“Those who are enjoying something, or suffering something, together, are companions. Those who enjoy or suffer one another, are not.” – That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis in the third and last book of his Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength, has a unique emphasis on the sacrament or practice of Marriage. He, to show the importance of the theme of marriage in the book, starts the book with the words of the Anglican Book of Common Worship. It states, “Matrimony was ordained, thirdly, for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have for the other.” (1) This then creates a theme for Lewis to use in the relation of his two main characters, the newly married Mark and Jane Studdock. The overall theme of That Hideous Strength is that a proper education, use of language, and knowledge of divine institutions will provide for a society rooted in objective truth; paired with Lewis’ Abolition of Man, it aims to show the need for objective truth in a society. Although many readers overlook this theme of marriage in the book, I believe that Lewis describes what he believes to be the objective truth of marital love.
Lewis thoughts on Marriage can be summarized in the first conversation of Dr. Ransom and Jane, the wife. Jane, who is one of the keys to the coming battle of Good and Evil, is about to meet Dr. Ransom, the leader of the forces of Good. Many would think that the good Doctor would talk to her of strategy, but rather he talks with Jane almost entirely about her marriage to Mark. This conversation, I believe, symbolizes one of Lewis’ main themes in That Hideous Strength and also in many of his other works; it is this: that the key to bringing good to any society is to correctly understand and display the institutions of God in a habitual manner. This would include the correct understanding of the church, the family unit, friendship, work, recreation, and the topic of this essay, marriage.
This leads me to my first point. Understanding correct marital love is essential for the benefit of one’s specific community. A marriage, that is correctly understood and enacted in a community, acts as a light to those trying to understand how it should correctly work. Marriage, then, can be compared to a complete picture of a puzzle. Those wishing to understand marriage and complete its puzzle, can thus look to the correct understanding found in a Christian marriage to know the way to complete it. Although, I am afraid this illustration falls apart, because marriage is a puzzle that can never be fully solved until our sin nature is eradicated. I am not trying to say that a couple can have a “complete/perfect” marriage, but rather that they can have the mechanisms to actualize a fulfilling marriage.
This action again reminds us of nature of love. Love displays God. Part one of this series described the necessity of Christian love toward one another as the way in which God displays Himself to the world. This love for one another does not only manifest yourself in the church, but rather it starts with your everyday life and particularly, your spouse, if married. The world can and will see how you treat your loved ones. Marital love then also displays God’s love to the world around you, and as part one described, this comes back to the imitation of Christ which is found in living a life of humble sacrifice. This is the great paradox of losing your life in order to find it, to die in order to live.
Pope John Paul II described the public picture of marriage as this. “Christian spouses and parents can and should offer their unique and irreplaceable contribution to the elaboration of an authentic evangelical discernment in the various situations and cultures in which men and women live their marriage and their family life. They are qualified for this role by their charism or specific gift, the gift of the sacrament of matrimony.” (2) Marriage is evangelistic in the sense that you act differently/truthfully in the same cultural situations that all other families find themselves in. But what characterizes a correct Marital relationship?
Let us return to the conversation between Dr. Ransom and Jane. Jane, who is angered at her husband will defend one major point, which, ironically, our modern culture loves to triumph as well; this point is the necessity of equality for a flourishing relationship. Jane defends her belief by pointing to Mark’s inadequacies, his faults. She says to Dr. Ransom, “I don’t think I look on marriage quite as you do,” (3) and that is exactly what the problem is with Jane’s view. She views equality as what she individually thinks it is, and her problem is with with the way Mark individually views things. If marriage is done with complete equality, nothing could ever be done. It would be a crippling stand still, a stalemate in which no one could make any progress. Logically speaking a 50/50 relationship could never work. Perhaps you will say, “well, this is where sacrifice comes in,” but to that I would say: if both parties sacrifice for the benefit of the other then you have the same stalemate thus switched. The wife, sacrificing for the husband, takes his position and the husband, sacrificing for his wife, takes her position. Thus a decision remains unreached, but it is now unreached for the sake of sacrifice.
So what is the answer to equality? Simply, it is obedience. Dr. Ransom during the continuing conversation with Jane humbly presents his belief on what marriage should be. Lewis, through Ransom, shows the unique relationship of marriage: that a wife respectfully submits to her husband and the husband unconditionally loves and sacrifices for the wife. Perhaps Lewis was reminded of the story of Hosea and Gomer. The entirety of Hosea is of the husband unconditionally loving his disobedient bride who repeatedly cheats on her husband. He easily could have said, “I have an equal right to sleep around,” or “I have an equal right to divorce you,” but rather Hosea submit to an unconditional love in the hope of restoring Gomer, his adulterous wife. The same way, when a wife respectfully follows an adulterous/evil husband, not in the evil acts, she does so in the hopes of restoring his unconditional love to her. This is the position that Jane, who is a follower of the Good, will eventually take with her husband, Mark, who is currently following the Evil. Jane does not submit to the point where she violates her conscience and the Good, but in every situation that does not violate goodness and God she follows Mark.
Jane, though, in order to get to this point has to listen to the instruction of Dr. Ransom. Ransom in his talk with Jane constantly reminds her that if she wants to make progress with her husband, screaming for equality will never work, rather, humbly serving him as far as she can, will work. Ransom lovingly tells Jane, “You do not fail in obedience through lack of love, but you have lost love because you have never attempted obedience.” (4) Jane then proclaims, “I thought love meant equality and free companionship” (5) to which Ransom returns, “Yes, we must all be guarded by equal rights from one another’s greed, because we are fallen….equality guards life; (but) it doesn’t make it. It is medicine, not food.” (6) This goes with part one of this series “On Love and the Nature of God.” This is the same problem we faced in the first article. Instead of love being active, it has become passive. Love is now reactionary. This is what Lewis is arguing against. Marital love should not be one reacting to a plea for equal rights, it should be an active giving of oneself to the betterment of the other. Ransom, to enforce this, then states, “Those who are enjoying something, or suffering something together, are companions. Those who only enjoy or suffer one another, are not.” (7) Lewis wants his reader to see that this modern “love” of equality or tolerance is not equality at all; it is the opposite. It cause a wife/husband dichotomy instead of wife/husband unity. According to Lewis, “obedience – humility – is an erotic (marital) necessity.” (8) Jane had been, “putting equality just where it ought not to be.” (9)
Again love is not equality. Love is comfort, but not in the modern sense. Love comes alongside someone to strengthen them. This is what is meant by comfort. You “fort”-ify the one you love. This means telling them when they are wrong. To do anything less is to actually dislike, even hate, the person. For, if you know the truth and do not try and persuade the people you love of the truth, you in fact prove that your love for them is shallow and passive, but this loving persuasion must be paired with humility. This is what Jane embodies. She is the wife who, when she finds “the Good,” both acts humbly and begs her husband to reconsider what he is doing because he is countering what is true. It is with this pairing of truth and humility that Mark returns to his wife. The book begins with Jane doubting the concept of marriage and fidelity, and it ends with Jane and Mark being reunited in a deeper understanding of love.
This is then the epitome of marital love: imitation of Christ. It is the combination of humility and truth. Lewis does not mention this in That Hideous Strength, but it is seen in his other writings, and it is seen in the writings of all the great doctors and teachers of the Church. As part one of this examination of love stated, we know what true love is, because God displayed His love in the God-man, Jesus Christ. It is by this we can see, experience, and partake in love. So what does marital love look like from our knowledge of Christ?
1. Marital love is sacrificial: The same way Christ sacrificed himself for the church so should the husband and wife sacrifice for each other each day. If it comes to it, the man should love his wife so much to physically die for her.
2. Marital Love is forgiving: The same way Christ forgave sinners of their trespasses, so the husband and wife should forgive each other of their sins. I would even argue that Christ allowing for a divorce in sexual sin situations, is not Him desiring it. It is the exception to the rule of fidelity but not the rule. Again, Christ’s forgiveness is unconditional, and so should ours. This can be seen in the account of Hosea and Gomer.
3. Marital Love should be gracious: There will be times in the journey of marriage where each spouse will grow at a faster rate, and there will be times where each spouse fails. It is important for each spouse to extend grace when grace is due. Use failure as a means of growth. Christ did so with his disciples, do so with your spouse.
4. Marital Love does not retaliate: sometimes a spouse will become frustrated and will wrongly be angered. It is important to remember that Christ did not retaliate when he was wrongly accused but acted humbly. In doing this you will show them their error. If you retaliate, Christ is not imitated and love is not displayed.
5. Marital love is faithful: when the disciples deserted Christ, Christ did not desert them. He died for them. There will be times when your spouse figuratively deserts you, and it is your job to remember that Christ is unconditionally faithful.
6. Marital love bears burdens: Christ carried the burden of the cross and the weight of world’s sin. It is therefore your job as Galatians 6 states to carry the burden of your spouse in love. If they are struggling with a burden, it becomes your burden as well. Remember, you are co-journeyers that are united as one.
Last and not least. One that is very often overlooked.
7. Marital love is manifested in bearing children: The same way Christ is the Son of God, so we imitate God in the fact that we produce children as well. Adam was created in the image of God, and Adam then had a son in his image. This is the image of sonship. For, If Christ is the exact image of God, why is this so? Because, Christ is his Son of God, eternally begotten. Humans then imitate God’s “nature” in the birth of children. Children then are an act of sanctification for parents. Marriage involves having children.
As a wife obeys, and a husband loves unconditionally, they mutually seek to obey God and His commandment to love one another. Remember Dr. Ransom’s warning? Love is not about suffering and enjoying one another, but suffering and enjoying things together. Marital love is focused on how to approach situations, ideas, and people together as one, not about how to approach each other in various situations. You are co-journeyers, living life together, helping each other. Marriage is the beginning of a journey; it is not a destination, and this journey will challenge you. You will be forced to work together to endure hardships. You will help each other in the “so-called” mundane tasks of raising children, making a budget, shopping, and cooking, and you will realize that these “so-called” mundane acts are some of the greatest growing points. When your spouse falters, and you come alongside to strengthen them, you will see the beauty of the cross. The one who falls will see grace, and the one who carries the burden will see a changed life. And, as the two, united as one, do these mundane, public acts for all to see they, if imitating Christ, will display the love of God to their community.
1. Lewis, C. S. That Hideous Strength. London: Voyager, 2003. Print. pg 11.
2. Hogan, Richard M., and John Paul. Covenant of Love: Pope John Paul II on Sexuality, Marriage, and Family in the Modern World. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985. Print.
3. Lewis, C. S. That Hideous Strength. London: Voyager, 2003. Print. pg. 144.
4. Ibid. pg. 144.
5. Ibid. pg 145.
6. Ibid. pg. 145.
7. Ibid. pg. 145.
8. Ibid. pg 146.
9. Ibid. pg. 146.