Outlook Issue 15 Winter 2011
News and Views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
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Wise Words on Marriage
Wise Words on Marriage When the Church of England broke with Roman Catholicism in 1534 it prepared a series of standard sermons on a variety of subjects, from good works and charity to gluttony, drunkenness and rebellion. These were known as ‘The Homilies’ and a first book was published in 1547. I recently came across a copy of the Homilies while browsing in a second-hand bookshop in Hay-on-Wye. Just before the recent royal wedding I thought it would be interesting to read the Homily on ‘The State of Matrimony’. This Homily looks at why a marriage can go wrong. The reason the author (probably Bishop Jewel) gives for a deteriorating relationship is refreshingly different to a modern perspective. It suggests that in matrimony when husband and wife are at peace, in concord, there results such a powerful spur to the spiritual life of both that the devil seeks to sow discord between them through an increase in self will. The remedy given is that both husband and wife need to “make regular and earnest prayer to God, that he should govern both your hearts by his Holy Spirit, to restrain the devil’s power, whereby your concord may remain perpetually”. The Homily also discusses the now contentious issue of the duties of men and women in marriage. Starting from the now highly unfashionable description in the Epistle of Peter of the woman as the weaker vessel, Bishop Jewel repeatedly counsels the necessity of forbearance, ‘being the leader and author of love’ and ‘giving honour to the wife’ on the part of the husband whatever he thinks the wife may have done. He should not disturb the peace of the marriage by ‘thinking their part is to fume in anger and fight with fist and staff’. The duty of the wife to obey the husband is set out but in a very much milder way than the duties of the husband are given: the example of Sarah Abraham’s wife who followed quietly is held up as a role model. Overall, the Homily offers a vision of matrimony where ‘husbands may have the fellowship of our wives … in great quiet and rest. For this state of life will be more honourable and comfortable than our houses, than our servants, than money, than goods and possessions, than all things that can be told’. This is something definitely worth praying for. Whilst the language of the homily does not sit easily with modern day ideas of equality of the sexes, the description of matrimony as state of quiet and restful unity of two lives in one still does. John Davis