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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Looking for Masculinity? Try the Classics

Fifth Sunday of Easter

In a Zenit interview last month (full read recommended), Providence College professor, Anthony Esolen, discusses the move afoot to rediscover masculinity, which touches nicely upon my recent post on the roles of man and woman in marriage. In response to a question about what ancient rememdies could we apply to address societal problems, such as high divorce rates, below replacement birthrates, and large numbers of children born into single parent families and increasing numbers of out of wedlock births, Professor Esolen responds with a truffle quiote about how classic literature may hold the keys to the solutions:

People can learn from both the Catholic and the Protestant literature of the past an appreciation for the wonder of the body, and of the virtue of chaste love.

They can learn from Dante that the love of man and woman is a glorious motif in the symphony of love fashioned by him who moves the sun and the other stars.

From Torquato Tasso and Edmund Spenser they can learn that the typical sin against love, occasioned by unchastity, does not so much stoke the flame of desire as it dampens it, making both the heart and the mind feeble, ineffectual.

From Spenser they can learn that marriage is not a private matter -- one of our greatest and silliest errors -- but a deeply social bond that unites those two fascinatingly different sorts of creatures, man and woman, in such a way as to link them to the families who have gone before them and to the families that will be born from their love.

If you have a view of marriage that does not include all mankind, all the natural world, the physical cosmos, heaven and earth, the dawn of time and its consummation in eternity, then your view of marriage is a cramped and hole-and-corner affair. So at least the old poets teach.

Maybe the most important thing they teach, though, is the delightfulness of the good: the lovely and modest woman -- Miranda in Shakespeare's "Tempest" -- and the brave and gentle young man -- Florizel in Shakespeare's "Winter's Tale."

Our children's imaginations now are a war zone, or what is left of fields and hills after the bombs have blasted them and the poison gas has infested them for 15 years.

Even fairy tales, those deeply Christian and incarnational folk parables of the West
have been poisoned by feminist revisers.

So I guess I am saying that we will cure none of those ills, not one, unless we rediscover the virtue of purity, and we will not rediscover that virtue unless our imaginations are engaged by its beauty, and that from our childhoods.

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