I had intended for this to be my final post (at least for some time) on Christianity and philosophia. But my own recent experiences and a request from a fellow parishioner have prodded me to focus my attention on Christian philosophia and the Sacrament, or Mystery, of Marriage and concomitant fatherhood. So my concluding thoughts will have to come next time.
It should go without saying that if one wants to know deeper and more worthwhile thoughts than mine on Christian fatherhood, one should talk to the sort of Christian man who has seen daughters enter the convent or become khourias, matushkas and presbyteras and has seen sons become priests and monastics, who has seen his grandchildren baptized, and whose wife embodies Proverbs 31. That is the sort of man St. Paul envisions in 1 Timothy 3:4 and Ephesians 5:21-6:9.
Further, one must also be adamant about that fact that marriage and fatherhood are subsumed within the Christian philosophia, within the Christian way of life, and are not ends to themselves, or separate ways of life. One should be cautious about using such terms as “balancing” marriage or parenthood and a career since this gives rise to the sort of compartmentalizing thought that fragments life and fractures that which should be whole. One does not add marriage and fatherhood to one’s life as though to one’s resume. Rather, marriage and fatherhood, if they are to be full, complete and joyful, must be grounded in and arise from within the Christian philosophia. For only the philosophia that is Christianity can give them life and meaning.
We see this precisely in the haustafel passage in Ephesians 5:21-6:9. It must not be forgotten that Ephesians 5 follows Ephesians 4, and that Ephesians 4 itself comes from Ephesians 1-3. For if
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and insight, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, for an administration of the fullness of the times, He might bring together all things in Christ, those in heaven and those on the earth–In Him. (Ephesians 1:7-10)
He subjected all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him filling all things in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23)
you are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)
then when St. Paul writes about the Christian household in Ephesians 5:21-6:9, it is clear that such a household comes out of the reality of the Church, the household of God, founded in and on Christ.
This means, of course, that marriage and fatherhood will be grounded in the same logoi, or principles, the same dialogos, or discourse, and the same askeses, or soulish exercises, that form the philosophia that is Christianity. Just as the Holy Eucharist is the central Sacrament of the Church’s life, so, too, is the Holy Eucharist the central Sacrament of marriage and fatherhood. Just as Christian discourse is grounded in the Creed, so, too are marriage and fatherhood grounded. Just as fasting, prayer and almsgiving are the “ good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10), so, too, do these mark out the formation of Christians husbands for their wives (and wives for their husbands) and of Christian fathers for their children.
For the Christian husband, the procreation and nurture of children is both the natural and concomitant obligation and responsibility that accompanies this one-fleshed covenant. That children are no longer thought of as an obvious and integral part of marriage in our society is surely a strong indication of its fallenness into the demonic hatred of life. This does not negate the legitimate, though rare, vocation of a couple toward married celibacy, nor does it entail a condemnation and judgment on those couples who are infertile. The one is a calling that must be confirmed by the Church and has produced not a few saints, the other is pathway that must be ministered to by the Church and has likewise produced not a few saints. But both of these are exceptions that prove the rule. Children are the natural procreative end of the union of man and wife, and the embodiment of the conjugal fidelity, trust, love and joy which knit the two lives together.
That is to say, for the Christian husband, marriage is not about individual satisfaction and fulfillment, but about giving himself up for wife and children, as did Christ for the Church, in an act of love that accomplishes the presentation of his family before God in holiness (Ephesians 5:25-33). That is to say, a Christian husband and father sees his marital and paternal duties to be not the mere physical provision necessary to his home (though this is not discounted in any way), but rather that even the procurement of physical provision is focused on and in the life of repentance and sanctification Christ makes real for his Church. This may very well mean that the Christian husband and father sets aside the career he once envisioned for himself, or his various pursuits and desires, as a hindrance and obstacle to the salvation of his wife and children. In a very real sense, the headship of the Christian husband and father embodies for his family–and the watching world–St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3). If for Christ to do the will of his Father and to accomplish his work was his food (John 4:34), then the Christian husband and father will not find life and peace anywhere else.
Perhaps the one distinctive feature of marriage and of Christian fatherhood, especially as these reflect the way of life, the philosophia of the Church, is the understanding that our Lord’s is a Kingdom “not of this world” (John 18:36). This means that the concerns of a Christian husband and father, reflective as they are of the Christian philosophia, are oriented not toward this-worldly satisfaction and success, but toward the Kingdom that has already broken into this world and is our inheritance and home. For the Christian husband and father, this may well mean crucifying his own deep and natural longings for grandchildren and a paternal legacy to foster and encourage a monastic vocation in his children. It will certainly mean the most difficult task of inculcating in his children a holy distaste for the ungodly aspects of our culture, particularly its deadly self-absorption, gluttonous consumption and unbridled lust. It will mean that from the wedding and from conception onward, he will have to build into his marriage and his children an identification with the Church and her Lord that is as deep and as natural as breathing. All this of course is predicated on the fact that the Christian husband and father is himself living a life of repentance characterized by this Kingdom orientation.
In other words, Christian marriage and Christian fatherhood are themselves particular embodiments of a distinctive way of life that both silently condemns the surrounding culture and embodies for it the good news of life in Christ, the way of life that sets of Christianity from all other philosophiai.
[The remainder of the posts in this series can be found here.]