Mere Christianity, Book Three, Chapter 6: “Christian Marriage”

[Note: Many will try to criticize Lewis’ authorship of this chapter on the basis that he had never been married at this point. That would be an ad hominim attack (attack on his character), with no relevance to the topic.]

  • The Christian view of marriage is based on Christ’s words that a man and a woman, in marriage, are a single organism, “one flesh.”
  • This is viewed as a fact, not a sentiment. Analogous to a lock and key, a violin and a bow.
  • This union goes beyond sex, to a total combination of the two.
  • The scriptures do not in anyway disdain sexual pleasure. It only clarifies the context of sex to be within marriage.
  • Christianity regards divorce as “something like cutting up a living body.”
  • Although different Churches have different doctrines surrounding divorce, “They are all agreed that it is more like having both your legs cut off than it is like dissolving a business partnership or even deserting a regiment.”
  • Anyone who enters into marriage without the intent for it to be permanent is a deceiver.

If they are still contented cheats, I have nothing to say to them: who would urge the high and hard duty of chastity on people who have not yet wished to be more honest? If they have now come to their senses and want to be honest, their promise, already made, constrains them. And this, you will see, comes under the heading of justice, not that of chastity. 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. It is true that by living together without marriage they will be guilty (in Christian eyes) of fornication. But one fault is not mended by adding another: unchastity is not improved by adding perjury.

  • Lewis has a wonderful discussion about ‘being in love.’ The difference between the excitement of enfatuation and the permanence of a quieter, more solid, lasting love.

    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. But, as I said before, ‘the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs’. Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. 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. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,’ then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. 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 partners 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. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.

More words on divorce:

  • Politics: Christians should not feel compelled to force Christian codes of marriage on non-Christians.
  • Lewis presents the idea of having a state marriage and a Christian marriage, and the two should be so distinct as to be unconfusable. [I made that word up.]

Words about the ‘Head of the Home’

  • The questions:
    • 1) Why should there be a ‘head’ at all? Why not equals?
    • 2) Why should the man be the ‘head’ of the home and not the woman?
  • Lewis’ thoughts
    • 1) Someone has to be able to make the final call. In a council of two, there can be no majority. Either someone makes the final call, or the two will have irreconcilable difficulties… possibly only divorce as a solution.
    • 2) Having the man as the head allows him to be a buffer between the family and the world. “Foreign Relations” type interaction.

[[ Next: Mere Christianity, Book Three, Chapter 7: “Forgiveness” ]]

Parent: Mere Christianity: Leaders’ Notes Series

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