The wisdom of the wise

Michelangelo, The Creation of Eve.

Marriage is all of piece with the warp and weft of things. 

By Gary Scarrabelotti

The other day a famous conservative journalist, and former Cold War comrade, declared himself for same-sex marriage: Gay couples with children deserve our blessing.

One of the puzzling things about this intellectual “coming out” was that it was accompanied by a profession of concern for the fate of Western civilization:

“…the failing of traditional Christianity across the Western world is the greatest single cultural crisis we face. It is very much an open question whether a civilisation can survive without transcendent belief …” 


“ … Churches are mistaken to try to hang on to old elements of legal enforcement of a bygone social orthodoxy.” 

Have I understood this correctly?  Marriage (and the law which has grown up around it) is an artifice of social control and, as such, does not share in those transcendent things that animated our civilization?

Unless I have been deeply mistaken, that is a proposition not merely foreign to, but existentially at odds with, the deepest springs of Western culture.

Against this destroying idea, I take my stand on the Book of Genesis, Chapter 2, Verses 18, 21 – 24: 

“And the Lord God said: It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself.

“Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam: and when he was fast asleep, he took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it.

“And the Lord God built the rib which he took from Adam into a woman: and brought her to Adam. 

“And Adam said: This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.

“Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh.” 

Kith and kin

By citing this text, my purpose is not to assert a doctrine of religion or to deploy a theological argument.  No doubt there are doctrines of religion here and a font of much theology. I am, however, neither a bishop nor a theologian. My purpose is simply to hear my kith and kin in their own words.  You might call it an “anthropological exercise”, but not an academic one. It’s just a man telling what he has heard — and seen.

There are 73 Books in the Bible, Old and New Testaments. (I speak of the Bible as that accepted by the older Christian tradition represented by Catholics and the Orthodox.)

The biblical experts tell me that this remarkable collection of books – the work of more than 40 writers — is made up of 1,334 Chapters and 35,526 Verses.   The first book of the 73 is Genesis. Right up front of this Book I, in the 18th verse of Chapter 2 – that’s the 49th verse of 35,526 – one strikes against the concept of marriage that underpins our culture. 

My point?

At the Beginning

It’s this: marriage is right there at The Beginning; marriage is a work of Creation.  It’s original.  It’s a given: like the light; like the firmament of Heaven; like the waters; like the dry land “Earth”; like the “Seas”; like the great lights that divide and govern night and day and that are “for signs and for seasons and for days and for years.” 

The understanding contained in the Bible, the foundational literature of our culture, is that marriage is all of a piece with the warp and weft of things.  It arises with human existence as its primal mode of being.  It comes before all else: before Patriarchs; before the Flood; before the call of Abraham; before Covenants; before Commandments; before laws; before religion; before worship and its rituals; before priests and prophets and kings; before tribes and peoples and nations; and, after all of these, before the state.  None may touch marriage because it came before them all and gave rise to them all. To “stretch out the hand” – to use a biblical expression — toward marriage is to touch the origin of manifold human growth and flourishing. To change marriage, none may attempt without wreaking destruction on human kind and all its accomplishments. That is the cultural message – the anthropology, if you like – of the Bible.

Considered merely as a work of human inspiration, the Bible’s concept of marriage is a deep and weighty thing – and so we have received it, believer and unbeliever alike, right up to this day. 

Wisdom and folly 

In a sense, a law which formulates marriage as a union between a man and a woman is a tautology.  It simply repeats the obvious.  It does not create marriage; it records it with what might seem unnecessary repetition. 

A logician, or a rigourist in matters of style, might wish to expunge a tautology on the ground that it is superfluous.  And so it is.  This could lead us into a pleasant discussion about how and why the superfluous and the unnecessary — and the manner in which they are repeated, emulated, and embellished — are among the finer characteristics of human culture.

But the proposal contained in the “coming out” article in question here is not about getting rid of the unnecessary. The recommendation is that a re-statement of the obvious should be replaced by a statement of the non-obvious: indeed with a falsehood. At the most material level – biology: an insurmountable reality — a man is not made in such a way as to “cleave” to a man and “become one flesh” with him, nor a woman with a woman.

While this is a strange enough proposal coming from a member of the Fourth Estate – a secular priesthood especially dedicated to telling the truth, I understand – it is all the more strange that the writer calls on “Churches” to let go of existing laws, as relics of a bygone age, and meekly accept their replacement by a new and opposite law. 

As the predecessors of the Fourth Estate, “Churches” are just as committed to truth as any secular penman.  So, they cannot silently acquiesce in reversing a statement of the truth, no less about the common sense truths of human nature than about the higher, less evident truths of Divine nature.  It is neither political realism nor prudence that the author recommends, but rather a moral choice that would undermine the raison d‘etre of his own profession. 

Greg Sheridan, whose name appears at the head of this declaration, is someone I think of with much affection and with no little admiration.  Last year he published a delightful and highly informative book: When we were young & foolish. I was pleased to be mentioned in it and even learned some things about myself: like that my nickname among our mutual ALP friends was “B.A. Scarrabelotti”.  I take that as an honour, but one that far exceeds my powers. 

Still, if I can muster somewhat of the great man’s genius, I would like to conclude this way:

As the title of his book suggests, Sheridan is no longer young and foolish; indeed, as his article sanctifying same-sex ‘families’ demonstrates, he is now a proven wise man. 

As for myself, at 65 years-of-age, I am delighted to discover that I am still “young and foolish.”

This is an edited edition of an article originally published on the Henry Thornton Blog

Leave a Reply