The Positive Nature of Vows

“If Americans can be divorced for ‘incompatibility of temper,’ I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.” (G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World)

G.K. Chesterton died in 1936, but before his death, easy divorce had begun to creep from America to England, and this displeased him. He did not have a theology degree. He wrote from his sensus fidelium, and from a thorough knowledge of history. His ethical standard was a (Catholic) Fairyland which he detailed in his book, Orthodoxy. In Fairyland there where certain laws that were never to be broken; and if they were broken, unknown ill consequences would occur, ie., Cinderella had to be home by Midnight, Pandora’s Box was not to be opened, etc.  Chesterton placed vows in this category. If you made a vow, you kept it.

The above quote of Chesterton could be applied to most human relationships, for humans, laden as we are with original and actual sin, usually end up, at some point in a relationship, knocking heads with one another. St. Therese, the doll of sanctity, claimed in her writings, that the sound of another sister in chapel nearly incited her to extreme irritation, and it was only by offering the irritation to God that she could maintain her composure day after day. A modern person, hearing of her irritation and such, would recommend she break her religious vows and flee to a more accommodating order. However, anyone with a modicum of common sense would know that something else in that new order would end up irritating her; this life is not Utopia, and in relationships with others there will always be irritations, upsets, and real incompatibilities.  However, instead of clinging to our promises, vows, and commitments, we are often encouraged to flee them.  This can be seen in no -fault divorce, whose sentiments seem to be making inroads within the Catholic Church; however Catholic teaching and Tradition regarding the sanctity of marriage does not change. God made the Commandments. We can not alter them. No one can.  Again, the doctrines of the Church are walls, but they are the walls of a playground. We do not apologize for the doctrines and laws of the Church. Our ancestors did not apologize for the rules of marriage. We have to depart from the modern, gloomy view of the Ten Commandments. They, along with the precepts of the Church, were given to us out of love. G.K. Chesterton speaks of the positive nature of the Catholic laws when he stated:

“…the curtness of the Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion but of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted precisely because most things are permitted and only a few things are forbidden. An optimist who insisted on a purely positive morality would have to begin by telling a man that he might pick dandelions on a common and go on for months before he came to the fact that he might throw pebbles into the sea. In comparison with this positive morality the Ten Commandments rather shine in that brevity which is the soul of wit.” (from Illustrated London News, January 3, 1920)

It seems that much of the confusion regarding the moral order has started from a confused notion of charity.  The Rosary to the Interior group has published a new article this week regarding charity, and how it is revealed in the Second Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary. It is worth a read, especially to correct the wrong idea of charity that has crept into the fabric of our culture and society: Rosary to the Interior, the Second Joyful Mystery

It is delightful to breathe the air of Chestertonian thought, to live and think as our Catholic ancestors did: who assumed that a marriage vow was meant to be kept, and who died with the spouse of their youth at their side. Was it always an easy life? No, but they could die in peace knowing they had kept something sacred, a bond that the ethics of Fairyland warns one never to break: the golden chain which united them to their youthful selves (A Defense of Rash Vows, G.K.C.). This gold chain was kept intact, and I like to think, that our ancestors held (in their hearts) this mysterious chain as they died, intact and gleaming as they approached the shores of God in the eternal kingdom, where the god (God!) of their youths, was (and is for us, now) the same god (God!) of their old age.