Theophrastus's answer to the question "whether a wise man marries"

Geremia

Sparrow
St. Jerome, in bk. 1 of his Against Jovinianus §47, gives the only source for the philosopher Theophrastus's On Marriage, "worth its weight in gold," in which he answers the question
whether a wise man marries. And after laying down the conditions — that the wife must be fair, of good character, and honest parentage, the husband in good health and of ample means, and after saying that under these circumstances a wise man sometimes enters the state of matrimony, he immediately proceeds thus
But all these conditions are seldom satisfied in marriage. A wise man therefore must not take a wife. For in the first place his study of philosophy will be hindered, and it is impossible for anyone to attend to his books and his wife. Matrons want many things, costly dresses, gold, jewels, great outlay, maid-servants, all kinds of furniture, litters and gilded coaches. Then come curtain-lectures the livelong night: she complains that one lady goes out better dressed than she: that another is looked up to by all: 'I am a poor despised nobody at the ladies' assemblies.' 'Why did you ogle that creature next door?' 'Why were you talking to the maid?' 'What did you bring from the market?' 'I am not allowed to have a single friend, or companion.' She suspects that her husband's love goes the same way as her hate. There may be in some neighbouring city the wisest of teachers; but if we have a wife we can neither leave her behind, nor take the burden with us. To support a poor wife, is hard: to put up with a rich one, is torture. Notice, too, that in the case of a wife you cannot pick and choose: you must take her as you find her. If she has a bad temper, or is a fool, if she has a blemish, or is proud, or has bad breath, whatever her fault may be — all this we learn after marriage. Horses, asses, cattle, even slaves of the smallest worth, clothes, kettles, wooden seats, cups, and earthenware pitchers, are first tried and then bought: a wife is the only thing that is not shown before she is married, for fear she may not give satisfaction. Our gaze must always be directed to her face, and we must always praise her beauty: if you look at another woman, she thinks that she is out of favour. She must be called my lady, her birth-day must be kept, we must swear by her health and wish that she may survive us, respect must be paid to the nurse, to the nursemaid, to the father's slave, to the foster-child, to the handsome hanger-on, to the curled darling who manages her affairs, and to the eunuch who ministers to the safe indulgence of her lust: names which are only a cloak for adultery. Upon whomsoever she sets her heart, they must have her love though they want her not. If you give her the management of the whole house, you must yourself be her slave. If you reserve something for yourself, she will not think you are loyal to her; but she will turn to strife and hatred, and unless you quickly take care, she will have the poison ready. If you introduce old women, and soothsayers, and prophets, and vendors of jewels and silken clothing, you imperil her chastity; if you shut the door upon them, she is injured and fancies you suspect her. But what is the good of even a careful guardian, when an unchaste wife cannot be watched, and a chaste one ought not to be? For necessity is but a faithless keeper of chastity, and she alone really deserves to be called pure, who is free to sin if she chooses. If a woman be fair, she soon finds lovers; if she be ugly, it is easy to be wanton. It is difficult to guard what many long for. It is annoying to have what no one thinks worth possessing. But the misery of having an ugly wife is less than that of watching a comely one. Nothing is safe, for which a whole people sighs and longs. One man entices with his figure, another with his brains, another with his wit, another with his open hand. Somehow, or sometime, the fortress is captured which is attacked on all sides. Men marry, indeed, so as to get a manager for the house, to solace weariness, to banish solitude; but a faithful slave is a far better manager, more submissive to the master, more observant of his ways, than a wife who thinks she proves herself mistress if she acts in opposition to her husband, that is, if she does what pleases her, not what she is commanded. But friends, and servants who are under the obligation of benefits received, are better able to wait upon us in sickness than a wife who makes us responsible for her tears (she will sell you enough to make a deluge for the hope of a legacy), boasts of her anxiety, but drives her sick husband to the distraction of despair. But if she herself is poorly, we must fall sick with her and never leave her bedside. Or if she be a good and agreeable wife (how rare a bird she is!), we have to share her groans in childbirth, and suffer torture when she is in danger. A wise man can never be alone. He has with him the good men of all time, and turns his mind freely wherever he chooses. What is inaccessible to him in person he can embrace in thought. And, if men are scarce, he converses with God. He is never less alone than when alone. Then again, to marry for the sake of children, so that our name may not perish, or that we may have support in old age, and leave our property without dispute, is the height of stupidity. For what is it to us when we are leaving the world if another bears our name, when even a son does not all at once take his father's title, and there are countless others who are called by the same name. Or what support in old age is he whom you bring up, and who may die before you, or turn out a reprobate? Or at all events when he reaches mature age, you may seem to him long in dying. Friends and relatives whom you can judiciously love are better and safer heirs than those whom you must make your heirs whether you like it or not. Indeed, the surest way of having a good heir is to ruin your fortune in a good cause while you live, not to leave the fruit of your labour to be used you know not how.
 

Thomas More

Hummingbird
Obviously the writer is older, and has some experience of life.

This reminds me of the writer of Ecclesiastes:

"Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”
3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them."

Obviously this is a burned out middle aged man, who has lived long enough to see the nature of life.

It's best that young men remain hopeful, and go after life with gusto. Eventually, they'll probably know better, but some of them will actually have happiness with their wives, and satisfaction generally.
 

Thomas More

Hummingbird
Obviously the writer is older, and has some experience of life.

This reminds me of the writer of Ecclesiastes:

"Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”
3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them."

Obviously this is a burned out middle aged man, who has lived long enough to see the nature of life.

It's best that young men remain hopeful, and go after life with gusto. Eventually, they'll probably know better, but some of them will actually have happiness with their wives, and satisfaction generally.

When I wrote the post above, I was thinking how the burned out middle aged men know the truth of the matter. It was only recently that I realized the writer of Ecclesiastes was a depressed middle aged man, and the quote in the OP reminded me of that. I made a bitter comment from the point of view that it's better for young men to be ignorant, so they will try to succeed, even though they're probably doomed.

However, now that I read my own comment in a more optimistic frame of mind, I see my own words calling the writer a burned out man, and I see that this should serve to discount his point of view. I think that young men should rightfully be optimistic, and try to achieve happiness and success, in marriage and in life generally.

Many will fail. The odds might be better for those who learn from the wisdom of the ages and avoid the mistakes that other men have pointed out in the past. However, even this is a hit or miss proposition.

Nevertheless, we should always fight the good fight. We should always take on life and try to win, and we should always persevere in the face of adversity and despair.
 
I know the Bible says sex before marriage is sinful so unless people intend to live without sex they will need to marry. If they choose to live without sex then they shouldn't complain about it. Either stay single and likely be miserable or get married and make the very best of it. I will say this, the wisdom of the choice to marry or not depends entirely on whether than man can happily, merrily live without sexual expression. For virutally everyone the answer to that is no. So go where you are wanted and find a wife. That's what I did.
 
"if she has a bad temper, or is a fool, if she has a blemish, or is proud, or has bad breath, whatever her fault may be — all this we learn after marriage."

If a man doesn't (chooses not to) notice these things before he marries the girl, then wouldn't the problem actually be not marriage in of itself, but his own stupidity during the dating/courtship vetoing process?

Was the man's point that marriage should be avoided because 'marriage is bad news', or because 'I personally did it wrong'?
 
"if she has a bad temper, or is a fool, if she has a blemish, or is proud, or has bad breath, whatever her fault may be — all this we learn after marriage."

If a man doesn't (chooses not to) notice these things before he marries the girl, then wouldn't the problem actually be not marriage in of itself, but his own stupidity during the dating/courtship vetoing process?

Was the man's point that marriage should be avoided because 'marriage is bad news', or because 'I personally did it wrong'?
St. Jerome was never married, so he was offering an outside perspective. He saw marriage, and the pursuit of women, as at best a guarantee of a miserable life, and at worst a guarantee of a miserable afterlife.
 

infowarrior1

Hummingbird
St. Jerome was never married, so he was offering an outside perspective. He saw marriage, and the pursuit of women, as at best a guarantee of a miserable life, and at worst a guarantee of a miserable afterlife.
St. Jerome is wrong on this count. Since there does exist good marriages. And he is calling a good institution evil or at best bad what God knows and intends to be good.
 
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St. Jerome is wrong on this count. Since there does exist good marriages. And he is calling a good institution evil or at best bad what God knows and intends to be good.
Amen. To St. Paul, marriage was holy enough to hold up as an icon of the relationship between Christ and the Church. And despite the high esteem the Church has always had for celibacy, it's marriage that we count as a sacrament.

In The Arena, St. Ignatius Brianchaninov pointed out that in every spiritual writer will make their choice of life sound like the best path towards Christ. You read something by a hermit, you'll come away with the impression that you should be a hermit, etc. Which makes it a bit problematic that celibate theologians generally have more time to spend writing than married ones.

St. John of Damascus and St. John Chrysostom, though, wrote very positively about marriage despite their choice to not to participate in it.
 
I know the Bible says sex before marriage is sinful so unless people intend to live without sex they will need to marry. If they choose to live without sex then they shouldn't complain about it. Either stay single and likely be miserable or get married and make the very best of it. I will say this, the wisdom of the choice to marry or not depends entirely on whether than man can happily, merrily live without sexual expression. For virutally everyone the answer to that is no. So go where you are wanted and find a wife. That's what I did.
I’m happier celibate than I would be having sex with a wife who drains me of my free time and peace of mind. Seems like the choices are either find the one-in-a-million that would bring genuine value to your life or just avoid dating and marriage altogether.
 
I’m happier celibate than I would be having sex with a wife who drains me of my free time and peace of mind. Seems like the choices are either find the one-in-a-million that would bring genuine value to your life or just avoid dating and marriage altogether.
The problem for the whole human race is that avoiding marriage means a life of celibacy which is brutal for many. That's why God says to let every man have his own wife and to let every woman have her own husband. He knows how hard it is. They will need to find a spouse somehow, someway, someday or be miserable. His word didn't cease to have relevence just because it is 2020. It seems the deck is stacked against us but after 30 years I finally found a wife and the torment of celibacy is over.

Sure unwanted celibacy seems better compared to another bad option (but eventually reality sets in). I have empathy for you, I was there for a long time. There are other countries to look in before trowing in the towel.
 
Glad you found a good wife! I’m not really looking, but if a particularly great one comes along I’d probably at least consider it.
There are normal women out there for normal men like us, so that means there will be some conflict between the sexes. I tend not to believe people that say they never argue with their spouse or it always great. I don't believe it. I try to be a great huband but I need to apologize a lot and my wife tries to be a great wife but has to apologize now and then. Now THAT is normal.
 

Geremia

Sparrow
despite the high esteem the Church has always had for celibacy, it's marriage that we count as a sacrament.
That's not because the state of marriage is superior but because those in that state need special graces to accomplish the duties of the married state. See Sacra Virginitas §37.

You read something by a hermit, you'll come away with the impression that you should be a hermit, etc. Which makes it a bit problematic that celibate theologians generally have more time to spend writing than married ones.
St. Gregory of Nyssa was married, and he praised virginity as higher than marriage in his On Virginity.

St. John of Damascus and St. John Chrysostom, though, wrote very positively about marriage despite their choice to not to participate in it.
Yes, St. John Chrysostom's On Marriage and Family Life is very good, but have you not read his Περί παρθενίας (On Virginity), probably the greatest commentary on 1 Corinthians 7?
 
That's not because the state of marriage is superior but because those in that state need special graces to accomplish the duties of the married state. See Sacra Virginitas §37.
It is correct that marriage is not objectively superior to virginity. But the scriptures make it clear that marriage is a good thing, and a more appropriate path for most of us. Christ himself, when his disciples brought up the subject of celibacy said, "All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given." St. Paul, despite his own clear preference for celibacy, concedes that each man should have his own wife (1 Cor. 7), instructs Timothy to choose men for the episcopate based partly on their wise governance of their own household and children (1 Tim. 3), and most significantly uses marriage as an icon of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5).

So Sacra Virginitatis implying in paragraph 31 that celibacy is a better icon of Christ and the Church than marriage is a bit suspicious. And the seeming reduction of marriage in paragraph 37 to being just some extra graces you get since marriage takes more grace than celibacy, is a lower view of the sacred mysteries than I can hold to.

But there was also much good in it, I appreciate that His Holiness phrased things so as to not to claim celibacy is always a better choice than marriage. He's far more balanced than St. Jerome.

I don't see any need to pit marriage and celibacy at odds with each other. To borrow an illustration from St. Paul, we're all one body, and we have no need to make guesses as to whether the hands or the eyes or the pancreas are the better part. Some people are called to do different things, and so the bleak picture St. Jerome paints of marriage, and the moral implications it has (say, Letter 69:3), seems unhelpful.

St. Gregory of Nyssa was married, and he praised virginity as higher than marriage in his On Virginity.
That is correct.

Yes, St. John Chrysostom's On Marriage and Family Life is very good, but have you not read his Περί παρθενίας (On Virginity), probably the greatest commentary on 1 Corinthians 7?
I have.
 
It is correct that marriage is not objectively superior to virginity. But the scriptures make it clear that marriage is a good thing, and a more appropriate path for most of us. Christ himself, when his disciples brought up the subject of celibacy said, "All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given." St. Paul, despite his own clear preference for celibacy, concedes that each man should have his own wife (1 Cor. 7), instructs Timothy to choose men for the episcopate based partly on their wise governance of their own household and children (1 Tim. 3), and most significantly uses marriage as an icon of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5).

So Sacra Virginitatis implying in paragraph 31 that celibacy is a better icon of Christ and the Church than marriage is a bit suspicious. And the seeming reduction of marriage in paragraph 37 to being just some extra graces you get since marriage takes more grace than celibacy, is a lower view of the sacred mysteries than I can hold to.

But there was also much good in it, I appreciate that His Holiness phrased things so as to not to claim celibacy is always a better choice than marriage. He's far more balanced than St. Jerome.

I don't see any need to pit marriage and celibacy at odds with each other. To borrow an illustration from St. Paul, we're all one body, and we have no need to make guesses as to whether the hands or the eyes or the pancreas are the better part. Some people are called to do different things, and so the bleak picture St. Jerome paints of marriage, and the moral implications it has (say, Letter 69:3), seems unhelpful.



That is correct.



I have.
Well said!
 
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