Out of wedlock

This is a misleading phrase, for it implies that matrimony once existed. It did, I think, in the case of my parents, and sundry other adults in that generation and before, but truth to tell, their definition of marriage was already in conflict with “progressive values.”

Of course, we still have “family law,” as a kind of place-holder to deal with pseudo-marital arrangements, and in the way “dignity” now exists as a fanciful legal aspiration. We must act to prevent ourselves from sliding too visibly into the icky; but as our slovenly, amoral conception of ickiness now takes command, we cannot possibly stay dry.

“But everyone knows what you mean by marriage!” may be quickly dismissed. The assumption is that there was a clear definition in the past, that could (theoretically) be revived. But “the past is a foreign country,” as L. P. Hartley wrote in a popular cliché; “they do things differently there.” Thinking back only to my own youth, I realize what is irretrievable.

A lady correspondent (once the art director of the Idler) has forwarded a Twitter Essay on this topic by Rafael de Arízaga. Apparently, a systematic Catholic thinker, he begins by considering Catholic dating. He says that dating “sucks” (to say nothing of “dating discourse”) because we no longer observe gender rôles. In other words, we no longer have men and women. By the end of his first paragraph we can see the whole argument anticipated.

If we replaced “gender” with the word “sex,” some light might filter in.

That marriage happens, statistically, less than it once did, and is taken less seriously when it happens, is easy to see, just as we might remember that it was formerly the judicial bedrock to which our, and other, civilizations were anchored. “One man and one woman till death” is a form of communication, that becomes inter-generational upon maturing. Husband and wife come to define each other — as father, mother, and the other relations that progressive American courts are now ripping down.

More than this is to be “re-invented,” or discarded. Arízaga mentions paternity, maternity, filiation, fraternity, widowhood, consanguinity among the relations into which the law intruded, by way of hinting how we should behave in our stations. Young unmarried men (and more recently, women) have long been watched as a danger to social order. Getting them to regular convents and nunneries, before they could express themselves in appallingly original ways, was once a societal imperative.

But for many, “Freedom” is just another word, for the destruction of such institutions, and sub-institutions, going back before Roman times. Freedom, for the liberal of mind, exists purely in negation.

Consider: “Simple fornication is contrary to the love of our neighbour, because it is opposed to the good of the child to be born.” St Thomas Aquinas makes this point (at Iª–IIae, q. 90, a. 2), and a mildly intelligent person should grasp what he means by it, and how far it will extend.

In love, we build. In building, we must think things through. Fornication, or marriage?