind, feminine, encouraging and respectful, or was she increasingly expectant, demanding, insinuating, mocking and shaming? There's a rebellious certitude and forthrightness in her writing that suggests it might be the latter, irrespective of the revelations of her husband’s illness. Ex post facto duty or guilt doesn’t remove the rebelliousness.

To be continued...

Spanking Emmeline said...

...continued from above.

She also talks of divorce as if a Christian woman who's not getting what she wants from her marriage has a right to such a thing. Jesus made no concession for divorce under any circumstances in his ministry:

"What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mark 10:9).

The Bible tells Christians that divorce is permissible only when there is sexual immorality (Matthew 5:32; 19:9) - note that 'permissible' does not make it a right. Yet Augustine writes of contemplating divorce because her expectations of marriage were not met. Even when she avoids divorce and remains with her husband, she remains out of pity rather than to honour her covenant with God. She adds an interesting comment about trust; that violating trust is akin to murder. I agree, but I submit that the violation took place when she started despising him in her heart because her expectations of him were not being fulfilled.

What of her complaint about her husband’s failure to lead the family and provide for his household? A man is not appointed by God as the leader or provider in any practical sense. His headship is spiritual. His responsibility is to be the spiritual head of his wife, which is for Christ’s sake not merely hers and his family’s. His success or failure in this role is not for his wife to judge (how can she judge in her fallen state?). Indeed, how can her husband be deemed a failure when she herself is now demonstrating sacrificial love in the character of Christ when it counts despite her prior rebellion and self-righteous protestations?

Yet still she writes:

"I don’t get much out of my marriage. For all intents and purposes I am like a single mother, and I often wish I had romance in my life. I have never had romantic love, and doubt that I will ever experience it in my life. "

There is no charity in this statement, only self-pity. She talks of romantic love as if it were something a Christian should strive for, when 'romance' is bathed more and more in fantasy, allegory and embellishment. God promises nothing of the sort in marriage. Covenant marriage is not about romance. It is not about a woman's desire for her husband. It is about the fundamental relationship between a man and a woman in which the character of the sacrificial servant of God is to be cultivated. It is nothing less.

If all of this sounds cold and uninviting to a secular confessional, then so be it. To a Christian, it's where God’s blessings begin. To the faithless, sacrificial marriage looks very much like the empty life absent of Eros that Augustine has created for herself.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Spanking Emmeline.

I've been away from two days. Your comment has earned my ire.

1) Firstly, do you not even see the contradictions in logic you evidence.

her husband could not have been the obscure neglectful creature she describes and still enable such sacrificial devotion from her

Then two lines later.

She displays none of the character of the sacrificial servant who seeks to build worth in her marriage.

Within two lines she goes from being a devoted sacrificial wife to a non devoted sacrificial wife.

Your logic is weak, your hate is strong.

Christian love in all of its forms - Eros, Agape, Filia, Storge, and Caritas require sacrifice of one's own desires for the benefit of the other.

Sacrifice is not the foundation of Christian Love (perhaps it is for you Churchianity types). Sacrifice is but one manifestation of Christian love. Do I need to remind you that Christ started his ministry at a wedding, where he bought the booze. Jesus likes fun and pleasure. BTW, Eros,Agape and Philia were all known by the Pagans before Christ.

That she spent no time with her husband before agreeing to marry him suggests her desire to be married and have lots of children were more important to her than serving God.

Proof. Where does she say this? Or did you just impute the motive to fit with your narrative? Quotes please.

The Bible tells Christians that divorce is permissible only when there is sexual immorality

Depends how you read it. If you understood Caritas you'd understand that divorce is impossible. (Go look up Malachi 2:16) The "force" that creates cannot destroy.

A man is not appointed by God as the leader or provider in any practical sense. His headship is spiritual.

Churchianity alert. I saw no "spiritual" qualifier in the instruction for wives to submit to their husband. He simple said submit. Lemme get this strait--Spiritual submission is OK but practical submission is not? That's a get out of jail card for any woman who wants to flout the commandment. A woman can be totally hypocritical with such an interpretation, disobeying her husband on every practical issue whilst still thinking herself a good Christian woman because she "spiritually" submits to him.

One word: Bullshit.

She talks of romantic love as if it were something a Christian should strive for, when 'romance' is bathed more and more in fantasy, allegory and embellishment. God promises nothing of the sort in marriage. Covenant marriage is not about romance. It is not about a woman's desire for her husband. It is about the fundamental relationship between a man and a woman in which the character of the sacrificial servant of God is to be cultivated. It is nothing less.

I pity your husband. No, I seriously do. Your version of Christianity is all bitter herbs and tears. It's from the example of people like you that Swinburne justly taunt.

Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath;

She talks of romantic love as if it were something a Christian should strive for, when 'romance' is bathed more and more in fantasy, allegory and embellishment.

Song of Songs?
A lot of blessed-by-God Eros there.

If all of this sounds cold and uninviting to a secular confessional, then so be it.

It's not just cold and uninviting, it's evil. Where is your empathy and humanity? A woman describes a passionless marriage--and still sticks at it--and all you do is pour abuse on her,justifying it in the name of Christ! Are you human? Do you not feel the pain of others? Sanctimony be thy name.

May God have mercy on your soul.

Spanking Emmeline said...

SP,

Your ire and accusations of hatred are misplaced. I had hoped an otherwise reasonable blogger like yourself would seek clarification rather than reacting emotively.

Let me respond to your points in turn:

”Firstly, do you not even see the contradictions in logic you evidence.”

There are no contradictions. My point was that the kind of husband whom the woman describes in such loveless fashion was not responsible for her pre-illness rebellion. Sacrificial devotion that comes only when there’s good reason for it indicates that rebellion must have been in heart from the beginning. My words were intended to challenge the false connection she makes between her earlier rebellion and assertions of her husband’s neglect.

To support this contention, I further contend that her desire to submit to her husband (rather than actually doing it) being conditional on his leadership, was evidence of this rebellion. A Christian wife doesn’t submit to her husband because of anything he himself does, but because God commands her to submit. Similarly, a Christian husband isn’t head of his wife only when she feels she can submit to him – he is appointed in this role regardless of what his wife does. This covenant is made with God because there are an infinite number of unknown reasons why each might not be able to fulfil the other’s expectations, as was proven in this woman’s story. Indeed, this is the essence of Christian love – building worth in relationships rather than responding to worth through sacrifice of one’s self (pride). The other forms of love (Eros, Caritas etc) are qualified by Christ, along with many other aspects of human existence prior to the Bible narrative.

“Sacrifice is not the foundation of Christian Love”
Utter nonsense. What is Christ but a sacrifice of Jesus to atone for man’s sin? What is a Christian but one who desires to sacrifice pride and selfishness in brotherhood with Jesus? This sacrificial desire in a Christian’s heart is what makes one a Christian, irrespective of our labelling. There are an infinite number of reasons for our failure to serve each other well in marriage, which is precisely why we can't look to our spouse to fulfil their end of the bargain before we fulfil ours. The golden rule of Christianity is to love one another as Christ has loved us – faithfully and sacrificially.

to be continued...

Spanking Emmeline said...

...continued from above

“...Christ started his ministry at a wedding, where he bought the booze. Jesus likes fun and pleasure.

There’s no doubt that fun and pleasure are God’s blessings to the faithful, but it has nothing to do with Jesus converting water into wine at the wedding feast. That part of the Gospel is about shifting focus away from the wine as the material of purification and onto the transformation of the heart, which clearly means even water will do.

“<>

Proof. Where does she say this? Or did you just impute the motive to fit with your narrative? Quotes please.”

Here’s the quote: “There was no falling in love period before we decided to get married. He asked me to marry him in a letter. We spoke over the phone a few times (he lived in a distant state), and I agreed to it. “

There is no proof of motive, agreed, which is why I used the word “suggests”. The woman’s language suggests there was no falling in love before marriage, nor at any time afterwards. Did she herself wait for feelings of love before agreeing to marry? Clearly not. On what basis, then, would a woman marry without falling in love if it wasn’t to satisfy her own desire for marriage and children? There’s no evidence she believed she was serving God, or forced into marriage, so what other motive would there be?

“I saw no "spiritual" qualifier in the instruction for wives to submit to their husband.”

Presuming you mean the words in Ephesians 5:15-32, then I submit that the whole of the Bible is the spiritual qualifier. The Bible is a book about God – His realm is spiritual. Man’s realm is the physical (over which Satan has dominion), so the words of the Bible with all of its physical elements are there to help us understand how Man is to relate to Him. How we conduct ourselves with each other in the physical realm is entirely subordinate to our conduct with Him in the spiritual.

God’s desire is that all are to submit to each other in fear of Him, which in Christian marriage means the husband is the head, sacrificing himself to God in imitation of Christ, and the wife is to submit to her husband for Christ’s sake.

“Your version of Christianity is all bitter herbs and tears. It's from the example of people like you that Swinburne justly taunt.

Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath;


Swinburne was a fool. Why would any Christian expect a non-believer to agree with or even understand the joy that comes from being in Christ? Without Christ firmly covering one’s life, the world is grey. The colourless life of Augustine proves the point.

The Social Pathologist said...

Sacrificial devotion that comes only when there’s good reason for it indicates that rebellion must have been in heart from the beginning

Matthew 21:28-31

It's not what you say it's what you do that matters.

You bandy the word "rebellion" quite non-specifically. In what way was she rebellious? She stuck with her husband even though there was no Eros. How does a wife submit to her husband when the husband refuses to exercise authority or is incapable of doing so? Pray tell.

What is Christ but a sacrifice of Jesus to atone for man’s sin?

St Thomas was of the opinion (as am I) that the atonement for man's sins could have be achieved through a variety of other theandric acts. The sacrifice was not absolutely necessary. Rather, the sacrifice is a sacrament, demonstrating the nature of God's love for us.

A sacrifice is an act, and like all acts can be morally evaluated by consideration of the act, the intention and the circumstances. Sacrifice is a "second order" effect consequential on the orientation of the will. That why sacrifice and love are not interchangeable terms in the Christian context. People can sacrifice themselves for purely selfish reasons and we all know people who like being martyrs, "sacrificing" themselves for others, and making everyone else's lives worse off by their actions.

The intensity of sacrifice reflects the intensity of love and therefore is a good yardstick of loves intensity, but it is not a measure of loves nature. The SS sacrificed themselves for the Nazi cause but in no way can their sacrifice be equated with Christian love.

That part of the Gospel is about shifting focus away from the wine as the material of purification and onto the transformation of the heart, which clearly means even water will do.

Chruchianity alert. The only way you can come to that conclusion is through a twisted allegorical reading of the passage. They ran out of booze at the wedding and Jesus provided. God likes a drink. A literal reading of the text makes no allusions to "a transformation of the heart." I'm a bit like Scalia when it comes to the Bible. I'm an originalist.

The problem with allegorical interpretations is they are prone to error, introducing the interpreter's biases and misunderstandings.

When they ran out of wine, Jesus did not say to them "have a transformation of heart" He gave them good booze instead. I imagine that those who see a "transformation of heart" message in the text have real-life problem with Booze. Are you a Baptist by any chance?

On what basis, then, would a woman marry without falling in love if it wasn’t to satisfy her own desire for marriage and children?

It may have been a quasi arranged marriage, her parents may have pressured her into getting married, she may have felt social pressure from friends and family, she may have felt sorry for her future partner, etc. There are a whole variety of reasons people get married, with love not even entering the equation. Incidentally, a lot of these marriages turn out to be quite successful. The divorce rate for arranged marriages is lower than for marriages base on romantic love.

Augustine made no mention of wanting children, you simply made that up because it suited your narrative. You imputed a motive where there was none.

ElectricAngel said...

dutiful marriage, devoid of the pleasures of the flesh--and here I mean more than just actual physical pleasures--is dry and barren.

This happens to be the major plotline of the first half of the world's greatest artwork, Wagner's Ring Cycle. Marriage as a contract overwhelming romantic love, with tragic consequences. Fatherless boy Wagner was surrogate father to fatherless boy Nietzsche; it's too bad the Ring cycle isn't playing this year in Melbourne, or I'd buy you a ticket to Die Walkure.

Toad said...

Whine whine whine.

"Flash forward fifteen years or so."

So she's what, 40ish? Can you tell us if she is an above average looking 40 year old or not. Maybe her poor husband isn't having a lot of Eros either. Maybe they should get divorced so he can try younger, more attractive women, and she can be a cat lady.