Chivalry as Formalized Courtesy

Romantic courtesy is a liturgy of service which springs from the veneration of the Lady.   Its goal is simply the lady’s felicity,  and her looks and gestures are signs of acceptable service.   All veneration is a selfless art, requiring patience, constancy, and discipline — in short, virtue.    Eros may or may not attend.

The high art of courtesy requires, above all, a gentle heart, but this “aristocracy of the gentle heart” is not passivity. Rather, it is an honoring of the fair sweetheart by carefulness with subtleties — carefulness and rapt attention.  The tone is attention, rather than the languor of the bower.

The lady owes similar carefulness to her lord, and will seek his felicity.  However, our written records of chivalry omit her devotion and may allow a one sided view to be taken for an entire relationship.

There is also a kind of courtesy, called by Maurice Valency “heroic”, which resembles in some language and externals the romantic kind, but is quite different.   This “courtesy” is actually courtship,  a mutual negotiation of the terms of erotic pleasure,  and so has gratification as its object.  It is hardly selfless.   Disciplined devotion may be required to overcome the coquetry of the lady,  but we all know how easily this devotion is killed by both success and failure.


We are snobs by nature. If salvation had ever depended on us, we would never have deigned to redeem the world by entering its sordid mangers.

Even when we come for a moment under the spell of the fairy-tale peasant who becomes king, the slave who delivers the city, the cinder girl who marries the prince — after all that, when left to ourselves, we regress to our native snobbery.    Like all snobs, we look down at the office of the helpers.

We think of “helping” as the inferior role, or as a downward movement.  And we feel any downward movement as a theft of our rightful dignity.

Here is the root flawed in the fallen vision:  to  think that helping someone do a thing is subordinated to the doing of the thing.  But this is not God’s view.  He was the King, yet He helped us, and in helping was glorified.  He sees helping as a role distinct unto itself; so distinct, in fact, it requires the most exquisite and refined skill set of all. His view is the revolutionary one, while ours is wholly conventional.

This is really something to stop and think about, because it is in such simple language it is easy to miss  just how  completely it upends the universe.  So, stop right here: the helper of the gardener is not less than the gardener. The helper does not derive meaning from the helped, or from the work of the helped; the act of helping has its intrinsic and underived glory. Underived.

When Eve was appointed helper of Adam, she became something that Adam was not.  Her charism is a unique and noble charism,  and there is nothing over top of it in some hierarchy.

Indeed, the distinction of the helping office derives from the Godhead, who has named one of His Persons the Helper.

The unbaptized mind mocks this, and sees here a conspiracy to trick it with fancy words into slavery. It is suspicious of the father himself. I think the lack of a father’s love makes it hard to trust enough to find dignity in helping. The inability to trust is the unhappiness of the world.

The unbaptized mind scoffs, but the true loss of dignity is in the gasping, desperate clawing to move up. Because it is such an insult to our dignity, Jesus constantly condemns the upward ambition. Jesus constantly pictures His kingdom as a mirror image of the world’s.

The feminist objection to traditionalist gender conceptions is rooted in this snobbery. There is an embarrassment about not being the primary.  This is an inability to trust, a scar from a primordial insult.


Beautiful, and Unavailable

A Christian woman should seek to be two things in her public appearance — beautiful and (to all but one) unavailable. One of the fundamental mistakes that women make, when they are falling away from a biblical understanding of femininity, is that of confusing the effects created by signals of availability with the effects of beauty. But this is a drastic mistake. Beauty attracts certainly, in a certain way, but so does availability attract — in another way entirely. When women are signaling availability, they ought not to tally up the results as though they were coming from the beauty column. Because Christian women know that general availability is prohibited in Scripture, they are the ones most prone to make this category mistake. They adopt signals from the world, and try to change the meaning of those signals in their heart. But it doesnt matter what those signals mean down inside her own heart.

via Most of Us Arent That Cute.

Experiental Gender Theology

This is just my observation from life… the more responsible and caring a woman’s husband is, the more likely she will read the NT submission passages literally. The more passive or mean or noncommunicative her husband is, the less she will be able to comfortably imagine that God really made gender as a functional heirarchy. And “imagine” is indeed the right verb. Our vision of marriage comes from our experience of our parents’ marriage and of our marriage. Vision first, before we even approach the texts. So if Paul’s comments jar us, we either respond as if he represents God’s view and therefore that his vision is right, no matter what ours is, or we look for some exegetical trick to make his vision like ours.

Universality is a handy exegetical diluter. It works like this:  If you can find a passage that connects a word to everyone, you can use it to modify a more specific passage.  You just brush off the more specific language as if it does not actually say anything. So, submission: because Paul tells the married couple in one place to submit to one another, the other places where he tells the wife to submit to her husband do not actually mean anything additional. (Which means, of course, the more specific application is redundant.)

In this way, the several plain and simple passages describing a submissive wife are reconciled with a highly personal idiosyncratic imagination.

Speaking Of The Dead

The unique thing about flesh-and-blood people (as opposed to people in, say, political discourse) is that they are simultaneously good and bad.  An artist might paint brilliant dogs yet kick his actual dog.   One might serve soup to the homeless by day yet be unfaithful to the spouse by night.   There are men who have charged enemy guns in valor, and then abandoned their children.   This is not right, it is tragic.  But it is.

Every time a prominent person dies we have arguments over whether he / she was good or bad.   Some say “good”, some say “bad”.   Such a silly argument, based on a paper-mache notion of what a person is.   He was certainly both.

Let’s imagine a public figure who just died…I originally wrote this on the death of David Brudnoy, the Boston radio personality, whose program I enjoyed in my earphones during long, lonely night runs while training for a marathon.   He was an extraordinary intellect and a grace-filled conversationalist.   He was actually interested in his guests without coddling them.   He had a rare ability to ask pointed, critical questions while remaining utterly polite.   He had as clear a consent-based criterion for public morals as any thinker I’ve ever heard.    These qualities are as rare as a Red Sox pennant.

He was homosexual, and died from the sequelae of AIDS.   On my side of the religious aisle,  that lifestyle is regarded as immoral.  So what? It matters, but it does not cancel out his good qualities by some tit-for-tat arithmetic.   The good is, and the bad is.

Civilized people don’t go to wakes and trot out a naughty list and a nice list and calculate a net present value.  The reason we don’t is that it is mental health for mortals to focus on the good and let God judge the bad.   Whatever else should be said,  God will say, without my help.

It is not metaphysical doubt or moral relativism to speak only well of the flawed dead.   It is, rather, certainty that I am not the Judge.

The Mystical Ladder, for Husbands

Note: this is secret mystical knowledge, for men alone.  Let the deacons now show the women out and let the doors be shut.

Stage 1, the New Convert: If  I talk to her about it, I can understand why she is crying and help her understand why she doesn’t need to cry.

Stage 2, the Cloud of Unknowing:  It is not possible to understand why she is crying.  I just have to go hide.

Stage 3, the Apophatic Union: She does not actually understand why she is crying, she is not interested in understanding it, and therefore I do not need to understand it.  One slight movement toward her, in almost any area of her life, will evaporate the tears.  It was easier than I ever imagined.

Who to marry: Esolen’s rules:

Touchstone Magazine – Mere Comments: The Rules

So then, whom could you marry? A long time ago we came up with something we called “Esolen’s Rules.” They’re only half facetious. But they are an attempt to get at the normal:

1. Don’t marry a woman who likes cats but does not like dogs.  You may marry a woman who doesn’t like either, or whose reason for not liking dogs is that one of them bit her when she was a toddler.  But a woman who likes cats but does not like dogs will be a Joan Crawford or Jane Wyman.  Ronald Reagan married Jane Wyman, and look how sorry he was about that.

2. Don’t marry a man who is neater than you are.  You may, however, marry a man who polishes his tools and puts them away after use….

3. Don’t marry anybody, man or woman, who says, “I’m going to call you at eight,” and then leaves you waiting by the phone for an hour.  Exceptions can be made for people who are kidnapped by Arabs, or who have epileptic seizures.

4. Don’t marry anybody who insists on a separate bank account, bed, bathroom, vacation, or zip code.  It makes no sense to be one flesh and two wallets.

5. Don’t marry a woman who spends more on makeup than she does on food.  In general, don’t marry a woman who engages in the sin of reverse gluttony.

6. Don’t marry a man who does not like dogs.  Such men do not like children.  Don’t marry a man who does not like children.  On the other hand, I have known at least one excellent man who thought he didn’t like children, until he had some; seven, I think, at last count.  Perhaps the rule may be rephrased: Don’t marry a man whom you cannot imagine rolling on the ground in a wrestling hold, with a Labrador retriever or three children, or hollering on a ferris wheel, with a Labrador retriever or three children.

7. Don’t marry a woman who exercises so frequently that you cannot tell if she is a woman or a very strange looking 13-year-old boy.  I’m going out on a line here, but the real purpose of the rule is to determine whether she will mind getting fat, as happens when you are going to have a child.  In other words, don’t marry a woman whom you cannot imagine having a child.  Do not marry a woman who does not like children.

8. Do not marry a man who treats his mother or his sisters discourteously.  As he treats his mother, so will he treat you.  But by all means do not marry a man who takes his direction from his mother, or who is ruled by his mother’s ambitions.  Mama’s boys are unhappy, and they make their wives unhappy too.  So are the mothers of mama’s boys, come to think of it.  Unhappy days are here again.

9. Do not marry a woman who sneers at innocent male pastimes, such as football.  Such women do not really enjoy the company of men, and after a period soon reached, do not enjoy the company of their own husbands.  They are also the most ignorant of what men are really like.  You may marry a tomboy, so long as she’s a girlish tomboy and doesn’t take the sport with dreadful seriousness.  You may marry a Daddy’s girl, so long as she is not spoiled when it comes to money.

10. Never marry anyone who is secretive about money.  Such people are also secretive about sex.

11. Never marry a man who lets you take the initiative in everything.  You want a jellyfish, maybe?  You want Burt Lancaster instead.

12. Never marry a woman who never lets you take the initiative in anything.  You want a porcupine, maybe?  You want Maureen O’Hara instead.

13. Never marry a woman who does not laugh at your jokes or your buffoonery.  That is one of the nicest ways in which men “serve” women, and women respond by taking delight in the antics.  That is why God made impersonators of Marlon Brando, Sean Connery, and Homer Simpson.  It may in fact be the principal justification for the existence of Marlon Brando, Sean Connery, and Homer Simpson.  This rule is simply an instance of the more general rule that you should never marry a woman who does not genuinely admire you, nor should a woman marry a man whom she does not admire.

14. Never marry anyone who delights in “exposing” you in public.  Teasing does not count; in fact, never marry a man who cannot be teased.  You can marry a woman who cannot be teased.

15. Never marry a man who is not admired by respectable male friends.  The people in the world who know a man best are the men he works and plays with.  They know well if he is a cheat, a thug, a loser.  You may marry a man who does not have female friends.  If anything, you should be suspicious of a man whose friends are principally female.  The men may be avoiding him, and there is a reason for that.

16. Never marry anyone who is not interested in looking at your fourth-grade yearbook.  This means: never marry anyone who seems unaware that he or she is marrying also a family, a hometown, a past, silly friends, comedies and tragedies.  Never marry anyone who does not want to meet your father and mother.  If your sister doesn’t like him, dump him.  If your sister doesn’t like her, dump her.  That is why God created sisters.  Their approval, however, is not a sufficient condition; they will occasionally like losers, but they almost never detest good marrying material.

17. Never marry a feminist of either sex.  That would be as bad as marrying someone with the soul (not the occupation, but the soul) of a lawyer.

18. Never marry anyone whom you catch in a lie, even a little one.  Trust us on this one.  People in love are about the most gullible creatures on God’s green earth.  In fact, beside the dictionary entry on “gullible” there’s a picture of a woman in love, eyes looking dreamily upward, hands holding her chin; and a picture of an indignant young man defending the honor of his beloved, who would never do such a thing, no sir!

19. Never marry a woman who does not like to feed people, or a man who does not like to help out with the removal of a junked car, regardless of how much he knows about junked cars.  By all means marry a woman who enjoys seeing men eat, or a man who looks at a mudslide and says, “I can make a really fine wall out of that.”

20. Never marry anyone, man or woman, who scoffs at virtue, who reduces “good” and “evil” to arbitrary counters in the war of all against all, whose humor is flippancy, who looks down upon janitors and maids, who cannot delight in making simple things (like a batting T or a thank-you note), who thinks tradition is old and shopworn (such people are followers of every fad that comes), and who is never, ever, just relaxed, grateful for a shady seat under the maple tree in fall.  That is another way of saying that you should never marry anyone who does not know who God is.