Chesterton: The Adventure & Crisis of Marriage

Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote, “The whole pleasure of marriage is that it is a perpetual crisis.” Nowadays, there is a new crisis in the crisis of marriage that is hardly a source of pleasure because it is an identity crisis. The challenge is to refrain from despairing over the institution of marriage by remembering, with Chestertonian optimism, that marriage cannot be destroyed. Though marriage can be called gay, it cannot make marriage any less gay (in the true sense of the word). Marriage is perpetual, even if it is a perpetual crisis, and that is something to take pleasure in. What God has enjoined, no man can put asunder. And though days are dark, Catholics must arm themselves with that joy Chesterton called, “the joy of giants, the joy without a cause.”

“Marriage is a fact,” writes G. K. Chesterton, “an actual human relation like that of motherhood, which has certain habits and loyalties, except for a few monstrous cases where it is turned to torture by insanity or sin.” The monstrous cases of marriage that Chesterton mentions have, unfortunately, become the modern cases of marriage. On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, legally allowing homosexual couples to receive the same benefits of married heterosexual couples. On June 26, 2015, two years later to the day, the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for states to ban same-sex “marriage,” making the USA the 21st of the 21st century countries to legalize same-sex unions. Though acclaimed as a victory for love, the embrace of impotence in love will only render love impotent. This is one of the dangerous illusions of our time, “the illusion of familiarity” as Chesterton put it in The Everlasting Man, when perversion becomes convention. Making homosexual “marriage” legal does not make it natural, even if it is to become normal.

In a statement after the SCOTUS ruling, President Obama said, “Our nation was founded on a bedrock principle that we all are created equal.” Mr. Chesterton would probably find it amusing to hear the President speak of bedrock when all is a landslide of change (as he promised). If Mr. Chesterton could debate Mr. Obama over mugs of ale, it is possible that the former would mention the irony of the latter mentioning the immutability of God’s creating human beings and not the immutability of God’s creating human institutions. Mr. Chesterton might then find Mr. Obama’s intertwining the ideas of equality and equivalency alarming, while certainly agreeing that all are created equal but certainly not the same. Equality does not mean equivalence. Distinction is important in order to retain importance. Finally, GKC might declare that, as human beings, all should love each other equally while following the natural law of our Creator who created us man and woman to be fruitful and multiply. In this are truth and happiness and freedom.

“This ruling is a victory for America,” says Mr. Obama. “This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.” To rule against truth is not a victory, Mr. Chesterton interjects. It is a failure. If truth is disposable, then what worth is there in the world? Only truth will make Americans more free—not nihilism. The President smiles politely and resumes. “We are people who believe every child is entitled to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is so much more work to be done to extend the full promise of America to every American. But today, we can say in no uncertain terms that we’ve made our union a little more perfect. That’s the consequence of a decision from the Supreme Court, but more importantly, it is a consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up… and came to believe in themselves and who they were. And slowly made an entire country realize that love is love.”

Love is love. Mr. Chesterton thumps his mug and wipes his whiskers emphatically. That much is absolute. But, to be clear, a man is not necessarily a man or a woman necessarily a woman, nor an unborn baby necessarily a child entitled to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It all depends on how people feel, and how “courageous” they are willing to be in denying the truth. President Obama is wrong, Mr. Chesterton declares. The relativism at the helm of America is not a herald of perfection. It is jazz. It is Jezebel. It is a harbinger of disintegration. Love is love, however, and love leads to newness of life. Love advances life. Sterility, death, and court rulings over divine decrees do not. Love is love, and it is unchanging because it is a reflection of God Himself. Love has established His order. Let no man put it asunder.

Mr. Chesterton lights a cigar.

Marriage is the sacramental union between a man and a woman that allows for procreation. With the SCOTUS ruling, this foundation of civilization has taken a further tumble, but it will never crumble. As Chesterton put it, “This triangle of truisms, of father, mother and child, cannot be destroyed; it can only destroy those civilizations which disregard it.” The United States Supreme Court has made a mockery of marriage and of family by paving the way for homosexual unions. But it was a general and gradual capitulation to darkness, and even death, that first paved the way to this insanity. Fornication. Divorce. Contraception. Abortion. Pornography. Homosexuality. “The next great heresy,” Chesterton prophesied, “will be an attack on morality, especially sexual morality.” That great heresy hangs over us like the sky. But marriage cannot die. Marital love is a force for fertility, one that seeks to give and grow continually, and will continue.

The crisis of marriage goes on, and Catholics must bear the truth on high as a banner, undaunted and with joy. A work that colors the collapse and call-to-arms of our times is Mr. Chesterton’s “The Ballad of the White Horse,” in which a conquered king fearlessly wages war again against his conquers. So long as he fights for the right reason, he will fight. The words from his vision of the Mother of God should serve as the marching refrain for Catholic America as it is hurled somewhere over the rainbow:

The men of the East may spell the stars,
And times and triumphs mark,
But the men signed of the cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark.

Though “the sky grows darker yet and the sea rises higher,” go gaily in the dark. Take heart. They are more tired of what Mr. Obama calls “victory,” than we are tired of shame, to paraphrase the Ballad. Marriage will not lose its meaning nor its fruitfulness so long as some are willing to hold true to the course. “Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honor should decline,” wrote Gilbert Keith Chesterton, and the same can be said for the duel for marriage.

Sean Fitzpatrick

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Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, PA with his wife and family of four.

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  • Morrie Chamberlain

    I just finished reading The Apostle of Common Sense and I find it amazing how prophetic Chesterton was.

    “Normal does not mean natural” indeed.

  • TerryC

    Certainly divine providence saw fit to place Chesterton in the time and place He did because he will be so necessary a source of common sense in the next century.

  • Louise

    Ain’t that the truth!

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