Friday, April 7, 2017

Love's Foundations are Love's Fate

In one respect I'll thy assistant be;
For this alliance may so happy prove,
To turn your households' rancour to pure love.
-Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet, Act II, scene 3


I have eternal patience for the thoughtlessness of clergymen. We all owe it to them to be patient with them because they are called to be patient with us. Unlike us, clergymen do not have the luxury to struggle with moral questions in private, nor are they confined by the ordo caritatis to struggle primarily with personal or familial moral dilemmas. The clergy have a special duty to provide moral guidance and care for their flock. In doing so, clergymen take far greater risks compared to the lay.

Still, patient tolerance does not mean uncritical adherence. The clergy, like the rest of us, are susceptible to the ebb and flow of the faith, not to mention the limits of human reason. This is why the Church relies less on the faith or reason of the clergy and more on the rituals and traditions of dogma. Still, being a traditional clergyman is boring. Hence so many clergymen often found saying so many silly things. Say what you will about the Latin Rite, but it was effective in keeping the mouths of priests from spouting  foolishness from the pulpit.

Case in point: Friar Laurence. Shakespeare brilliantly explores the various perspectives on love through the characters and contexts of Romeo and Juliet. What should we think of Friar Lawrence's view? Judging by his words, the Friar starts out as no more than conventionally sensible. Sadly, he apparently finds wisdom so very unappealingly boring that in the end he throws caution (and the meaning of the marriage sacrament) to the wind and embraces the worst possible reason Christians can conceive of for marriage: to make the in-laws happy.

It could of course be worse: couples sometimes marry because they want to have children or because they are both Christians in a world of moral relativism. Compared to such terrible reasons, Romeo and Juliet are worlds ahead: they want to marry because they have experienced the beauty of romantic love. Still, the question of whether or not theirs is true romantic love is legitimate.

Unfortunately, Friar Laurence decides that the urgent necessity to artificially unite two families who do not understand true love is somehow more important than the responsible spiritual guidance of Romeo and Juliet towards a permanent and enduring maturation of the joyous romantic love they share.

Even if Lady Capulet did not consider love only as a matter of honorable social status and even if Capulet did not think it a good idea to barter his daughter to Paris, marrying Romeo and Juliet in order to bring the warring families together is a terrible idea. Romantic tragedies are like houses built on sand: their foundations are their fate.

Friar Laurence, of all people, should know better.

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