Saturday 15 August 2015

The man-woman relationship and our fallen condition


Tolkien, good Catholic that he is, is acutely aware of our fallen condition. See, for example, when he talks about the Western romantic chivalric tradition. He begins by describing it as a product of Christendom - though by no means the same as Christian ethics. It idealizes 'love', and as far as it goes it can be very good, since it takes on far more than physical love, and enjoins if not purity, at least fidelity, and so self-denial, 'service', courtesy, honour, and courage. Its weakness is that it began as an artificial courtly game, a way of enjoying love for its own sake without reference to (and indeed contrary to) matrimony. Its centre was not God but imaginary Deities, Love and the Lady. It tends to make the Lady a kind of guiding star or divinity. "This is, of course, false and at best make-believe. The woman is another fallen human-being with a soul in peril. But combined and harmonized with religion (as long ago it was, producing much of that beautiful devotion to Our Lady that has been God's way of refining so much of our gross manly natures and emotions, and also of warming and colouring our hard, bitter, religion) it can be very noble.... Yet I still think it has its dangers. It is not wholly true, and it is not perfectly 'theocentric'. It takes, or at any rate has in the past taken, the young man's eye off women as they are, as companions in shipwreck not guiding stars. (One result is for observation of the actual to make the young man turn cynical.) To forget their desires, needs and temptations. It inculcates exaggerated notions of 'true love', as a fire from without, a permanent exaltation, unrelated to age, childbearing, and plain life, and unrelated to will and purpose. (One result of that is to make young folk look for a 'love' that will keep them always nice and warm in a cold world, without any effort of theirs; and the incurably romantic go on looking even in the squalor of the divorce courts)." (48-49)

"But they [women] are instinctively, when uncorrupt, monogamous. Men are not..... No good pretending. Men just ain't, not by their animal nature. Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us men a piece of 'revealed' ethic, according to faith and not to the flesh. Each of us could healthily beget, in our 30 odd years of full manhood, a few hundred children, and enjoy the process." (51)

"However, the essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called 'self-realization' (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification. For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify & direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him - as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purify proper to that state, as it provides easements. No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that - even those brought up 'in the Church'. Those outside seem seldom to have heard it...." (51)

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