Speaking with Nausicaa, the first mortal he meets after seven years of captivity, Odysseus shares his thoughts on marriage. Like-mindedness, he tells her, is a married couple’s “best claim to glory.” Possessing two minds that work as one makes them “a joy to their friends, a sorrow to their enemies.” Odysseus loved Penelope, but in this brief exchange with a young lady eager to marry, he points to a truth we risk forgetting today: Marriage is not all about love.
Marriage has been about many things throughout history. It's been about property, politics, money, and even about the subjugation (and sometimes protection) of women. It's also been about family and about raising children. What all of these purposes have in common is that they make marriage about something greater than the desires and emotions of the couple involved. Highlighting like-mindedness as the cornerstone of a strong marriage, Homer reminds us that marriage ought not be self-serving. A married couple must be able to work together for the good of their community.
Jesus, who was Love made man, taught that marriage is about kinship. He said that the one-flesh bond is the reason why a person leaves the home they were raised in and starts a new one. He used this framework to set very narrow rules for allowing divorce, confirming that marriage concerns more than the two people directly involved.
Plato wanted to abolish marriage, believing it was harmful to the interests of the state. The bond of kinship that Jesus exalted seems to have scared him—a society of individuals that value kin is hard to control even for a philosopher king. Plato wanted citizens to feel for the state what we feel for family, while Aristotle disagreed saying that familial sympathies cannot be transferred to the government because it would go against our nature. Marriage and the nuclear family mattered to Aristotle because he saw them as the first brick in the structure of a virtuous society.
In Christian thought, marriage has often been tied to the prevention of sin. Inspired by the statement in 1 Corinthians that it is better to marry than to burn with passion, Saint Augustine saw marriage as a sort of handicap—an aid for those of us who have no other way of controlling our lust. This leads to a view of marriage as a sacrament; an outward sign of the grace bestowed upon us by Christ. Aquinas’ view was a bit more nuanced. To him, marriage was grounded in natural law and tied to the rearing of children.
I base my own thoughts on marriage on Christ's teachings. I think marriage is about kinship and the obligations that come with it. Having often sided with Aristotle, I think Plato was wrong, or perhaps a little too right—the bonds of kinship help protect us from tyranny. I think about sex less than Augustine did, but I do think Aquinas was right in saying that faithful, monogamous marriages provide a healthy space for kids to grow. Marriage forces adults to grow, too, and this growth fosters kinder and more stable societies.
Love plays a role in marriage, but it is not enough, and it doesn't always win. Kinship comes from covenant: from commitment, and from the willingness to put another before oneself. Love helps us give our spouse grace, but to be happy in marriage we must be graceful even on days when love is not felt. I pray David and I remember that. I hope our marriage has a sense of mission and is outwardly focused. I want it to make us better friends to our friends, better servants to our community, better emulators of Christ. I’m not sure how often we’ll succeed, but we’re often of one mind, and that gives me hope.