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.


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.

Peter Leithart: Wedding Sermon

Peter Leithart:  “Wedding Sermon” is just magnificent:

….As the Spirit joins Father and Son, so He joins fathers and sons across the gap of generations. No generation can be healthy if it is dominated by one spirit. A generation dominated by the spirit of sons breaks from the past in revolution, and a generation that drinks only of the spirit of the fathers is hidebound, and tyrannical. A healthy generation partakes of the spirit of the fathers and the spirit of sons, and must learn to join these spirits into one spirit. The Holy Spirit is the One Between who unifies the past and future. As the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son, the Spirit joins the hearts of the fathers to sons, and of sons to the fathers….

….Our prayer for you, on this Saturday after Pentecost, is that the Spirit of the Father and the Son, the true Spirit of joviality, the One Between, will fill the gaps in you, in your marriage, and in your home, drawing you into the unity of the Son and the Father, from this day to your lives’ end. This is our prayer, because the success of your marriage depends entirely on the grace of God, the grace that is the Gift of God, the Gift that is the Spirit of God. You’ll find, if you are honest, that marriage is impossible, but our prayer is that that you will also find that with God the Spirit, the God in between, nothing is impossible.

J.R.R. Tolkien: “…the real soul-mate…”

Quote Details: J. R. R. Tolkien: Nearly all marriages, even… – The Quotations Page

Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to.

J. R. R. Tolkien,   Letter to Michael Tolkien,   March 1941

British scholar & fantasy novelist (1892 – 1973)

These Days are Fleeting

girl talk

I think moms need to stop apologizing for doing a full time job full time! I am not going to state that all moms must be stay at home moms but for those who are, they must stop feeling inferior for their decision. I am tired of the mentality that is becoming more and more prevalent that says women who stay at home raising their children are wasting themselves even as they serve to drag down the economy. That’s a lie. Women who are home raising their children should do so with gusto and no regrets. No one can love your children like you can. God made you to be their mother and no one else. Learn everything you can about how to be the best mom you can be by God’s grace. Hold your head high when you state that you are a mom—not “just a mom” but a mom full time. Love your job because the days are fleeting. Those precious little ones will be grown up sooner than you think. Motherhood is a high calling now just as it has always been. Those who think otherwise are deceiving themselves.

The Human Face is a Set of Liturgical Conventions

The Internet Monk is told he needs to smile more. Comments follow. I like mine the best:

Everyone is right, of course, to say that an insincere smile is bad, and right that just smiling alot is not a useful goal in itself. But there is a common assumption in all this that is not false but just not true enough — the assumption that your smile is true if you feel happy, false if you do not. No, it’s not always just about you.

Your face, I mean. It’s not just about you. It’s not just an instrument of self-expression; it is also an instrument of community. So a smile can be a sincere liturgical act even when you are inwardly sad. A liturgical act, I mean, in the sense of an authentic ritual performed to make a connection with another person.

WE — we post-evangelicals — have all had such awakenings in recent years that formal, planned acts in worship can not only be real, but can be blessed. The liturgy delivers us from the murk of our own subjectivity — Yeats’ “rag and bone yard of the heart” — into the clear, bracing air of the community. We pray what the church prays. We sing what the church sings. And then, like a grace, we disover we feel what the church feels. The act first, then the feeling.

Why is a smile any different?
We teach children to shake hands, don’t we? We teach them to open doors? Have you ever told your child to “smile at the nice lady, and say thank you”? What would you answer if he replied “I don’t feel it.”? A good father would say “I don’t care. It is an obligation of love. Smile, and mean it.”

In none of this am I defending Joel Osteen, car dealers, or other fake smilers. I hate fake smiles. But these fakers fail in their smiles not for smiling too much, but for smiling too superficial. Think final cause instead of material cause: just like a written, liturgical prayer can be become authentic if the one praying brings his whole intention into the act, so a smile, acted in the face first but sincerely, will lead to its final cause: a connection between persons.

So, maybe, Michael, what the lady at the post office is TRYING to say — admittedly, poorly — is “you are not connecting with me, and I’d like us to connect.”

Jesus smiled on us when we hated Him, and I very seriously doubt He “felt” it.

Peter Leithart: Modesty – the Awareness that Knowledge has a Time. | Liturgical Thinking

The destruction of time meant the destruction of shame and modesty: “Shame is the soul’s garment against arbitrary and untimely knowledge: because timing is the condition in which alone the eternal may be revealed.” It takes time for a bride to know her lover, and modesty is the veil over that permits this time to occur; there is a time lag between convictions we come to and the proper time to speak, and shame is the cover for words that are not yet ready to be spoken. The Counter-Reformation again, eh claims, hardened and sterilized shame and modest: “If shame is not the expression of growth, it turns into a loveless, asocial, hard and fast thing.” But life requires being gazed upon by loving faces, since “God’s countenance cannot fasten on us unless His delegates, loving faces, are recognized as gateways to His face.”

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“The other…embarks within the mind of the knower”

Peter Leithart, on Milbank on Maritain:

…knowledge pertains not to information, nor to representation, but rather to a particular state of being in which a creature, while remaining entirely within herself, is nonetheless so directly present to another creature that she in some sense becomes this other, while inversely, the other that was once materially embodied, embarks within the mind of the knower upon a new purely intellectual existence.

Tony Esolen: “…an egalitarian destroys the very things whose equality he asserts.”

Touchstone Magazine – Mere Comments: All Flattened Things are Equal

In academe, it is simply assumed by almost everybody that sex differences are at most superficial. To quote a coarse and not terribly perceptive female member of the Army: “The only thing the men can do that the women can’t do is urinate through a hole in a fence.” It takes an effort of the imagination to pretend that you know nothing about men and women, and then to pay close attention to their voices, their gestures, their habits of speech (the sorts of sentences they use, for instance), what they do with their eyes while they speak, the sorts of things they speak about and how, and on and on. I know you agree with me here. I don’t think the egalitarians agree.And this thought leads me to another conclusion, parallel to what I said about powerful interpretations of Scripture: the indifferentist cannot really appreciate the beauty of woman (or of man, for that matter). There’s nothing much to say, if everything that we associate with women is merely superficial, or, if not superficial, then merely “socially constructed” and thus not essential, or, if in some way natural, not socially or anthropologically important, and thus not reaching deep into the woman’s being. Such an egalitarian destroys the very things whose equality he asserts.

Posted by: Tony Esolen | Sep 26, 2006 12:09:22 PM

Tony Esolen: “All Flattened Things Are Equal”

Touchstone Magazine – Mere Comments: All Flattened Things are Equal

All Flattened Things are Equal…how can Christians fail to see that equality and hierarchy are not necessarily contradictory, seeing that they have the examples of the obedience of the Son to the Father, and of the inner life of the Trinity itself?

Which brings me to a point I’ve made before in Touchstone: all the really interesting interpretations of Scripture prescind from the assumption that, in one fashion or another, the Bible is inerrant. Failing that assumption, every time we come upon a crux we “resolve” it by consigning one of the truths to the flames. We say that A is true, but that B is culturally conditioned — or whatever the equivalent of “horsefeathers” happens to be at the time. Thus we avoid the difficult work of theological reflection, in submission to the word of God, and instead set ourselves up as judges over the word. We make things “easier,” in the same way that a steamroller makes things easier. It is not easy, for instance, to think that the eternally begotten Son of God became incarnate; so we level the trouble by denying the co-equality of the Son with the Father, as Arius did (and Milton, alas), or we level it by denying the reality of the incarnation. It is not easy to consider that one God exists in three distinct Persons, so we level the trouble by collapsing the three Persons into modes of one Being.

The “egalitarian” steamroller does the same sort of thing. Nor have the “egalitarians” anything really interesting to say about the sexes — because their form of egalitarianism is really indifferentism, leveling distinctions by denying that they exist. (By contrast, I think that a single baseball card — closely considered, as if it were an artifact from another planet about whose creatures we have absolutely no preconceptions — reveals a veritable encyclopedia of features that distinguish the human male!). Since it is incoherent to suppose that God is Father, but has left no traces of his Fatherhood, specifically, in the universe or in the human race — that the patriarchy of the Father is a kind of embarrassing exception –, the next step is to deny that his Fatherhood has any ontological reality; Jesus was simply using a metaphor, and one metaphor may be as useful as another. Then his Sonship (rather than the abstract Offspringship or Begottenship) too loses its claim to reality; and the connection between the Logos and the man Jesus is severed — Jesus simply happened to be male. And once we have done that, it is doubtful that we have remained Christian. The egalitarian — the indifferentist — becomes unitarian, reconceiving the self-revealed God according to the vanity of his own rather dull imagination.

Alan Jacobs: that dialogue is between persons, not words on a page

Goodbye, Blog – Books & Culture

I find myself meditating on a passage from a book by C. S. Lewis. In his great work of literary history, Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century, Lewis devotes a passage to what he describes, with a certain savageness, as “that whole tragic farce which we call the history of the Reformation.” For Lewis, the issues that divided Catholics and Protestants, that led to bloodshed all over Europe and to a seemingly permanent division of Christians from one another, “could have been fruitfully debated only between mature and saintly disputants in close privacy and at boundless leisure.” Instead, thanks to the prevalence of that recent invention the printing press, and to the intolerance of many of the combatants, deep and subtle questions found their way into the popular press and were immediately transformed into caricatures and cheap slogans. After that there was no hope of peaceful reconciliation.

This is really quite a remarkable point. The Web is notorious for nastiness in dialogue (cf “flame war”). There is now distance between the persons in the conversation, and this distance allows us to get away with, now, what we never could in face-to-face talk.

It’s not that the technology causes the nastiness.  The natural corruption in the heart of man is facilitated by the technology, which allows him to function subpersonally.  Schism is facilitated. And – and! – this had a parallel in the emergence of the printing press, which allowed people to combat disembodied opinions, wordy ghosts with whom there was no real covenantal obligation to come through disagreement to Christian unity.

Bonhoeffer called forgiveness without cost “cheap grace”. This cold polemics is cheap in the same way; you get the feeling of having “contended for the truth”, without the cost of loving.  The perennial agon of love, that which makes it love and not just words on a page, is  having to hold unity during a difficult conversation, without either compromising or verbally killing.  Success here results in new truth and new friends.  The other way just makes another denomination, with your name on it.

The White Stone

Adam named Eve when she was found to be a companion just for him.

Mary’s eyes were opened to the Resurrected Christ when He called her by name: “Mary!”

Religious conversions of all kinds prompt the adoption of a new name to go along with the new identity. Saul becomes Paul, Simon becomes Peter, and so on.

But this is not a “religious” phenomenon, it is a romantic one. Lovers, across cultures and centuries, give each other pet names, often kept secret from outsiders, often embarassing the lovers when they become known. It isn’t just symbolism, it reflects reality in the moment one lover claims another, saying “you belong to me.” The romantic truth was reflected in traditional marriage when the woman adopted the man’s name. (Reactionaries mis-interpreted this as reflective of a property claim of the man on the woman. Political correctness is always rooted in the projection of personal bitterness onto the cosmos, producing fictions which are then battled, like big scary windmills.)

Continue reading “The White Stone”