It is clear to anyone of good sense nowadays that something is very wrong within the Church when it comes to marriage. Divorce, once near unheard of, has become so commonplace as to be an accepted part of life. The median and mean age of marriage continues to get pushed back. And many young Millenials have decided that they simply won’t marry, for a variety of reasons. Marriage among Christians has never been in a more precarious position.
This crisis has come about due to a multitude of factors: no-fault (aka unilateral) divorce, rampant promiscuity, legalized and easily available contraception and abortion, feminism and the elevation of romantic love are just a few of them. As Christians living in a post-Christian culture, there is little or nothing we can do about many of these. In many respects it seems that the only thing that Christian parents can do is educate their children in the faith and impart as much moral guidance in them as possible. But this isn’t true. There is something that Christian parents can do, something that used to be done, the absence of which is amongst the many reasons why marriage is in such a poor state today.
What is this “something” that parents can do to help their children?
They can actively work to help their children marry young.
Parents used to do this- they used to seek out wives and husbands for their sons and daughters. They used to help arrange marriages for their children at a young age. [Contrary to popular myth, an arranged marriage is not the same thing as a forced marriage; the latter were terribly uncommon, generally found only among the nobility.]
Unfortunately, this practice, like so many others, has fallen to the wayside in recent decades/centuries. Our love of freedom and independence has lead most parents to let their children handle matters of marriage all by themselves. Ostensibly this is because young Christian men and women have the right to choose their own future for themselves. Yet in practice what is really going on is that young Christians are being thrown to the wolves- they are thrust out into a broken Marriage Marketplace that chews most of them up. A lucky few manage to make it through unscathed, but most are caught up in either promiscuity or involuntary celibacy.
Sadly, few Christians seem to be willing to take the steps which will help their children escape this fate. Again, the solution is very simple, with just two components:
1) Help their children find worthy spouse candidates…
2) and help them marry those candidates while they are young.
The excuses are many as to why parents won’t help their children out here, and amusingly enough, they aren’t original either. My research into the early history of the Church has lead me to discover that the advice I and others are giving now has been around for a long, long time. Here is what Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople and Doctor of the Church, had to say on the subject of parents raising their children and caring out their souls:
Hear this, ye fathers and mothers, that your bringing up of children shall not lose its reward. This also he says, as he proceeds, “Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children.” (1 Tim. v.10.) Among other commendations he reckons this one, for it is no light praise to devote to God those children which are given them of God. For if the basis, the foundation which they lay be good, great will be their reward; as great, if they neglect it, will be their punishment. It was on account of his children that Eli perished. For he ought to have admonished them, and indeed he did admonish them, but not as he ought; but from his unwillingness to give them pain he destroyed both himself and them. Hear this, ye fathers, bring your children up with great care “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Eph. vi.4.) Youth is wild, and requires many governors, teachers, directors, attendants, and tutors; and after all these, it is a happiness if it be restrained. For as a horse not broken in, or a wild beast untamed, such is youth. But if from the beginning, from the earliest age, we fix it in good rules, much pains will not be required afterwards; for good habits formed will be to them as a law. Let us not suffer them to do anything which is agreeable, but injurious; nor let us indulge them, as forsooth but children. Especially let us train them in chastity, for there is the very bane of youth. For this many struggles, much attention will be necessary. Let us take wives for them early, so that their brides may receive their bodies pure and unpolluted, so their loves will be more ardent. He that is chaste before marriage, much more will he be chaste after it; and he that practiced fornication before, will practice it after marriage. “All bread,” it is said, “is sweet to the fornicator.” (Ecclus. xxiii.17.) Garlands are wont to be worn on the heads of bridegrooms, as a symbol of victory, betokening that they approach the marriage bed unconquered by pleasure. But if captivated by pleasure he has given himself up to harlots, why does he wear the garland, since he has been subdued?
Let us admonish them of these things. Let us employ sometimes advice, sometimes warnings, sometimes threatening. In children we have a great charge committed to us. Let us bestow great care upon them, and do everything that the Evil One may not rob us of them. But now our practice is the very reverse of this. We take all care indeed to have our farm in good order, and to commit it to a faithful manager, we look out for it an ass-driver, and muleteer, and bailiff, and a clever accomptant. But we do not look out for what is much more important, for a person to whom we may commit our son as the guardian of his morals, though this is a possession much more valuable than all others. It is for him indeed that we take such care of our estate. We take care of our possessions for our children, but of the children themselves we take no care at all.What an absurdity is this! Form the soul of thy son aright, and all the rest will be added hereafter. If that is not good, he will derive no advantage from his wealth, and if it is formed to goodness he will suffer no harm from poverty. Wouldest thou leave him rich? teach him to be good: for so he will be able to acquire wealth, or if not, he will not fare worse than they who possess it. But if he be wicked, though you leave him boundless wealth, you leave him no one to take care of it, and you render him worse than those who are reduced to extreme poverty. For poverty is better than riches for those children who are not well-disposed. For it retains them in some degree of virtue even against their will. Whereas money does not suffer those who would be sober to continue so, it leads them away, ruins them, and plunges them into infinite dangers.
The above quote is from his Ninth Homily on First Letter to Timothy. Written over 1600 years ago, Saint John Chrysostom’s words ring true now just as they did in the early days of the Church. There is so much wisdom contained therein that I am not sure where to begin in dissecting and analyzing these two paragraphs. Here is but a brief encapsulation of his sage advice and teaching, along with my thoughts about it:
– Parents ought to be concerned most of raising their children to be virtuous. Nothing else is nearly so important. If they raise them well, great will be their reward. Raise them poorly, and the punishment accordingly great.
- This sentiment is now mostly lacking in Christian parents. Rather than raise their children to be virtuous, they raise them to be successful. How many of you have heard parents brag about the successes of their children? About the great deeds they are accomplishing, or the bright future they have ahead of them? Then ponder, if you have the stomach for it, on how many times you’ve heard parents praise the virtue of their children, and deeds which clearly manifest that virtue (as compared to the modern equivalent of blowing a horn ahead of them).
– Rather than be given great license, young Christians need to be restrained, disciplined and mentored. Discipline applied at an early age will bear fruit later in life.
- This advice is so eminently true and obvious you almost wonder why it need be said. But sadly there are some Christian parents who clearly need it, because they spoil their children and give them free reign. What befalls those children later is entirely tragic, and entirely foreseeable.
– Train children to be chaste. The best way to do this is for them to marry young (especially sons). Promiscuity before marriage weakens the marital bonds, and invites future sin.
- Preaching young marriage is counter-cultural even in the Church these days. I know plenty of Christians who advocate that people “wait” to marry, including many parents. They seem to have little to no concern about the dangers of temptation when they thrust their children out in a world that is fully of vice and promiscuity. Speaking from personal experience, I know that it is extraordinarily difficult to maintain a virtuous life while still single, especially in this culture. The temptations and frustrations are incredible, and many will not be up to the challenge.
– Parents take more care preparing their property for their children then they do actually raising their children. They spend a great deal of time thinking about who will work with their son, but not stop to think of who will marry him and whom he will spend his whole life with. If a child has strong morals, and is full of virtue, then they will get through life safely and securely. No amount of wealth can cover deficiencies in character or virtue.
- This part I found disturbingly prescient. I mean, isn’t he describing the general phenomenon of parents sending their kids off to college to get an education and develop a career to a T? Parents are doing everything they can to prepare their children to succeed at life in all areas except (for many) the most important: marriage. This is an obvious recipe for disaster.
In conclusion, Christian parents these days need to reconsider how they are raising their children. Are they raising them to succeed at worldly matters, or are they raising them to excel at loving God and keeping His commandments? Unfortunately, most nearly everyone in the Church has, whether willingly or not, conformed to the world. While we may profess different things from our secular brothers and sisters, we act little different when it comes to raising our children. This needs to change.
A vital step in that change is the role Christian parents play when it comes to their children and marriage. Christian parents need to reject the secular approach of leaving marriage entirely to their children. Instead, they need to get involved early, and often, in their children’s lives to help prepare and train them to marry well. The effort begun with the Courtship Pledge by Scott and Mychael is an example of how Christian parents can do their part to change how Christians look at and understand marriage. This project, and efforts like it, is critical to restoring Christian marriage and raising up a new generation of virtuous Christians who will bring light to the world.
I would entreat all Christian parents reading this to ask themselves what they are doing to prepare their children to live virtuous lives, what they are doing to help their children maintain their virtue, what they are doing to prepare their children for marriage, and what they are doing to help their children find and marry a worthy spouse. Then ask yourselves what more you can do for those entrusted into your care, so that you might not lose your reward.
[This is cross-posted over at the Courtship Pledge]