A review of The Book of Marriage. Edited by Dane Mack and David Blankenhorn.

Eerdmans, 2001.

When one considers that the institutions of marriage and family were the first ordained by God, preceding even the State or the Church, one can see the great importance placed on them. And one can also understand why the enemies of God would also become enemies of marriage. Perhaps no other institution today is under such sustained and heated attack.

However this has not always been the case. Marriage has known many defenders in the past. One recalls the words of Edmund Burke: “The Christian religion, by confining marriage to pairs, and rendering the relation indissoluble, has by these two things done more toward the peace, happiness, settlement, and civilization of the world, than any other part in this whole scheme of divine wisdom.”

And D. H. Lawrence once said that Christian marriage is the “greatest” contribution of Christianity to civilization. Or as Homer wrote long ago in The Odyssey, “There is nothing nobler or more admirable than when two people who see eye-to-eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends.”

Yet in spite of such accolades, marriage is not so kindly regarded these days. Instead, criticism and cynicism abounds. Thus we often hear voices saying that all relationships are of equal value, that marriage is an outdated and unnecessary institution, or that marriage in fact oppresses people and is a drag on society.

We are asked, what’s so special about marriage? Why should governments show marriage special considerations? These and other objections to marriage are commonly heard today. Indeed, in  a culture where history is devalued and religion is mocked, marriage, like so many other great traditions, is seen as passe. But marriage is not so easily disposed of. In fact, marriage is much more of a universal and long-standing tradition than many might expect.  Marriage has been the norm of most cultures through-out most of human history. And it may continue to be so in the future.

It is in response to our historical and intellectual myopia that this book is written. Dane Mack and David Blankenhorn have assembled in one volume some of the most profound, most witty, and most incisive comments on marriage available. Poet and philosophers, theologians and historians, sociologists and playwrights – all are found in this anthology of writings on the beauty and wonder, the joys and frustrations, of this much maligned institution.

Short pithy articles come from a wide range of sources: the Koran and the Bible,  Aristotle and Erasmus, Homer and Chaucer, Milton and Kafka, George Bernard Shaw and Viktor Frankl, Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther. The breadth of diversity and the wide coverage of disciplines does not spoil the unity of this book. Marriage, warts and all, is given a new and invigorating appraisal.

The book clearly demonstrates how universal marriage is, how enduring it has been, how widely it has been embraced, and how much good it has conferred on humankind. And such truths need to be restated and remembered in each new generation. The publishers and editors of this book thus have done a great service to us all in bringing out this timely and timeless volume.

The Book of Marriage is a welcome antidote to the scepticism and criticism marriage has been coated with over recent years. It inspires and challenges, as well as informs and motivates. If you want one book to encourage you in your marriage, to give as a gift, or to simply enjoy in whatever state you find yourself in, this is it.

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