Steps to Recovery: Celebrate Life / Viva la Difference! A Literary Approach

I saw people coming to meet us. Because they were bright I saw them while they were still  very distant, and at first I did not know that they were people at all.  Mile after mile they drew nearer. The earth shook under their tread as their strong feet sank into the wet turf.  A tiny haze and a sweet smell went up where they had crushed the grass and scattered the dew. Some were naked, some robed.  But the naked ones did not seem less adorned, and the robes did not disguise in those who wore them the massive grandeur of muscle and the radiant smoothness of  flesh.[1]

Such glorious creatures in C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce were once humans, but now revel in the full flowering of their redeemed humanity. Their perfected masculinity, their ‘massive grandeur of muscle,’ as well as beautiful feminity, ‘the radiant smoothness of flesh,’ are on unashamed display.

They provide an example of the beauty and graces of the sexes, which we will examine from Literature Professor (Thomas More College, NH) and Dante translator, Anthony Esolen’s Defending Marriage


While this is just an imaginative casting of human masculinity and femininity, consider the way Lewis depicts how sexuality can lose its way in the modern world, as he describes a young couple he observes in the town of Hell: “A moment later two young people in front of him also left us arm in arm. They were both so trousered, slender, giggly and falsetto that I could be sure of the sex of neither.”[2]

Such are the conflicting images of the sexes and sexuality one can easily find in today’s culture.

Gender confusion and questions of sexuality are rife, with the latest news stories describing how states seek to preserve and protect traditional practices regarding sexuality, marriage and the family, only to be met by economic boycotts from powerful businesses and organizations.  The definition of marriage often precipitates the debate, though questions about sexuality are the more fundamental issues at stake.  The debate pits the assumptions of a natural, God-ordained order in which the sexes are imbued with a meaning and role beyond that of simple physiognomy, against the modern conception of one’s sexuality being largely defined by personal preference and individual gratification.

Just as counterfeit currency is best detected by a thorough knowledge of genuine currency, it makes sense to examine the mandate for traditional marriage before inspecting deviant alternatives.  The Scriptural formula is the same from the very first marriage, that of Adam and Eve, to Jesus’s pronouncement and to that by the Apostle Paul: “a man shall leave his mother and father and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”[3]  The most obvious fact here is that this involves one man and one woman. By contrast, Paul in Romans 1 declares that God gives over “to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves … women (who) exchanged the natural use for what is against nature, likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman.”[4]

Any definition of marriage or sexuality that deviates from this fundamental arrangement is clearly condemned by Scripture.  But what is at stake goes far beyond the simple granting of a marriage certificate – the relationship between the sexes is a fundamental cornerstone not only of procreation and the furtherance of the species, but of the essential nature of God, of humanity and of life itself.

The definition agreed on by the group Evangelicals and Catholics Together captures  the Christian position ably: “marriage is a unique and privileged sign of the union of Christ with his people and of God with Creation – and it can only only serve as that sign when a man and a woman are solemnly joined together in a permanent union.”[5]  But it is from the church father Augustine that we can find a more detailed case for the specific goods resulting from marriage.  The first such good one could call civilizational: the raising and nurturing of children.  As this assumes sexual relations and the resultant fertility, marriage both fulfills the (complementary) sexual natures of man and woman, as well as provides nature’s only mechanism for the production of life. Augustine’s second good elaborates on the first: the fidelity of the marriage relationship exhibits the commitment of two individuals to persons outside of themselves.  Lacking this, social cohesion disintegrates, and society becomes an essentially selfish affair.  But because of this, marriage partners not only live out a life of commitment to their spouse, but also to all members of the family – children and even relatives, as these relationships are also permanent, demanding and fulfilling.  But perhaps the most enduring, transcendent and metaphysical benefit of marriage lies with Augustine’s third good, permanence.

Beyond the lifetime commitment required, and beyond the propagation of the human species, the marriage  covenant speaks of the permanence of God’s covenant with man.  The prophet Hosea spoke directly of it when, after taking a prostitute for a wife, symbolic of the faithlessness of the nation of Israel, he declared the eventual restoration of Israel to God:

and it shall be in that day … that you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer ‘My Master’ …    I will betroth you to Me forever … in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy;

I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.”[6]

Marriage is thus a “natural sign pointing toward a supernatural reality,”[7] and so blessed with a foundation dating to the beginning of time.  This point of Augustine’s is admittedly a little bit abstract, and not something that, say, a school child (or garden variety modern agnostic) would come up with were they tasked with describing marriage.  But it is something that is lost to the modern world, yet essential to a deep and fulfilling marriage.  There are at least two ways this supernatural mooring of the marriage relationship  enriches marriage and thus society: our views of maleness and femaleness are understood as an essential and persistent imprint of God on ourselves and the world, and the subsequent roles played by, and fruit born from, our genders.

The imprint of maleness and femaleness on creation can be understood in a number of ways.

Pope John Paul captures the nature and role of our transcendent sexuality in his discussion of the language of the body. Just as language is composed of symbols corresponding to realities beyond themselves, so is nature itself, and even our gender, just such a lesser player in a greater drama.  This idea is found in scripture, as it is stated in Genesis that “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”[8]  But beyond the simple act of gender-creation, in our very beings we live out the nature of God, as our bodies are “the temple of the Holy Spirit and “God’s Spirit dwells in (our) midst,”[9] or as Pope John Paul relates, there is “the glory of God in the human temple, through which masculinity and femininity are manifested.”[10]   But Pope John Paul references primarily the greater symbolic value of the church serving as the Bride of Christ, for which case all members of the church serve together, whether married or not, in playing their role in this ultimate marriage of man and God.  But despite the praise and value Pope John Paul thus ascribes to the sexes, on a more explicit discussion of  “how the full depth of the meaning in masculinity and femininity … could have been revealed in the original state of man,” Pope John Paul “wisely does not speculate.”

But both Augustine and Pope John Paul have given us some vital clues: Augustine cites the permanent commitment betokened in the act of marriage, while Pope John Paul states how the language of the body references generally a way of living, and that, in the unity of love.  The very model of the Trinity speaks of this unity of love, as Anselm noted in the Eleventh century:


The Son  is consciousness born from consciousness, Wisdom born from Wisdom. The Father, by contrast, is unbegotten consciousness and unbegotten wisdom.  What a delight to gaze upon what is proper to Father and Son and what they have in common. And nothing gives me more delight in contemplation than their mutual love… And given that it makes sense to think of the  supreme spirit’s consciousness as Father, and its understanding as Son, it is evident that the  supreme spirit as love proceeds equally from the Father and the Son.[11]

While Father, Son and Holy Spirit don’t exactly parallel father, mother and child, the hierarchy of being and mutual relations of love, with the Holy Spirit as a procession from love of the Father and the Son, provides the foundational model on which familial authority and love are grounded.  There is an equality in the Trinity, but there is also a specific order and specific roles.[12]  In the human and marital sphere, the coexistence of equality and hierarchy can be seen in Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, as Paul exhorts the church at large in “submitting to one another in the fear of God,” though he immediately follows with “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord”[13]  As “heirs together of the grace of God,”[14] husband and wife treat each other with mutual respect and love, but there is nevertheless the undeniable imprint of divine hierarchy in the marital relation.

This imprint of divinity upon humanity, by way of our genders, makes possible the fundamental social unit and building block of society.  Martin Luther captures this when he casts marriage and the family as “the ‘first estate,’ which precedes both Church and civil government.”[15] [16]  Or, as Paul ordered the relations, submission within marriage is in a certain sense more fundamental than the mutual submission of the church.  The complementary forms of love and respect[17] within marriage are nevertheless deployed, as also stated previously, realizing husband and wife, as well as children, perched on the lowest rung of the marital submission ladder, are heirs together of the grace of God.

But to better grasp that to which Pope John Paul could only allude, “the full depth of the meaning in masculinity and femininity,”[18] we turn to Anthony Esolen’s Defending Marriage : Twelve Arguments for Sanity.[19] The first fruit of the marital relationship is the fundamental beauty of it, as stated in Proverbs:

There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yes four which I do not understand:

            The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man with a woman.[20]


Fundamental to this beauty is the very commitment Augustine and others have observed, but Esolen teases out the particular richness adeptly.  Purity and goodness lurk everywhere throughout this relationship, as Esolen brings Shakespeare to bear, describing love in The Winter’s Tale with

Were never for a piece of beauty rarer,

Nor in a way so chaste, since my desires

Run not before mine honor, nor my lusts

Burn hotter than my faith[21]


Not only is devotion and innocence on display here, but the passion and faith of the suitor are as well, as “his faith, that is his fidelity, the complete surrender of his will to Perdita, burns even hotter than his natural desires.”[22]  This lifelong commitment to an other, outside of oneself, is in fact fundamental to the proverbial meaning of life, as Viktor Frankl argues in Man’s Search for Meaning : “happiness can not be pursued; it must ensue.”[23] This futility of the self-pursuit of happiness (Frankl terms it “hyper-intention”) Frankl has traced across many areas of behavior, including even physical marital relations, with ever the same finding: the most fulfillment and pleasure result from seeking to please another rather than oneself.


The particular giving that occurs in marriage is a testament to the natural gender differences.  Esolen observes how

Every cell of my body is marked as masculine. My adrenal system is different from my wife’s –   it is primed for sudden attack and just as sudden calm; an adrenal system for all-out fighting,   followed or preceded by cold strategy.[24]

By contrast,

hers is not that way; I doubt that anyone caring for small children ought to be that way. My heart-lung capacity at age 50 is that of a woman at her peak, at age twenty. I will possess more brute strength (by far) than my daughter until I am very old. My wife sees things I do     not see; she makes connections with people I would not make; she has the touch.”[25]

Onward Christian Soldier, marching as to war!  This is what men are made for – envisioning and carrying out bold plans – once, of course, they outgrow their snails and puppy dog tails.  Relationship, empathy and nurture are the more comfortable and natural domain of the women.[26] Just as nations and economies do best when they specialize in that at which what they are best, so too does the domestic economy thus flourish: each gender brings their God-imbued gifts and abilities to the service of each other, as well as to the family, and to society as a whole.  And this family is not just their that of their own progeny – it includes the extended families of both marital partners, with the richness of relations of cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents and other young children – each a part of their own immediate, naturally defined family structure.

But the sexual revolution squanders much of this away.  In the place of the web of mutually symbiotic relationships of giving, the principle of self-satisfaction rules supreme, especially with same-sex marriages.  Not only is the tradition of songs of praise and a sort of romantic worship noticeably absent in the alternative sexuality community, but there remains no proper appreciation for the natural roles of gender.  It is difficult enough for a heterosexual couple to appreciate their mate as but an instance of a grander relation between the genders (though some practicers of infidelity may claim to be so trying), but it is near impossible for one of a same gender couple to do so.  The natural giving of one’s gendered abilities for the benefit of their mate instead takes the form of, at best, empathy with one’s same-gendered partner and thus a catering to needs one knows both have.  At worst, one partner will simply assume the characteristics of the missing gender (think effeminate gay men).

In terms of sexuality, the self-gratification of the sexual revolution (whether for ‘free (heterosexual) love’ or for deviant practices) invokes a radical individualism of personal pleasure in the place of mutually surrendering oneself for the other.  “Men are not for women and women are not for men, and that our sexual powers are for ourselves alone”[27] is the selfishness into which the sexual revolution devolves.

Our definition of marriage needs to be examined at this point.  The definition we provisionally adopted, from the Evangelicals and Catholics Together group, reads that “marriage is a unique and privileged sign of the union of Christ with his people and of God with Creation – and it can only serve as that sign when a man and a woman are solemnly joined together in a permanent union.”[28]

Following Scripture and the way of nature (and how it propagates itself), the union of a man and a woman is the most fundamental requirement of any definition of marriage.  Moving beyond simple biology, however, any definition of marriage must also include the essentially transcendent maleness and femaleness that guide these roles.  Just as Christ is the head of the church, providing vision, strength, compassion and sacrificial devotion, so does the male role of marriage require these. As the female most naturally provides grace, beauty, empathy, compassion and nurturing in her person, so does the marriage definition include these characteristically feminine virtues.  Our above definition thus is amended to something like the following:

“Marriage is a unique and privileged sign of the union of Christ with his people and of God with Creation” – this is the deep and symbolic foundation, from which marriage gains its meaning.

“And it can only serve as that sign when a man and a woman are solemnly joined together in a permanent union” – again, this is an essential commitment among the God-sanctioned genders.

But to this, we now add some indicator of the essential roles of the specific genders: “This union is fruitful in the exercise of the God-given genders, male and female, in nurturing and leading the entire family, as well as providing the fundamental organizational structure for society.”  Implicit in this definition is the mutual service of male to female and vice versa, but it also includes the combined service of both to children, extended family and society at large.


A further societal casualty of the sexual revolution is the bonding within genders, male to male and female to female.  When the question of sexual orientation lurks behind every otherwise normal encounter, it is the male to male bonding relationship that Esolen argues is one of the most spectacular and crippling of casualties (Esolen does not focus on the female-female relationship with which he notes he is naturally less familiar, though claims to have heard of similar patterns there).  From the friendships of Frodo and Samwise Gangee to Lewis and Tolkien, and the various rich and often mentoring male friendships of figures like Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison, as well as comrades in arms in the military, the camaradarie of male bonding is the fount from which comes so much personal and societal good.  The innocence, fellowship and full flowering of such virtues as honor, courage and the like issue forth from such friendships.  The father-son bond, at an even deeper level yet, provides the bedrock of personal and societal character formation, and a textbook of value and vision as generations march forward in history.  Of these friendships, Esolen poetically states “they might do a thousand things fascinatingly creative and destructive, but one thing they would not do. They would not, as our boys do now, stagnate. They would be alive.”[29]


Instead, such stunted friendships form the core of the dysfunctional homosexual.  Instead of forming male alliances which “identify their manhood with practical and intellectual skills that transform the world,”[30] including primarily such relationships with their own, often absentee, fathers, the homosexual seeks to recover just these alliances through unnatural sexual congress with their own gender.  As Esolen observed early on in the book, “the sexual drive is the most powerful among our animal motives, most dynamic when well governed, and most destructive when it is not.”[31] The promotion of such lifestyles, the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and now ‘Queer’) group, only hardens rather than resolves such societal dysfunctions.

Many of the same arguments against the sexual libertinism wrought by declarations of alternative sexual  orientation apply readily to cases of “serial monogamy.” The destruction of the stable and nurturing  social unit, the family, results in dysfunctional relationships at every level of family and society. Blended families in which one needs a playbook to tell who is related to whom and how are increasingly the norm, Esolen observes. By contrast, he asks more than rhetorically, where now are the great families of the past such as the musical Bachs in Leipzig, the artists Bellini in Venice, and violin-making Amati and Stradavari families.  Instead of being raised by those from whom one has inherited genetic and personal traits, children tend to be raised by people from and with whom they have little if any common genetic and familial stock.  Just as Esolen notes with marriages, so it is with children staying with their natural parents: “a marriage marries families, and it is the family and not the abstracted autonomous individual, that is the foundation for the community.”[32]  The transfer of children to step-parents and families with whom they have little to no common heritage produces, in effect, just such an abstraction for the child.


To conclude, God’s gift of marriage and the family, that marriage between a man and a woman which reflects the deep spiritual symbolism, creativity and power of the original family, the Trinity, serves as both the fundamental structure for life on this planet, as well as a bulwark against social and sexual drives run rampant.  It is fitting to cite here William Chauncey Langdon, one of the early promoters of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).  The YMCA in fact was originally “not a day-care center and gymnasium for middle class women, but a training ground for young men, to strengthen body and mind and help them become productive and virtuous citizens.”[33]  Langdon called for “a searching revision of our shallow, individualistic, popular conceptions of the family,” as the detached individual tosses away so much of his or her heritage. Society “is made up not merely of so many men, women and children, but rather of so many families;”[34] by contrast “the single person,”  Langdon observes, “is not a social unit, but rather a constituent member of an actual, or a potential, or a frustrated family.”[35]  Instead, marriage and family provide the context of joint responsibility which nurtures life to full bloom; working against such structure, such as with separatist and unintegrated perspectives afforded by modern ‘feminist studies’ or the pornography industry, leads to Landgon’s prophetic fear, “the moral dissolution of the family (that) would sap the very foundation of all social order alike in state and church.”[36] With both heaven and earth at stake, mounting a successful defense of marriage and family is of vital importance, and figures from Augustine to Esolen have provided us an arsenal of insightful argument.

[1]    C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: HarperOne, 2000),  23-24.

[2]    Ibid., 3.

[3]    Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, Ephesians 5:31 all read nearly exactly the same.

[4]    Romans 1: 24-28.

[5]    “The Two Shall Become One Flesh: Reclaiming Marriage” by Evangelicals and Catholics Together, in First Things,March 2015, accessed April 13, 2016,

[6]    Hosea 2:16-20.

[7]    “The Two Shall Become One Flesh,” Evangelicals and Catholics Together, 2015.

[8]    Genesis 1:27

[9]    1 Corinthians 6:19.

[10]  “The Two Shall Become One Flesh,” Evangelicals and Catholics Together, 2015.

[11]  Anselm of Canterbury, Monoslogion, 48-50.  An excellent source for this is  Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works , ed. Brian Davies and G.R. Evans,(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).

[12]  Heresies and How to avoid Them, ed. Ben Quash and Michael Ward (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007). This collection of essays about early church efforts to fully grasp such things as the fully human, fully divine nature of Christ, the Tri-une nature of God, and other issues, is helpful in this understanding of the Trinity. One particularly instructive heresy, Arianism, denied the divinity of Christ, citing John 14:28 “My Father is greater than I,” for instance.

[13]  Ephesians 5:21-22.  Husbands are of course further instructed “Husbands, love your wives” in verse 25.

[14]  1 Peter 3:7.

[15]  “The Two Shall Become One Flesh,” Evangelicals and Catholics Together, 2015.

[16]           The separation of the spheres of governance can also be attributed to John Calvin, as promoted by nineteenth century preacher turned Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Abraham Kuyper.  Drawing on his study of John Calvin and Scriptures, Kuyper joined Calvin in limiting the institution of the church from ruling directly over spheres such as government, though society was yet accountable to God.  Within each of five distinct spheres – the government of the individual, the  family, church, civics and society in general – scriptural foundations and accountability are to be in place, “but no sphere should overstep its God-given authority in relation to other spheres.”  Loren Cunningham, The Book That Transforms Nations: The Power of the Bible to Change  Any Country (Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2007), 58-59.

[17]  Ephesians 5:33 summarizes the famous ‘love and respect’ relation: “Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” This relationship is captured handily in Emerson Eggrichs, Love and Respect (New York: HarperCollins Publishing, 2004).

[18]  “The Two Shall Become One Flesh,” Evangelicals and Catholics Together, 2015.

[19]  Anthony Esolen, Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity (Charlotte: Saint Benedictine Press, 2014).

[20]  Proverbs 30: 18-19.

[21]  Esolen, Defending Marriage, 2.

[22]  Ibid., 2.

[23]  Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984), 140.

[24]  Esolen,  Defending Marriage, 36.

[25]  Ibid.

[26]  Every effort is of course exercised to avoid the famous simplification from the 1993 Shadowlands film in which Debra Winger as Joy Gresham responds to the simplification of the Professorly friend of  Anthony Hopkins as C.S. Lewis: “I regard the soul as an essentially feminine  accessory, anima, quite different from animus, the male variant. This is how I explain the otherwise puzzling difference between the sexes: where men  have intellect, women have soul.” Gresham-Winger responds “As you say, Professor, I’m from the United States, and different cultures have different modes of discourse.  I need a little guidance here: are you trying to be offensive, or just merely stupid?”

[27]  Esolen, Defending Marriage, 39.

[28]  “The Two Shall Become One Flesh,” Evangelicals and Catholics Together, 2015.

[29]  Esolen, Defending Marriage, 71.

[30]  Ibid., 72.

[31]  Ibid., 21.

[32]  Ibid., 19.

[33]  Ibid., 22.

[34]  Ibid.

[35]  Ibid.

[36]  Ibid., 23.

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