Anthony Esolen: The sick need mercy, especially a man at odds with his own body. But compromise principles? Never. Jesus never did.
When the Pharisees came to Jesus to ask for what reasons a man might put away his woman, Jesus does not refer to the opinions of Hillel or Shammai, the titans of the previous generation of rabbis – the one liberal, the other conservative. He goes even behind the law of Moses, which he says does not express the intention of the Creator from the beginning, but which was, in this matter, a concession to the hardness of men’s hearts.
“From the beginning of creation,” he says, echoing the first word of Scripture, “he made them male and female. And for this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his woman, and the two shall be one flesh. So they are no more two, but one flesh. Then what God has yoked together, let man not put asunder” (Mark 10:6-8; translation mine). When the disciples, stunned, ask Jesus about it privately, he does not soften his judgment: “Whoever puts away his woman and marries another, commits adultery with her.”
That is as stunning a condemnation as you can find. The Greek verb moichaomai is used in the Septuagint to refer also to unfaithfulness to God, as in the worship of idols. The association is common in the Old Testament. If you worship Baal or Moloch or Dagon, you are like a man going after whores.
We must not think that the authors have in mind only an attitude of unfaithfulness. Baal and Moloch and Dagon are not gods: they are not the Creator. It is an offense to the Creator to worship them, and stupid to boot, because they are the works of man. You might take a block of wood and carve an idol or a chamberpot; it does not matter to the wood. You might take your idol and toss it into the fire to warm your fingers. How stupid, to worship a thing like that!
To get creation wrong, to fall in adoration of your chamberpot, is as filthy a thing, then, as to go a-whoring, and as stupid and self-destructive; but to go a-whoring, which is what Jesus says a man does when he puts away his woman and marries another, is to get creation wrong, and the Creator.
Here we see the apostasy of our time, tumescent and foolish, in broad daylight.
The Pharisees were seeking a good social custom. Jesus does not refer to custom. He refers to creation, and the intent of the Creator as manifest in the creation. He points out the plain fact: we are made male and female, and male and female are what they are so that they will come together and become one flesh.
The word one and the idea it expresses are central to Jewish and Christian faith: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord, the Lord your God is one,” not two, and since that is so, we must love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, not parceling out our love, some to God, and some to Baal or the chamberpot. Because the Lord our God is one and not two, we must love our neighbor as ourself; the same God who made us made him too.
In none of this do we hear anything about a man’s feelings. For we are not talking about interior dispositions, but about bodily beings, obvious to all. The man is for the woman, the woman is for the man. Indeed, there is no special word, in Hebrew or Greek, to denote “husband” and “wife,” because a man is to be a man for a woman, and a woman to be a woman for a man.
Many languages reflect that ontological fact: in German, a woman who refers to her “Mann” means her husband, and a man who refers to his “Frau,” his “woman,” means his wife. Early modern English too: the word “wife” in “I now pronounce you man and wife” meant “woman” in the general sense; a “fishwife” is not the wife of a fish, but a woman who sells fish.
That being-for, in the mutuality of sexual distinction and sexual congress, is inscribed in the forms of our bodies. Every sexual sin is in some way an attack on the body and its objective meanings, which are conferred not by man but by God.
If I believe, however, that I am the one who endows my body with its meaning, even if I appeal to feelings over which I think I have no power, I have displaced the Creator. Nowhere does Scripture suggest that God has created our passions, and nowhere does Jesus suggest that our passions are justified because we happen to have them.
To commit fornication, even with the best will in the world, is to deny the obvious, that the child-making thing is for making a child. To commit adultery is to tear the one flesh in two. To riffle through a porn magazine, one-handed, is to turn sex into a disembodied and lonely passion.
Sodom now forges the artillery of attack against the body created by God. Soon it will be scientists in the grip of ennui and ambition, denying a meaning to “human,” and longing to merge us with the beast or the machine.
The intermediate term between Sodom and the Borg is the madness of the “transgender,” replacing natural sex with the mechanical and pharmaceutical, all to be dictated by the individual will, which says, as in all sins, “I am my own.” Beneath it all lies a hatred of created reality. It is either evil or meaningless, mere stuff for our manipulation.
Persons warrant our mercy, especially the sick, and who is sicker than a man at odds with his own body? Principles, never. Jesus never gave up one inch to an evil principle. It is hard for us wretches to be both merciful with men and merciless with evil principles. Too bad; it is our task.
Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest books are Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture. He directs the Center for the Restoration of Catholic Culture at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts.
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