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VIII. Morality and Marriage

IT HAS been pointed out that every moral virtue has two necessary elements, Honorableness and Decorum. Honesty and Good Will could not exist as social virtues except in the garments of a behavior which corresponds to them or represents them in outward form; and thus in a form which not only expresses them but protects them. Such modes make one with the modes of charity, such as were prescribed by the Lord when He said:

"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican" (Matthew xviii. 15-17).

This is the mode, or procedure, of Friendship. Every virtue has such modes, that it may not perish but may protect itself, in times of test and temptation, and may progress in depth and power. And this is uniquely true of that virtue of Chastity which is the special guardian of Conjugial Love.

So important are the modes by which the love of the sex, which is a merely natural love, is inverted to serve as the womb in which conjugial love is born, that the work on Conjugial Love devotes an entire chapter to the orderly procedures that should be followed in the courtship which culminates in marriage. We refer to the chapter on "Betrothals and Weddings".

It is to be noted that the procedures given as orderly in that chapter are not procedures which are to be enforced by any ecclesiastical authority. Indeed, Swedenborg writes, "the things written in this book have for their end that the reader may see truths from his own rational, and thereby give his consent, for thus his spirit is convinced; and those things in which the spirit is convinced, are allotted a place above those which, without consulting reason, enter from authority or the faith of authority" (CL 295). We are not merely to follow authorized procedures without rational comprehension, thinking "like the crab walks, the sight following the tail"! (Ibid.) Nor is the Church to compel obedience, but to lead people to act in freedom from reason, which is to act from morality. Therefore, Swedenborg now recounts many things which are "established customs", "in order that man may see from his rational that such things are inscribed on conjugial love, as requisite to promote and complete it" (ibid).

Before speaking of these customs, something must be said about the attitude which should prevail before courtship. It is the glorious promise given to the New Church that the Divine providence is operating to provide true marriages even here on earth for "those who from early youth have loved, wished for, and asked of the Lord, a legitimate and lovely companionship with one of the other sex, and who spurn and reject wandering lusts as an offense to their nostrils" (CL 49). For such a one is given illustration from the Lord to recognize the partner of his life, to see the "similitude" corresponding to his own inner soul. Yet, he will not depend on any "miracle" to reveal his partner to him, but will follow the indications of order, and seek for one whose friendship can reach deeply, and whose companionship will extend into the spiritual things of life. If he does this, not being blinded by impulse or momentary passion, but acting both with heart and sound reason, he will find the "miracle" of love more lasting.

Social Life

It is obvious that it is usually in the sphere of social life that the partner is met with. The type of social life which we cultivate is perhaps the first step in the choice of a partner. Yet the atmosphere in social life would be forced and embarrassed, if social life among unmarried people was regarded merely as a means for finding a partner in marriage. Social life is for the sake of friendship, and for the sake of recreation, pleasure, interchange of opinions not only serious but jovial, not only about momentous issues but about the arts and various matters of taste. And social life is genuine and successful just in so far as Charity predominates,--a charity which makes one wish not merely to be entertained but to give pleasure and happiness to others. Social life within the Church should therefore, we believe, especially among the young, not tend into small cliques or permanent groups; for this tends to warp one's sympathies and one's character, as well as one's opinions. It tends to social intolerance and to future misunderstandings. Incidentally, it also limits the conjugial choice. All this does in no wise prevent that more intimate friendships be cultivated, along with the wider, general social life. For close friendships are precious things. But what we here point to is the fact that exclusive friendships are unwise, especially in youth. They are indications of selfishness, or will be so regarded. And especially is it often unwise, where a boy and a girl are concerned. One of the rules of etiquette for young men, cited by the late Bishop W. F. Pendleton, was therefore--"Do not appropriate the society of one girl exclusively, especially not without a ripened intention to ask her in marriage."


Yet the time comes when this intention is formed. And on the man's part, this should be delayed, so far as possible, until he has a definite use in view. This is indeed a rule that has great wisdom within it. Still, love comes unasked at times, and all that man can then do is to use prudence and common sense. For his happiness and that of his chosen one can easily be endangered without self-discipline and patience.

"His chosen." Choice, we are told, belongs to the man. This is a custom which the Writings desire us to see as a rational necessity. "It is not unbecoming for men to speak of love and to make it manifest" to the one whom they choose. But for women to do so is unbecoming, as well as imprudent and immodest, as their inborn instinct to protect conjugial love tells them: to protect it not only in themselves, but in the race, thus also in men. Men therefore declare their love; or, as we say, they "choose", they court, they entreat; humbly, and with all the politeness, concern, and sometimes even flattery, that they can muster (CL 296, 297).

But the woman, we are told, also chooses: Not aggressively, but passively; not by seeking, but by selecting, by favoring, by consent. And this consent on the part of the woman is not to be extorted or compelled, either by parents or by suitor; nor is it to mean a mere giving in to a physical attraction no longer resistible. The consent must be free, and thus not a mere emotional breakdown. It is therefore recognized by society as of the greatest importance to protect women from situations where their choice is not free. Honor thus compels men to follow certain codes of etiquette which allow women freedom from too much intimacy. These codes differ very much with different ages and states and conditions. Chaperonage by older people is one of these provisions that are required in good society. It is indeed a cumbersome and unpopular provision, but the wisdom of the ages sanctions the need of its prudent use. Its object is not to take away freedom, but to protect freedom! Not to put a straight-jacket on social life, but to give an opportunity for young people to mingle and to get to know each other so as to ensure a delay of the "choice" and the "consent" until their minds are ripe enough to really know each other and know what they are doing. For the conjugial choice is the most important decision in life,--unless we include the spiritual issues of regeneration. And the forces of the love of the sex--which are so easily sublimated into an unfounded "idealization" of individuals of the other sex, and so easily stirred up into storms of passionate desire--are strange and difficult to manage, in youth. And while it is indeed true that men are particularly charged with this disturbing love of the sex, and that women are born with instincts for conjugial love, or the love of one of the sex; yet it is also a fact that "with daughters in their first marriageable age and also in their second, love waits upon the longings of the senses, and not as yet upon the desires originating in a chastened mind" (CL 299). This is given, in the Writings, as a reason why a daughter before she deliberates with herself and gives consent to a suitor, "ought to consult her parents or those who are in the place of parents" (CL 298). Other reasons are, that her judgment is not clear, and is as yet in ignorance about the conjugial life and deficient in the knowledge about men; and that she is not always in a position to judge the suitor's character. This is doubly true in modern industrial society, where young women are thrown into contact with men of widely different moral backgrounds. Consent is never free unless it is fortified by knowledge, and given in a rational state of mind.

The Love of the Sex

All the moral virtues, all honor and decorum on the part of both sexes, take on a special importance in the social approach of the sexes to each other, when this begins to look towards marriage. Never is reserve more essential. For the approach must be gradual. A wholesome comradeship must not become rudeness, or turn into familiarity of the sort that later breeds contempt. Gentleness and courtesy must not degenerate into such cheap sentimentality as what is popularly called "Petting". "The sense of touch is dedicated to conjugial love, and is its special sense" (CL 210). It is not dedicated to the love of the sex; and so far as it is used to satisfy the instincts of sex, so far it is an affront to virginity, and is denied to conjugial love, and so far marriage loses sanctity and power and delight. Caresses, so far as the Writings ordain, have no part to play in the social intercourse which looks toward a marriage-choice. Only after free consent is obtained is there an orderly progress toward the conjugial state.

This teaching in the Writings may seem to stand in severe contrast to the license in sex-relations which exists in the world around us, especially in the postwar era. But even the world, so far as it thinks rationally, has discovered the tragedy of this loosening of the moral fibre, and is striving to check the tendency to rebel against the natural laws of order without which monogamic marriage cannot be established and preserved. Such wild theories as "Free Love", or easy Divorce, or Trial Marriage, have been found to give no social solution to the problems of sex, but to lead to bitter failures. The ideals of the Church, in this respect, are recognized as ideal in a world which instinctively sees their truth, but has no motivating faith whereby to bring about their realization. We are certain from the Writings that our only hope as a Church is the establishment of Conjugial Love as the firm foundation of our lives. And this love is from the Lord. The Lord provides and leads the order in which that love develops.


What, then is the orderly mode which is to be followed, from rational conviction, in the New Church? We omit any discussion here of such suggestions as that, after consent, pledges ought to be given. For love itself dictates such customs. But the next procedure, that "consent is to be strengthened and confirmed by a solemn betrothal", constitutes a distinctively New Church ceremony. There was in the early Christian Church something like our betrothal, but this soon merged into the nuptial service. Betrothal is, however, dictated by the doctrine concerning conjugial love, which is a celestial and spiritual love and not merely a natural one. It is a ceremony, conducted by a priest,* solemnly to confirm and recognize the mutual consent or intention to marry, and thus to make of the pair a Bride and a Bridegroom. But more than this, it is a state, which begins with the consent and lasts until the nuptials. It is an approach to marriage in the spirit of conjugial love, and thus prepares the minds of the two for a spiritual union, so that, first of all, "the interior affections may be mutually known, and, by applications in the inward cheerfulness of love, may be applied" (CL 301). Thus the spirits of the two may be united, in growing intimacy and understanding, and their love--conjugial love--can proceed and grow from its spiritual origin in a just order (ibid). And its spiritual origin lies in a common love of the things of religion, the same religion.

* This is done in both worlds. See CL 21 (at end) and 301.

It is this descent which makes the quality of conjugial love chaste, and without it it is not chaste. There must be an elevation of the mind and the heart first, in the betrothal state, before there can be such a descent of purified love, which sees the spiritual responsibilities and spiritual purposes within marriage, and looks to an eternal union which death shall not part.

This state must therefore be of the mind and spirit. Marriage is also of the body. It is "not lawful" to enter that state during betrothal (CL 305, SD 6110: 48), for thus the order of conjugial love perishes. Betrothals must therefore not be unduly protracted; neither must they be made mere matters of form by shortening them unduly (CL 305).

The principle involved in this ritual of betrothal is this: that all that precedes with a man and a woman enters into their succeeding states, and composes their later life. If there be unchastity or disorderly progressions, before marriage, so far there are also states of cold in the marriage (CL 313). For life is orderly. No man can disentangle himself from his past, even by repentance.

The Marriage Covenant

We have no time here to speak of the Nuptials, which the Writings class as an essential solemn ceremony; beyond stating that the wedding ought to include three elements: a civil contract; a religious contract, performed by a priest who not only is the chief witness but who also administers the blessing of the Lord upon an orderly covenant; a festive celebration, to bear witness to the delights of conjugial love.

"Conjugial love, precipitated without order and its modes, burns out the marrows and is consumed" (CL 312). That is, "if a man and a woman precipitate marriage, without order, not looking to the Lord, nor consulting reason, throwing aside betrothal, and yielding only to the flesh",--the love becomes external, not conjugial. There may indeed be repentance. But this must come from a new commencement, and it cannot wipe out the past.

Conjugial loveor the Christian conjugialis chastity itself. "There is no chaste conjugial except in the Christian world; and if it is not there, yet it may be there." Polygamy cannot be called chaste, nor can a celibacy that comes from an aversion to marriage. Neither should we confuse chastity with the innocence which attends a childish ignorance. It is religion that makes marriage chaste. (CL 142, 155, 150.) The perception of what is chaste departs with the unchaste. Where the sense of the holiness of marriage is lacking, there is no lasting protection against unchastity, even though a strictly scientific or artistic detachment be adopted in regard to the things of marriage. The world to-day is subjected to an influx of unchaste literature, drama and art. Our minds are all in danger of being dulled to the perception of what is pure and what is impure. We cannot rely on not being affected by the adulterous spheres that are everywhere active, and complacently declare that "To the pure, all things are pure!" "Conjugial love entirely pure does not exist with either men or angels; there is still something not chaste and not pure which adjoins and subjoins itself to it" (CL 146). The only defense against evil is to shun it, renounce it, abominate it.

We have tried to point out that it is to the state of marriage that all morality leads up, as to a supreme use, in which all other uses of society are imaged as in a least form. The Family must be taken as the unit of any true, moral society. And therein converge both spiritual and civil uses. Both Church and State must logically regard marriages as the focal points of their uses. The stability of marriage is of utmost concern to both. Marriage is therefore protected by laws and by customs, so that it may be permanent. For the use of marriage is not temporary, but is consecutive; it is an organized chain of uses which involve the whole lifetime of a man and a woman. It is a use which, once entered into, is irrevocable in its effects. It involves, for woman, and also for man, an entire change of state in body and mind. Its permanence is therefore essential.

The vows of fidelity given at marriage can therefore not be revoked at will. A partner is released from them only by the death or the actual unfaithfulness of the other partner. The law of divorce is stated in the Writings with unmistakable distinctness (CL 255, 468, Matth. xix. 9), for our rational, moral guidance.

It is the attitude to marriage, and thus particularly the status of woman, which characterizes a church or a nation. Certain people with the most carefully developed moral concepts and customs, have utterly failed to show any esteem for the feminine sex, and thus for conjugial love. The Chinese, whose moral code was gathered by Confucius, stressed sincerity and courtesy but placed woman outside of the pale of moral consideration. In the Hebrew and Christian ages, woman was held in contempt because she was supposed to be the cause of the fall of Adam into sin. The age of Knighthood to some extent helped to dignify and idealize womanhood. But in all past historic times, the tributes to woman's social importance were officially confined to acknowledging her supremacy in a limited sphere which the Germans quite solemnly describe by the words "Kirche, Kinder, Kiiche, and Kleider" (church, children, kitchen, and clothes). Yet as a matter of fact, in all ages, woman has privately had a status quite superior to this generalization, and this just so far as the special function of woman as the form of conjugial love has been appreciated. So far as the conjugial life is valued as the essential, central factor in society, so far the status of woman is elevated. It is not necessarily elevated by merely external concessions which give her a freedom to compete with man in forensic uses. For that freedom is merely an adjustment made necessary by the fact that many of the uses of the home were taken over by factories through machine production, and the tasks of the home became artificially limited to less absorbing routines.

"Male and Female made He them "

"Equality" between the two sexes is, of course, as much of an impossibility as equality among individuals; and any morality which is blind to the differences in the minds and uses of the two sexes, must soon break down. In the Writings the rationality and intelligence of women is not at all negated. But it is pointed out that their use of these gifts differs essentially from the manner in which men use them; and this has its effects in the character of feminine uses or functions.

This circumstance also accounts for the fact that the morality of a woman is judged by a different standard than that of a man. Those who in modern times have attempted to stress the equality of the sexes, have sometimes pointed out the injustice done to women by the existence of a "double standard of morality". And in actual fact, men have excused and exonerated themselves of serious crimes against the conjugial, by the argument that the standard of morality does not apply to men in matters of chastity.

Now the strange and disturbing thing is, that in recent years, since this injustice has attracted considerable notice, and a "single standard" has been advocated, the effect has been not to judge men according to the purer standard of women, but to lower the standard of feminine virtue to the level formerly condoned only in men: or, in short, to advocate a single standard of immorality, instead of a single standard of morality! But whatever is advanced or practiced, the fact remains that the personal and social results of such immorality will affect women with graver consequences, more tragic, lasting and profound, than is the case with men who commit similar offenses. And behind this fact lies a law not of man's making.

We are told that in heaven young men are loved for their morality, and maidens for their beauty (CL 442). This is, among these heavenly youth, the ground of a chaste love of the sex. Beauty, in heaven, is from conjugial love. And women are the native forms of that love. It is this that makes them lovable (CL 22) and is their fundamental virtue on which all their uses rest. Youths in heaven, on the other hand, are forms of certain other virtues which are more generally called Morality. This moral excellence in the youth and the beauty and elegance of manner in the maidens "correspond to each other, as mutual and co-adaptable forms" (CL 44=).

The moral virtues which specifically are fundamental to each sex are therefore not the same. Men's uses, which we call forensic, utterly depend on such virtues as industry, civility, truthfulness, courage, temperance, honesty and dependability (probity), and sincerity, With a man, such virtues as these are the starting point of all other virtues, such as chastity and friendship and loyalty. If a man loses the primary masculine virtues, and proves dishonest and lazy and cowardly and treacherous, then he destroys his usefulness and loses his very soul, along with the respect of his fellow men. A woman, however, can be forgiven for incivility, evasion of truth, dissembling, extreme judgments, and unreliability in many things. Yet if she squanders her virtue as to chastity, she gives up, with small hopes of recovery, that which with her is the center and mainspring for all the other virtues. Her reputation and honor and safety, yea, her very salvation, are then endangered, and her use in life is impaired.

Men and women are judged differently, by all who see from mercy and reason. The source of virtue is a different source in each sex. Yet morality implies that no man, no woman, shall hide behind the weakness of his or her sex, or pamper such weaknesses. But it is of Providence that all are not alike, equally strong in every moral excellence. For the regenerating man or woman, by self-exploration and repentance, recognizes his or her own weakness, and so comes to look with admiration and love to one in the opposite sex who possesses those virtues that are lacking in him or in her. Marriage is therefore the normal state in which the complete human life can be found, and by which two individuals freely merge their virtues and their uses until they two are seen as one angel-form.

And yet the cynics tell us that marriage is a failure. But what they know as marriage is but a parody of the real marriage. To expect happiness from a matrimonial venture both of greed or passing illusion or sudden passion, is to be blind to all human experience and deaf to all moral laws. For people who have grown weary of waiting for love to come, or have put little curb on selfishness, or simply look for economic convenience and a merely external congeniality, for such the intimacies of marriage must mean only a striving for domination, increasing opportunities for irritation, or at best a retirement of each partner's mind into hiding from the other, while affections and opinions are suppressed for the sake of an outward toleration.

Joining the church cannot assure us of salvation, without a faith of charity. Even heaven cannot bring happiness to those who, unprepared, enter its gates. How, then, can marriage bring its real blessings unless we make it a marriage in spiritual reality?

In the New Church we are given the promise that the marriage of conjugial love shall be restored. It will be given to those who follow the clear directions which the Lord has provided in the Writings. But it cannot be appropriated except by partners who shun, as sins against God, the evils of adultery, the love of dominating over others, and the practice of deceit. "These three things, especially, do those shun who will be of the New Jerusalem" (SD 6053). And where conjugial love reigns in a home, there will also be a love of use, and a grateful readiness to assume the responsibility of rearing children and watching that their tender minds grow to love the things of wisdom. In this and other uses of the home, the partners will be united more and more in mutual confidence and in internal blessedness of life.

It is the formative stages of such a real marriage which are described for the New Church in the work on Conjugial Love. These stages are marked with certain customs, rites, and sacred ceremonies, which we are to consider so that we may rationally consent that they "are inscribed on conjugial love, as requisite to promote it and complete it" (CL 295). All the moral virtues combine to urge that love should follow this order, that the uses of marriage may be protected.

Marriage is the supreme and most comprehensive of all natural uses. Through the growth of external civilization, however, the uses of the family have been distributed by specialization into Society; and in the following chapter we shall touch on a final group of virtues peculiarly necessary in forensic uses.

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