Religious Reality
By A.E.J. Rawlinson

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Chapter X - Love, Courtship, and Marriage

No element in Christian practice has been more widely challenged in modern times than the Christian ideal of marriage. Our Lord’s standard in these matters was simple and austere. “Whoso looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery already in his heart." “Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication” (the exceptive clause is of disputed authenticity) “causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”

The State in certain cases gives legal sanction to “adultery” in this latter sense, and there is a vocal and probably increasing demand that legal facilities for divorce upon various pretexts, with liberty of remarriage, shall be further extended. The Divorce Law Reform Union has announced its intention to promote in Parliament a Bill which, if carried, would have the effect of reducing legal marriage to a contract terminable after three years’ voluntary separation by the will of either party. Doubtless a robust opposition will be offered by Christian people to the adoption of so lax a conception of marriage even by the State. Experience in other countries seems to show that unlimited facilities for divorce do not tend to the promotion either of happiness or of morals. But it needs to be recognized that the State, as such, is concerned only with the legal aspect of marriage as a civil contract, and that it has to legislate for citizens not all of whom profess Christian standards even in theory. The law of the State may well diverge from that of the Church with regard to this matter, though it does not follow that so lax a standard as that which is now proposed would be in the best interests even of the State.

The Church regards Christian marriage as indissoluble. In cases of adultery she counsels reconciliation, wherever possible, upon the basis of repentance on the part of the guilty and forgiveness on the part of the injured partner. If this is not possible the Church sanctions, if need so require, separation, but not remarriage. There are also unfortunately other cases in which the married relationship proves so intolerable as to render a temporary or permanent separation admissible as a last resort. The remarriage of either party during the lifetime of the other is nevertheless held to be unchristian. With the practical difficulties which beset the Church in the attempt to maintain within the circle of her own membership a stricter standard than that which is recognized by the Civil Law and by society at large we are not here concerned. Our concern is with the Christian standard as a positive ideal, on the effective maintenance of which, as Christians believe, depends the stability of the home and the Christian family, and the redemption of sex-relations from mere animalism and grossness.

A Christian husband takes his wife in matrimony “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death them do part, according to GOD’S holy ordinance." The step is irrevocable. The union is intended to be life-long. It has, moreover, in view not only “the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other,” but also “the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of His holy Name.” A few words may usefully be said under these heads.

(i) Marriage ought to be based upon love; and love, though naturally and normally involving the element of sexual attraction, ought to include also other and deeper elements. A Christian man who has lived a clean and disciplined life ought to be sufficiently master of his passions to avoid mistaking a merely temporary infatuation for such a genuine spiritual affinity as will survive the satisfaction of immediate desires and prove the stable basis of a life-companionship. Hasty marriages are a common and avoidable cause of subsequent unhappiness. It is obviously undesirable that couples should enter upon matrimony until there has been a sufficiently prolonged and intimate acquaintance to enable them to become reasonably sure both of themselves and of one another. In many cases there is much to be said for regarding betrothals in the first instance as provisional. It is better to break them off at the last moment than to marry the wrong person.

The Victorian conventions with regard to all these matters were thoroughly bad. Girls were brought up in carefully-guarded ignorance of the implications of matrimony and shielded by perpetual chaperonage from anything approaching comradeship with the opposite sex. Eventually they were in many cases stampeded into a marriage which had its origin either in a clandestine flirtation or in the designing operations of some match-making relative, who made it her business first to “throw the young people together” and then to suggest that they were virtually committed to one another by the mere fact of having met.

The reaction which has taken place against all this is upon the whole salutary. The new social tradition which is growing up makes it possible for the unmarried of both sexes to meet one another with comparative freedom, and to establish relations of friendship, which may subsequently ripen into love, unhampered by any such morbidly exciting atmosphere of intrigue and suggestion on the part of relatives and friends. But the new freedom of social intercourse, if it is not in its turn to prove disastrous, demands on the part of the young of both sexes a higher standard both of responsibility and self- control, and of knowledge of what is implied in the fact of sex. The experience of married life is, moreover, not likely to prove a success, save in rare instances, unless there is between the parties a real community of interests and tastes, unanimity, so far as may be, of ideals and of religious convictions, and at least no very great disparity of educational and intellectual equipment.

(ii) A Christian marriage includes among its purposes the procreation of children. It is here most of all that unanimity of ideal and of conviction between husband and wife is essential. A man and a woman ought not to take one another in marriage without first being assured of each other’s mind upon this subject. “If marriage is to be a success each must learn respect for the other’s personality, real give and take, and the horror of treating the other just as a means to his own pleasure, whether spiritual, intellectual, or physical: and both must think seriously of the responsibilities of parenthood. Husband and wife must work out their ideals together, in perfect frankness and sincerity, and it is impossible to have true and sacred ideals of their joint physical life unless there is the same openness and understanding and sympathy on this point as on all others.” [Footnote: Ideals of Home, by Gemma Bailey (National Mission Paper, No. 43).] There must be mutual consideration and self-control: the need for self-restraint and continence does not disappear with the entry upon marital relations: it is if anything intensified.

There is a real problem here which needs to be thought out. To the practice of “race-suicide,” by which is meant the artificial restriction of parentage by the use of mechanical or other “preventives,” Christian morality is violently opposed. On the other hand, it may reasonably be held that people ought not to bring children into the world in numbers which are wholly out of relation to their capacity to feed, clothe, educate, and train them. “The enormous families of which we hear in early Victorian times were not quite ideal for the mother or the children, nor for the father if he were not well off.” [Footnote: Ibid] It may be found necessary in practice to limit the size of the family either upon economic grounds or (in particular instances) in the interest of the mother’s health.

It is to be feared, however, that the modern tendency in both respects is to shirk the responsibilities of parenthood on grounds which are thoroughly selfish. The Victorian doctrine that “when GOD sends mouths He sends food to fill them” may have been unduly happy-go-lucky. The recent remark of an officer in a certain British regiment, that since he and his wife had only L8000 a year between them, he felt that he could not afford to have more than one child, was entirely shameless. It would seem, moreover, that the comparative childlessness of modern marriages is sometimes due not to the husband’s reluctance, upon economic grounds, to beget children, but to the wife’s reluctance to bear them, a reluctance which in some cases arises either from such shrinking from the physical pain and sacrifice of motherhood as goes beyond what is really justified, or from mere self-indulgent absorption in social pursuits and pleasures. There ought to be in a Christian marriage more of the true spirit of adventure and romance, a greater readiness for sacrifice, a more willing acceptance of parental responsibilities, and of the obligation of self-denial for the children’s sake. There can be no question but that modern families– with the paradoxical exception of the families of the very poor–have been tending to be smaller than they either need be or ought to be.

At the same time it is generally conceded that some measure of limitation is in most cases reasonable and necessary. The vitally important thing is that such necessary and reasonable limitation should be secured not by artificial evasion of the consequences of intercourse, but by self-control and deliberate temporary abstinence at certain periods from the intercourse of sex. [Footnote: It may be suggested that in cases of genuine perplexity it is advisable to consult, as occasion may require, either a medical man who is also a Christian, or a wise–and preferably a married–spiritual guide.]

For the union of the sexes in marriage is according to the mind of the Christian Church an essentially pure and holy thing. It is a sacrament of the fusion of two personalities, whereby they are at once individually and mutually enriched, and at the same time mystically and spiritually knit together in such a way as to become in the sight of GOD indissolubly one: the unity of husband and wife being comparable, according to a famous saying of S. Paul, to the unity which exists between Christ and His Church. Now, although, from this point of view, the significance of married life is to a great extent impoverished and frustrated, if intercourse is so regulated as to render the marriage childless not in fact merely, but in intention, yet it does not follow that procreation must be directly in view on every individual occasion, since the mystical value of intercourse as a spiritual sacrament of love may still exist in independence of such intention. It is nevertheless, surely, clear that a Christian man and his wife are morally precluded from coming together except with a deep sense of the sacredness of what they do and of its intimate connexion with the mysteries of life and birth, and a corresponding readiness, in the event of conception taking place, to accept the ensuing responsibility for the child as a sacred trust from GOD, “the Father from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.” With the use of “preventives” and other devices, which degrade into a mere means of carnal satisfaction an act which is meant to bear a deeply spiritual and religious meaning, the Christian interpretation of marriage seems plainly and obviously incompatible.

A few words may be added with regard to the upbringing and education of children. Here, again, there has been a reaction–which upon the whole is good–from the unduly rigorous disciplinary methods of the past. It may be doubted, however, whether the reaction has not in some cases been carried too far. Children ought to be controlled and disciplined by their parents, and no expenditure of care and thought and tact is too great to devote to the rightful training of their characters. But experience seems to show that parents sometimes fail to recognize that their children grow up. It is important that in proportion as they grow towards maturity of character and independence of personality the strictness of parental discipline should be gradually relaxed. At a certain stage the real influence of parents upon their children will depend upon their refusal to assert direct authority. Not a few of the minor tragedies of home life arise from the ill-judged action of parents who treat as children sons and daughters who are virtually grown up.

The problem of the religious education of children cannot here be discussed in detail, but three or four leading principles may be suggested.

(1) It ought not to be necessary to say that children should not be taught to regard as true statements or doctrines which their parents believe to be in fact false. This applies in particular to certain views of the Bible. The ideal should be so to teach the child that in later life he may have nothing to unlearn.

(2) When children are old enough to read they should be encouraged to read the Gospels. They ought not, however, to read the Old Testament, with the exception of certain Psalms and other specially selected passages, until they are of an age to distinguish what is Christian from what is Jewish, and to recognize the principle of religious development.

(3) Children should be taught in the first instance the practice rather than the theory of religion: devotions in which doctrine is implicit, rather than doctrine as such. As their minds expand they will ask the reasons for what they do and the meaning of the worship in which they engage, and they will need to have suggested to them an elementary, but not a stereotyped, theology. They should from the beginning be encouraged to think and question freely on religious subjects.

(4) They should occasionally accompany their parents to Church, and in particular should from time to time be present when the latter receive Holy Communion. They should have the service explained to them in a simple fashion, and should be encouraged to look forward to the time when they will be confirmed, and become communicants themselves.


Preface  •  Author’s Preface  •  Introduction  •  Part I - The Theory of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - the Man Christ Jesus  •  Chapter II - The Revelation of the Father  •  Chapter III - The Fellowship of the Spirit  •  Chapter IV - The Holy Trinity  •  Chapter V - The Problem of Evil  •  Chapter VI - Sin and Redemption  •  Chapter VII - The Church and Her Mission in the World  •  Chapter VIII - Protestant and Catholic  •  Chapter IX - Sacraments  •  Chapter X - The Last Things  •  Chapter XI - Clergy and Laity  •  Chapter XII - The Bible  •  Part II - The Practice of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - The Christian Aim  •  Chapter II - The Way of the World  •  Chapter III - The Spirit and the Flesh  •  Chapter IV - The Works of the Devil  •  Chapter V - The Kingdom of God  •  Chapter VI - Christianity and Commerce  •  Chapter VII - Christianity and Industry  •  Chapter VIII - Christianity and Politics  •  Chapter IX - Christianity and War  •  Chapter X - Love, Courtship, and Marriage  •  Part III - The Maintenance of the Christian Life: Chapter I - How to Begin  •  Chapter II - Prayer  •  Chapter III - Self-Examination and Repentance  •  Chapter IV - Corporate Worship and Communion  •  Chapter V - The Devotional Use of the Bible  •  Chapter VI - Almsgiving and Fasting

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Religious Reality
By A. E. J. Rawlinson
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