The Way of a Man with a Maiden (on Courtship)

“Three things are too wonderful for me, yes, four I cannot understand: the way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent upon a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden” (Proverbs 30: 18-19).

The international furor recently caused by Pope Benedict’s true words about prophylactics shows how much of a religion sexual immorality can be. Abandoning science and right reason (along with Christian revelation and the natural law), the votaries of “safe sex,” show themselves to be fundamentalist zealots who jealously defend the great god Latex against all blasphemy. If Catholics were as zealous to defend the rights of the true God, the world would be a much different place.

Catholic sexual morality is of a piece with the Church’s teachings on marriage and family. We cannot separate romantic love from marriage in our thinking, just as we cannot separate them from each other in our acting. That said, the proper response to the raucous declamations against something so fundamental as the Church’s teachings against birth control is a resolute and devout living of a robust Catholic family life, embracing chastity, the proper roles of the spouses, and traditional norms of child rearing.

In short, the remedy to the dilemma posed by progressivism is tradition. And one important aspect of tradition is Christian courtship, a concept different in name, origin, species, and genus from the modern devilry we know as “dating.” It is the proper “way of a man with a maiden.”

I recently posted on our web site three articles on matrimony as a state in life. A fourth had earlier been published here. These were part of a larger series of conferences I gave on vocations and states in life. I believe the subject matter is important beyond the small group of youth who heard them here at the Center in 2005.

If one were to ask me why we would put our energies into this, I would have to say that — besides the general answer that tradition is the remedy to the ills of “progress” — the conversion of America will begin in the home. According to a Nigerian proverb, “the ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people.” Contrariwise, the strength, virtue, and holiness of a nation are in its homes. (No, a nation’s greatness is not in its government, which will be no better than the people governed. Perhaps the decadence of our homes explains certain things our government does.)

The introductory jeremiad now being over, I proceed to the main content, which will be brief. It’s a sort of Cliff’s Notes of what I wrote about courtship, answering the question: “What’s the difference between courtship and dating?”

There are several differences between the two. I will give only three points of contrast:

Dating is mainly for purposes of fun, socializing, and recreation, and only secondarily for purposes of matrimony. Courtship is mainly for purposes of matrimony, and only secondarily for those other things.

Dating implies no commitments. Couples can “break up” regularly without contradiction to the purposes of dating. As such, dating is a dress rehearsal for divorce. Courtship, on the other hand, is undertaken only by those ready to marry, who have a mind to marry, and who are serious about discerning whether this person is the one to marry.

Dating is done primarily out of the home (movies, restaurants, bowling, etc.). Courtship is done primarily in the home. This may sound weird, but it makes sense. If you want to know if a boy is going to be a good husband, you don’t need to know if he can treat you decently at a Chinese restaurant, or if he can manage not to spill the popcorn on you at a 10:00 showing of Hollywood’s latest inanity. (Any boy who wants to impress a girl can muster up the charm necessary to do so on those occasions — if, that is, the girl is disposed to like him in the first place.) What you really want to do is see how he treats his mother and his sisters. That is how he will be treating you when the honeymoon is over. You want to see him in the home, which is where you will be spending time with him during your marriage. (No, most of your married time will not be spent in Chinese restaurants or movie theaters!) Remember, this is the fellow who will be the father to your children and to whom you will vow yourself “in sickness and in health… till death… .”

So as not to be maligned as a chauvinist, I have addressed the above paragraph to the gentler sex. Gentleman, you can apply all this mutatis mutandis — which means “changing what ought to be changed,” as in rewording it to make sense from the masculine perspective.

This very quick summary of the subject by way of a three-point comparison/contrast is not sufficient. Other questions will inevitably arise: “What do youth do for fun?” “If they can’t date, how will they know who to court?” “How do those who are not mature enough for marriage interact with the opposite sex?” These answers are at least touched upon in my longer article on the subject. In addition, there are recommended books named there for those who would like to learn more.

Some may (have and will!) object that I am calling for too high a morality, too “old fashioned” a social code. Pity. Tradition is the remedy — and this is tradition.